Countdown to BREAKOUT: Visiting a Character’s Neighborhood

Countdown to Breakout is a 23-day blog series about the three-year writing process for BREAKOUT, 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.

Visiting a Character’s Neighborhood

One of the expert readers who read a draft of BREAKOUT really pushed me to work harder to develop Elidee as a character and suggested that one reason I might be struggling with that was because I didn’t understand where she came from. Most of the other characters share my small-town background, but Elidee had just moved to the mostly-white town of Wolf Creek from Highbridge, a neighborhood in the Bronx. A neighborhood where I’d never spent time.

I obviously couldn’t conjure a different background for myself, but I could at the very least spend a day in Elidee’s neighborhood, paying attention. So the next time I was in New York City for a writing meeting, I took the train to Highbridge. I visited the art museum near Elidee’s neighborhood and peeked through the fence at the community garden.

I wandered by school as classes were letting out, and noticed that some kids walked past Yankee Stadium on their way home, along a street with fruit stands, and where baseball players’ faces are painted on the buildings.

I stopped in at the deli up the street and ordered a chopped cheese sandwich, which was greasy and wonderful.

I went to Mullaly Park, which would have been Elidee’s neighborhood park. I noticed where the basketball courts and skateboard ramps were, and how the 4 Train thundered by every so often.

I took pictures and notes so I’d have more details about Elidee’s world in the Bronx. Then I went home, back to my revision desk, with a better sense for what she must have missed when she moved away. There was a lot to miss – more than I’d been able to imagine without visiting. But I knew that Elidee also needed something to love about Wolf Creek, even if it was a small moment. Tomorrow’s post is about the strawberries.

Today’s Assignment: If you moved away from the place where you live now, what small and unexpected things would you miss?

Thanks 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.  

Breakout cover image






1 Reply on “Countdown to BREAKOUT: Visiting a Character’s Neighborhood

  1. I love this idea and cannot wait to take myself on a beach observation trip in a few weeks. My MG (WIP) novel takes place in Ocean City, NJ which I grew up visiting, but there is also a retirement home aspect that could use more sensory description. Bring on summer!!!