Today I am so delighted to have author Erica Sage stopping by with a guest post about the crazy inspiration behind her new novel, Jacked Up, which comes out next week and is described as “Saved! meets Tim Federle with just a dash of A.S. King” about a grieving teen sent to Jesus Camp. Read about Erica’s inspiration below, and then learn more about her book below.
I had just returned from Young Life Camp (it’s a Jesus Camp, if you don’t know), and I got back to the task of writing a new book. I was in the middle of a YA novel that dealt with religion, in conjunction with heroin and meth addiction. I was having a tough time making drug addiction funny. That’s right, funny. I’m not a bad person, but I am irreverent, and my brother—who had been my best friend my whole life—is a homeless drug addict. His life has been a tornado of destruction in the lives of at least 19 people (I’ll spare you the details), so I had earned my right to cope with it as I may. For both me and my brother, humor is the coping mechanism of choice. I don’t know what else to when he tells me about the little green men in the trees (i.e., “treeples”), the lady who hears secrets from the Coca-Cola bottle, the World Wide Web being a literal web with actual spiders the government uses to spy on him. My brother’s drug addiction is not funny, but the alternative to laughing is total despondency.
Anyway! I digress! We’re talking about the inspiration for my book Jacked Up, not my brother’s circumstances, which are also quite jacked up.
So, here I was, just home from Jesus Camp, trying to be funny about the serious societal problem of drug addiction while also trying to explore the topic of religion and faith (which, for some, is also a serious societal problem), and I was failing. I’d hit 15,000 words and I’d run out. The well had dried up. The harvest was dead. There was nothing to reap. It was a literary Dust Bowl.
So, what did I do? I prayed, of course! I put my hands on my keyboard and literally asked God to get the right words into my head and into my fingertips. I prayed that I could make people think about the beauty and absurdity and truth and torment of religion. That I could make people feel something. That I could do justice to the God or the Universe or the Great Mystery or the Nothing in which people believe. And, yes—that I could make them laugh! (Dear God, we need to laugh!)
It was ambitious. I wanted people to reconsider how they considered their faith and the faith of others. And I wanted people to laugh in the face of an opioid crisis. I don’t know which one is the more difficult task.
So, eyes closed, I waited for God to answer.
He (She/It/They) didn’t answer.
Not that day.
Not the next day.
I was frustrated. How was I not feeling the divine current of creativity? I mean, I’d prayed, for God’s sake! So, I just sat there in my office stewing about how stupid I was. How even my act of prayer and expectation of an answer was ridiculous. How what we believe and what we do in matters of faith and philosophy can be utterly ridiculous. I mean, I’d just put it all out there for God, and He (She/It/They) was totally ignoring me! I thought, How ridiculous do I look right now? I bet we all look ridiculous to nonbelievers. Can you imagine if you sent a nonbeliever to Church Camp? They’d think we’d all gone mad! Mad!
And there it was—my novel idea. What if you sent a nonbeliever to Jesus Camp?
And so that’s what I did. I sent my main character, 15-year-old Nick, to Jesus Camp after his lesbian sister has killed herself. Poor Nick. He is a miserable dude. Especially when I reincarnate Jack Kerouac and send him along too. I mean, why not? It’s a mad, mad world!
But this book is not just about Christians and Jesus. It’s about Buddhists and Muslims and Hindus and Agnostics and Atheists and Zoroastrianists. (Is that a thing anymore?) And all the other things we can be. And all the other things we believe. Religions and races and sexuality and gender and death and life and magic and literature and alcohol and cigarettes and cheerleading. It’s about how we walk around with our beliefs, sometimes (many times!) judging others’ beliefs simply because they are not ours.
Jacked Up is about challenging assumptions.
It is funny. It’s meant to be ridiculous and absurd. It is meant to make readers think. It is not meant to offend people, but it likely will. While I don’t attempt to make addiction funny in this book, I am still irreverent about some of the most sacred of things—our beliefs. They are, indeed, sacred. But, guess what. Other people’s beliefs are too.
In the end, the idea for the book came after a prayer, and it came on the third day. That’s some holy stuff right there! Or it’s not… it’s just coincidence. I don’t know. You don’t know. So, how can we judge?
How about, let’s not judge each other. Let’s seek to understand each other. And, dammit, let’s laugh while we’re doing it!
Saved! meets Tim Federle with just a dash of A.S. King in this hilarious and poignant debut about a teen stuck at Jesus camp.
It’s bad enough that Nick’s sister is dead, and, in some bizarre attempt to force him to confront his grief, his parents are shipping him off to Jesus camp. But he’s also being followed around by Jack Kerouac, who’s incredibly annoying for a genius.
If arguing with a dead beat poet doesn’t qualify him for antipsychotics already, Nick’s pretty sure Eden Springs is going to drive him insane. The campers ride donkeys into the desert, snap selfies with counselors dressed as disciples, and replace song lyrics with Bible verses. And somehow, only Nick seems to find this strange.
Worst of all is the PC Box, into which the campers gleefully place daily prayers and confessions. With Jack nagging him to do it, Nick scribbles down his darkest secret―about his sister’s death―and drops it in the box.
But then the box is stolen, with Nick’s secret inside of it. And when campers’ confessions start appearing around the camp, Nick is desperate to get the box back―before the world learns the truth about what he did. The truth he can’t even face himself.
Laugh-out-loud funny, surreal, and insightful, this is an unforgettable novel about the strangeness of life, death, and grief―and the even stranger things people do to cope.
Erica was born and raised in Maple Valley, Washington, where she grew up playing soccer, selling boxes of apples by the roadside, and building forts in the woods. From a young age, she enjoyed reading and writing. She started writing songs when she was in kindergarten and moved on to “publishing” her own newspaper that was only ever delivered to her parents.
She is currently an English teacher in Washington, where she lives with two sons. And she still love to read and write. When she’s not doing those things, she hikes around Mount Rainier and travels whenever and wherever, whether it’s packing up and heading to a new country or just climbing into the car for a road trip.
PRAISE for Jacked Up:
“An impressive debut novel that entertains while encouraging the questioning of all assumptions.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Irreverent, poignant, and smart, Jacked Up turns Jesus camp on its head! A clever debut by a talented new author.”
―Kimberly Derting, award-winning author of the Body Finder series and the Pledge trilogy
“With an unforgettable setting and a vibrant cast of characters, Erica Sage has delivered a poignant story of one boy’s search for forgiveness in the face of loss. Hilarious and insightful, Jacked Up explores the complexities of both faith and grief with remarkable honesty, nuance, and grace. A captivating debut.” ―Katie Henry, author of Heretics Anonymous