Jo Treggiari shares the story behind her story …
In the first six months of the year, a close friend had been swept to sea in the Indian Ocean tsunami, enduring seventy-two hours of terror; my kids were at that age where it appeared that every week they needed a new vaccination; now my vegetable garden wilted under the glare of the sun; and it thunder-stormed every afternoon terrifying my black lab who had taken to living in the bathtub. But, it seemed that every time I looked down I found a 4-leafed clover. So far I had collected ten of them and pressed them carefully under a heavy book.
And, the Young Adult novel I was almost finished writing and had been working on for the last few months was free of the dreaded midway slump and was galloping towards an inevitable conclusion. The working title was Lucky which seemed uncannily serendipitous. It was the first book I had written in two years that was NOT a sequel, nor was it for middle-grade readers, and I was finding the process exhilarating.
Let me mention that I am oddly superstitious but only about some things: salt throwing, black cats and four-leafed clovers.
Looking back to that summer of 2009 I think the zeitgeist was in full effect. From the proliferation of dystopian/post apocalyptic fiction published in the last couple of years, I was NOT the only writer thinking of dire futures.
NY City was being buffeted by hurricane winds and lashed by heavy rains, and the Catskill Mountains where I was living seemed like an oasis in comparison. I found myself thinking that if I had to, I could find a way to survive any natural disaster in my woods. Memories of playing hide and seek with my sister and cousins as children flooded my brain. We were lucky enough to have acres of untamed wilderness for our battles and ambushes and complicated survival games. We learned how to make shelters from living trees, dig elephant traps, identify edible mushrooms, create trail markers, and navigate by compass, the stars, or the moss on the trees. And then I took all of those memories and the spirit of adventure we had (and that all children have) and injected them into a teenage girl, and plopped her into the middle of one of the greatest cities in the world—NYC—after, of course I had totally annihilated it, killed almost everyone, and covered a large chunk of Manhattan in water.
Post-apocalypse scenarios have always appealed to me. They bring out the best and the worst in people.
I was musing a lot about bravery and how it can be defined in different ways, how hard it is to make choices that are right for everyone, and I was thinking about perseverance in both my story and in my own life. My first publishing experience had not been positive. A middle-grade fantasy published by a tiny indie, and then two sequels caught up in the publisher’s money woes, and I had only come out of a period of wallowing depression and dreaded writer ‘suckitis’ (which strikes when your career is derailed) when the idea for what was later re-titled Ashes, Ashes came to me. A friend told me, “The only thing you are in control of is your writing, so write already!” and I did, writing myself both out of my depression and into something new and thrilling.
Ashes, Ashes brought me both an agent and a publishing deal with Scholastic. By the time the sweltering summer was over I had found a total of thirteen four-leafed clovers and in my superstitious heart I just knew that must mean something.
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