Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How John Hughes Ruined My Life

I entitle this the Woes of a Generation X'er or how John Hughes ruined my life and forced me to be a fantasy writer.

Growing up when I did, you wouldn't catch me getting ready to go out with my friends without a John Hughes movie playing in the background and as soon as I got to my friends house, the night usually ended up with us watching a John Hughes movie. My friends and I didn't have vampires or werewolves, but we sure as heck had Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Judd Nelson, and Ally Sheedy, telling us how they world worked. I could literally recite Pretty In Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful word for word...and still could today, as it was stitched into the fabric of who I was.

Like many kids who grew up alongside me, in true Gen X'er form, I was disillusioned and cynical about life. To put it in a nutshell, I was bored. I didn't understand my parents--nor did I want to try--and they certainly didn't understand me. To me, all the political parties were idiots, despite Mtv's loud message to "Rock the Vote", and nothing in life, other than music, clothes...and John Hughes movies, interested me or seemed very important.

But thinking back on my childhood, these movies were very important to who I've become as a writer--important because they all gave a message of hope that the rest of the world wasn't giving me--and that's what I was looking for--a small slice of hope. Of course John Hughes was a director, but first and foremost, he was a writer...he made sure to always send that message of hope and let us know that no matter who we were, every single one of us matters. All of his characters were special and amazing in their own way. His writing allowed us to have teen angst and to rebel, and helped us realize, at least in the 90 minutes of the movie, that we could overcome anything and no matter who we were, there was something amazing about each of us. We were important. In fact, perhaps the greatest impact he had on our generation was letting us know it's okay to be different. It was preferred to be different. It was okay to be the nerd. It was okay to be the jock who inwardly struggled to keep his popular status--yet secretly didn't want it. And it was okay to be the pretty girl--who's far more than just pretty. 

So, when combining my Gen X'er pessimistic, indifferent, "everything bores me" perpetual slacker attitude, with my need for hope--a fantasy writer was born. When I did finally grow up, I realized there was a secret power in Hughes' teen movies messages. And my inner disenchantment with life, that boredom with anything and everything, made me want to give readers like me that same hope Hughes did, only in a more fantastical light. And what could be more fantastical than an underground world of super-intelligent rats who were fighting for their very lives?

Just as in Pretty and Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful, in Nightshade City, you have the "Have's" and "Have Nots," and my story is about that same hope to change your destiny, only with much higher stakes. I wanted young readers to really think deeper into life than teen love and rich verses poor, wherein instead of my audience asking, "Is Andrew McCarthy going to finally get over himself and officially date Molly Ringwald despite the fact that she's poor?" to "How are we rats going to escape the Catacombs without Commander Billycan coming after us and shackling us in the city square and watching us starve to death or cut out our tongues?" :)

With my writing, I want to take readers beyond their daily problems. My dilemma growing up, as is the case with many children, is I was too self-absorbed. It's hard to feel for others when you're only thinking about yourself, and it's hard to listen to others when you prefer the sound of your own voice--as most kids do. I want my readers to inspire themselves to do better and to be better than I was. I want them to know they have their own unique voice and it's okay to use it.

Growing up, I didn't think I had a voice. I would have these deep (Breakfast Club style) talks with my friends about life and the world, and what we were going to be when we grew up, but I didn't think grownups cared what I had to say, so I never said anything to them. And being silent just became a way of life. I want kids to stand up and talk about what they want in their world. I want them to talk about what they see as injustices and prejudices in the world around them. I want them to know it's okay to stand up for themselves and it's okay to say, "That's not right!"--and to even shout it sometimes.  

Just because children are young, it doesn't make them wrong and should never make them silent. Silence is what causes bad things to happen, whether it's on an epic scale such as Nightshade City, a terrible breakup in a John Hughes film, or something awful in one lone child's life. My friends and I all had the silence syndrome growing up and it wasn't until I had children of my own that it occurred to me that wasn't okay. Maybe that's why my kids are so noisy!  

"You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal." - John Hughes, The Breakfast Club


  1. This is genius Hilary. I loved all John Hughes' films so much. He made it cool to grow up in the Midwest. He will always be sorely missed.

  2. *sigh* This post is totally ME. Love, love, love!!!! :-)

  3. This: Pure Awesomeness!

  4. Excellent post, Hilary. Fostering voice and being heard in the current generation of kids--that's what it's all about. What you've written would be an excellent talk to give to pre-teens and teens!! Potentially very empowering!! :-)

  5. Loved this, Hilary. I never tire of The Breakfast Club and the ultimate anthem of that time, Simple Minds', Don't You Forget About Me.

  6. Thanks, everyone! I think John Hughes had a huge part in helping shape our generation and other to come--pretty amazing!

    Paul, it's funny you mentioned that. At the NCTE in November, this was what I spoke about, though not to kids! Would they even know who he was?? Ha, ha! ;)

  7. John Hughes movies are truly epic. I've watched most of them multiple times.
    Due to my full lips and brunette hair and my name, I was called Kelly LeBrock through high school. And come to think of it, my hubby and I went to same hs but never spoke til later in life and I remember thinking he reminded me of James Spader in Pretty in Pink (voice especially and I thought he was stuck up in hs :).

    But interesting that as a teen I did voice my opinion to adults and other teens whether it was controversial or not...though being the rule follower I was and still am, I'm sure in a very diplomatic manner.

    A most excellent post, dear Hilary!

  8. Wonderful! Some of my favorites are from JH. Can't wait for my boys to "rediscover" them!

  9. This is great, Hilary. I love all your hopes for touching the next generation through your stories. (And my kids are very noisy too!)

  10. Hilary,

    While I'm not a John Hughes devotee, I do get what you're saying here.

    I wrote my last novel to move away from the cliches you talk about, and the feedback's been rough to deal with, however right it may be, because it be grating to get griped for not doing X cliche device in your book, yet slammed for not doing something different, and I do feel the whole "Be personal, yet universal" thing is more esoteric than something that can methodically achieved.

    The more I read you in the blogosphere, the more I think we have quite a lot in common, at least as far as writing's concerned.

    The only reason I felt alienated from my mother (Never knew my Dad) is her mental illness makes her the three year old from H***, and as much as I hate to say that about my own mother, we just aren't the close, and while I didn't help, it's hard to live with someone who frankly makes (Insert bratty toddler sibling or cousin here)look like a saint by comparison. The rest of my family couldn't be more opposite to me if they tried.

    They like being loners in their own separate universes. I seek community. I need my alone time too, but I'm not a hermit by choice, but out of circumstance and mobility constraints.

    I actually had, and frankly still have, the opposite problem. While you and other writers I know had to grow into thinking outside yourself, I often pushed aside my emotional wants,feeling pressured by family and society to be a selfless academic, and instead became a jaded high school dropout, partly because of bullying (Not the deadly kind, but still hard) and feeling frustrated that people cared more about college degrees than what you're good at that can't be graded, and I took school seriously, but I just was not an academic in the classic sense, and I guess I'm jealous of all the people in my age bracket, or even younger, like our target readers under 18, are accomplished things I still can only dream about.

    I'm happy for them, really I am, but it also makes me think "Where did I go wrong?"

    Why I am still so afraid of academics? Why do I have such angst about being so far behind others my age, that I still live at home and lack of car, license to drive said care, and a jot to pay for insurance of said car, makes me feel like the biggest slacker. While my writer friends say they understand, since many of them or married, have kids, and have spouses to support, I don't get how.

    They seem too far removed from where I am.

    Plus, I don't know about you, but the U.S. presidential smear campaigns of 2004 count not end soon enough, I didn't care who won by the time November came and went, I just wanted to be done with the slander ads for the next few years.

    2012's proving to be even worse because it's now invading the net in ways it simply wasn't a decade ago, and trust me, it was nicer back then in that respect. You have to be asleep, dead, or give up cable to best avoid it, so pray I don't lose it before November.

    My writer friends often tell me I don't honor myself enough, in the same way some parents are do for their kids far more than themselves, even though I'm not a parent, married, etc.

    So for me, honoring my feelings on life and books can be hard.


Thanks for adding to the mayhem!