“Pressure is just that—pressure. It’s all in your head. It has nothing to do with what you can or can’t do.”
I’ve always wondered what was more important as a writer: having the agility to make all of your characters and plots completely unique, or being able to write a few things well.
While having cookie-cutter characters and plots would be totally boring (imagine having a template where you just add in names and places), I think the old adage “write what you know” makes sense.
Julie Cross is a perfect example. Most of her books share similar elements:
- There is always at least one set of absentee parents. (what a cliche)
- The protagonist is usually a precocious girl in her late teens who’s socially awkward due to an unusual childhood.
- Each story has a heavy sports angle to it.
However, these repeats are precisely what makes her books so compelling. Julie Cross writes with a confident authority about sports. I don’t know much about sports or the training that goes into it. The extent of my athletic capability is using a bike to get around dancing alone in my room for an hour. However, either Cross was once a serious athlete or someone close to her was. She writes so competently about the persistence, the determination and the challenges an athlete faces, it’s hard to believe anything else. She doesn’t name drop terms or over-explain them; she just inserts them in a way that is immaculate and natural.
Note: I just googled her and found out that she was a former gymnast and now she’s a coach.
Though there is always at least a dead parent or a dead-beat one, there is also a rational, supportive adult the protagonist can rely on. Julie Cross is fantastic in dismantling the young adult “the adults can’t be trusted trope”. This is not to say the coach/remaining parent is rah-rah, perfect and infallible . More often than not, they don’t know how to bridge the gap with their teenage ward. They enforce curfews and limit independence and have no idea how to talk about feminine issues. But they do try hard. They are stable and present, making it obvious they have the protagonist’s best interests at heart. Watching an angsty teenager and clueless adult bridge the communication gap and build a strong relationship is truly amazing. I don’t usually make judgments about people’s personal lives, but I think she would be an amazing mother. I know I sound like a stereotypical teen, but she just gets it.
“You’re always observing people, but maybe you’re studying the wrong things.”
By reading her books, you can tell that Julie Cross really likes slow-paced, mature relationships. The romance between characters is always born out of friendship and trust. It begins with talking, then there are demonstrated common interests and showing that you understand and care about your to-be-significant-other. This is the ideal I aspire to for love. The characters (and Julie Cross by extension) deal with sex and intimacy in almost a grown-up way. There is no raging jealousy over exes, although there is some insecurity, which is dealt with by talking (how novel!). In Cross’s books, sex is a big deal (most of her teenage girls are socially isolated and young enough for them to be completely inexperienced) but it’s not called a “precious gift” or a guarantee of marriage. She doesn’t even imply that the first time is perfect; in fact, the moments leading up to it are a bit awkward.
I don’t like “Letters to Nowhere” and “Whatever Life throws” and “Third Degree” in spite of the repetitive patterns. I like them because of it.