When I was twelve my family moved from a rural area outside of Columbia, South Carolina to Scarsdale, New York, the famed suburb of New York City. Overnight, I went from being a confident Carolina tomboy with plenty of friends to “the new kid” sitting alone, day after day, in the lunchroom. I was a freak. Suddenly, my clothes seemed ghastly, and my accent sounded odd even to my own ears.
Everyone, I suppose, has had the experience of being an outsider looking in. School is usually when it happens, either because your family moved, as mine did, or because you’re thrown in with your peers in a competitive way for the first time. Maybe you were the last person picked by the team captain for a game of kickball, or you were on the wrong end of the pecking order at the bus stop. It happens to adults, too – and probably more often than we admit to ourselves. Perhaps you’ve found that you don’t click with people on your block, colleagues at work, or even some of your family members.
If you happen to live in a small town, being a “misfit” is probably harder. Differences seem more obvious. And, there’s nowhere to hide.
I think I’m a bit obsessed with this topic. I could have written about any topic, yet the subject of my first novel, Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women’s Literary Society, is the conundrum of the outcast.
Two things fascinate me about misfits: First, there are many different ways to be one. And, second, how and why a person is an outcast reveals certain truths about the people, time, and place in which it occurs.
As critics have noted about Miss Dreamsville, none of my main characters fit in. It’s 1962 in Collier County (Naples), Florida, before it was developed into the resort community it is today. Back then it was a sleepy Southern backwater. My main character, Jackie, is a newcomer from Boston. (Talk about a fish out of water!) Then there’s Dora, the narrator of the novel, who is an outcast because she is divorced. (Hard to believe today, but true at the time.)
My other major characters, for various reasons, are outsiders as well.
In my novel, the human spirit triumphs. No, they are not accepted by the status quo. What they do, however, is create their own safe haven – in their case, by forming a book club. Together, they find something they never had as individuals – a place to belong.
I suppose it’s not coincidence that this was similar to how I survived my family’s traumatic move when I was twelve. After a few weeks of being rebuffed again and again, I realized I would never be accepted, or I’d have to grovel endlessly, which I wasn’t willing to do. Meanwhile, I had noticed there was another girl – her family was from Japan – who was also an outcast. I sought out her friendship, and we became pals.
I found my place in the world. And so did she.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as that.