May 10

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A Season of Bravery by Lisa McMann

It’s been a season of bravery.

I’ve always loved books with underdog main characters who must dig deep within themselves to overcome near-impossible obstacles. When I think back to stories that captivated me as a child and as a young bookseller (my first job in an independent bookstore came at age 17), I come up with two favorite themes: Adventures at sea, and animal journeys. I couldn’t get enough of shipboard adventures like The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, and Mutiny on the Bounty, which was based on the true story of Captain Bligh. And I was riveted by high stakes animal books like The Incredible Journey and Watership Down.

Several years ago, I imagined putting the two ideas together. What if there was a mutiny, as with Captain Bligh on the Bounty, but the story was told from the perspective of ship mice who got caught in the fray and separated onto different vessels? A sister and brother, who had only each other in their little world inside the ship’s pantry, suddenly ripped apart, with the deadly sea between them? Beloved siblings, whose last words together were shouted vows to find one another again?

The first few chapters came quickly. I wanted to keep writing, but I had deadlines for the Unwanteds series, so I set Clarice and her brother, Charles Sebastian, aside. Still, the mice were always there at the edges of my thoughts. I spent months (years?) trying to imagine the emotions these siblings would go through. Wondering what it would be like to be ripped away from your only remaining loved one in such a harrowing situation. How would it feel? I kept rolling ideas around in my mind.

Then, two years ago, we learned of children being separated from their parents and siblings at the US/Mexico border. It was cruel and horrifying. I was sickened, outraged by it. As a mother, I was heartsick. And I couldn’t fix it.

But I could write.

That news served as a catalyst. I returned to my mouse mutiny manuscript and feverishly wrote Clarice the Brave. It’s an animal journey that takes place at sea. A tale of separation and reunion and believing in the ones you love. It’s a story of hope against all odds.

Last spring, I was in the editing process on Clarice the Brave when Covid-19 hit hard in the United States. Once again, people were separated from their loved ones, including me. As I write this blog post, I count sixteen months since I’ve seen my daughter because of Covid. I need this book more than ever.

What a journey this season has been for all of us. What courage we’ve needed. Whenever the separation gets me down, I think of Clarice the Brave, who shouts to her frightened brother across the sea as the two boats are drifting apart, “It only takes one mouse to believe in you, and that one mouse is me!” Who looks up at the stars at night and whispers, “There’s only the sky between us.” And who wants to believe, despite insurmountable obstacles, in their reunion.

May we all be so brave.

Lisa McMann is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of dozens of books like The Unwanteds series and the Wake trilogy. She is married to fellow writer and musician, Matt McMann, and they have two adult children–her son is artist Kilian McMann and her daughter is actor Kennedy McMann. Lisa spends most of her time in Arizona, California, and Vancouver BC, and loves to cook, read, and watch reality TV.