Have the people who constantly accuse me of this stuff read my books? Paper Towns is devoted IN ITS ENTIRETY to destroying the lie of the manic pixie dream girl; the novel ends (this is not really a spoiler) with a young woman essentially saying, “Do you really still live in this fantasy land where boys can save girls by being romantically interested in them?”I do not know how I could have been less ambiguous about this without calling the novel The Patriarchal Lie of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Must Be Stabbed in the Heart and Killed.
When do I romanticize mental illness (or physical illness) in my novels? Pudge romanticizes Alaska in LfA, but the novel discusses in detail the way that his failure to imagine her complexly proves so disastrous to him and to her.
Who is made more special than they otherwise would be by illness? The characters in TFiOS talk about this fetishization of the ill constantly and with considerable vitriol. If I were hearing this from actual chronically ill people, it’d be one thing, but instead I’m hearing it from people who literally only seem to have read plot summaries. (Witness, for instance, the Daily Mail’s “sick-lit” article, in which no one who is quoted even pretends to have actually read the book they feel so comfortable attacking.)
The other attack going viral on tumblr at the moment is that I write novels about broken people who need saving, and that this encourages the romanticization of brokenness. Well, maybe there are wholly self-sufficient unbroken people who are able to thrive in complete isolation, succeeding solely by the sweat of their own Randian brows, but those are not the people I know or am interested in writing about. So yeah. I write about broken people who need other people in order to go on. But those are the only kind of people I know to exist. We are all broken. We all depend upon each other for support and compassion. That web of interconnected yearning and need is essential to my understanding of human experience, and I don’t find celebrating it problematic.
There are a lot of weaknesses in my books! I am not that great of a writer. I am happy to acknowledge these weaknesses: I tell too much and show too little. My plots are thin. I’m too fond of turning phrases. Imagistic stuff gets fogged up by inconsistent usage, especially in my first few novels. I care too much about ideas and not enough about story. There’s a kind of emotional disengagement in my work, like I’m always trying to make you conscious of the fact that this is a fiction and look at all the things this fiction is doing, which leads to people seeing the strings on the puppets and feeling pulled out of the narrative. They can get thematically obvious and repetitive (as when I disembowel the evil construction of the manic pixie dream girl twelve ways to Sunday in Paper Towns).
But all this crap about how I fetishize brokenness and lift up misogynistic constructions of young women and romanticize suicide is just (I think) totally unfair.
Books belong to their readers and you can do whatever you want with my stories. But I am super tired of being accused of contributing to suicidal ideation among young people. That’s a very serious and hurtful thing to say.
Sorry, I usually wouldn’t even reply to this stuff, but it floats around tumblr with tens of thousands of notes and that’s really frustrating to see and also I just got oral surgery so my mouth hurts so I’m cranky.
1. Sorry. That sucks.
2. It’s not easy and I don’t always do it well, but I’ve been living with this for a long time and have a good medication regimen that works pretty well (at the moment at least) and also have a good therapist I’m able to work really closely with. None of that happened overnight, and it’s a difficult thing to live while you’re figuring out how to manage it. But it’s important to know that it can get better, and that you are not alone in this experience.
3. With public events: It’s not something I’m terrible comfortable with. Like a lot of people with anxiety problems, I spend immense blocks of time stuck in obsessive thought spirals that are difficult to pull myself out of. For a couple weeks before Vidcon, for instance, it will be basically impossible for me to think about anything other than Vidcon, and I will feel really scared and anxious and unable to work, which is why I can’t space public events out. (Like, if I did a reading once a month or whatever, I would basically be unable to work half the time. So when we do stuff, we usually do them back-to-back.)
3a. That acknowledged, for me at least things get easier the more you experience them. I’m a lot more comfortable in front of large crowds than I used to be. (It doesn’t really feel like a social experience to me, so it doesn’t usually engage my social anxiety. Book signings do feel like social experiences, though, so…yeah.)
4. I wish I could speak to you from some lofty mountain, having conquered the demons of mental health, but I cannot. This is an ongoing part of my life (I had a panic attack today, for instance). But I’m much better at managing it than I used to be. And I’m lucky to not have many of the disabilities associated with anxiety disorders (I can drive a car, for instance). But anxiety is part of my daily life, and it makes life harder for me and for people I love, and I still have a long way to go.