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Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Opposite of Cute

When people ask me to describe the main character of my book, Ruby Tabeata, the first thing that comes to mind is “not cute.” I wanted to write for middle-grade students because it seemed less likely they'd want a book centered on “romance”—and more likely they'd want something reflecting their tastes, interests and abilities.

I wanted to create a story about a young girl who was strong-willed, adventurous, courageous and rebellious. I also wanted someone my own 11-year-old self would have liked and enjoyed meeting (and being). So I created someone who could be dark and fierce, but also kind and loving—and passionate about living life the way she thought an artist should live it.

Beat Generation artists seemed like the best setting for this sort of character because they didn’t believe in “cute” either. The culture was based around rebelling against all society’s conventions—and in 1958 there were quite a few, for women, especially. They included wearing bows and crinolines and hiding one’s ambition to do anything other than making a guy the center of your universe.

I couldn’t see my heroine dotting her “I’s” with circles or drawing purple hearts with magic marker on her poetry or letters. She wouldn’t want cute clothes and wouldn’t wear big skirts and party dresses. She does have a bit of a crush (on Jack Kerouac) but she is not revolving her life around any one guy.

Of course, she is a little young for that by design, but I like to think as she gets older she will continue to be unconventional and strong. (And since I’m writing her, no worries).

I hope my 11-year-old self would have approved. After changing schools from a very orthodox Jewish day school to a junior high in New Jersey where classmates cared mostly about clothes and boys, I wanted to be anywhere but where I was.

While I didn’t grow up in the middle of the Beat Generation, reading about Beat poets gave me hope that somewhere, I could find an artistic community where the emphasis was more on what you could do and say and paint and write instead of what you wore and who wanted to go out with you.

That’s where Ruby came from and it will continue to be where she is going. It doesn’t mean if you draw purple hearts on your notes you won’t like her. But it may mean she can offer you a different point of view.

For more information on the Beat Generation and cultural changes in the 1950s, take a look at the articles below:

·         The Beat Generation