Using the Feelings of Childhood Memories to Find the Heart of a Story, a guest post by Sharelle Byars Moranville
When I’m still in the doodling stage of writing a new book, I rummage through my childhood memories. Anything I still remember with amazing vividness after all this time must have been formative, right? I probe these memories not for what happened, but for sensory details and feelings. Those become touchstones for finding the heart of my story.
The heart of Forget-Me-Not Blue springs from something that happened to me in fourth grade music class when we were learning a folk dance that required girls and boys to partner. A few weeks earlier, a new boy, Gary Hall, had joined our class. He was small and not very clean. He was a stranger. So, with the casual cruelty of children, we shunned him.
The day we were learning the dance, I was paired with Gary. “Oh no, you’ve got him!” a girl gasped. “Don’t touch him! You’ll catch something!” The teachers knew we were shunning Gary, and they hadn’t interfered with our cruelty, so I was pretty sure I could get away with refusing to take his hands. But when I did take them, they were memorably, surprisingly, warm and dry. Our our touch sparked something that I find hard to express in a few words, but I’ve never forgotten it. It was pure recognition. Gary was nothing like me: Gary was just like me.
Of course, at age ten I didn’t have words like paradox or cognitive dissonance. But I felt it in the spark, and knew it was true.
I prize paradoxes and think they contain great truth. Forget-Me-Not Blue has difficult subject matter: Addiction, generational poverty, abandonment, criminal behavior. It is the story of ten-year-old Sofie and thirteen-year-old Con. They love their beautiful mom, and she loves them. But she also loves drinking and doing drugs and having serial bad boyfriends—keeping the family always on the margins. Con and Sophie have been homeless. They are abandoned not once, but twice. Their clothing is what they get free from a clothing pantry. They live in a shabby, leaky, ultimately condemned rental house.
Each morning before their mom leaves for work as a waitress, the three of them play Uno. In Sofie’s mind, this ritual is what keeps them safe and together, because Uno means one in Spanish, and there are three of them, and a triangle has three corners. A triangle can fit inside a circle. And circles are safe. So as long as they keep playing Uno, nothing will be able to separate them. That longing, of staying together—that constant fear they will not—is what drives the story.
Sofie is an avid and wide-ranging reader who escapes into her many books, which come free and pre-tattered from a book pantry across the hall from the clothing pantry. Con won the coveted Student Explorer Award when he was in fifth grade, and Sofie has her eye on it for next year. Con says he wants to be a doctor, but decides maybe he will be a teacher instead. Sofie plans to be a teen movie star, as family legend has it her great-grandmother was—but only so she can make a lot of money and take care of her mom and pay for Con to go to school to become a doctor—because her real aspiration is to be a head librarian, so she will have the keys to the building and she and Con can sometimes spend the night in the library.
Paradoxically, despite the fear, loss, and grief, the story brims with loyalty, kindness, joy, tenderness, and love. Lots of love.
One of my favorite adult novels is Sky Bridge by Laura Pritchett. The story is set in harsh, desolate high desert and a crummy little Colorado town. Initially, the characters seem as lacking as their surroundings. In people and place, I found little to admire or identify with.
Because Pritchett shows the reader the fine particularity of the characters and their environs, they’re redeemed. Even the very worst of them, just a little. Pritchett’s characters are nothing like middle-class, midwestern me; yet when I come to really see them, to feel the complex heartbeat of their world, they are just like me.
I wanted to achieve the same thing in Forget-Me-Not Blue: to make Sophie and the people she loves truly seen—to show the inherent, exquisite value of their family and their love for each other in spite of the poverty they live in, the addiction demons they fight, and their sometimes-spectacular failures. And although I can’t explain exactly why, holding onto the memory of the day I danced with Gary Hall in fourth grade helped me do it.
Meet the author
Sharelle Byars Moranville is the author of eight fiction books for children and young adults. In addition to writing, she loves to admire the specifics of nature and how light and shadow work, and she enjoys capturing those moments in photos. She recently moved from a metro area to deep country, and lives in a hundred-year-old cottage that comes with a kitty named Wosy, who is not much help with writing, but loves to be in the photos.
About Forget-Me-Not Blue
Perfect for fans of Encanto and Turning Red, this intimate and heartfelt middle grade novel follows two siblings fighting to stay together amidst the ripple effects of addiction and generational trauma.
Siblings Con and Sofie’s mom promised that nothing would ever come between them–but when she disappears without any warning, she becomes the one who’s tearing them apart.
With no one else to rely on, inseparable siblings Con and Sofie must decide who they can trust, and whether or not it’s safe to share their hearts with family members who have the power to hurt them. Sofie has always turned to Con–and to books–during times of upheaval in their unstable lives. But as their mother is arrested and their guardianship becomes uncertain, Sofie will have to find hope in the most important story of all: her own.
Moranville’s captivating and vulnerable prose explores the ways in which addiction’s ripple effects pass through generations and how familial bonds can remain unbreakable through the most difficult circumstances. Expertly grappling with difficult topics at an age-appropriate level, this novel is a sensitive, nuanced exploration of children’s enduring resilience and optimism.
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 08/08/2023
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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