(Content warming: suicide)
I originally wrote this post (and shared it in my enewsletter) close to the start of the school year, when a tragedy struck my small town:
A teenager had disappeared and was found dead. It had a huge impact on everyone in my community, even those of us who didn’t know the boy or his parents.
As we’re nearing the end of this school year, I’ve been thinking about that poor boy, and all the other kids in communities nationwide who are struggling with something. This time of year is tough for many kids for a lot of reasons. I’ve been thinking about how that pertains to writing and, specifically, writing for children.
When I start musing like this, I often think of John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, a book I read when I was a teenager. I’m paraphrasing, but it was along the lines of: Write stories that help people who are a crisis point in their lives find ways to live.
As a children’s author, I’m always thinking about the impact my work will have on its readers. I want it to be a positive one. I want kids to see themselves in my characters, and to feel that someone understands.
I’m finishing up the final revision of a new novel, which includes a scene that I’m very pleased with: one in which my young protagonist, who has done some things that once made her proud but which she now realizes could be evil, has to come to terms with her actions. I remember that when I was first writing this novel, I’d struggled with that scene to get it just right. I ended up making two big changes to it: One, I have her come out and say what she was thinking to an adult; and two, I have multiple adults, at different times and in different ways, tell her that it’s okay to make a mistake, that she’s of value, and that she’s loved.
My son (now in high school) often remembers details and scenes from middle grade books he read years ago. I hope these scene and the message they convey will, in a similar way, stay in my readers’ minds for years to come. I want these scenes to be something that my readers can call up during rough times in the future and remember: It’s okay. There are options. They are loved.