War and Millie McGonigle #1

War and Millie McGonigle

How did the idea for Millies Book of Dead Things come  to you?

War and Millie McGonigleHaunted by her Gram’s death and the looming war, Millie became fascinated with death and dying. I wanted to give her a way to achieve some control over a scary, gloomy world. Thus The Book of Dead Things, a concrete  manifestation of her obsession. Why a book? Because I was the kind of kid who made lists in a notebook to help me keep track of my world: best books, favorite singers vs. singers I hated, handsomest movie stars, good teachers vs. bad teachers, clothes I’d like to wear when I grew up. I still have a notebook with lists of suggested plots for Elvis movies.

The Book of Dead Things also felt like a metaphor for the troubled, frightened, worried Millie before she felt the courage to accept and embrace what was good in the world. The Book became an integral part of Millie’s story and her growth.

War and Millie McGonigleWar and Millie McGonigle, written by Karen Cushman and published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, is available on April 6, 2021 from your favorite bookseller and your closest library. 

Read more “behind the book.”

About a Boy

Will Sparrow's RoadWhy did I write a book about a boy? I had in mind a story about a child alone and on the road in Elizabethan England. I knew a girl likely would not survive there in those somewhat brutal times. And I don’t believe that in a world with so little privacy, she could successfully disguise herself as a boy for long. She wouldn’t have access to a private bedroom or dressing rooms or bathrooms. London did have one public restroom—a plank with 18-holes, emptying directly into the Thames River. In fact using the whole world as a toilet—streets, fields, the halls of great houses—was so common that a book of manners from 1731 stated that it was impolite to stop and greet someone who is urinating. So it had to be a boy, and Will Sparrow was born.

It was important to me to build a Will who was believable, true to his character, his gender, and his times. My first attempts made Will more like a girl in britches so I had to do a lot more research. I read books on psychology and child development. I spoke to boys and mothers of boys. I watched boys at the bus stop and my husband and his friends at play. The resulting Will has boundless energy, his voice is changing, he distrusts displays of emotion, and he longs to grow facial hair. But he lives in a time that was more chaotic and dangerous so he is extremely vulnerable. There was no concept of adolescence so a boy of thirteen, no longer a child, was considered a man, with the responsibilities of a man.  

I hope I have managed to construct a Will who is believable, not a stereotype, and wholly entertaining.  Let me know what you think.

This article originally appeared on the Green Bean Teen Queen blog.

On the edge

On the edgeFor a week or so now, I have been stuck on my new book. My main character needed to be in danger, but from what? This didn’t work, that was unbelievable. What to do? Finally, in frustration, I went back and read from the beginning of the story, and there they were—the vicious “edge dwellers” who had appeared and disappeared in an early chapter. Perfect villains, frightening and dangerous, and they were there all along.

I think we writers write more into our stories than we even know, not because our characters take over or we are channeling someone or because there is a muse at work. I think we do it ourselves, unwittingly, because we are preparing ourselves for surprise. We merely find what we planted there, the unconscious gifts we give ourselves. So I am for the moment unstuck and ready to deal with those vile edge dwellers.