March 06



TTHTFBSS_comp revise3CIn writing Things Too Huge to Fix by Saying Sorry, my narrator Dani was easy to create. Her voice rang in my mind as soon as I imagined her (she is still making comments, by the way, even as I pen this article). The settings of Oxford, Mississippi and the University of Mississippi, both of the 1960’s and present, came to life right away, and Dani’s friends and family didn’t give me much trouble either. Even the character of Avadelle Richardson—author of the long-ago written book-within-the-book, Night on Fire and who might be considered a villain—came easily to the page as well, fedora and all.


However, the plot gave me some trouble. I found myself fighting to tame the mystery I created, and bring it into focus for middle grade readers. Many of the questions swirling through the story were tied to Avadelle’s book within-the-book, Night on Fire.


“So, really,” my editor said, “I think what we need is excerpts from Night on Fire.”

Given that I work in a psychiatric hospital, you would think that hearing outlandish things wouldn’t make me blink­—but I blinked. I think I said something like, “Okay.” Or, maybe, “Seriously?” It’s possible I just made a lot of strangle-y noises punctuated by gibberish.


When Dani sets out to solve the mystery of why her grandmother Ruth stopped speaking to her best friend the cantankerous and famous Avadelle, she realizes that Night on Fire caused a feud, changed two families forever, and oh, yeah. It won a Pulitzer Prize. A PULITZER PRIZE.

“Let me get this straight,” I said to my very patient editor. “You want me to create excerpts­—a lot of excerpts­—from a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel?”

“Yep!” (She really did sound just that cheerful.) “Shouldn’t be a problem, right?”

. . .  (< – – – – representation of my brain melting)

I honestly didn’t think I could do it.

But a funny thing happened on the way to overeating tortilla chips, making one thousand unnecessary cups of tea, and staring for long stretches at an unmoving cursor, and finally, maybe, hopefully creating a nested story that won a hypothetical Pulitzer Prize and started a mystery that would last for decades. Things Too Huge To Fix By Saying Sorry grew wings. Words came more easily, then faster and faster, both in the main frame of the story and the nested tale, too. It suddenly got easier to figure out which metaphorical ghosts to chase down dark, deserted hallways, and what clues Dani needed to read, sort-of-snitch, hunt down, and dig up to help her grandmother before it was too late.

Things Too Huge To Fix By Saying Sorry is definitely a book of my heart, set in the town where I was born, and where I went to college. I wanted to capture the beauty of Oxford, the University of Mississippi, and hidden national treasures like Square Books. I wanted to visit the turmoil of the past, the pain and beauty of changes over time, and the new and exciting course Oxford seems to be on today. I wanted to speak about increasingly lost bits of history, such as the many lives lost in the pursuit of social justice and equality, and the riot that occurred when James Meredith enrolled at Ole Miss. More than all of those things, though, I wanted to tell Dani’s story through a lens of mystery and discovery, with a focus on the most important things in life: love and family and friendship. Thanks to my editor’s challenge, I got to do that, and, tortilla binging aside, share the story Dani’s grandmother needed to tell—about the people she loved, the struggles that almost broke her heart, and what really happened during the infamous Night on Fire.

I love the book’s cover. Love. This. Cover. It captures the darkness but also the light of the times I wrote about, the intrigue and mystery of the story, and the strength and determination of Dani Beans—daughter, granddaughter, friend, and sleuth extraordinaire.


Susan Vaught is the author of Footer Davis Probably is Crazy, which was an Edgar Award nominee and a Junior Library Guild Selection. The Horn Book called it “compelling, offbeat, and fearless.” Her many books for teens include Trigger, which received three starred reviews and was an ALA Best Books for Young Adults; Insanity; My Big Fat Manifesto; and Freaks Like Us. She works as a neuropsychologist at a state psychiatric facility, specializing in helping people with severe and persistent mental illness, intellectual disability, and traumatic brain injury. She lives on a farm with her wife and son in rural western Kentucky.