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Making the Impossible Possible, a guest post by Ruth Freeman

A story about Superheroes? Really? I have to confess I know almost nothing about superheroes, or at least I didn’t before starting to write HOW TO SAVE A SUPERHERO. But this is how it happened.

A story idea for me begins with a little seed blowing in and getting stuck. Then another seed blows in, and another, and sometimes, if I’m lucky, they start growing together into a story. The first seed was this: after I finished writing my earlier middle-grade novel, ONE GOOD THING ABOUT AMERICA, about a Congolese girl’s first year in an American elementary school, I wondered what was something all kids know about no matter where they’re from? I was teaching English Language Learners who came from all over the world, but one thing they had in common was superheroes! They might have lived in the U.S. their entire lives or have just arrived from another country, but everyone seemed to know about Superman, Spiderman and Batman. In fact, they knew way more than I did.

The second little seed came from the trips I made to visit my parents at their retirement home in Pennsylvania. It was like a fancy hotel or maybe a cruise ship, one with restaurants, a hair salon, gift shop, pool, library, even a bank. There was a studio for those who liked to paint, a woodworking shop for those who worked with wood, and a room of miniature trains for those who loved trains.  Residents never needed to leave the place if they didn’t want to. It was an amazing, complete world for older people and, as you might imagine, there were all kinds of interesting people who lived there. So…

“What if”…that’s the question that starts a story idea moving for me. What if a resident of a retirement home was actually a real…no, I mean, a REAL superhero? Impossible? Ah, that’s the great thing about writing a story: anything is possible! Maybe an old guy (Mr. Norris) doesn’t want anyone to know he’s a superhero. Maybe he wants to keep his identity hidden. On the other hand, of course he could just have dementia and not be a superhero at all. We don’t find out until the very end which it is.

The last little seed came as I made up Mr. Norris, the newest and grumpiest resident of the Happy Valley Village retirement community. The more I described him and wrote down what he said, the more I could hear my uncle Mickey’s voice. Mickey was charming, funny and smart. He was also prickly, opinionated and complained a lot. He wore old clothes, smoked a pipe, never threw anything away, and lived by himself on an island in Maine for more than 50 years. He’s gone now but he would surely roll his eyes and laugh if he knew he was the inspiration for Mr. Norris.

Addie, the eleven-year old main character, knows without a doubt that it would be impossible for Mr. Norris to be a real superhero, even though her friends Dickson and Marwa try to convince her otherwise. It was fun to write about the possibility of a real superhero, because after all, superheroes have their human sides too, right? Wouldn’t they get tired of helping people? Of being good all the time? Wouldn’t they be afraid of making a mistake while everyone was watching?

As fun as the superhero part was to write, the real story in my mind is the transformation of Mr. Norris and Addie. Even though he is old and she is young, they’ve both suffered pain and loss in their lives. They don’t trust other people. They expect the worst. But as their friendship grows, they begin to open up again. The impossible becomes possible again. They make friends at the retirement community who end up helping them when some crazy scientists come to kidnap Mr. Norris. By the end of the story, at a wild Halloween party, Addie and Mr. Norris have become true friends who are willing to risk everything to save each other. 

I’ve always been drawn to stories where characters find themselves in impossible situations (as they are in so many stories). Think of being lost in the woods with only a hatchet (Gary Paulsen) or the impossible situations Harry Potter finds himself in, or being homeless in THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE (Kimberly Brubaker Bradley). It’s in those dark and impossible situations that stories miraculously twist and turn until a pathway appears through to the possible.

Exciting? Heart-stopping? Emotional? Yes, absolutely. The stories that plunge us into impossible situations are all of these things, that’s why we love them. They also show us the way in our own lives. When things seem impossible in real life, it’s usually not superpowers that save the day, it’s human kindness, a brave stranger going out of their way, or something as simple as a caring, friendly smile that begin to make things possible again.

Meet the author

Ruth Freeman is the author of One Good Thing About America, which received a Golden Kite Honor Award and was called a “touching novel” by School Library Journal. Ruth grew up in rural Pennsylvania but now lives in Maine where she teaches English language learners in an elementary school.

About How to Save a Superhero

Ten-year-old Addie knows that Superheroes aren’t real, and that they certainly don’t hide out in retirement communities, but she may just have to change her mind.

Addie and her mom never stay in one place too long. They’ve been up and down and all around the country. When her mom, Tish, gets a new job at Happy Valley Village Retirement Community in Pennsylvania, Addie believes they’ll be on the road again in a month. But this time, something is different—make that, someone. Mr. Norris, a grumpy resident of Happy Valley and. . .a former superhero? 

Well, that’s what Marwa, whose mom also works at Happy Valley, would try and have Addie believe. Addie and her friend Dickson know better even if there are things they can’t explain. Like the time Mr. Norris was about to get hit by a car and was suddenly on the other side of the road or the way his stare seems to take root in Addie’s stomach. 

When a man starts prowling the Happy Valley grounds, claiming to be the great-nephew of a resident, Addie, Marwa, and Dickson soon stumble into a grand conspiracy involving the Manhattan Project, a shady weapons company, and the fate of the human race, in this smart, funny middle grade novel.

ISBN-13: 9780823447626
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 10/19/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Writing Pains: Steps of the writing process that torment us the most, a guest post by Class of 2K21 Books

“Do the thing you think you cannot do.”

–Eleanor Roosevelt

When we picture our favorite authors creating their masterpieces, we envision words flowing like magic from their fingers, vibrant characters leaping off the page, and tension building with slow and steady perfection as light streams through their plant-filled offices.

But when talking to authors, you see that the reality is often punctuated by false starts and hiccups, self-doubt, and lots of caffeine. It means writing over stolen moments amid the juggle of life and deferred showering as deadlines loom. It means fear. The truth is, the writer’s journey is filled with phases of slog, insecurity, and a specific kind of literary torture. 🙂

Below, several Class of 2kBooks authors share aspects of the writing process they find the most daunting, along with ways to overcome those fears in order to unlock the story within. Read on to hear from fab authors Shakirah Bourne (Josephine Against the Sea), Kalena Miller (The Night When No One Had Sex), Jessica S. Olson (Sing Me Forgotten), Sam Taylor (We are the Fire), and Jennifer Adam (The Last Windwitch).

Sam Taylor: For me, the first draft is the hardest part. I always outline and complete quite a bit of research and planning prior to starting, but still it is so, so hard to create an entire book from a blank page! I’ve started keeping my first drafts (or Draft Zero, as I call them) to myself. This gives me the freedom to explore my story and get to know my characters, without worrying about making sense to someone else. I consider Draft Zero a reality-check for my outline. It’s my chance to figure out which of my initial ideas are working, and which need more development. Most importantly, my best and most creative ideas come while I’m working through Draft Zero. Here, I have the chance to explore them. In revision, I can get all those loose threads cleaned up and presentable for my first round of readers.

Jennifer Adam: There are two distinct parts of my writing process that I find deeply challenging. The first is just getting an initial draft done. I struggle with perfectionism that sometimes manifests as a temptation to procrastinate (if I can’t do it perfectly, maybe I shouldn’t do it at all) or as the urge to endlessly fidget with the words I’ve already written rather than just moving forward. I’ve definitely gotten better at pushing through – mostly because there are so many stories I want to tell and I know I’ll never get to them if I don’t get things done! – but that first draft is still such a slog for me. It’s hard to create something from nothing.

The other part I find difficult is diving into any major edits. I LOVE digging deep into a story, tearing it apart and rebuilding it more strongly, adding layers and depth and texture. I love seeing how a story can evolve and take on a clearer, sharper shape. But starting edits makes me so anxious – I’m always scared I’ll break the story or make a bigger mess. It takes me several days of thinking and brainstorming just to get up the courage to start making changes. Once I do, though, I have a marvelous time because it starts to feel like working on a puzzle, and that moment all the pieces click is pure magic.

Jessica S. Olson: The hardest part of the writing process for me is always the beginning. Nailing down an outline and then writing the first draft. Especially now that I’ve written several books, it’s always so daunting to begin, because it’s like staring up at this massive mountain I’ve hiked before and knowing just how difficult it’s going to be to reach the top and just how long it’s going to take. I’ve also learned that so much of what I outline and what goes into the first draft ends up getting changed in future drafts. Rewritten. Altered. Deleted. So every word in that first draft feels pointless sometimes because I know that most of those words won’t make it to the final draft. But these messy first drafts are so vital, and they have to be written! You can’t revise what you don’t have. Every masterpiece has to start somewhere–so we push through!

Kalena Miller: Perhaps I’m unusual, but I love first drafts. Staring at a blank piece of paper is the best part of the process. For me, revising tends to be more difficult. Once I have a complete draft, my brain balks at the idea of messing it up because I’m overwhelmed by the prospect of putting it back together. However, working with an editor on THE NIGHT WHEN NO ONE HAD SEX has really helped me overcome this fear. Getting to work alongside another professional who’s just as invested in my book as I am was an amazing experience. Not that revising wasn’t still an overwhelming process (I definitely cried a few times, but that’s not particularly unusual for me), but knowing my editor shared my vision for the book was the motivation I needed to get it done. 

Shakirah Bourne: I’m pretty sure my version of hell is staring at a blinking cursor on a blank page. Writing a first draft is so painful for me–I feel the weight of irrational expectations, fear of failure, and frustration that the wonderfully-crafted story in my head does not magically appear on the page. I get through it by reminding myself that the first draft doesn’t have to be good, but finished. I also make sure that I have a detailed outline before writing to help avoid excessive procrastination and prevent writer’s block. Some days, drafting is enjoyable and fun, and when I re-read I’m pleasantly surprised that the writing isn’t as awful as I imagined, but to maintain motivation I have to visualise the moment I write the final line in the last chapter. I love doing edits and revisions so I’m always very excited when I get to that stage.

As we can see, writing involves avoidance, stress, and self-doubt. It means carving out time in the dead of the night or the first light of dawn, juggling jobs and family amid fears and expectations. For some of us, anxiety lies in the early blank page stages, while for others it’s the later layers, the developmental reworkings that are most dreaded.

But no matter our kryptonite, we can each find our courage. We dive into the fulcrum of our hearts, that quiet place within where the magic begins. We come to see that in our fears and fallibilities lies strength, a quiet belief that helps us do that thing we thought we could not do.

Thank you so much for being with us here on TLT.  The links to some of our books can be ordered/pre-ordered and added to your Goodreads, so check us out below.

Wishing you the strength to tackle the tough as you work toward your dreams!

With gratitude,

The Class of 2k21 Books

https://www.shakirahbourne.com/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54776548-josephine-against-the-sea

https://www.kalenamiller.com/

https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/56989110

https://www.samtaylorwrites.com/books

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43839832-we-are-the-fire?from_search=true&from_srp=true&qid=VIXztTTGTB&rank=1

https://www.jessicasolson.com/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53176389-sing-me-forgotten

https://www.jenniferfrancesadam.com/

https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/54496121