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Think Out Loud

Northwest Passages: Lauren Kessler

Pete Springer/OPB

Author Lauren Kessler writes non-fiction because it thrusts her right in the middle of life. To write fiction, she says, you don’t really have to leave the house.

And I love to leave the house. You only get to live this one small life, and when you write non-fiction you can spend three or four years living another life. And really understanding other people or another place.

Most recently, Kessler dug into the life of teenagers — specifically her daughter Lizzie. When Lizzie  on the cusp of teenagedom, Kessler realized their relationship was going into terrible territory.

Who is this girl I live with, this twelve-year-old, this daughter I wanted so badly and now don’t know how to connect with? And who do I turn into when we lock horns, as we do most days, on…well, on just about everything. We fight about taking showers, choosing appropriate clothing (flip flops in December?), food and nutrition (she recognizes only two food groups: cheese and deep-fried), table manners, chores, homework, screen time. We fight over everything, and nothing. Most mornings we eye each other warily, waiting to see who will cast the first stone – neither of us free of sin, both of us well armed.

That’s from the opening chapter of Kessler’s new book, My Teenage Werewolf. Kessler says she had to write it to survive. And for her, writing starts with research. So Kessler went back to middle school - following Lizzie from the classroom to the locker room, to observe her daughter in her own world.

Now Lizzie is 16 — and if the book was meant to nurture a mother-daughter relationship, it may well have succeeded. Lizzie told me this:

You don’t think fighting is horrible when you’re fighting, then after the book, I would think to myself, I can’t believe I would ever be that cruel, or stubborn, or stupid. I think the book made us take a step back, and look at our conversations. People usually don’t, and they keep fighting.

Now they blog and YouTube together. Lizzie and Lauren will be part of this conversation. And we’ll delve into the rest of Lauren’s extensive writing life too. Before My Teenage Werewolf, she has written about Alzheimer’s, a Cold War girl spy, and U of O women’s basketball. You can hear her on Think Out Loud last year, talking about her book Stubborn Twig, which tells the story of a Japanese-American family in Oregon from 1903 through the World War II internment camps. You can watch a short profile of her on OPB’s Art Beat.

Have you read any of Lauren Kessler’s books? Have you taken a course from her at U of O? What would you like to know about how Lauren and Lizzie navigated their relationship during and after the book? What have you done to survive the teenage-parent relationship?

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