If there's one thing that FN-2187 and I have in common, it's that we're both traitors.
One thing I get asked frequently (mostly by Australians) is if my book is set in the US. (Americans, for some reason, tend to assume that the book is set there without having to ask.) I have to sheepishly look friends, family and strangers in the eye and mumble, "Yes. I'm a traitor to queen and Commonwealth. I set the story on American soil."
I know, I know. Dishonour on me. Dishonour on my cow.
So what's my reasoning for this heinous betrayal of the sunburnt country I call home? Do I really hate Australia that much?
The answer is a big, fat NO. I love Australia. I love it a kind of embarrassing amount. I've lived in Europe and Asia, and while I was away I watched the Tourism Australia ads and Telstra's "Down Under" commercial from the 2012 London Olympics. Like, multiple times. I sometimes sobbed into my wine while watching these. That's how patriotic I am. That's how much I missed Australia when I was abroad.
*sob* 'Straya *sob*
So why is OUR CHEMICAL HEARTS set in the US of A? The truth is, it wasn't really a conscious decision. If I'd been writing a book about magic or knights or stone circles, I probably would've set it in Europe. If I'd been writing about post-apocalyptic landscapes or venomous fauna or terrifying urban legends about bears that drop from trees and maul unsuspecting tourists, I probably would've set it in Australia. (I really need to write a thriller about drop bears one day...)
Place is as much a character in stories as the characters themselves, and for me, the US is the setting for the archetypal high school story even though I didn't go to high school there. The Breakfast Club. Clueless. Carrie. Mean Girls. Scream. Bring It On. 10 Things I Hate About You. Napoleon Dynamite. All of these and so many more were what I grew up watching, and I absorbed so much by osmosis.
While I was living in Hong Kong, my two best friends were American, and what struck me is that they didn't realise how pervasively their culture saturates others. Or, at least, how pervasively American culture saturates Australian culture.
From an early age, Aussies are exposed to all things American: US TV shows, US films, US books, US politics, US news. I desperately wanted to visit America when I was a kid. I wanted to eat PopTarts and go to Disneyland and wear my own clothes to school. I'd perfected my American accent by the time I was 10. I wanted to be American.
Of course, as you grow older, you come to realise that the US isn't a perfect country. When you're a kid, you don't hear about the gun violence or the KKK or or the not-so-great healthcare or politicians like Donald Trump trying to build walls to keep immigrants out. That's not the America from my childhood. That's not the America I fell in love with.
Still, when it came time to choose a setting for OUR CHEMICAL HEARTS, there was no choice really. It wasn't something I even consciously thought about. Most of the great high school stories I can think of off the top of my head are set in the US, so mine was too, albeit in a fictional town in an unspecified state along one of the (or perhaps the other?) coasts.
As I've grown older, I've come to love Australia in a way I never could've imagined as a child. As a kid, the US was the be all and end all, and all I ever wanted was to move there and be American. Australia certainly has its problems, and it's certainly not a perfect country by any standard, but it's my country and I get all weepy and smiley whenever I fly home after any length of being away.
I love it intensely, and I would love to set a book here one day. An apocalypse book, probably, because the landscape would be an incredible character in a book about survival against all the crazy fauna that wants to kill us. And zombies. There will definitely need to be zombies in there somewhere. But until I'm ready to write my zombie magnum opus, I'll keep writing books about high school, and I'll keep setting them in the US, and I'll keep trying (and failing) to sneak Aussie vernacular like "heaps keen" and "ratbag" past my editors.