Wayne Kovok survives a plane crash on the way home from his uncle’s funeral. When he wakes up at the hospital, he has a long line of stitches on his face, a missing eyebrow, and no voice. Before the accident, Wayne kept up a steady stream of trivia to fill any awkward silences, but now that isn’t possible.
And awkward silences abound in the aftermath of the crash. Wayne’s intimidating military grandfather moves in. The prettiest girl in seventh grade may or may not still be sort-of going out with him. And Wayne can’t bear the thought of seeing his old friends—or rather, his old friends seeing him.
Mayday (2016) is Karen Harrington’s third book for youth, and I’m thrilled she has agreed to give the Booktalk Blog a glimpse into the creation of Wayne’s story.
Mayday brings together a number of themes—being an airplane crash survivor, losing/finding voice, death, friendship, military service, running, family relationships… What drew you to writing this particular story?
KH: Wayne Kovok first appeared as a minor character in a previous novel (COURAGE FOR BEGINNERS). He was that nerdy kid at the lunch table who knew a lot, but was apart from the crowd. I could personally relate to him so much. After writing that book, I began to grow curious about Wayne’s home life. The story began with that curiosity. Then, my family’s legacy of military service crept in with the appearance of Wayne’s grandfather. The story took off from there.
Wayne has a seemingly endless supply of random facts. Were you a trivia fan before writing this book? What was your process for researching and selecting which facts to use?
KH: I LOVED that part of writing the novel. I still stumble upon facts that I think would be great for the story. I’m definitely like Wayne in that regard. Long ago, I was a professional researcher for a group of speech writers and I think that job helped develop my love of finding interesting facts. There’s so much that is fascinating in the world that is true so I had lots to of material to choose from. Truth is stranger than fiction.
Having a military family looms large in Wayne’s life—from Uncle Reed’s death, his grandfather’s drill sergeant personality, and the expectation that Wayne will join the army. Is there anything particular you’d like to say to kids who are growing up in military families these days? Did you write with them in mind?
KH: I definitely thought about the kid whose family has a preconceived notion of the path he or she is expected to follow. I think there’s a lot of pressure for kids to meet that expectation whether it’s military service or attending their parent’s alma mater for college or even following in the same profession. That’s the voice I wanted to champion when I created Wayne’s character. Military service was a natural fit for me since so many of my relatives have served.
Mayday is your third book for kids. Has your writing process changed since Sure Signs of Crazy came out in 2013? Were there any particular challenges you had to overcome in writing Mayday?
KH: Honestly, I think my process is the same, but my mindset has shifted. Like so many writers, I heard ‘No, No, No’ for many years while I was learning the craft. (I’m still learning!) Now, I feel a wee bit more confident. I take my work seriously and have become more disciplined because I’d love to have 40 books in the library. As for MAYDAY, it was the most wonderful writing experience. I laughed. I sobbed. I researched. I sobbed some more. I just lived the story. I almost saw it as a movie first. (Wouldn’t Clint Eastwood be perfect for that role of Grandpa?) Also, part of the arc of Grandpa Dalton’s story mirrors a close family member who died too soon from cancer. That was challenging in the best of ways.
Bonus question: If you could be a character in any kids’ book, who would you be? Why?
KH: Wow, that’s a wonderful question. Can I be three? The first name that popped into my head was Stanley Yelnats (HOLES). I love that story, but maybe I wouldn’t want to dig holes. Then I think I’d like to be Nancy Drew and solve mysteries. In the end, I’d want to be Hermione Granger. She could magically dig the holes AND solve mysteries.
Find out more about Karen Harrington and her books on her website: http://www.karenharringtonbooks.com/