Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Reaching Readers: Ina Claire Gabler & Personal Tie-Ins

Ina Claire Gabler is the author of two chapter books and two textbooks for secondary schoolers. Her young adult fiction has featured in Scholastic and Pearson publications as well as YM magazine for teens. Her stories for adults are collected in Unexpected Return with each one of the 28 pieces having a different style and flavor. She is particularly passionate about making the reading experience more personal for young readers and in creating a more reader-centered context for the story.

Welcome, Ina Claire! It’s a treat to interview a scholarly author about the craft of writing for young readers.

You’ve written two books for young readers, Magic &Potatoes and Buddy, which both involve dealing with challenging circumstances and relationships. How have your stories reached readers in similar situations?

ICG: I’ve received feedback from my stories, especially "The Test," published in Scholastic Scope. Because it was read in classrooms nationally, I had the good fortune to learn from various teachers that their students loved discussing the story and its moral dilemma. A quiet, teenage Mercedes has to choose between helping her handsome, popular boyfriend cheat on a final exam, or not cheating and losing him. She decides not to cheat and keeps her self-respect, even though she loses Carlos. Students identify with issues that apply to them: peer pressure, social acceptance, principles and the rights of love.  I'm gratified there are teachers who've kept the story and still use it. 

You've also written two books on Constructivist learning theory, which suggests that young readers learn best when they build a personal understanding with a story using their experiences and reflections. How can this approach be used to reach more young readers?

ICG: Such an important question. What situations, dilemmas and conflicts do young people relate to? Your story’s setting, time and culture may be different from theirs, even foreign, but the issues cut through the differences. Being able to identify with characters of all stripes engages young readers and develops their understanding of our shared humanness across circumstances. When I write a YA story—about a paraplegic pre-teen boy or a lonely, young girl—I engender my characters with the needs and perceptions of most young people. And so I strive to make the fiction relatable to the YA/MG readers who are physically able and outgoing as well as those who, for any reason, may be on the social margins.

We often hear how reluctant readers don’t like the fact that books require them to just sit there and read passively. In what ways can parents and teachers use Constructivist techniques to make reading be more interactive?

ICG: Ask questions! They should range from literal understanding of what happens in the story to comprehension of the issues related to the reader. Then evoke critical thinking about the story: What are the higher principles at stake? Would you benefit from knowing the characters? Why or why not? Does anonymous kindness matter more than public acclaim? What does it mean to win or lose beyond appearances? Also, it’s best not to embed the answer in the question. Instead of "Did Mercedes value her self-respect more than she loved Carlos?" try "What did Mercedes struggle with?"

How can middle grade and young adult writers use Constructivist approaches in their in storytelling to engage young readers better?

ICG: A major Constructivist goal, whether in YA mainstream fiction, science fiction or fantasy, is for the author to consider events and themes that relate to young people, motivating them to critically think about life’s challenges. For example, are moral decisions fixed as an unbending principle, or conflicted between two opposing worthy actions, or dependent on extenuating circumstances? Whose needs take priority? Engage your readers so they can imagine what they would do in that same situation and for what reason. Try to create YA fiction with sparks for lively discussions or quiet, individual reflection that widens the young readers’ points of view.

As a sneak preview for our readers, what can you share with us about your upcoming novel? 

ICG: It’s an all-ages fantasy brimming with real-life issues. A hero quest in a long ago time, with the flavor of Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea trilogy without wizards or dragons.

Thanks for an interesting interview, Ina Claire. We’ll keep an eye out for your upcoming fantasy book. All the best, Chris Brandon Whitaker!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Interview: Erin Petti

The Kidliterati team is so excited to welcome Erin Petti, MG author of THE PECULIAR HAUNTING OF THELMA BEE!

The blurb:

Ghost-story lover and debut author Erin Petti has written a quirky story for fans of The Goonies, Goosebumps, and Coraline.

Eleven-year-old budding scientist Thelma Bee has adventure in her blood. But she gets more than she bargained for when a ghost kidnaps her father. Now her only clues are a strange jewelry box and the word "Return," whispered to her by the ghost. It's up to Thelma to get her dad back, and it might be more dangerous than she thought--there's someone wielding dark magic, and they're coming after her next.

We got a chance to talk to Erin about all things creepy. Here's what she had to say!

Why did you want to write a ghost story?

I'm fascinated with folklore, legends, and ghosts - I always have been. The world has a historical treasure trove of totally inspiring creepy crawlies that's never exhausted. Almost every town has a spooky story to tell if you dig a little. Also, in a weird way I think that there's something alternately mundane and exhilarating about the idea that spirits could be all around us every day, and that there's a veil that can be lifted.

Who came first - the ghost or the other characters in Thelma Bee?

Thelma came first, then her friends, then the otherworldly characters! I knew I wanted her to go on an adventure, but the type of adventure it would be unfolded as I created the world.

Do you have any advice for writers who want to write a spooky story?

Think about what scares you. Like, what really gives you the chills? Something I've been unreasonably frightened of since childhood is a mirror in a darkened room. Probably has to do with some awful story a first grade classmate told about Bloody Mary. But that root of fear provided some great inspiration for one of the major scenes early on in the book.

What are some of your favorite ghost stories?

I'm reading the Lockwood and Co. series by Jonathan Stroud now and am in LOVE. L.O.V.E. He's done such a fantastic job building a richly drawn alternate London with a serious "visitor" problem. I'm on the edge of my seat every other page. Strongly recommend!!

What are you working on next?

Editing up Thelma's book 2 and outlining book 3!

Do you believe in ghosts?

Yes! Or I think so. I'm a little like Fox Mulder on this - I want to believe. What about you, Abby? :)

I'm not sure - but I hope if they exist, they're the nice kind!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Guest Post: One Day, Three MG Debuts!

Today we have a very special interview with three debut middle grade authors: LOU LOU AND PEA AND THE MURAL MYSTERY by Jill Diamond, LIKE MAGIC by Elaine Vickers, and FINDING PERFECT by Elly Swartz. All three novels will find their way to a shelf near you on October 18, 2016. Read on to learn their secrets, and enter below to win a copy of ALL THREE signed hardcover books!

1. If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them?

Jill: I’d ask Pea to help me pick out a fabulous outfit for the LOU LOU AND PEA AND THE MURAL MYSTERY launch party!

Elly: If I could sit down with any character in FINDING PERFECT, it would be Molly’s little brother, Ian. And, the question I would ask him would simply be, “Are you okay?” While Ian is Molly and Kate’s youngest sibling, he understands Molly in a way most don’t. He sees her. The real her. As I wrote Molly’s story, I worried about him. He’s little. He sees the changes in Molly, but can’t help her on his own. Just like he can’t bring his mom home. He sees it all, but can’t fix any of it. So, if given the chance, I’d want to give him a big hug and make sure he was okay.

I’d ask my girls the same question I ask my kids each day: How was school? This story brought them right to the eve of starting at a new school where they could really blossom. Because my kids all started at new schools this year, I care so much about each kid feeling like they truly belong at school.

2. Share your main character’s favorite book or author.

Elaine: For Grace, I think Princess Juniper of the Hourglass by Ammi-Joan Paquette would be a story she would absolutely lose herself in and read again and again.

For Jada, something with a little sass and spunk like One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia or Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson.

For Malia, I’d say Palace Beautiful by Sarah DeFord Williams—a lovely MG set in Salt Lake City about a family that’s going through something similar to what Malia’s family encounters.

Jill: Lou Lou and Pea love to read! Lou Lou’s favorite picture book is The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle because it’s about horticulture. Pea’s favorite is Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson because Harold draws his world and Pea is an artist. Of course, they also both love middle grade stories about friendship and mystery!

Elly: Molly has 2 favorite books. One is Where’s My Stuff, The Ultimate Teen Organizing Guide by Samantha Moss and Lesley Schwartz. Molly’s playbook. The other is Eloise by Kay Thompson. Eloise is messy and precocious and confident in her uniqueness. While Molly is nothing like Eloise, she admires Eloise’s strength and absolute comfortability with mess.

3. What are you working on now?

Elly: I am in the middle of a few new projects. I am revising a middle grade novel about an 11-year-old named Frankie. A story about family with a splash of mystery. I am super excited about this project, and while I can’t share more at this time, I can say, stay tuned. Good news coming! I am also diving into the picture book world and kicking off another new middle grade.

Elaine: My second book is in copyedits now (coming fall 2017!), so I’m actually starting on a brand new book! This story idea started with an early morning run with my son, an unfortunate accident, and an absolutely perfect text from a good friend.

Jill: The second book in the LOU LOU AND PEA series, which will be released in the winter of 2017.

4. Can we see a “right-now” picture of your workspace?

Elaine: We are currently living with my in-laws while we build a house, so the only space I really have is my office at the university where I teach. If you look closely, you’ll see molecular models, safety goggles, and chemistry books, but also some art that inspires me. There’s a big window with second-story views of a grove of gorgeous old trees. It’s actually a wonderful place to write.

Jill: I live in a small city apartment, so my workspace is actually part of my kitchen. I think this is a good thing because I always know if someone has cookies to share. As you can see, it’s very colorful. I love wallpaper and this is definitely my favorite. It’s also cozy, and my husband built the amazing desk to fit in the space. Full disclosure: it’s not usually this neat. I tidied it up for the photo!

Elly: My work space is a pretty good depiction of the way I view the world and the things that are important to me. My desk is under a window, so I get the sun and the rain and slivers of the sky all day long. And, it is surrounded by photos of my sons, husband, and those I love who are no longer with me – my gram, my father-in-law and my mom. Reminders of how lucky I am to have (or have had) these people in my life. I also surround myself with quotes. My favorite, “If you can dream it. You can do it.” –Walt Disney. And, finally, there’s Lucy. Always, hanging out on my lap or near my desk.

Thank you to Elly, Jill, and Elaine for a very fun interview! We at Kidliterati are looking forward to each of these great new middle grade stories. For more information on each author and their debut, read below, and don't miss your chance to win a hardcover of all four books on the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post!

Jill Diamond has loved children’s literature for as long as she can remember, thanks to her school librarian mother and the long, cold winters in Maine. When she’s not writing, Jill practices law, dreams about her next travels, eats soft serve ice cream, and wears cowboy boots. Jill now lives in San Francisco with her husband and their son. Visit her at or on Twitter @jillinboots.

 Amazon  | Barnes & Noble  | Indiebound

Elly Swartz is a middle-grade author. Her debut novel, FINDING PERFECT (FSG October, 2016) is about twelve-year-old Molly, friendships, family, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. Through the years, Elly’s been a Sesame Place ride operator, messenger, lawyer, legal author, and college essay adviser. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her husband, two sons and beagle named Lucy. You can find her at, on Twitter @ellyswartz or Facebook. Be sure to check out the FINDING PERFECT curriculum guide and audio trailer!

FINDING PERFECT: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Indiebound

Elaine Vickers is the author of LIKE MAGIC (HarperCollins, October 2016) and loves writing middle grade and chapter books when she’s not teaching college chemistry or hanging out with her fabulous family. You can find her at on the web, @ElaineBVickers on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, or generally anywhere there are books and/or food for her consumption.

LIKE MAGIC: Amazon  | Barnes and Noble  | Indiebound

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Book Review: IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE by Christina June

It Started With GoodbyeIt Started With Goodbye by Christina June
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Christina June’s young adult book IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE, charmed me from the start, and I found myself sitting comfortably in the author’s beautiful writing, like an old friend sharing a story. Familiar, and relatable, this was a fun contemporary take on the Cinderella story, which explores finding your place in life, even when it feels everyone’s against you.

Falsely accused of a crime, sixteen-year-old, Tatum Elsea (TLC) winds up under house arrest. Her father leaves town, leaving Tatum with her step-monster, Belen, and perfect stepsister, Matilda, who won’t even look at her, much less speak. Her best friend, Ashlyn, has been sent to a boarding school since the criminal charge and isn’t writing back. Tatum tried reaching out to her. It wasn’t Tatum’s fault. Ashlyn’s questionable new boyfriend, Chase, got them into serious trouble, and now they face grand larceny charges.

“In terms of life events, my getting arrested was either pretty horrible timing or pretty perfect, depending on who you were talking to.”

Sentenced to probation and community service, Tatum’s thankful it’s the end of the school year, and wouldn’t have to listen to the rumor mill blow everything out of proportion for long. Maybe it would help her focus on the budding graphic design business, new friend Abby suggested, after the great work Tatum did on her blog.

Abby encourages Tatum to find more clients. Tatum’s inspired. When her stepsister, Matilda, the ballet dancer has a recital, she takes the opportunity to leave the new business cards at the school that didn’t accept her art portfolio. She literally bumps into a mysterious and keen-witted boy, and the two have an inspired conversation while critiquing the art on the walls. Tatum flees before either catches the other’s name. A student from her stepsister’s school, she wouldn’t dare tell either, wanting to stay anonymous. She also wants to keep her budding graphic design business under wraps for now.

Waiting for her best friend Ashlyn to write back, and with her stepmother watching every move and calculating her car’s mileage, the boy at the gala fades into the background. Tatum begins corresponding with SK, her latest client. Leaving her business cards at Matilda’s school proved fruitful. He plays cello and she begins work on creating the perfect promotional flyer for him.

But Belen, the stepmother, pulls the reigns in tighter, and the only recourse Tatum has, is her step-grandmother, Blanche, who came to stay and help Belen keep tabs on her. She has wise words to share, compliments of The Golden Girls. A breath of air in Tatum’s otherwise suffocating life. Blanche lessens the blow of her daughter, Belen’s unreadable demeanor. Tatum soon discovers she’s not the only one in the house, keeping secrets. A wonderful young adult debut for all ages, and I look forward to the author’s next work.

Expected publication: May 9th, 2017 by Blink/HarperCollins

View all my reviews

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

GETTING IN THE SPIRIT Workman Halloween Blog Tour & GIVEAWAY!

Eeek!!! I've been anxiously awaiting this post for a long time! If you go back and look at my past Kidliterati posts, it's no secret I'm a major fan of pretty much everything Workman Publishing releases into the world. Add awesome-amazing-children's books + Halloween and I pretty much melted into a pile of happy-creepy-gross goo with excitement! 

Workman Publishing is getting us INTO THE SPIRIT of the holiday by featuring five wonderfully boo-tiful and deliciously ghoulish books AND their doing a giveaway of all five plus extra goodies! And as a BONUS! you'll find an exclusive Halloween project straight from the pages of OH, ICK! (Hint: Eyeballs!)


👻First up is my personal favorite because when my girls took this one into the dark closet they literally shrieked over the glowing illustrations!

Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods by Hal Johnson | September 8, 2015 | Ages 8&up Illustrated by Tom Mead:

Illustrated throughout, including eight drawings printed with glow-in-the-dark ink, Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods is for every young reader who loves a good scare. The book was originally published in 1910 by William Thomas Cox and is now inspiringly retold by Hal Johnson, author of Immortal Lycanthropes. The creatures are all scales and claws, razor-sharp teeth and stealth, camouflage and single-minded nastiness. Straight out of the era of Paul Bunyan, they speak to an earlier time in American history, when the woods were indeed dark and deep and filled with mystery. The tone is smart and quirky. The illustrations have a sinewy, retro field-guide look. Read them around a campfire, if you dare. Goodreads

👻Anyone have a super, squishy soft spot in their heart for Sandra Boynton books? Yeah, me too.

EEK! Halloween by Sandra Boynton | August 23, 2016 | 24 pages | Ages 0-4
It starts with an uh-oh—the chickens are nervous! Strange things are happening. One chicken saw a pumpkin with flickering eyes, another spied a mouse of enormous size. They all saw a wizard and a witch, and a spooky robot. “WHAT’S GOING ON HERE? WHAT DOES IT MEAN? / Relax, silly chickens! It’s HALLOWEEN!” Goodreads

👻I happily admit we had WAY too much fun in our house with this next one! See my original post for photos of our homemade Paper Glowbots and my review: Papertoy Glowbots!

Papertoy Glowbots by Brian Castleforte | August 23, 2016 | 196 Pages | Ages 9&up
Origami meets amazing creatures in a book of paper craft fun! Papertoy Glowbots introduces 46 robots that have the added cool factor of lighting up, whether using glow-in-the-dark stickers that come with the book or light sources like flashlights, Christmas tree lights, and electric tea lights. Goodreads

👻Next, is this creepy gem! Killer Bees? Sandbox Trees? Zombies? Capuchin Catacombs? Curious yet? You should be... 

Frightlopedia by Julie Winterbottom | August 23, 2016 | 224 Pages | Ages 8&up 
Combining fact, fiction, and hands-on activities, Frightlopedia is an illustrated A-Z collection of some of the world’s most frightening places, scariest stories, and gruesomest creatures, both real and imagined. Goodreads

👻And, here's the last Get in the Spirit book from Workman Publishing along with a BONUS project!

Oh, Ick!: 114 Science Experiments Guaranteed to Gross You Out! | November 1, 2016 | Ages 8&up |  By Joy Masoff with Jessica Garrett and Ben Ligon
Featuring 114 interactive experiments and ick-tivities, Oh, Ick! delves into the science behind everything disgusting. Stage an Ooze Olympics to demonstrate viscosity and the nature of slime. Observe how fungi grow by making a Mold Zoo. Embark on an Insect Safari to get to know the creepy crawlies around your home. And learn what causes that embarrassing acne on your face by baking a Pimple Cake to pop—and eat. Eww! Goodreads

👀As promised, from OH, ICK! a creepy science project: HOLEY HANDS & icky trivia👀

"Okay, okay . . . don’t get all worked up. We’re not going to make you cut a hole in your hand. But (together with your awesome eyeballs and brain) we can give you the ILLUSION of one." 

Materials: Piece of paper (8 1/2 x 11 inches) or an empty paper towel or toilet paper roll

1. Roll up the paper the long way, so that you have a tube that is about a half inch wide.

2. Put the tube up to your left eye, holding it with your left hand.

3. Put your right hand about ¾ of the way down the tube so that the tube rests in the curve between your thumb and pointer finger.

4. Keep both eyes open. With your left eye look through the tube, and with your right eye look at your hand—at the same time. Can you see the hole in your right hand?

5. Slide your right hand up and down the tube. Where can you see the hole best? What happens if you put your right hand far away? Your brain got two images but couldn’t make sense of them. It freaked out, so you saw both at the same time, making it look like you had a HOLE IN YOUR HAND!


"You know Albert Einstein. World’s most famous scientist. Bushy head of white hair. Big mustache. E = MC2. Well, now you can feel sorry for him too. Poor Einstein’s eyes were stolen during his autopsy (aahtop-see)—a medical study of a dead body—in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1955. Scientists really wanted to peer at the brain of the great man to see if there was a physical explanation for his genius. Creepy. But even creepier, during the autopsy his eyeballs were plucked away and given to the guy who checked Einstein’s eyesight once a year—an eye doc named Henry Abrams. Abrams walked out of the autopsy room with the great man’s eyes, then placed them in a jar in his dresser drawer for safekeeping. He kept them there for many years before moving them to a safe deposit box in a local bank. And you thought keeping a lock of someone’s hair was creepy! Abrams died in 2009. At the time this book was written, the eyeballs were still floating in that very same jar, behind lock and key in a New Jersey bank. Hopefully at some point E’s eyes will be allowed to rest in peace!"


One lucky winner will receive ALL five of these spook-tacular books plus a Workman Publishing tote bag and extra goodies! (US only) Enter below and Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Review: A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING by Jessica Cluess

A Shadow Bright and Burning (Kingdom on Fire, #1)A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Prophecies are messy things, and the people who interpret them often messier. Egos, hidden agendas, secrets, and betrayals can render even the simplest of prophecies problematic. And that's exactly what happens in Jessica Cluess's gripping A Shadow Bright and Burning.

It starts like a million stories before. There's a young woman, a poor young woman, Henrietta Howel, living in obscurity, hiding gifts she doesn't understand and cannot control. She lives in secret, because to display her power would mean immediate death. But when an unfortunate circumstance outs her to the exact men she is hiding from, instead of being punished, she is exalted. She is, it turns out, the Chosen One, named by prophecy to defeat the Ancients and save the world.

I know, right?

But bear with me because this is when things get flipped upside down. Ms Howel soon learns she is not, in fact, the Chosen One. She's something else entirely, something far more common but perhaps less understood. To stay alive, however, she must not let anyone know the truth.

There are many characters in this fast-paced story, most of them handsome, or suffering, or suffering and handsome, and many of them were clearly included to be a romantic interest of Ms Howel, but hear me now when I say my heart beat only for the Ancients. Oh, the Ancients. Lovecraftian to the nth degree, their inexplicable presence in what is otherwise historical England carries such menace and unchecked fear, I'd honestly recommend reading the book for them alone.

If Harry Potter, Pride and Prejudice, and The Feminist's Guide to Sorcery (not a thing) had a baby, and then that baby grew up to say she'd had enough of your expectations, thank you very much, you'd have A Shadow Bright and Burning. Read it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Fright and Fear

It’s October! The month of pumpkins and ghosts, witches and goblins. It’s the perfect time for a post about the one emotion that’s at the core of every single story that’s ever been told: Fear. 

Fear propels our characters or it can inhibit them. We use our characters’ fears against them to push them to the limits of their physical and emotional strength. Without fear, a character would dance through the plot without any true sense of conflict - which of course, isn’t much of a story at all. 

We understand fear with our hearts, but when we use it as a tool for storytelling, it’s a good idea to know how it works. Psychologists recognize five common fears: Extinction, Mutilation, Loss of Autonomy, Separation, and Ego-Death. 

Guess which feet are mine!
Extinction: Have you seen those glass baclonies at the top of the Willis (Sears) Tower in Chicago? I freak out and can barely get my toes onto the glass. This fear of heights is a subset of the fear of Extinction. It’s the fear of death and non-existence. Many powerful stories are built around this fear including A LONG WALK TO WATER, a novel based on real events by Linda Sue Park and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green. Just about every spy, crime, murder-mystery, and horror novel is also fueled by the fear of death. 

Mutilation: When people fear losing a part of their body, or fear having their body invaded, or are afraid of illness, they fear mutilation. Fears of being attacked by spiders or wild animals fall into this category. Characters in wilderness survival stories experience this fear as well as characters who are being abused. Examples include THE CAY by Theodore Taylor and SOLD by Patricia McCormick. 

Loss of Autonomy: I think most of us fear being paralyzed or in a vegetative state. But there’s more to this fear than long-term bed rest. It also includes the fear of having your freedoms restricted or being imprisoned. It’s the fear of being controlled by another person, a society or government. This includes pretty much every dystopian book including George Orwell’s 1984 and Ray Bradbury’s FAHRENHEIT 451. Stephen King’s book, MISERY also falls into this category. 

Separation: This fear is a little tricky - It’s the fear of losing connectedness. It’s a lot more than the fear of losing those you love - although that is something people often fear more than death and is explored in many books such as the Twilight series. This fear includes the fear of abandonment and rejection. It’s the fear of becoming the outcast. One example can be found in Dan Gemeinhart’s, SOME KIND OF COURAGE. Joseph, the main character, has lost his mother, his father, and his little sister, and then someone steals his horse! Joseph follows her through the wilderness in an effort to gain back the only family he has left. His journey isn’t just about the horse’s welfare, but also Joseph’s need to belong somewhere - his family. 

Ego-Death: We’ve all experienced it. You’re about to get up in front of a group of people to speak and your mouth goes dry and your hands start shaking and images of you throwing up or maybe burping into the microphone fill your imagination. This is the fear of humiliation and shame. At best, it’s short-term embarrassment that will fade. At it’s worst however, ego-death makes you feel worthless, unlovable and broken. This is a powerful fear to work with and turns up in almost every story. That moment in HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCER’S STONE when Harry and his friends each lose 50 points each for their house - that shame is the pain of ego-death. Books that deal with this theme in depth include Becky Albertalli’s SIMON vs. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA and R.J. Palacio’s WONDER

While some stories deeply explore one category of fear, many others intertwine them. The inner journey, the true heart of the story, is about the protagonist overcoming one long-standing misbelief that has created a sense of fear. The outer journey, on the other hand, is a series of obstacles that challenge the protagonist in different ways, ultimately forcing her to confront the fear that stems from her misbelief. 

Consider Gayle Forman’s IF I STAY. On the surface, it seems like the story is about the fear of the loss of autonomy. The main character, Mia, has been in a serious car accident with her family. Her body is immobilized, her spirit restricted in how far she can move. But the heart of the story is really about the fear of separation. When Mia finds out that her family did not survive, she must deal with her sense of isolation in this land between the living and the dead. She isn’t sure if she can live without her brother and parents - and ultimately, she must decide if the love that is left - the love of her boyfriend, extended family, and friends is enough. 

Lucky for us, fear is also great at producing powerful memories. We tend to remember what has hurt us in the past better than we remember pleasant things - like our eighth birthday party. (Seriously, I have no memory of ever turning eight. But I’m sure it was nice.) When something scary happens, like
you walk into your garage at night and a raccoon hisses at you, the amygdala region of the brain connects the dark garage and the scary raccoon in your brain. That means, that a week later, when you have to go into the garage at night again, the amygdala is once again stimulated, triggering a fear that the raccoon might be back. This is why it can take months or years for that fear to pass and is how some anxieties develop. But more importantly for us storytellers, it’s how those valuable misconceptions are born. 

When you sit down to write, consider what roles fear will play in your story. What fears will you pair together to create an inward and outward journey? What traumatic event led to your main character’s misconception? Use fear as a tool to strengthen your story. 

Happy Halloween!


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