I’ve always loved layering timely topics in the action of my fast-past novels. For the last four years or so, however, I’ve been thinking about how to do even more. Not just weave one timely topic into a story, but many; or to weave one in are a very deep core. I like the analogy of spinning yarn because every thread of the story (yarn, in both a real and metaphorical sense) will carry those elements and, woven into the whole novel, will fill the work. I think that’s especially important these days, with the enormous issues facing us and children today (from threats to democracies around the world to state challenges of the rights of LGBTQ2A+ kids). We live in a heavy world. I think we’ve always lived in a heavy world, actually, but we talk about it more, and so it’s all part of the threads of our lives these days.
Back to writing. As I wrote my third novel, Secret of the Shadow Beasts, I addressed many big concepts through threads of this story:
- the impact on ongoing environmental degradation (the shadow beasts)
- pandemic denial (people who refuse to listen to government safety rules and go outside after twilight, thus putting themselves at tremendous risk, what with the shadow beasts going after them)
- anti-trans sentiments (with a trans girl as a major character whose bravery, kindness, and wisdom make her a crucial member of her team, and, at one point, enable her to save someone’s life when no one else could)
- the importance of knowing history beyond the heroic stories (that’s a secret of the book)
I also feature a cast that includes important characters of Pakistani, Nigerian, Japanese, and Chinese ancestry—because we live in a global world and that’s what our communities look like.
And I feature a world where kids come first, where adults are there for them, where children’s mental health needs are considered and met.
All woven into a fast-paced, high-stakes narrative.
As I write this kind of children’s fiction, I hope I’m having an impact in this world. If I can model the way things should be, or depict through action the way things shouldn’t, I can take real steps toward making the world a better place. That’s a privilege that all authors of children’s fiction have if they want to take it. And it’s one that I intend to take seriously for this and all my books to come.