What if a Story Doesn’t End?: How My Eleven-Year-Old Character Changed My Mind about Traditional Narrative, a guest post by Louise Hawes
I never start with a story. It’s always a character, instead, who persuades me to build a book around them. When Hazel, whose road “handle” is Hazmat and who is the protagonist of my new middle grade novel, BIG RIG, first popped into my head, I knew that if we were going to write a novel together, I’d have a lot to learn: about trucks, drivers, and a whole long-haul culture with which I was totally unfamiliar. What I didn’t dream, though, is that Hazel would refuse to let our book end. That she would reject the whole idea of settling down, finding a permanent home, and bringing our adventures to a close!
And it’s not that Hazel doesn’t know how most books (for both kids and adults) are structured. Her father, Blake, is a former English Lit professor, who’s been home schooling her for the last seven years as the two of them travel coast to coast…to coast …to coast. Which is why my young narrator can throw around terms like plot, rising arc, or resolution with the best of them. But it seems she’d rather throw those ideas out than let them shape her story.
In the beginning of the novel, there are lots of factors working to end Hazmat’s life on the road. First, there are the automated trucks, driver-free giants that, even now, are hauling loads in convoys, while human drivers lose jobs and worry about their futures. The more worried talk they hear from other truckers, the more Hazel wonders if she’ll ever have a chance to drive her own big rig. Second, Hazel’s dad seems to think that, as Hazel gets older, she’ll need more friends her own age, a normal school with teachers who aren’t her father, and an ordinary house that doesn’t move around the country. Which is why Hazel decides that, if the trucks of the future will be robo-driven and if becoming a teenager means settling down, she’s going to put off growing up indefinitely!
Was it uncomfortable to write a book that violates a lot of the “rules” I’ve taken for granted? “Rules” that I myself have taught in workshops and mentor letters to my students in a writing program I helped found, the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA Program in Writing for Children and Young Adults? Sometimes. But when I tried to make sure that scenes showed readers what Hazel wanted, what she was hungry for, she always made it clear that she already had it. That she was living her happy ending every day, in every way.
How about getting this book in the hands of readers? Did I have trouble persuading a publisher and an editor to take on a book with no ending? You bet I did, but fortunately, my editor at Peachtree, Jonah Heller, was just as anxious as my main character to go with the flow. Whenever we hit a snarl, had a question, or weren’t sure about the next step, he’s say, “Let’s ask Hazmat!” Can you say, Dream Editor?!!!!
So here we are, Hazmat and me and the amazing crew at Peachtree—the book’s birthday is August 9, and already the reviews have been incredible. But more important, the responses from teachers and their classes to the Advance Reader Copies make it all worth while. Two teachers with blogs have highlighted BIG RIG, and lots more are helping their classes research the dozens of women truckers on Instagram (and keep in touch with where they’re hauling, following their travels on a map), and with the hundreds more who are driving eighteen wheelers every day. (Yes, there’s a Women in Trucking Association, that works with Girl Scouts and schools to encourage girls to enter their field.)
What have we learned, class? How has writing this book changed me as an author? I don’t think I’ll ever forget the things Hazmat has taught me, I don’t think I want to: I love thinking of book plots (and life!) without a beginning, middle, and end…but, instead, seeing moments and days as a wild quilt flashing by, a horizon that keeps opening and expanding …on and on.
Meet the author
Louise Hawes is the author of two short fiction collections and over a dozen novels. Her work, for readers of all ages, has won awards from Banks Street College, the NJ Council on the Arts, the New York City Public Library, the Children’s Book Council, the Independent Booksellers Association, and the International Reading Association.
Louise helped found and teaches at, the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. She has served as a John Grisham Visiting Author at the University of Mississippi, a Read in Common Author at the Mississippi University for Women, and a Writer in Residence at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. She has also guest lectured at UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Charlotte, Duke University, Meredith College, Staten Island University, and the University of Southern Florida.
For more information on Louise’s books or to read some of her lectures on writing, visit:
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About Big Rig
Hitch a ride with 11-year-old Hazmat and her dad in their 18-wheeler, Leonardo, for a feel-good road trip across America that keeps on trucking!
Life on the road with Daddy is as good as gets for Hazmat. Together, they’ve been taking jobs and crisscrossing the US for years. Now Daddy’s talking about putting down roots—somewhere Hazmat can go to a real school and make friends. Somewhere Daddy doesn’t have to mail-order textbooks about “nature’s promise to all women.” Somewhere Mom’s ashes can rest on a mantel and not on a dashboard.
While everything just keeps changing, sometimes in ways she can’t control, Hazmat isn’t ready to give up the freedom of long-distance hauling. Sure the road is filled with surprises, from plane crashes and robo trucks to runaway hitchhikers and abandoned babies, but that all makes for great stories! So Hazmat hatches a plan to make sure Daddy’s dream never becomes a reality. Because there’s only one place Hazmat belongs: in the navigator’s seat, right next to Daddy, with the whole country flying by and each day different from the last.
Award-winning author Louise Hawes writes with an easy, conversational voice and an “I’ll never grow up” spirit that cheerfully thumbs its nose at traditional coming-of-age narratives. This heart-tugging, laugh-out-loud portrait of a father and daughter is a satisfying journey across modern America you won’t want to miss.
Publication date: 08/09/2022
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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