Why I Wrote A Teenage Suicide
I wrote A Teenage Suicide for various reasons. First and foremost, it was a story that was just in me and I had to get it how somehow. I don’t think there’s any other way to write something. It has to be in you and harass you until it’s out on the page. It’s not that I intended ATS to be my story per say but I wanted it to be about where I was from, about how teens (and young adults) feel growing up from my perspective.
I also wanted to address this issue that is teenage suicide but I didn’t want to sound like a research paper, you know like, “Deconstructing perception bias inherent to the sociological analysis of self-inflicted mortality among young males in the North American context: a case study in five steps based on the Frankfurt school of though.”
I had to read these kids of papers during college and I don’t see how they could reach their supposed target audience. It’s not that I want to insult anyone’s intelligence (mine included) but I’m guessing you had to read the sentence three times for it to make sense. I didn’t want to do something like that.
On the other hand, I didn’t want to “cash in” on a sensitive issue by writing a “controversial” novel. It was difficult and I struggled at first to find a way to tell this story that was meaningful and compelling, yet respectful of the difficult situation(s) the novel portrays. The only way I found to do that was to be as realistic as possible.
The situations, places, names and locations of A Teenage Suicide are all real, all the bands I mention exist or have existed. L’x was a true venue (it since closed/moved). The colleges the kids visit and the administrative procedures they have to go through are real. The factory in L’Assomption is in fact closing down and the student riots in Montreal were as good/bad as they sound in the novel.
The dialogues are also as truthful as possible. I didn’t want to preach to people either. I wanted the characters to have a voice real people could relate to and that implies contradictions, confusion, uncertainties, good intentions, bad ideas and (sometimes) ill-conceived hatred towards adults or authority. I think (especially since I’m a father myself) that we, as adults, forget incredibly quickly how teenagers and young adults think, act, feel, love, care and don’t care about life. I wanted those aspects to be as truthful as possible.
As with most things I’ve written so far, I tried to avoid moral judgements. I didn’t want to single out one factor or one person. I think a lot of people expected ATS to be a story around abusive parents, cyber bullying or a combination of modern ills. I think a lot of people would rather read a story about an extreme situation rather than to look at the overall flaws of our societies and the problems of our daily lives. One of my hopes for the novel is to bring a new light on these issues.
When I was growing up, I thought about suicide many times and for certain periods of time, it was all I could think about. I never did kill myself (obviously) and later in life I realized that I was thinking about death a lot, but I wasn’t thinking about dying, which is also one thing I wanted to explore/explain.
When I was younger, I wanted to understand why people, cultures, societies, states… did the things they did. I turned to political science, philosophy and literature and that took a lot of maturity we can’t expect all 15, 16 or 17 years old to have. If ATS could become a reference to a younger generation, to give them some sort of direction they’re not getting elsewhere, then my job would be done and I would be a happy man,
Because I believe that being young and confused is no longer tolerated by our societies, it’s looked down upon by generations of adults who are quick to label this confusion as “being spoiled.” It’s like we expect a 16 year old kid to know EXACTLY what he or she will want to do for the next 70 years of their life. Often we expect even younger kids to know what they want to do in life.
Just here in Quebec, for example, you have to decide in 9th grade if you are going to take advanced math, biology and physics. The classes are not necessarily that hard, the issue to me is that you have to pick in 9th grade. Those advanced classes are mandatory to get into science-preparatory in CEGEP (some sort of community college/preparatory school everyone in QC goes through if you want to get to university.) and then you need the science-prep if you want to go into medicine, science, physics, computers or engineering.
So you have to know in 9th grade if you want to be a fucking nuclear physicist, otherwise you have to get extended credits, re-take classes or take additional classes before you can get in, which will make you “late” in comparison with the other students your age and only adds a freaking load of social pressure most kids could do without.
It’s gotten so bad that I fear that we, as a generation (I’m talking millennials here) have internalized that social pressure and as I/we get older, we have to either live with them or battle them through most of our projects. Like “how will this project relate to things I’ve done before and will it show continuity or confusion and nobody will hire/work with me anymore.”
(I’m sorry. I feel that I might be going down a slope here, and I do try to avoid the whole “generational debate” but I’ve been reading too many “millennial bashing” articles lately not to address it.)
I hope A Teenage Suicide can act as a credible example of millennial upbringing and goals. I think this transpires in the way I address the issues. I try to show paths rather than “solutions.” I don’t think there’s a single solution to a problem such as teenage suicides. I can only trust in the spirit of youth. I can only trust that if you teach people how to be aware/self-aware and independent, they’ll survive anything. I also don’t think there’s a simple solution to relationships and human interaction. There are numerous types of relationships in ATS and all of them are complex, all of them are valid and I think it’s a beautiful thing.
Now, about the suicide itself. I didn’t want to write it. I didn’t want it to be graphic. I didn’t need that. I felt I needed to show the emotional turmoil that surrounded it, but I didn’t deem necessary to describe the actual death or the body and such. I think that using gore in the context of the novel would have had the opposite effect I wanted to achieve. I don’t think you can convince depressed kids that death is not the option by “scaring” them into not committing suicide. My goals were better served by not showing it graphically while addressing both the roots of the tragedy and the emotional toll on the community and friends.
When I really think about it, the novel doesn’t speak about suicide all that much. It is a central point, a pivot around which the story evolves. It’s definitely not a beginning or an end. It was more important to show these teenager’s realities and the reality is that if you live in or near a large city, your kids will end up in bars, clubs, shows, streets and situations that you (as a parent) are not aware of. There’s also nothing you can do about it. Kids will fuck up and kids will learn.
Every situation I describe in the novel is either something I’ve lived and known or that friends around me have lived. It’s not always bad and it’s not always good. When you’re young, I don’t believe you really think about good or bad all that much: you’re still learning.
I wanted to “allow” these kids to fuck up and that’s why A Teenage Suicide is very much a “coming of age” story that remains completely different from most of the best seller list these days. It addresses the good and the bad realistically, it has its romantic sparks and it’s not so glorious moment. I wanted it to be about kids making decisions and kids making mistakes and I like to think I’ve achieved that.
I could go on for a while but I’m going to force myself to stop here. It’s probably enough to process already.
Thanks for reading.