JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I know a lot of writers who have become friends, but Maine author Gail Donovan may be the only person I know who is a friend who became a writer. Gail spent several years combining motherhood, librarianship and writing-for-hire for picture books. Then in 2009, she took the leap into her true love: middle grade fiction. Her first book for children, In Memory of Gorfman T. Frog, was named a New York Public Library "Best Books for Children." Her second; What's Bugging Bailey Blecker, was a Horn Book back-to-school recommended title. Now, coming out this August (just in time for back-to-school!), The Waffler.
Monty is a waffler–he can never make up his mind, which always gets him in trouble. But when each student in his fourth-grade class is assigned a kindergarten buddy, Monty takes some left-out kindergarteners under his wing, even though it’s against the rules to have more than one buddy. When his blended family and his teachers find out, they give him an ultimatum: choose just one buddy, or have none at all. That stinks! On top of that, his beloved pet rat escapes, and his twin sister stops speaking to him! Monty doesn’t want to cast away his new friends, but he needs to come to a decision before everything spins out of control.
Did you catch the line about the twin? As it happens, Gail is a twin herself...
Writing fiction isn’t exactly like having a “do-over,” but it’s close. On a July night in 1982, the following things happened. I ate cauliflower at supper. I got a phone call in which the words “I’m getting married” were uttered. And then I spent the night throwing up.
Some part of my brain mixed up the cause and effect. The cauliflower didn’t make me sick. The words did. Why did the words “I’m getting married” make me ill? Because they came from my twin sister, and at the time the very idea of her throwing in her lot with somebody else made me want to, well, puke.
It wasn’t until my third novel for young people that I had the urge to explore twinness fictionally. I realized that a subject with the power to make you—okay, enough said—let’s just say the subject of twins fascinates most people, me included.
Even more than “regular” siblings, twins grow up together, side by side, step by step. They share friends, clothes, bedrooms, and even a name: the twins. So how is a twin supposed to untwine him or herself and forge their own identity?
Having adopted the role of “the good one” in my own family I decided my main character would not be “the good one.” From Monty’s point of view, that’s his twin sister, Sierra. She’s the one who makes up her mind quickly to do the things parents approve of, like playing soccer and getting good grades. He’s the one who can’t make up his mind to do anything. He’s The Waffler.
At last! What fun not to be the good twin!
And what’s the epilogue of the story in real life? In the end, my twin sister didn’t end up marrying that particular boyfriend, and by the time she did marry I was long married myself. I’m happy to report there were no gastrointestinal issues. But I still won’t touch cauliflower.
TheWaffler is dedicated to my twin sister.
We have a copy of What's Bugging Bailey Blecker (which my then 11-year-old daughter praised as "Really funny and kind of gross, which makes it totally awesome.") for one lucky commenter and a copy of I Shall Not Want for another. To the backblog, Batman!
|Wee Gail and her twin.|