When You Prescribe Pain for the Pain, a guest post by Joelle Wellington
When I tell people that I was a painfully insecure teenager, it is often met with quiet surprise. There’s always a brief beat with a soft upraised oh. It always inspires a sharp laugh from me, the laugh that I let out unabashed now, sharp and hitching with a shrill edge to it. I used to temper this kind of laugh, pretend that it didn’t exist, softened it into chuckles to jokes that I didn’t find all that funny. But, now I laugh brashly at the disbelief.
There is very little I’m insecure about now that I’ve filled out in my own skin.
I owe much of my comfortability to my parents, but also to horror. The horror genre is a fraught one, full of gore and twists and rules and pain. When I was a child, and even a teenager, searching for the things that go thump in the night, it was the pain that I reached for. There is something uniquely cathartic about terror, and recognizing my own pain and terror in other people. I identified with the characters in a horror film—from the protagonists to the villains that they faced.
Growing up and growing into yourself is an awkward event. It was something my parents always assured me of, promising that one day, I would learn the rules to the game—that game being life—and if I didn’t like it, I would be able to change it. In horror, there are rules, and time and again, I would see the heroes changing it. Again and again, they would endure pain, only to reach the third act and change the rules and triumph. This repetition of events always made me feel less alone.
I found this feeling in the horror novels I read as a child too. Staple favorites involved Coraline and The Graveyard Book, both by Neil Gaiman, that found its heart in the grief of a child, something I was familiar with. I found it in one of my favorite and most beloved books, In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories by Alvin Schwartz. My particular favorite in that short story collection was “The Green Ribbon,” in which a young girl named Jenny marries a boy named Alfred, making him promise that he wouldn’t remove her ribbon without asking. This story resonates with me, even now, as a story about consent and trust, well taught through the vehicle of terror. And there was nothing I adored more than the Fear Street novels by R.L. Stine, with gore and teenage angst entwined. These stories felt realer to me than most others. There was a sweetness to contemporary YA that did not fit within the teenage angst that I carried on my back and reveled in. Both YA horror exorcised my pain and awkwardness and left room for something a little like hope.
When writing Their Vicious Games, it was that same catharsis that I reached for. I had just finished watching Ready or Not, a 2019 horror-comedy, that felt painfully close to home in its fast and funny critique and commentary on classicism. My private high school was in upheaval due to finally being forced to address the microaggressions and racism that had been swept under its liberal rug. And while I was about four years out from having been in an environment as insular like that, the pain lingered.
Finally, I realized that this was a chance not just to experience the pain and watch something else that gave me hope. This was a time to exorcise it, to leave it on the page, and treat that pain as something prescriptive. Adina Walker’s story is dissimilar from my own—I was not forced to go through three physical trials in order to marry a wealthy scion (I know, shocking). But, the biting sharp comments, heavy with meaning, and the latent racism was definitely something I knew. Writing it all out felt like an exercise of remembering while letting go.
While delving deeper into this story, critiquing race and class and gender, I found myself laughing more at the absurdity of some parts of my teenage years. The latent classism, the undercover racism, the way gender had to be performed—it was all so…ridiculous. It was also uplifting to realize that this is the same catharsis I had found in so much other horror media, from books to films. Treating residual pain with humor, making a joke out of the terror and turning it on its head, feels powerful. That is where true catharsis is found, with the pain laid plainly and depicted with conviction. That is what is at the root of horror—conviction.
And as I finished that last page, I was proud to have found my conviction, and hoped that someone would find catharsis in the pain that I’d recorded on the page too.
Meet the author
Joelle Wellington grew up in Brooklyn, New York, where her childhood was spent wandering the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Her love of the written word led her to a B.A. in Creative Writing and International Studies. When she isn’t writing, she’s reading and when she’s not doing that, she’s attempting to bake bread with varying degrees of success or strengthening her encyclopedia-like pop culture knowledge. She is represented by Quressa Robinson of Folio Literary Management.
About Their Vicious Games
A Black teen desperate to regain her Ivy League acceptance enters an elite competition only to discover the stakes aren’t just high, they’re deadly, in this searing thriller that’s Ace of Spades meets Squid Game with a sprinkling of The Bachelor.
You must work twice as hard to get half as much.
Adina Walker has known this the entire time she’s been on scholarship at the prestigious Edgewater Academy—a school for the rich (and mostly white) upper class of New England. It’s why she works so hard to be perfect and above reproach, no matter what she must force beneath the surface. Even one slip can cost you everything.
And it does. One fight, one moment of lost control, leaves Adina blacklisted from her top choice Ivy League college and any other. Her only chance to regain the future she’s sacrificed everything for is the Finish, a high-stakes contest sponsored by Edgewater’s founding family in which twelve young, ambitious women with exceptional promise are selected to compete in three mysterious events: the Ride, the Raid, and the Royale. The winner will be granted entry into the fold of the Remington family, whose wealth and power can open any door.
But when she arrives at the Finish, Adina quickly gets the feeling that something isn’t quite right with both the Remingtons and her competition, and soon it becomes clear that this larger-than-life prize can only come at an even greater cost. Because the Finish’s stakes aren’t just make or break…they’re life and death.
Adina knows the deck is stacked against her—it always has been—so maybe the only way to survive their vicious games is for her to change the rules.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 07/25/2023
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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