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Returning to High School

March 23, 2012 by Kiersi

For some reason, Los Angeles appears to totally despise me. The day after I showed up it rained all weekend (a rarity for southern California, or so I hear) and we even got a thunderstorm on Saturday night. Now, as we near the second weekend and I’m planning on taking off on a backpacking trip to Joshua Tree with my pal, the sky has clouded over and the lightning storms have returned.

I went to a school yesterday (which I am not at liberty to name), but it was one of my top choices for schools to visit in the area during my research trip. The teacher who worked with me is the head of the English department at the high school, and was more than accommodating in my request to see the school for myself and observe one of her classes. I got to check out the building architecture, learn a little history, and watch a junior-level English class in session.

What was I looking for there, you might ask? Cues. Details. Reality. When you write a book about something (in this case, high school), you need to be able to come at it from two directions: subjectively, since the novel is written in a first-person narrative tone, and objectively, so I can distance Sophie’s high school experience from my own. So, subjectively, I remember cliques and cafeteria lunches and soccer games–but objectively, how would these same experiences play out in Bell Jones, the private academy featured in The Devil’s Throne series? I know the girls and boys I went to school with–what their hair was like, their clothes, their backpacks and bookbags and slang–but what are they like today, seven years after I left high school behind me?

The most fascinating part for me was how little high school has changed since I donned my graduation cap. Consider the following exchange during a debate in English class about honesty versus kindness:

Guy: “What if your girlfriend says, ‘Do these pants make me look fat?’ What’s the right thing to say?”

Girl: “You don’t want to get hit, so of course you’ll say no.”

Guy: “What if she is fat?”

Guy proceeds to get hit.

Long story short, I had a great time, met some cool kids, and learned a lot. When I arrived at the school, the first thing the teacher asked me was, “What do you hope to learn?”

I told her, “I don’t know. I won’t know until I learn it. That’s what I’m here for, is to find out the things I missed before.”

She laughed and gave me my visitor’s badge. I think that was the right answer.

One last thing: If you are a writer looking into submitting your manuscript to an agent or editor, be sure to read these submission format guidelines. I learned a bunch of things I didn’t know before.

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