Friday, April 24, 2020

Nicole C. Kear

Nicole C. Kear is the author of the memoir Now I See You, chosen as a Must-Read by People, Amazon, Martha Stewart Living, Parade, Redbook, and Marie Claire UK among others. Her books for children include the new middle grade novel Foreverland, the chapter series The Fix-It Friends, and the middle grade series The Startup Squad, co-written with Brian Weisfeld. Her essays appear in the New York Times, Good Housekeeping, New York, Psychology Today, Parents, as well as Salon, the Huffington Post and xoJane. She teaches non-fiction writing at Columbia University and the NYU School of Professional Studies.

A native of New York, Kear received a BA from Yale, a MA from Columbia, and a red nose from the San Francisco School of Circus Arts. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, three children and two teddy bear hamsters.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Foreverland, the title of the book, is also the amusement park where 12-year-old Margaret runs away to, because of hard times at home. Foreverland's motto is: "where magic never ends!" and that's an important concept in the book for both of the runaways who want to call Foreverland home. Jaime and Margaret flee to Foreverland separately, for different reasons, but what they share is a desire to go back in time, to a happier moment in their pasts. What they wish more than anything is that the magic of those happy moments might never end. In different ways, they both want to stop time, to stay children forever, like the famous boy who never grew up, Peter Pan. So, in that respect, Foreverland as a title does a lot to get us into the story in both the most simple way (that's where all of the action unfolds) and in the most profound way, too!

What's in a name?

I have to disagree with Shakespeare here. I think there’s a lot in a name, as far as fiction is concerned. One of my favorite parts about coming up with a new character is naming them; it’s a priceless opportunity to communicate something essential about the character. Foreverland is heavily inspired by Peter Pan but I wanted to keep the re-telling very modern and very loose, so that readers discover the connection at some point, but not until they’re pretty far into the book. Because of this, I had to keep my references to the source material soft, subtle.

When it came to Jaime, the charismatic, impulsive, unforgettable boy Margaret meets in the park, who’s cut from the same character cloth as Peter Pan, I didn’t want to choose something obvious, like Peter or Pete. The author of Peter Pan is J. M. Barrie (the J is for James) and I immediately thought of Jaime. It felt modern, a little more gender-neutral and it works in Spanish, which was something I was looking for, because Jaime is Latino.

I rejected “Wendy” for the female protagonist of my story because it’s too on the nose. Instead, I discovered that the real-life inspiration for the character of Wendy was a little girl named Margaret Henley, the daughter of a friend of J. M Barrie’s. She died at 5 from meningitis, and invented the name of “Wendy” accidentally -- she couldn’t pronounce Barrie’s name and instead called him “Fwendy-wendy.” So I named my character Margaret, after the original Wendy. It’s exactly the kind of traditional name I thought my character would have.

Belle’s a supporting character, but she is one of my absolute favorites - a punk-rock, tough-as-nails teen who is Jamie’s fierce and loyal protector at the park. You can probably guess what Peter Pan character her name derives from.... Tinkerbell! I love this one, since it feels like a misnomer for this character. It’s a sweet name for a sour girl, so there’s tension there, and complications, which I find interesting.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings are a cinch for me --but they’re never the right beginning. I always rewrite them over ... and over ... and over. On my computer, I have dozens of different opening paragraphs for Foreverland. My biggest challenge was figuring out where to start the story. Initially, I started with Margaret in her home, and followed her as she journeyed out of the city to the amusement park -- I wanted to show the backstory, and let the readers understand the reasons she fled home. The trouble was, it was just taking so long to get to the fun part, the running-away-to-live-in-an-amusement-park part. So I wondered, “What if I just start right there, with that exactly: ‘I am running away to live in an amusement park’?” It was a, “it’s so simple, it just might work!” moment.

I decided to start with Margaret standing in front of the gates to the park, deciding whether she will actually go in. She’s a safe, sensible girl with a good head on her shoulders. She gets panicky when she orders from the “12 and under” menu even though she is 12 because she’s worried she’d cutting it a little too close. So running away, breaking the rules is not a natural behavior for her. But she sees the park spread out before her in all its summer splendor, and the memories she has from years past are so enticing. So she’s pulled in, but she’s pulled out, too. I liked the idea of starting in that moment of tension, the moment she makes the decision that changes everything.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I see a lot of myself in my characters -- not so much in their personalities, but definitely in their emotional experiences. Margaret is shy, quiet, invisible -- nothing like me at twelve (or now for that matter). I was loud, assertive, dramatic, a born performer and a spotlight-hogger. But so many important moments Margaret experiences or remembers come from my experience. For example, when I was a kid, I used to love hiding. My favorite place to hide was in the deep coat closet at my aunt’s apartment in Manhattan. I can distinctly recall the smells and sounds in there, the hard, cold paint can under me, the furry, puffy coat bottoms pressing ion my head, the closeness of the dark. And that’s a moment Margaret recalls in the story from her childhood.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My main inspiration for this book was a conversation I had a few years ago with my son, who was about to turn 12. He was lamenting the fact that he was getting older, saying he was nostalgic for his childhood.

“How can you miss being a kid,” I asked him. “When you’re still I kid?”

“Because,” he said. “I know it’s about to end.”

I thought this was an unusual reaction to growing up -- I remember being in such a rush to get older. But then I listened to a podcast called, “Being 12: the year when everything changes.” And I heard 12-year-olds from all over talk about their conflicted feelings about entering adolescence, and scientists and social scientists weighing in on what a remarkable year of transformation it is, developmentally. It put me in mind of Peter Pan -- specifically how he visits Wendy, and begins their adventure together on her last night in the nursery, the last night she gets to be a kid.

I was discussing this with my son one afternoon, as we walked home, and that’s when I decided I’d write a middle grade novel about it.

“But what would be a modern-day Neverland?” I asked him. “A place of magic, where anything is possible, all your childhood dreams fulfilled?”

He knew, instantly. “An amusement park,” he said.

And just like that, a book was born.
Visit Nicole C. Kear's website.

--Marshal Zeringue