Countdown to BREAKOUT: Relationships in a Fictional Family

Countdown to Breakout is a 23-day blog series about the three-year writing process for BREAKOUT, my new novel for young readers, which earned starred reviews from both School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. It’s about a small-town prison break and manhunt that change the way three kids see their neighbors and the place they call home. Why a 23-day series? Because this book was inspired by the 2015 Clinton Correctional Facility prison break that led to a 23-day manhunt in June of 2015. This blog series runs from May 14th to June 5th, release day for BREAKOUT. If you enjoy the posts, please consider pre-ordering the book!

Relationships in a Fictional Family

When I was working on BREAKOUT, the character of Nora Tucker came very naturally for me. Like me, she’s a white girl who’s grown up in a small, rural town. My dad was a school superintendent and hers is a prison superintendent, but overall, our backgrounds are pretty similar. That wasn’t the case with another character in the story, Elidee. She’s a black girl from the Bronx who’s just moved to Wolf Creek because her brother is an inmate at the prison.

When I was revising BREAKOUT, I worked with multiple expert readers, or sensitivity readers as they’re sometimes called, to read my draft and offer feedback, particularly when it came to representation issues with Elidee and her family. One of those readers noticed a difference in the family relationships in the story. Nora’s family felt more fully realized (probably because it had been easier for me to write), and she suggested that I work more building a close relationship between Elidee and her mom.

Part of that work involved thinking more about how Elidee’s mom might have prepared her daughter for the move to Wolf Creek, a town where she had to have known Elidee would be one of the few brown faces at school. My expert reader reminded me that there are conversations that black parents have to have with their kids that white parents don’t. Where were they in the story? And where were the sweet, quiet moments with Elidee and her mom? The inside jokes that nobody else understands?

It was time to revise some more. Among the changes I made in this round of revision was adding one of those running jokes between Elidee and her mom – a play on that children’s book where the characters say “I love you to the moon and back.” Elidee and her mom used to go to the planetarium when they lived in the city, so I decided that they’d play a friendly game of one-upsmanship with that phrase in their text messages while Mom was at work.

And that book that Elidee left in the living room? It was one of the titles on her library check-out receipt from an earlier page in BREAKOUT. Fitting all the puzzle pieces together was one of the biggest challenges of writing this story. And at this point, it was coming together. I still felt like I wanted to do more with Elidee as a character, though, and to do that, I needed to know where she came from. More on that tomorrow, but first – today’s prompt.

Your Assignment: Write for a few minutes about the inside jokes that are part of your family’s relationships. What running jokes or little games do you play that show your love and connection?

 

Breakout cover imageThanks for joining me on this part of the Breakout writing-process journey! If you’d like to read the other posts in this series once they’re all posted, you can find them here.  I hope you’ll also want to read BREAKOUT for yourself, and I’d love it if you’d consider pre-ordering now. Here are some ways to do that:

PRE-ORDER SIGNED COPIES OF BREAKOUT FROM THE BOOKSTORE PLUS

If you’d like a signed copy, you can call my local indie booksellers at The Bookstore Plus at 518-523-2950 or order online here and note in the comments field how you’d like your book signed. I’ll personalize and sign it for you, and it’ll be mailed out on release day! 

PRE-ORDER BREAKOUT FROM ANOTHER FAVORITE BOOKSELLER

You can also order from your own favorite bookseller, either online or in person at the store. (Indie bookstores are always my favorite because that way, you can buy a great book and support a business in your own community. You can find your nearest indie bookseller here.)

Bloomsbury is offering a great incentive for pre-orders, too – a free poster and set of bookmarks to share. Details about that are here.

And if you live near one of the cities where I’ll be on book tour this June, please come by and say hello!

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2 Comments

  1. Martha Willey
    Posted May 27, 2018 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    My anticipation grows! So many layers to writing and all your revising shows how committed you were to this story and the characters.

  2. Maureen Morrison
    Posted May 27, 2018 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Happy Memorial Day Weekend! I am so grateful to have this time to sit with a prompt, especially one that deals with family! My siblings and I are forever quoting our dad’s sayings. Once during an empty college bank account season, I put all the quotes together in a book as a Father’s Day gift.

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