Time and time again I hear authors say that when you sit down to work on a book not to worry about what other people are going to think, forget the trends, silence your inner editor and just write what you love.
So that’s exactly what I did when I wrote my debut MG novel Operation Pucker Up. I wrote what I loved. Or more specifically, I wrote a book the middle school version of me would have loved.
But middle school was a long time ago, so in order to reminisce about those wonderful years of cringe-worthy moments, I went straight to the source.
My middle school diary. (Click on each of these images to see a larger version.)
So sophisticated and chic. The teddy bears with the red hearts just scream maturity. And while I thought the lock was sure to protect all my secrets, it was no match for the pair of scissors my sister used and then so sneakily stapled and taped back together thinking I’d never suspect a thing. No, seriously. She didn’t think I’d notice. She put it right back in the hiding spot I used and acted all innocent when I found it. Newsflash…I noticed!
After my sister discovered the diary, I was very careful about when I’d let another set of eyes look at it. I wrote a note to myself inside the cover with instructions as to when I could share this diary:
It’s kind of sweet to think about how the younger version of myself wanted to share these words and experiences with my future kids. I just hope the middle school version of myself wouldn’t have minded that instead of sharing my diary with only my kids, I shared some of my experiences with potentially thousands of kids who will pick up Operation Pucker up and read it. Whoops!
I found a lot of good material when revisiting these pages. My diary reminded me of all those mixed up feelings that I was going through when I hit middle school, and I drew from those when developing the main character, Grace, in my book. Grace is cast as Snow White in her school’s play, only to remember that Snow White is kissed by Prince Charming. She’s never kissed anyone before, and is terrified at the thought of having her first kiss on stage. Her friends launch Operation Pucker Up, a plan to get her her first kiss before she has to have it on stage. Sure enough, the plan gets out of hand and Grace feels like everything is moving too fast and her friends are trying to make her into someone she isn’t. My middle school self could definitely relate to Grace’s feelings, as I worried about the friendships around me and how everything was changing.
In the book, Grace goes to her first boy/girl party, and I pretty much struck oil with all the information I provided for myself in my diary when my own experience going to my first boy/girl party. I had created a list of questions/worries before I went to the party and afterwards, I filled it all out. Talk about the perfect glimpse into the head of a middle schooler!
Throughout the book, Grace is trying to figure out the confusing world of boys and first kisses. The road to love is often rocky and traumatic in middle school, as evidenced from my love of a “younger” man. Yes, it is true, I was in sixth grade in love with a boy in fifth grade. Gasp! Just call me a cougar! Looking back now I can laugh, but it does remind me of how major things could seem when you were young.
I love the fact that the awkward, confused, sensitive middle school version of myself provided inspiration and information for books I would write in the future. In fact, I’m pretty sure I have material for the next few decades with everything that I so honestly and openly chronicled while growing up. As I work on my next MG novel, I plan to continue to dig through all of my diaries and see what I can find. I’ll draw from those moments, remember them, use them, and then thank God that I don’t have to live through them again!
RACHELE APLINE is a lover of gummy candy, bad reality TV, and coffee…so much coffee. She’s the author of the MG novels Operation Pucker Up (Simon & Schuster) and You Throw Like a Girl (Simon & Schuster, 2017), and the YA novel Canary (Medallion). You can visit her website, check out her pictures on Instagram, like her on Facebook, or send her a tweet on Twitter @ralpine.