When Characters Stick Around… by Kate Messner
Readers are never really lonely because we have so many friends living in our heads. If you’re here at the Nerdy Book Club, you already understand how this works. We have a lifetime of characters inhabiting our imaginations, telling stories while we do the dishes or drive a long, boring highway.
For me, those characters starting moving in when I was little. First came Horton and Corduroy and Wickedishrag. Wait…you don’t know Wickedishrag? Here…
She is slightly obscure but truly wonderful – a princess who is so naughty she’s mistaken for a witch. The message, I think, was that she was supposed to change her ways and be happy to be a princess again at the end, but I loved her much better as a witch. She was everything I hoped to be. Wickedishrag and I have been pals since Halloween of 1975, I think.
As I got older and discovered longer books, Ramona and Ellen Tebbits and Fudge joined the party. The part of my brain those characters inhabit has gotten more crowded every year. This isn’t to say that every character I meet in a book moves in – only a select few. But those who do? Well…they stick around.
This also happens with writers. Some characters demand to have their stories told, but after the last page is turned, they stay right there between the front and back covers, all tucked in, quiet, and content. Other characters linger and wander. For whatever reason, they keep talking to us long after the final edits are turned in. They whisper in our ears, even when there is no book deal, no project underway, no reason for them to be hanging around. They just do.
And that’s what brings me to some news about Gianna and Zig.
Kids who read my novel The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. always ask what happened after the last chapter ends. (Some grown-ups ask about this even more than kids do. I’m looking at you, Colby Sharp.) This happens with my other books sometimes, too – Eye of the Storm and Wake Up Missing, especially – and usually, my answer is “I don’t know.” For me, the characters’ stories most often end on that last page, and that’s where I leave them.
But it wasn’t like that with The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. This book came out in 2009, and still, five years later, I find myself poking around at neighborhood garage sales, thinking “Oh! Gianna would love this little picture frame…” or thinking of her as the leaves fall in October. I read articles in Popular Science and think about sharing them with Zig. And Zig, especially, seemed like he had more to say…another story to be told.
So I started writing that story back in 2010. If you know my books, you know that I’ve been writing lots of other things, too – mysteries and chapter book series, picture books and science thrillers – but the Zig book has always been there, and I’ve kept coming back to it.
Last spring, I sent it to my editor at Bloomsbury with an idea. This fall marked the 5th anniversary of The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z. And this winter (January 27th, to be exact) I have a new novel coming out with a character named Ava. Some things about her remind me of Gianna, and Ava’s story — All the Answers – is one that I think Brilliant Fall readers will love.
Maybe, I suggested to my editor, we should share Zig’s story now –to celebrate Brilliant Fall’s five years in print and as a fun way to introduce some new readers to my characters and their worlds. We could even offer the first chapters of All the Answers in the back of the book.
My editor loved this idea, and I’m thrilled to share the news that Bloomsbury will release The Exact Location of Home as an eBook on December 23rd – just in time for winter vacation reading. Here’s the cover…
And here’s what Bloomsbury has to say about the story…
Kirby “Zig” Zigonski lives for the world of simple circuits, light bulbs, buzzers, and motors. Electronics are so much more predictable than people. So when his dad’s visit is canceled with no explanation and his mom seems to be hiding something, Zig turns to his best friend Gianna and a new gizmo-a garage sale GPS unit-for help. Convinced that his dad is leaving clues through the popular hobby of geocaching, Zig sets out to search for answers. Following one clue after another, logging mile after mile, Zig soon finds that people aren’t always what they seem… and sometimes, there’s more than one set of coordinates for home. Brimming with warmth that will capture readers’ hearts, The Exact Location of Home is a must read for middle-graders.
(By the way, did you know that you can buy your eBooks from independent bookstores? Click here for a link that explains how, if you haven’t tried it before. I hope you’ll do that if this title is on your reading list. Indie bookstores are the literary hearts of our communities and need our support to survive.)
The Zig and Gianna of my imagination have quieted down a bit since I finished this project. I hope they love their new story, and I hope you do, too.
And one last thing…I can’t pass up the opportunity to ask this community of readers a question. Of all the books you’ve ever read, who are the characters that have stayed around after that last page was turned? Share your most persistent “stick-around characters” in the comments if you’d like. I bet we’ll discover that we have some of the same friends living in our imaginations, keeping us company on those long drives.
Kate Messner is the author of more than two dozen current & forthcoming books for kids. Her titles include OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW (Chronicle), the Marty McGuire and Ranger in Time chapter book series, the Silver Jaguar Society Mysteries (Scholastic), and novels like WAKE UP MISSING and ALL THE ANSWERS (Bloomsbury). A former middle school English teacher, Kate lives on Lake Champlain with her family. She loves reading and spending time outside. Follow her on Twitter @KateMessner and visit her website: www.katemessner.com