Young readers aren’t the only ones who have been helped and comforted by the worlds and characters Lauren Wolk imagined for his books.
The Centerville author deliberately addresses difficult life topics such as bullying, loneliness and moral courage in her novels and has been praised by children for the difference addressing these issues can make for them.
But as Wolk’s world got tougher, writing the books also helped her cope.
His new, fourth novel “My Own Lightning” will be available Tuesday, with local launch parties Tuesday in Sandwich and Wednesday in Centerville. Wolk calls the book one of her “pandemic projects” due to when she did most of the writing and rewriting.
But the idea of creating a sequel to his Honor-winning Newbery “Hollow Wolf” from 2016 took hold long before infections began – and before the artist and poet took his “retirement” in December as longtime associate director of Cape Cod Cultural Center focus on his writing and other personal projects.
It was shortly after her father’s death in 2018 that Wolk first thought of revisiting the 1940s Pennsylvania farm and family she had created for “Wolf Hollow” based on the farm. where his mother grew up. Wolk had spent enough time in this beloved place in her life for her to say that “it was so part of my DNA” and that she wanted to return to the fictional tribute as well as this close-knit family.
After the death of his father, “it was a very, very bad time for me and I think I was looking for comfort. I was looking for stability,” she says of choosing to write the sequel. “It was about family and relationships and being around people who would support me no matter what. I wanted to get back to that place.
The loss of her father was only part of that need, however, as troubling issues swirled around her in the country and the world. “It was a time when I felt like there was a lot in my life that was out of my control and boy, we hadn’t even hit the pandemic yet.”
What happens in the ‘Wolf Hollow’ sequel?
“Wolf Hollow” had come to a clear conclusion, however, for 12-year-old Annabelle and her family, so what would be next? “I kept imagining Annabelle going through a new chapter in her life based on the experiences she’d had, the mistakes she’d made, the relationships she’d lost and I was like, well , you know, I’ll think about it.”
Wolk says she was warned about writing a sequel how difficult it could be, and the author found it difficult for a variety of reasons.
“The pandemic was not a good time to try something new and difficult,” she says, but she also struggled to figure out what to say about the previous book, where to take the family, and what themes to explore. Wolk acknowledges eventually cutting several characters and subplots (many of which reflected world events, including a refugee family).
She and her editor acknowledged that the relationship between Annabelle and bully Andy “was at the heart of it all”, she says, “so once I really focused on that, it became a lot easier” .
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In “My Own Lightning”, Annabelle is actually struck by lightning and, as she recovers, realizes that she has been given heightened senses. This situation, Wolk says, was based on an NPR story she heard and then researched about people getting amazing gifts — suddenly being able to play the piano or speak a foreign language — after a hit. lightning.
Annabelle’s gift unexpectedly connects her to Andy, the boy who threatened her and her family in “Wolf Hollow”. This theme was also tied to heightened real-world tensions between Americans in recent years.
Writing the book ‘felt like a safe place, but it wasn’t just the pandemic, it was the whole social justice movement and all the horrors that were going on, always were and always are happening with that, things incredible that we were seeing on the news every night or more directly in our lives,” she says. “And what Annabelle discovers about giving people a second chance and looking beyond the obvious, all of that was very much influenced by what was going on in our society at the time.”
Wolk speaks of the “political and social war that we have been going through for years now, where people I thought I knew somehow turned out to be something else entirely. And I of course started to think, well, I have to feel the same way about them, we’re on opposite sides and I always thought we had some common ground there. So it was really tough.”
And she changed her own way of thinking. “I was just watching how our society was getting so tribal and I started thinking, ‘Okay, I’m not going to make snap judgments on people anymore. I will thoroughly understand them before deciding anything about them. ‘ And that’s what Annabelle ends up doing. So she really helped me through it all.
What do young people want to read?
Based on feedback she’s received from young readers on her previous books – which also include ‘Beyond the Bright Sea,’ winner of the 2018 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction, and ‘Echo Mountain’ (2020) – Wolk acknowledges that she feels a responsibility to try to help children solve difficult problems, too, and to “tell the truth as I see it.”
She gratefully recalls a comment from a girl who told her that reading about how Ellie dealt with issues during depression in “Echo Mountain” helped convince her that she would be able to get through the pandemic.
“I feel drawn to larger subjects, sadness and darkness, as well as light and joy,” Wolk says. “I think kids need a balanced diet of all of these things, and I’ve heard many of them say they really appreciate the respect that comes with giving them a book about bigger issues, because I know they can handle it They are bombarded with very disturbing information about the world and from all angles…and I believe you need to equip them with what they need to navigate a world like this .
And that can mean, she notes, “looking carefully at darker issues, troubling issues, difficult issues, and seeing how young protagonists like Annabelle – and I hope my other protagonists in my other books – the process, even if they make mistakes along the way.”
Casting a bully as the main character was a tough decision, Wolk says, because she didn’t want to “let him off the hook” too much.
“I believe in standing up to bullies and holding them accountable for their actions. Absolutely, 100%. On the other hand. it’s so easy to be dismissive of people and decide they’re just one thing and not put more effort into finding out their motivations or their lives to understand them and how some grow and change.
“So that’s what I wanted Annabelle to do, and that’s what I’m committed to trying to do in my own life,” she adds. “That’s what I think we all need to do because without empathy, without understanding, without trying to put ourselves in each other’s shoes, we are completely lost.”
Even more projects
Wolk says she wrote a second book during the pandemic that has been shelved for now (set in 1959 Cotuit) and is working on another about a girl named Hannah who lives on an apple orchard in the western Massachusetts and finds a baby. “And I don’t know where that leads,” she said.
There’s yet another book idea germinating, plus a picture book and she’s writing a screenplay with her son. She’s set to launch “My Own Lightning” locally and with virtual appearances for remote fans, then an in-person book tour that will include California, Oklahoma and Colorado.
She has just helped to carry out the installation of poetry tablets on select walking trails in Barnstable for Earth Day and is preparing to hold an art exhibit next fall at the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis.
So four months into his work at the cultural center has hardly been a “retirement,” and Wolk says his busy life as a writer often feels like he’s inside a kaleidoscope. But becoming a successful novelist was also a dream of her father and she keeps that in mind.
“He wanted a lot of things that came true for me, and so I feel like not only am I counting my blessings every day because that’s what I’ve always wanted, but I know how much I I’m lucky,” she said. said. “The kaleidoscope is a good place to be. … I am happy to be in the beautiful colorful chaos of my life.
To see Lauren Wolk launch “My Own Lightning”
When: 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday
Or: Titcomb Bookstore, 142 Main Street, Sandwich
When: 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday
Or: Centerville Public Library (co-hosted with Bread + Roses Bookshop & Café), 585 Main St.
Contact Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @KathiSDCCT.