9780803741294_large_Castle_Hangnail April 23


I Was a Weird Kid by Ursula Vernon

I was a weird kid.


It seems like we could start at least half the author biographies that you read with that line—I was a weird kid.


We were kids reading books when we were supposed to be doing something else. We were bad at…something. Math, or geography or P.E. or all three. We were depressed or discouraged or outcasts or just generally confused. We lived in our heads and made up dream worlds and polished those dream worlds over and over again, like a worry stone in our hands.


Eventually—or immediately, or as soon as we could hold a pencil, or later, in college, or when the teacher gave us that one assignment—we started writing things down.


It sounds like the start of a story, doesn’t it? Once upon a time. Many many years ago. It was a dark and stormy night. I was a weird kid.


When I do school visits, I tell kids that I wrote my first series, Dragonbreath, because I wanted to tell a story about a kid who didn’t fit in at school. I ask if any of them ever feel like they didn’t fit in, and I raise my hand first, so they don’t have to feel weird admitting it, and I say, “You don’t have to raise your hand if you don’t want to.”


Virtually every hand shoots up anyway. The ones who don’t look around, and maybe for the first time, they feel like they don’t fit in. Or maybe they were just reluctant to admit it.


Nobody fits in. Everybody’s the weird kid in their own mind. Everyone’s confused, because when you’re nine years old, the world is dreadfully confusing. Everybody’s bad at something.


Everybody’s got a world inside their head.


I remember that I was obsessed with horses for a while, which was an extremely normal thing for a pre-teen girl, and then I was obsessed with survivalism, which is slightly less normal, or at least gets less press. Galloping horses make good posters that you can sell to said pre-teen girls. Shipwrecks with lone survivors or detailed instructions on meat smoking are less photogenic.


Still, I read every book I could find about having to survive in the wilderness. Swiss Family Robinson. Little House in the Big Woods. My Side of the Mountain. Lord of the Flies. (I recall being deeply contemptuous of that last one. Clearly they had not read the right sort of books about survival. I was also a budding animal lover, so as bad as I felt about Piggy, I felt even worse for the pig. In retrospect, that may have been a poor reading choice for a nine-year-old.)


My friends who were willing to play horses with me were also generally willing to play shipwreck with me (with a strict “no cannibalism” rule laid down, after I read Call It Courage.) When I discovered Pern, they were willing to play dragons.


They drew the line at my next obsession, which was Star Trek, though. It is reasonably difficult to explain Vulcan philosophy to other nine-year-old girls. I went back to being the weird kid.


In retrospect, though, I wonder. Were my friends glazing over when I tried to explain ‘Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations’ because I was weird, or because they had a different world in their heads that they wanted to get back to?


Did they try to explain it to me? It’s been decades. Maybe I just forgot.


I try to remember what games we played that I didn’t start. I can’t remember most of them. Vampires, I think? Princesses? (And I’ll date myself badly and admit that the V miniseries came out around then, and for a very weird stretch, many of my friends were obsessed with it. I blame the shoulderpads.)


I went home thinking I was the weird kid. Now I wonder if they did, too.  Maybe they continued their love of vampires and went on to be YA writers, while I continue mucking about with dragons. (Possibly some of them also went on to write first contact stories with reptile aliens. That would be sort of ridiculously awesome, actually.)


9780803741294_large_Castle_HangnailAnd did we ever play any games about witches? It seems like we must have, since the girl witch from my book Castle Hangnail was right there in my brain, the minute I reached for her. Did I want to be a witch when I was twelve, and just forgot? Well, that would have been a very sensible thing to want, wouldn’t it? Not weird at all. Who wouldn’t want to be able to turn somebody into an earwig?


Anyway, my point is, all of us probably thought that we were the weird ones. The more kids I talk to, the more I wonder if any of us are right.


I was a weird kid. And I did carry a world around inside my head. But then, probably so did everybody else.


Ursula Vernon (www.ursulavernon.com) is the creator of the books in the popular Dragonbreath series, which have been Indie Next Picks, Kirkus Best Books of the year, and received an IRA/CBC Choice Award. She has also won a Hugo award for her comic, Digger. She lives in a castle (okay, maybe it’s more like a house) with her husband in Pittsboro, North Carolina.