There’s Magic All Around, You Just Have to Look for It, a guest post by Michelle Barry
When speaking at elementary schools about how a book becomes a book, one point I highlight that the kids seem to really respond to is that story ideas are all around us. Anything could become inspiration for a story, that first spark of an idea that sends you down a plot rabbit hole. In my presentation, I explain that you just have to pay attention to the details around you all the time, because you never know when story telling magic will swoop in, like a story fairy scattering magical storytelling dust over you.
Like hidden treasures (fictional and real), the story gems could be anywhere, and they might not be what you’d expect. When my kids were younger, they always loved the rocks that museums sell in their gift stores, the ones that look perfectly ordinary, but when you split them open, sparkling crystals are revealed on the inside. Story ideas can be the same way. Something totally mundane can transform into something extraordinary when looked at from a new perspective, or better yet, a curious perspective.
In some of the photos I show during my school presentations, I explain that by allowing your imagination to roam, that mossy stone wall you walk by every day is transformed into an ancient puzzle with a secret message carved into the rock. The old, dilapidated barn at the end of a field actually houses a secret portal to another world. The painted horses scattered around town come alive at night, roaming our city streets. Story magic is everywhere, if you remember to look for it.
It can even live in your memories.
In Moongarden, my main character, Myra Hodger, discovers a secret, forbidden, and magical garden hidden in her school. The plants she finds sprawling from end to end of the hidden room are the first she has ever seen in her life. For these scenes, Myra needed to experience the wonder and awe of a small child stumbling upon an interesting flower, but with the maturity and perspective of a twelve-year-old girl.
To capture this, I relied on my own memories of simple but treasured glimpses from my childhood. One of my earliest memories of my grandmother is her walking through her garden, showing me all her plants. In particular, I remember reaching out to touch a vine of Lily of the Valley, and gently tapping one of the white, bell-shaped flowers, wondering if it would chime.
In the book, Myra has an almost identical experience when she encounters a cluster of Lily of the Valley. For me, and hopefully readers too, this scene is filled with childlike wonder and awe, and reminds them (no matter their age) of being small when the whole world seems to be filled with magic.
For other scenes in the garden, I relied on more recent memories and experiences. I am lucky to live in an area with lots of open space, nature, and wilderness. There’s a sprawling nursery in town that I’ve visited on many occasions when I needed inspiration for garden descriptions. Some of the photos included with this article are plants that stirred my own imagination. Plants you may have in your own garden and haven’t looked twice at for a long time. But if you look closely, you might see the scales of a reptile, the fur of a monster, or the fluffy white of a wispy cloud. Later in the series, in Seagarden, Myra travels to a new planet, Venus, to attend an exchange school for those with science-fueled magic. By now, she is familiar with plants, but there is plenty at the Venusian Academy of Magical Arts (V.A.M.A.) that is foreign to her. While her Lunar boarding school focused on the traditional applications of science magic, at V.A.M.A., the curriculum is expanded to also include how science (and magic) fuels art.
Dance was a part of my life from preschool through college, so it was easy to pull from those experiences for many of the performance scenes in Seagarden. However, while I always loved music, and how movement can highlight the notes of a song, I never learned how to play an instrument… but my kids did. Myra (like my daughter) is captivated by the trombone, and Myra (like me) knows nothing about the instrument when she firsts becomes acquainted to it. By drawing on the memories of my daughter’s early days with her trombone, it helped me to funnel that sense of wonder into Myra’s first experiences with music.
When writing books and telling stories, old memories, (seemingly) unrelated hobbies, and routine details can become the threads that weave the fabric of your story together, making the scenes that much more vibrant, relatable, and engaging. Not only that, but you might just find the spark of an idea hidden in one of these things, or all of them, just by paying attention and letting yourself get lost in the magic of everyday life.
Meet the author
Michelle Barry was born and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts, though she was later cajoled over the border into Connecticut by her future husband, where she has been happily residing for many years. She holds a degree in Communications from Salve Regina University and has worked as a newspaper reporter, freelance writer and editor, and marketing professional. She currently lives in Connecticut with her charming husband and their two delightful children.
Follow her on Instagram @MichelleBarryBooks, Twitter @MichelleABarry, or on her website at www.MichelleBarryBooks.com.
Twitter, Instagram and Facebook – @PixelandInkbks
About Plotting the Stars 2: Seagarden
Forced to hide her new-found magic or risk imprisonment or worse, Myra enrolls in an interplanetary academy exchange program to dig up more about the government’s many conspiracies, but instead uproots even darker secrets that could drown everything she’s grown to trust. The second book in the searing STEAM-inspired Plotting the Stars middle grade series perfect for fans of The City of Ember and Divergent.
Revolution is watered with sweat and tears.
As Myra Hodger begins her second year at the elite Scientific Lunar Academy of Magic, she should be happy. Her days of faking Number Whisperer magic are over, and she has friends she can trust with the secret of her Botan abilities. But that doesn’t mean she’s through pretending to be someone she’s not. Mourning Bernie and the incredible Moongarden they cultivated together, she feels like she’s losing herself just when she found the thing that made her feel whole. She’s given a seed of hope when she runs into a teen Rep in the hallway who looks eerily familiar. But irritable Bernard, controlled by his Rep implant, is nothing like her beloved Bernie.
With the continuing interplanetary food crisis conspiracy, an anonymous tip about a community of free Reps who might be able to help save Bernard, and the hunt for more information about what really happened to the banished Botans, all routes seem to point to Venus, and an exchange program with the Vesuvian Academy of Magical Arts might provide Myra and her friends the cover they need to unearth the answers they seek.
Or it might widen the cracks already forming among them, releasing a flood of consequences that could wash away all they’ve worked so hard to grow.
The second book in the Plotting the Stars series, Seagarden blossoms with unexpected twists and heartbreaking revelations, underpinned by climate change warnings and a determination to fight against the status quo.
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 10/03/2023
Age Range: 10 – 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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