As some of you might know, my book is about a teenage serial killer.
Naturally, when I tell people that, I usually get some form of surprise in reply.
"A serial killer? But you're so happy!"
"That's pretty dark, isn't it?"
And sometimes, they just laugh.
I understand their surprise, I suppose. I'm a generally bubbly teenager with lots of joie de vivre, and looking at me, you probably wouldn't immediately realize that murder stories are my cup of tea. But still, it feels a bit odd whenever people say those sorts of things.
I've always posited that writing is a lot like acting. Writers take characters and inhabit their minds, their thought processes. We know what they think, and feel every emotion they feel, because we need to in order to portray them faithfully. Yes, I write about serial killers. No, I'm not a serial killer. In the same way that Anthony Hopkins is not Hannibal Lecter and Tom Hiddleston is not Loki and Hayden Christensen is not Darth Vader, I am not my novel. Writing DEAR KILLER, I was only telling a story. That story is not me.
That being said, some parts of me do exist within the novel.
Oddly enough, in one of the more interesting plot twists of my life, I was interviewed by Mark Z. Danielewski for one of my college applications a few months back. ("The Fifty Year Sword" is fabulous, and everyone should read it. "House of Leaves" is great too, I have it on good authority, though I must admit that I only got through the first hundred pages or so before getting totally scared and freaked out and having to put it down. I'm a wuss.) We talked a little bit about my book, and in particular, where this character came from within me. It was the first time I'd really talked it out. After a bit of thinking, I said that she is the darkness within myself. She's the dark spaces, the inverse of me. She is who I would be if I were a serial killer.
Obviously, I don't have serial killer tendencies. I'm a normal teenage girl that likes stories. But much of my story was born from my negative emotions, from feelings I have experienced at some point or another. "Write what you know," I've come to realize, doesn't mean that I should always write about well-adjusted, bubbly teenage girls in high school that write novels and like horses. "Write what you know," rather, means that I should write about feelings I know. It means that I should draw from my bank of emotions to create characters, narratives, worlds. Like an actor, I cannot accurately portray something I don't understand.
I am not my story. But at the same time, my story is a part of me. I learned things about myself while writing it, and, of course, the process of writing it helped me become a better, more experienced writer. Just because I write dark things, it doesn't mean that I'm a dark person. I'm really not.
It just means that I'm a writer.