October 24

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What If by Laura Sebastian

The most magical words in existence aren’t Abra Kadabra, they’re What If.

When I was five or six, my parents taught me an ongoing game that I still play almost subconsciously to this day called What If. It went like this: I would be doing something I shouldn’t be, like running inside or refusing to brush my hair, and my parents would ask something along the lines of ‘What will happen if you keep running inside?’ ‘What will happen if you don’t brush your hair?’ The objective was for me to consider the consequences of my actions—potential injuries and painful tangles in these cases—and adjust accordingly.

I suppose it worked, but an unintentional consequence has followed me all these years later: my brain is constantly whispering what if? Even in the most mundane of situations, I’ll find myself thinking ‘What if the coffee shop I’m working in is secretly run by elves?’ ‘What if the aisles at the grocery store were magic portals to other lands?’ ‘What if that weirdly shaped cloud was actually a flying pirate ship?’ It’s endless, and most of those what ifs flutter right through my brain without catching on anything, but occasionally, one sticks. It multiplies.

I grew up in South Florida, in a rural area caught somewhere between the glossy, cosmopolitan city of Miami and the untamed marshes of the Everglades. Alligators and crocodiles weren’t a rare sight, or even an uncommon one. I never thought twice about them until, years after moving away from Florida and living in New York City, I was visiting my dad and we took a bike ride on a trail that cuts through part of the Everglades—aptly nicknamed Alligator Alley. As we biked past countless alligators, herons, turtles, and even a flock of roseate spoonbills, the what ifs started up.

What if that alligator had wings? What if it could breathe fire? What if it was a dragon-gator? From there, other parts of the Everglades began to feel more magical too—frogs became frogres, mosquitos became pix-squitoes, fireflies became phoenix-flies. The water in the Everglades is brackish, so I wondered what a mermaid would look like if they lived in brackish water instead of the sea. Would it be like the difference between alligators and crocodiles? Or would it be like the difference between ocean-dwelling and freshwater dolphins?

I couldn’t stop asking myself what if. By the time we finished that bike ride, The Glades had taken shape in my mind—a literal world away, but still recognizable. Then came more what ifs, this time about the sort of children who grew up in a world like that. What was their story?

And thus, INTO THE GLADES was born, a story about a magical swampland and a group of children making their way through it, searching for an exiled witch rumored to have the power to raise the dead. And it all began with one little what if. Just as all stories, at their very heart, do.

What if a tornado whisked a girl away to a magical land of munchkins, witches, and yellow brick roads? What if a boy succeeded in pulling a sword from a stone where countless others had failed? What if Greek gods and goddesses were active today, and their half-mortal children attended summer camp together? Every story begins with a what if, and the best what ifs have a tendency to multiply. What if what if what if? Once you start asking it, you’ll find it impossible to stop.

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Laura Sebastian grew up in South Florida and attended Sa­vannah College of Art and Design. She now lives and writes in London with her two dogs, Neville and Circe. Laura is also the author of the New York Times bestselling young adult Ash Princess series and Castles In Their Bones, as well as Half Sick of Shadows, her first novel for adults.