Leap of Faith, a guest post by Maura Jortner
When I started writing a book about a kid living in an amusement park, I was completely distraught—about life and about publishing. The pandemic had just begun, and I had already written over ten books and had been dropped by one literary agent. Yet, despite what seemed like constant negative outcomes, I decided to do it again, to write another book. I leaned into optimism. You never know, I said to myself. This might be the one. This might be the book that finally gets picked up. I’ve always tried to be a glass-half-full kind of person, but in March of 2020, having a positive outlook was tough—for me, and for most other people, I suspect. Yet, I took that leap of faith and sat down at my computer. I had visited Disney World a few days before it closed due to the Covid emergency, and I was drawn to use a similar setting.
A few months later, I had a new agent and a bright, shiny, new book. Better yet, an editor was interested in my quirky little MG novel. But there was a problem. The editor loved the main character and the setting, but she didn’t like the plot. The plot, I mused, that’s the whole thing; that is the book! Only, it wasn’t, and it isn’t. Plot is an aspect of any book, but it’s only an aspect. My agent asked me if I wanted to try a rewrite; she told me she would be open to however I wanted to play this. If I wanted to rewrite it, I could. If I wanted to just stay with the work on sub as is, that would also be okay.
I decided to attempt a rewrite. It was a leap of faith, and a big one, but I liked Mouse, the main character; I liked her enough to want to hang out with her through a whole new book. That’s how I thought about it—I’d be hanging out with Mouse so rewriting would be fun.
Of course hindsight is 20/20, but I still believe I would make this choice any day of the week because Mouse is fun to hang out with. She’s one of those characters with a buoyancy about her that makes her a joy to write. She’s also quick on her feet and quirky, so you never know what she might do or say. In other words, she’s exciting to write. She’s surprising. She keeps me on my toes. She’s also optimistic— ready for anything, even when things go oh so wrong. Her Mama, for instance, abandons her at an amusement park. Mama puts her on a twirling teacups ride and slips out of the park. Despite her abandonment, Mouse doesn’t give in to depression. She deals with anxiety, sure. She even gets panic attacks. She’s scared and she’s angry and I understand why. But she doesn’t give up. She leans into optimism and deals with the situation as best as she can.
After Mouse finds herself alone in the amusement park, she evaluates her choices. She could turn herself in to park security and be taken away by the Lost Kid Patrol. Or she could find a hiding place and never show her face again. Or she could do her best to make the situation work. She chooses the latter. She takes a leap of faith. When she first “borrows” that dustpan and broom and employee shirt, she is scared to death, shaking in her old, ratty shoes. But Mouse believes in the power of pretending. Rule Number 5 in her Rules To Live By, in fact, is “Pretend to know more than you do,” and Mouse is great at following this rule. She has to be. Every day is a leap of faith.
Mouse takes a leap of faith when she makes friends at the park. It’s a leap of faith because if she says the wrong thing, they could suspect that she’s not sixteen and turn her in. Or if she lets it show that she doesn’t know things a sixteen-year-old should—like how to get a driver’s license or where the employee parking lot is, they might discover her ruse and report her. Regardless of the danger, Mouse reaches out to a boy named Tanner. He’s funny and dorky and awkward in his own way and they fall into an easy friendship. They establish a routine of racing to the Ghost Town entrance marker every morning. They eat lunch together (that’s its own leap of faith because Mouse, no money in her pockets, has to tell Juan that her quesadilla is paid for when it clearly isn’t). She and Tanner check in with each other throughout the day. They watch out for each other. Even though Mouse has every reason to be bitter and/or disillusioned about people, she trusts her friend. He takes care of her, and she takes care of him. It’s a leap of faith.
So the editor wanted me to rewrite the book. Upon her request, I sent in a three-page plot summary with what I had in mind. It was late October, and if you’re a writer, you know what that means: NaNoWriMo is on the horizon. NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month; it happens every November. Novelists often take this month to write an entire book and/or fifty thousand words. As a leap of faith, I started writing 102 DAYS OF LYING ABOUT LAUREN. I was seventeen thousand words in when I heard back from that editor. She made an offer. Let me repeat that in perhaps the way it should be said: SHE MADE AN OFFER ON A BOOK FROM A THREE-PAGE SUMMARY!!! Yes, all caps and that many exclamation points. Talk about a leap of faith!
Thank goodness, I had already leaped. The first draft of 102 DAYS OF LYING ABOUT LAUREN was about a third of the way done.
I wrote and wrote and wrote and shared my work with CPs and beta readers and rewrote some more and the rest is history. 102 DAYS OF LYING ABOUT LAUREN comes out June 20, about a year and a half after I decided to give Mouse another shot.
Since we’re talking about leaps of faith, I should add this: in the end of the novel, Mouse makes a huge leap of faith. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll leave it at that, but she has to leap hard and high, and she does. And it’s a good choice.
Leaps of faith are difficult to make. They take bravery and a certain kind of foolishness that says, “Well, what’s the worst thing that could happen?” Foolish words, I know, but at times, life presents us with opportunities disguised as challenges. If we leap, we just might find solid ground and oh so much happiness. What will you leap for today?
Meet the author
Maura Jortner teaches creative writing and literature at Baylor University. She lives in Texas with her husband, two daughters, and a cat that knows tricks. Though she doesn’t do big roller coaster, she loves a good haunted house attraction. 102 Days of Lying About Lauren is her debut novel. Visit her online at maurajortner.com
About 102 Days of Lying About Lauren
After being abandoned by her mother in a most unusual place, a defiant heroine sticks to her plan for staying hidden—even though getting caught could mean saving her life.
Twelve-year-old Mouse calls an amusement park home.
Nobody notices her, and that’s the way she likes it. Mouse sweeps the streets and wears a uniform she “borrowed” and sleeps on the top floor of the Haunted House of Horrors. She knows which security guards to avoid, eats the bagel left out each morning for the Ghost of Summer (a popular theme park legend), and even has the taco guy convinced that her lunch is paid for. She has her special hiding methods down to a science.
But one morning, a girl named Cat comes looking for Lauren Suszek. Cat notices her, and Mouse doesn’t like it. Mouse cannot let this nosy pest find out who she really is! If Mouse gets discovered living in the park, Mama might come back for her, and Mouse doesn’t want that. Or—even worse?—Mama might not come back at all.
Mouse knows she can lose this girl without blowing her cover. She just has to follow her rules. A carefully constructed life in the park is all she needs. Right?
Anchored by memorable characters and an extraordinary setting, Maura Jortner’s brilliant debut novel is bursting with grit, humor, and heart.
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 06/20/2023
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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