Sharing My Toys by Julia Watts
I was a happy only child. Often alone but never lonely, I immersed myself in creative play. I sat on the floor with my Fisher-Price castle play set, making up elaborate soap operas about the king and queen, the prince and princess, and the kind but often misunderstood dragon. I had a family of dolls I referred to as my children, all of whom had elaborate back stories and got into daily adventures. Once I got old enough to be a confident reader, I immersed myself in the activities of other imaginary characters: Nancy Drew’s sleuthing, Mary Lennox’s secret gardening.
I did play with other kids, on playgrounds and sometimes at their houses. When it came to imaginative play, though, I always found other kids’ versions of it disappointing. They got bored with it long before I did, or they wanted to take the story in a direction I found unsatisfying. I did like the company of some other kids, swinging on the swings with them, talking with them, but when it came to imaginative play with others, I never found it as satisfying as I did in the solitude of my playroom. I was a little control freak, and I wanted to be alone with my stories.
I have no doubts that my roots as a writer stem from those hours spent alone with my play sets and my dolls. The feeling I have when I’m working on a novel is that exact same feeling of play—an immersion in an imaginary world so deep that the “real” world disappears. With each novel I have written over the years, I’ve been happily alone with my story, just me and the fruits of my imagination.
But then a friend invited me to play.
I admired Robin Lippincott’s writing long before I became his student at the M.F.A. in Writing program at Spalding University. Working together as mentor and mentee, we became friends instantly, and when I graduated from the program back in 2005, he suggested that sometime we should write something together. I agreed—though I didn’t know what this kind of collaboration would be like—and we continued our long-distance friendship and our individual writing projects while our vague promise to write something together simmered on the proverbial back burner.
Our promise was moved to the front burner in 2011, when stories of bullied LGBTQ teens seemed took up a sadly disproportionate amount of space in the headlines. Robin and I had both grown up in small Southern towns and had both struggled with bullying and isolation. We both had vivid memories of these experiences, but we also had the benefit of being survivors, adults with fulfilling careers and long-term relationships and friendships We were in a position to write a novel to give the LGBTQ teens who might feel isolated a sense of hope.
I was excited about our plan, but I was also scared. What if I couldn’t share my imaginative world with another writer? What if I couldn’t play well with another person, even if it was a person whom I loved and whose writing I loved? But once Robin came up with Rufus, his main character, and I came up with mine, Syd, the two characters’ friendship started to mirror the friendship Robin and I shared. Our characters had chemistry, they played off one another, and it was fascinating to see the way their lives intersected. I had finally invited someone else into my playroom, and we played happily together for a long, long time. The novel Rufus + Syd is the result of our play time, and I’m proud of our book and of the fact that as a forty-something adult, I finally learned how to share my toys.
About the Book
Authors: Robin Lippincott and Julia Watts
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Length: 204 Pages
Cover Artist: Garrett Leigh
Categories: Contemporary, Young Adult/Teen Fiction, Gay Fiction, Lesbian Fiction
Blurb: Vermillion, Georgia, is the small town that time forgot, or at least that’s how it feels to fifteen-year-old Rufus. As if being a scrawny ginger called “Matchstick” isn’t bad enough, Rufus is also gay, an artist, and the son of conservative religious fanatics. He doesn’t have a prayer of fitting in in the Bible Belt—at least not until he meets Syd, a spiky-haired girl in black eyeliner. Sick of being the adult her mother can’t seem to be, Syd hides behind a snarky attitude and takes refuge in classic movies, and eventually, her friendship with Rufus.
As isolated as they feel in Vermillion, Rufus and Syd soon discover they’re not as alone as they thought. Josephine, an aging free spirit who once ran a repertory cinema in Chicago, and Cole, a middle-aged gay man living with a brain injury as a result of a violent homophobic attack in his youth, offer help as the two teens struggle to discover who they are, what they want, and where they might belong. But not everyone in their town is so freethinking or open-minded.
When things become unbearable, where do two outspoken atheists turn? Trusting in each other and standing together is their only chance of making it through the opposition on all sides.
About the Author
Julia Watts’s newest novel is Rufus + Syd, co-written with Robin Lippincott. Julia’s novels for adults and young adults include Gifted and Talented, Hypnotizing Chickens, Lambda Literary Award finalist Secret City, Lambda Literary Award finalist The Kind of Girl I Am, and Lambda Literary Award winner Finding H.F. Her short pieces have appeared in magazines such as Now and Then and anthologies such as Walk ‘Til the Dogs Get Mean. All of Julia’s writing centers on Appalachia, where she has lived all her life. She teaches at South College and in Murray State University’s low-residency M.F.A. in Writing program.