I enjoy writing stories about ordinary people living through real life trials. I may never write about people narrowly escaping exploding buildings or being held captive in a creepy crawl space. I do write about how people survive those scary things that we all have the possibility of facing ourselves: disease, death, bullying, not being accepted. I enjoy watching how people live and shine through those moments.
Since I was a child, I have been dealing with chronic illness. I used to be rushed to the emergency room every few months because of severe asthma attacks. Thankfully, I made it there in time to get a shot of epinephrine that saved my life on countless occasions. My father died when I was five, and suddenly my asthma attacks stopped. I still had asthma, but I no longer needed to be rushed in for help. My father was a smoker who smoked in the house, and I am horrifically allergic to tobacco. It was the 1970s, and we just didn’t make the connection until later.
There were many more medical conditions that popped up over the years with my family members, my friends, and me. When I became a mom, I watched helplessly as my baby had to endure numerous reconstructive surgeries, including two terrifying ones on her airway. People kept asking my husband and me how we kept it so together. I don’t know if we were always as composed as they thought, but we did what we needed to do. Watching my daughter suffer was terrifying, but she came through it and is now a happy and healthy—if not petulant—tween. A few years later when I was stricken with yet another medical problem that left me struggling with increased weakness, I turned to writing. I’m so grateful I did, and without trying to sound overly dramatic about it, writing helped give me back what illness had robbed from me.
When I was writing Spark, I knew I was going to be writing about death. Hugo is affected by the loss of his father even years after the man died from cancer. When Hugo was thirteen, he learned that his father had pancreatic cancer and that the odds of survival were slim. I poured some of my own experience of living inside the tragedy of a loved one’s illness and also my experience with losing a father. It’s a very lonely place to be, and Hugo has built up a very sturdy wall to protect himself. It’s only when he meets the new boy in town, Kevin that he starts to open up and share some of his fears.
While I may never write about what we traditionally think of as heroes, like a firefighter, I think watching characters live through illness and finding ways to keep on going through crisis is very rewarding. And to see them come out clean on the other side, even if they are a little emotionally battered and bruised, is very gratifying to me as a writer and as a reader.