Answering student questions

[Spoiler alert: this post deals with some plot elements of The Distance to Home]

Last month, I had the honor of visiting Sells Middle School in Dublin, OH, right after the entire sixth grade had read The Distance to Home. It was such a fun visit, but, as always, it wasn’t possible to answer every student question, so here I’m sharing some of the student question that were sent to me afterward and my answers.

What inspired you to write about baseball, but not other sports?

I think my first published book is about baseball because baseball was the first sport I loved — both as a player (though not a very good one) and a fan. In the past few years, I have fallen in love with college basketball (in particular, my new local team, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats) and I’m currently writing the first draft of a book brimming with basketball. All of this is to say, if there’s a sport I become obsessed with, there’s a good chance it’ll find its way into a book someday.

Did you struggle with writing the book?

Of course! Not every day, but some days, for sure. Putting together a story is in so many ways like tackling a really big puzzle. Sometimes, it takes a while to find the right piece that fits. And other times, you look down, find it, and immediately snap it into place. But the struggle is worth the result, always.

How did you get the characters’ names? Are they based on someone? If so, why?

For The Distance to Home, I used a lot of first names that were familiar to me. I had a friend named Quinnen when I was in middle school and always loved that name. But for my other books, I’ve ended up renaming my characters many times. I could spend days reading name books or looking at lists of names. None of the characters are based on someone in totality, but I think there are pieces of myself and people I know sprinkled into all of my characters.

I was wondering about Haley in the car crash, the other car that got hit too, did they get insured or hurt?

You know, this isn’t something I’ve given too much thought to, as it wasn’t a part of Quinnen’s journey. The thing about grief, often, is how it’s such an inward experience. Quinnen is so focused on her own pain and guilt for how she treated Haley that she isn’t thinking about the other people involved and their pain. For example, it’s only later in the book that she’s able to see how much Zack is hurting.

How did you decide what Zack would look like and why did the Donnellys not have a pet?

Okay, so I guess I have to backtrack a little as I’m remembering that some physical details of Zack are based on a friend I had in high school. The Donnellys didn’t have a pet because a pet wasn’t important to the story I was trying to tell. I also try to mix it up across my different books so that every family is constituted differently. Some have pets, some don’t, just like in real life.

How did you get 14 hamsters?

It all started with six hamsters that were supposed to both be boys. Turns out, three weren’t . . . .

Were you ever nervous to share your work with others?

Ever? Umm . . . every time?! I think nearly every writer is at least a little nervous sharing their work with other people, especially the first time you’re sharing a new project. For so long, it’s all yours — like the best kind of secret. But it’s so important to share our work if we want it to eventually have a wider audience. We need to know how other people are understanding it in order to make it the very best version possible.

Can you give me a shout-out? (from Emerson)

Shout out to Emerson!

How many cats do you have?

One. She wouldn’t have it any other way. 😉

What other authors do you know?

Too many to name here! I feel so lucky to have been able to get to know better so many authors, especially those who had their first books published between 2015 and 2017.

Why did you choose the setting in Tri-City, Illinois?

Because it’s made up! Though The Distance to Home  was inspired by my experience at a Kane County Cougars game, I realized that it would be very challenging for me to get all the details right about the specific town where those games are played, especially because I only spent a little while there, so I created a fictional town and team instead.

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