The Half-Truths and Lies in JUNKYARD DOGS, a cover reveal and guest post by Katherine Higgs-Coulthard
Writers receive a lot of advice. Some of it is extremely helpful, as is the case with Khaled Hosseini’s insistence that “You have to write every day, and you have to write whether you feel like it or not.”1 Other advice, like “acquire a cat”2 may not work for every writer, especially those of us with a large, slightly hyperactive Australian Shepherd named Mya.
Most frequently, the advice is solid; still, I struggle to apply it.
Take for instance two particular pieces of wisdom: base the character arc on “the lie your character believes” and “write what you know.”3 Writing what you know should be easy. I mined my youth for topics and wrote essays, short narratives, and even one ill-advised memoir. None of them was very good. I just didn’t find my own life very interesting and if I didn’t find it extraordinary, why would readers?
Heeding Hosseini’s suggestion to write every day, I shifted my focus to character arc. Again, I tackled multiple genres, but my fiction more often resembled war-torn battlefields where my characters and I fought over their internal untruths than cohesive stories.
Finally in a Take Your Character to Coffee Workshop run by one of my favorite writers, I asked Josh, the protagonist from what would later become Junkyard Dogs, why he had to be so secretive.
“Dude, just tell me your lie,” I commanded.
He gave me that shy grin of his and said, “I’d really like to do that for you, but here’s the problem: If I believe it, how would I know it’s a lie?”
Then it clicked.
Write what you know does not mean writing about the surface stuff of our lives; it means writing what your heart knows. And sometimes our hearts lie to us.
The next day I dragged Josh back to my favorite coffee shop. Over a cup of ginger tea and a mug of LaSalle Mint hot chocolate (okay, I drank both), I asked him about what his heart knew. I nodded along with everything he said. My pen could hardly keep up. It turned out our hearts knew so many of the same truths.
You have to protect those less powerful than you.
There can be beauty in trash.
What you need isn’t always what you want.
Everything you own can be lost at the drop of a match.
But then Josh spoke his most firmly held truth, “Your family will always be there for you,” and my own heart knew it immediately for a lie.
I used to believe that family would always be there. The truth, though, is that sometimes the people you are supposed to be able to count on just cannot be there for you. No matter how badly you need them, no matter how badly they might want to help you, sometimes they can’t because it is taking everything they have just to keep themselves afloat. I didn’t want Josh to have to learn that, but my own heart knew there was even a harder lesson waiting for him: You have to take care of yourself because no one else will.
The first solid draft of Junkyard Dogs was built on those truths. Everyone Josh depended on failed him. Josh found himself alone, struggling to protect himself and his little brother. Nowhere to turn. No one to help them. I wrote what I knew, channeling all the times I had felt abandoned, unsupported, invisible. My heart nodded along, my pen flew, writing my truth: You have to take care of yourself because no one else will.
But Josh’s heart knew it immediately for what it was and cried out, “LIE!”
He pointed to the elementary school librarian who had created a school newspaper just so I would have an excuse to stay in at recess and write, the shifts my mom took driving a bus in the early morning hours so she could buy me a typewriter, the band director who helped me get a partial scholarship even though my rendition of Wildner’s Clarinet Concerto sounded more like a dying elephant, the letters from my brother that told me he understood why I left and he would be all right.
Writing my way to Josh’s truth led me to expose my own lie. I had not done any of it alone. I just had been so focused on the times people let me down that I didn’t see the way they had been lifting me up. This realization led to a new truth and the real heart of Josh’s story: You might not have the family you want, but you have the people you need.
And you will be okay.
2Muriel Sparks via the character of Mrs. Hawkins in A Far Cry from Kensington
3Often attributed to Mark Twain
Meet the author
Katherine Higgs-Coulthard graduated from the University of Nebraska with a bachelor’s in education and earned a master’s from Indiana University, before completing her doctorate in education through Northeastern University. She has taught kindergarten, third, and fifth grades. Now she trains teachers at Saint Mary’s College and offers writing camps and classes for children and teens through Michiana Writers’ Center. She lives in Michigan and loves spending time with her family.
Author website: http://www.writewithkat.com/
Author Twitter: https://twitter.com/michianawriter1
Author Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kathiggscoulthard/
Cover designer website: https://www.vonbrooklyndesign.com/
Cover designer Twitter: https://twitter.com/vonbrooklyn
Publisher website: PeachtreeBooks.com/PeachtreeTeen/
Publisher socials: @PeachtreeTeen (on all platforms)
About Junkyard Dogs
Some people dream of happily ever after, but all 17-year-old Josh Roberts wants is a roof over his head and for his little brother to be safe.
Josh’s father has gone missing without a trace. Now Josh and his 9-year-old brother, Twig, are stuck living with Gran in her trailer. Problem is, Gran didn’t ask to take care of any kids, and she’s threatening to call social services unless Josh can find his dad. After paying off his Gran to take in his little brother, Josh risks truancy and getting kicked off his basketball team to take to the streets and hunt for his dad. But when Josh digs too deep, he suddenly finds himself tethered to a criminal scrapping ring that his father was accomplice to. If Josh wants to keep Twig out of the system and return to some sense of normal, he’ll have to track his dad down and demand honest answers.
Cover design: Lisa Pompilio
Publisher: Peachtree Teen/Peachtree
Publication date: 2/21/2023
Age Range: 14 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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