The Big Idea: Laura Kat Young
LAURA KAT YOUNG:
An Eye for an Eye
A horrible crime had just shocked the nation, and my friend and I sat in the square of an idyllic British town discussing what the courts were doing with the assailant. Like the many around us who held in their hands newspapers, phones, glossy magazines highlighting the case, we were hypnotized by the leniency shown towards the criminal. I asked my friend: what if it had been your loved one? What justice could be served to make it, well, even? My friend went down a rabbit hole. I followed, nodding yes, and at each and every turn. It was fun to think of ways to make the bad people pay–isn’t that what a hero does in the end, after all? Or is that an anti-hero? Perhaps my characters are a bit of both–I’ll let the reader be the judge.
No Way Out
Toni Morrison, one of my favorite authors of all time, said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I want stories of terrible societies, speculative and dystopian worlds and inescapable situations. In The Giver, there was the next town. In Lord of the Flies, they were rescued before everyone killed each other. In The Handmaid’s Tale, Canada is their safe haven. But what if there wasn’t an out? What if there was nowhere to go? Or what if you did escape, but you had to go back?
It was also important to me to write a book in which there was a strong female lead whose storyline was not contingent upon seeking out a romantic relationship. Growing up I read books in which women had two choices: get married and have kids or die alone. I wanted to give my lead a story that I don’t frequently see on the page (still): that a woman’s livelihood is connected not to who desires her but what she desires for herself. All books should live up to the Bechdel test.
The idea of radical self-love and forgiveness is an important theme in my work. Sometimes people do terrible things, but what does it say about us if we cannot forgive them? And if a person should misstep, how can they work to forgive themselves? The systems in which we are trapped contribute to our own oppression. We should all work towards dismantling them, towards fighting those that seek to subjugate us. As a high school teacher, I focus heavily on said systems, exploring the dysconsciousness and subsequent perceptions and attitudes that bind us to the very thing we should be trying to escape.
Finding a Home
The Butcher had a difficult time finding a home. Too gruesome, not gruesome enough; where would this title sit in a bookstore? I kept at it, though, and entered Twitter pitch contests and went to agent panels at conferences. I was chosen for #Pitchwars, a mentoring program that matches published authors, editors, or industry interns with an unpublished writer. I did a deep revision, landed an agent (after many, many queries), and on the eve of the pandemic, Friday, March 13, 2020, my novel went on submission.
A Final Word
I think that if I can impart any wisdom, it’s that it’s never too late. I’m a forty-five year old woman who doesn’t hold an MFA. I have two lovely children and teach high school English full-time. It’s possible. But even if this book had never found a home, the fact is that I wrote one. Sometimes we can be the hero of our own story.