A Young Adult Novel by David-Matthew Barnes
While being punished for writing a controversial article in her high school paper, Serena Albright is befriended by enigmatic loner Brodie Wiles. Serena witnesses the first time that Brodie meets Lance Royal, who is secretly rehearsing to compete in The Showdown, the biggest dance contest of the year. Immediately, Serena is drawn into their world, inspired by the love that she recognizes between them.
Through her close friendship with Brodie and Lance, Serena finds comfort for the grief and guilt she feels over the brutal death of her gay older brother, the victim of a hate crime. Frustrated that her deep-in-denial parents spend endless hours in front of the television and refuse to acknowledge the death of their son, Serena accepts the challenge to have a face-to-face meeting with the boy who killed her brother.
Set in the summer of 1986, this young adult novel explores the emotional aftershocks of a hate crime from the perspective of a young woman who finds renewed hope through two young men who are brave enough to love.
This book changed my life. Completely.
Mesmerized began as a short story (what is now the first chapter of the novel), written while I was in a nostalgic state of mind. I was living (and teaching) in a small town in Pennsylvania at the time. I read the story over the phone to Nick Moreno (he was driving to Canada on a business trip). He insisted the story and the characters were worthy of a novel. He felt they were strong enough to sustain.
And, he was right.
The original concept was a summer romance between Brodie (in an earlier draft he was younger: a freshman) and Lance (who originally worked in a pizza parlor but still drove a tangerine-colored Vespa).
I was hugely inspired by the Prince song When Doves Cry (just hearing this song immediately takes me back to a specific time in my life), envisioning the two characters dancing together to that particular song. One night, I was standing at the cash register while working a part-time job at PETCO, when the song came on in the store. In that moment, the character of Serena Albright entered the story with conflicts and heartaches and beauty of her own, and immediately, I knew: the novel had to be told from her perspective.
Strangely, I never reference When Doves Cry in Mesmerized. However, Pat Benatar's classic song Love is a Battlefield has a tremendous importance in the novel.
|The movie poster for Fire with Fire, |
as referenced in the novel Mesmerized.
To date, I've received more responses (particularly via email) from young people who have read Mesmerized, than I have for any other project. Their words inspire me to write more, work harder, and stay true to my reasons for telling stories for and about teenagers.
Once Mesmerized was published, this novel became the most important story I've written in my career (to date). It's taught me the power of the written word.
More so than many of my projects, there's a tremendous amount of me in this book. Certainly most (if not all) of the characters are either based on people I knew/met/loved while growing up as a teenager in the 80s in Sacramento, or they are composites of a few people. All of the locales mentioned in the book were places I actually spent time at (sometimes without permission). In many ways, this novel serves as personal time capsule for me - as a fictional account of my former teenaged life.
Writing this novel forced me to return to my younger years, re-examine them, and write from that point of view. Once the central story began to unfold during the writing process, Serena's grief became my driving force to finish the book.
Mesmerized launched my career as a novelist. I pitched the novel to Len Barot, the president of Bold Strokes Books, and Greg Herren, my future editor, at a literary festival. I had five minutes with them. They liked the idea and asked for the manuscript. A month later, I submitted the manuscript. Six weeks later, I signed my first book publishing contract. I'm now finishing my fifth novel.
To this day, it surprises me that Mesmerized has not been adapted into a film. The story is begging to be told on a big screen. I hope someday this happens. In the meantime, it's my goal to reach as many young people as possible with this novel.
For this, and many, many reasons, Mesmerized will always be close to my heart.
|Here's a photo that hung above my desk while I wrote the book. |
It's the original newspaper advertisement for one of my favorite films:
Susan Siedelman's Smithereens.