Origins by Elana K. Arnold
Every story comes from somewhere. Maybe it’s from deep inside, a fear or a hope the author can hardly name. Maybe it’s a memory—the smell of magnolia flowers and summer sun, or the nose-twitchy pepper of a family barbeque.
With my last middle grade novel, THE QUESTION OF MIRACLES, I didn’t immediately recognize where the story came from. It wasn’t until I had some time and distance that I saw the parts of my life that seeped through and became the story of Iris Abernathy.
Not so with my forthcoming middle grade novel, FAR FROM FAIR.
Listen. Once there was a family. There was a mother and a father and a daughter and a son. There were pets and there was furniture and matching dishes and a stack of cloth napkins, neatly folded. There was a climbing tree.
It was a beautiful family, and they were happy. Well. Mostly happy.
In the evenings after work, the father disappeared into the garage to smoke cigars and worry. The mother arranged and rearranged the dishes and the napkins and the furniture and remembered, like a dream, a time before family, when she had planned to be a writer.
One day, the father came home. It was late, and his eyes were wide-white and wild. I got laid off today, he said.
Sometimes, when we turn a corner, we don’t recognize we’ve turned it until it’s far behind. We look back and we see, oh, there it is—that was the moment everything shifted.
But some corners, we see clearly. We make a choice that defines us, even if it scares us. This family did that. They sold the house, tree and all. They sold the furniture and the dishes and even the cloth napkins. They moved—parents, children, and pets—into an ugly brown RV. They hit the road.
The father stopped smoking. The mother began to write. First, a blog, called People Do Things. Then, later, novels. Not everything was made perfect. But it was made different.
You will not be surprised to hear that I am the mother in this story. Those blog posts were the first bits of writing that brought me to the rich world of writing for children that now defines so much of my day and myself.
Here is a picture of our family with our old RV, for my blog:
And here is the cover for my forthcoming middle grade novel, FAR FROM FAIR:
This is story of a girl, Odette Zyskowski, whose parents decide to sell everything and hit the road. They have their reasons—some that she understands, others that confound her—but the whole thing seems to Odette to be terribly unfair. And the farther they travel, the further they move from what Odette thinks is fair, from the way she thinks things should be.
This is a story I always knew I would write. The material is too rich not to be written. But though its origin is our family story, Odette’s path veers widely from the map I’d drawn for it…as the best road trips tend to do.
I once read that science fiction is always by necessity both about the future and about the time in which it is written. I think all fiction is like that. This story draws heavily on my past, but it’s about the present, too. As I wrote the first draft of FAR FROM FAIR, my father’s terminal illness worsened until we were forced to begin imagining a world without him in it. And though I intended to write an adventure road trip story, my present situation worried its way into the manuscript. Terminal illness of a loved one, Odette learns, is another thing to add to her growing list of Things That Aren’t Fair.
Some stories we choose, some choices we make, and others are thrust upon us. The road curves.
Elana K. Arnold, the author of several young adult novels, earned her master’s degree in Creative Writing at the University of California, Davis. She lives in Huntington Beach, California, with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals. The Question of Miracles is her middle-grade debut. Visit her online at www.elanakarnold.com.
FAR FROM FAIR will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2016.