Imagine being born in rural Montana in the 1980s, a teenager there in the early 90s in a family then visited by tragedy, and at the same time realizing you're gay.
Some of that happened to Rhode Island College English teacher Emily Danforth.
"I always knew that my first novel would be a somewhat autobiographical coming of age novel," Danforth said while sitting in her comfy leather chair, with her pooch cradled in her lap. "I joke that this is a coming of "ga(y)gue novel. And those were the novels I read. That's part of the reason I became a writer in the first place: the books like 'To Kill a Mockingbird', 'Catcher in the Rye', 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn'. Those were incredibly formative books for me."
She poured those emotions over six years into the fictionalized story, "The Miseducation of Cameron Post." Finished in 2012, it is now an award-winning major motion picture.
In the novel, Cam's first kiss coincides with her parents' untimely death.
Danforth plays the story in her head. Her eyes flash.
"In her 12-year-old brain, she links those two events, right? And she thinks that she maybe she had a larger role in their death," Danforth said. "She's trying to figure out who she is in a world that's telling her essentially she's wrong."
Danforth knew early on that she wanted to become a novelist. So, she set out to become one.
"I think I was one of those kids that was writing stories as a kind of hobby and giving them to other kids, and have friends act them out," Danforth said.
Through Danforth's real-life struggles, the self-acceptance, the self-belief, the self-actualization, finally encouraged by others, college and doctoral degrees, having the voice and talent that resonates on the page and on the screen, is affirmation.
She's quite aware that lightning has struck twice, but has no intention of stopping now. Her next novel tackles a different genre than the "coming of age" story.
"Half of it is set in Rhode Island, in the early 1900s, sort of a Gilded Age, at a cursed boarding school," she said with a whimsical look.
There's a free screening of the "Miseducation" movie at RIC Friday at 5:30 p.m., with a panel discussion afterwards, that will resonate with budding novelists and those facing life's predicaments alike.