My Readers are in Boxes

Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, normal people get locked in a box called depression. The reasons vary. Maybe it's a negative pattern of thinking, stumbled onto or learned from someone else. Unrealistic expectations is a common one. There are physiological reasons, too. Illness. Grief. Things that should go away but don't. Frequently, there doesn't appear to be any reason at all, even to the person in the box. All they know is that they're in their own private hell and there's no way out.

Some other people get mugged and stuffed into the box. Once inside, they can easily forget how they got there. They frequently blame themselves, even when it's obvious to everyone on the outside that it was the muggers' fault. It's a personal hell decorated with memories.

The boxes are about the same for both groups. Once a person has spent enough time isolated in the dark box, their eyes adjust. Not completely, just enough to read the sign over the most visible exit. It says "Death."

I just happened upon a blog post prompted by an attempt to ban the book SPEAK from public school libraries. It was about rape. It was courageous and moving and made a compelling argument for keeping books like SPEAK available. Because some teens need to know they're not alone. Because it sure feels that way when you're in a box.

It made me think. "My characters have nothing like that, no horrible past for readers to latch onto. Maybe I wasn't hard enough on them. Not edgy enough."

Then I thought again. "No. They don't have a horrible past because that wasn't my experience. Other people can tell their stories. I tell my stories."

I knew that already. I mean, DRIVERS is already written. I've already solved the problem of how to make getting locked quietly into a box interesting. Depression is hell, regardless of how one got there. I simply put a face on that hell, so my readers will know they're not alone—and it's not their fault.

I've never seen a book that did that. Not for people in the first group.


  1. Hey Ben- I can understand why Speak is a threatening book, but I wish people wouldn't jump to ban books without considering that some people's lives would be banned if they applied the same rules.

    And it's been one of the coolest things about getting to know other writers and read their works to see how people's stories and worldviews get mixed up in their fiction. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Yeah, Kelly. That's a good way to look at it. How can you ban someone from telling a story, especially if it's basically true? Scary thought.

  3. I do that all the time. Compare and then quickly not compare. (Re: my story ideas) It's fun but also maddening.

  4. Great post! My husband suffers greatly from depression, and some people think it's not a real disease. A book about it sounds fabulous!

  5. Well, you already know I love your book.

    I'm with Elana - my husband suffers from depression - fall around my house is always a bit tense. Hard as his wife, because there's only so much I can do to help.

    SO glad you're telling your story YOUR way because I think so many people try to change their story to match what they think it SHOULD be. And the reason Speak is so awesome, is that she didn't broach the subject in any kind of conventional way.


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