Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Not The Good Twin Anymore: a guest blog by Gail Donovan

 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!

You can find out more about Gail Donovan and her books at her web site, and friend her on Facebook.
Wee Gail and her twin.



  1. A book about a twin, written by a twin? Oh, all those memories of being “the twins” definitely puts your book on this twin’s “must read” list!

    Actually, the whole thing, Monty included, sounds quite intriguing and I’d be checking out “The Waffler” even if I wasn’t a twin . . . . Luckily for me, cauliflower never managed to get in the way of adventures in life with my twin sister, but there’s a whole passel of pictures just like the cute one of you and your sister kicking around in our family picture album . . . .

  2. These books sound really fun. And with a young friend who is 7 and starting to be an avid reader, I'm suddenly much more interested in high-quality books for kids.

    Creating characters who do the stuff that we, the authors, can't or wouldn't is one of the great parts about writing!

  3. Speaking as a terrible waffler myself, these sound wonderful! My kids are still young, and I have a feeling we will have to weather the Princess phase first (totally mixed feelings on that, but that's another story!), but it is exciting to know that there are good books coming when they get a little bigger!

    I'm so grateful that they will have many more choices at all levels than when I was a kid (you know, at the dawn of time!).

  4. Gail, this is so interesting! Of course we all love twin stories. Do you remember a series about twin teenage girls, Joby and Joanna? I've always wanted to go back to them--one book in particular I remember because it had the same theme as you describe with your sister. I dated a twin one time--he was much more connected to his own brother than any random female:)

    The waffler sounds adorable!

  5. These books sound like so much fun. Always wanted to be a twin... like The Parent Trap.

    So interesting about "good" siblings, "wafflers," and the rest. I was the "good" sister -- my younger sister got my parents' attention while I snuck out the back, rolled up my skirt, and hopped on my boyfriend's motorcycle.

  6. Gail, it sounds as though these books, like so much young adult fiction, are terrific stories. I may have to find a child for whom to buy them (so *I* can read them, of course!) I hope I'm not the only reader here who counts some picture books, juvenile storybooks and young adult fiction among her "favorite books of all time"?

    Do you find it at all difficult to write at a particular "level"? As a teacher with students who sometimes struggle with reading, one suggestion that I've heard was to re-write some materials for easier understanding, but I'm just not sure how one would go about that.

  7. Love the sound of these books, and I have just the eight year old grandson for them!

    In my family we are fascinated by twins. My grandmother had two sets of boy/girl twins, and I kind of hoped I would have twins.

    One of my daughters grew up believing she had a boy twin, and honestly she found him in her husband!

    Thanks! JRW is such a treat every day.

  8. Great story! And I agree, twins are fascinating. I've wondered what that would feel like--and always love the stories about how the twins seem to have ESP with each other. What have you read about twins that you disagree with?

    (Denise Ann..that's so interesting..and sounds like a good short story!)

    Joan, you're a twin?

  9. There were many sets of twins on my dad's side of the family (six of my grandmother's siblings were twins!), and one of my grandmother's cousins had a set of triplets. Thee have been twins in more recent generations, too. Just for that reason alone I'd like to read your books! (A friend who is the mother of twins says she thinks being a twin must like "being born married".)

    For several years I've been reading and purchasing mid grade books. Right now I have six mid grade books out from the library. A niece who is now a junior in high school has enjoyed recommending her favorite books to me since she was around nine years old, and I've branched out to other mid grade books over the years. Several summers ago I helped her mom, who is an elementary school teacher, reorganize her classroom library after her room moved to another part of the building, and I read some of the books tthat interested me. One of the books I have out from the public library is written by one of those authors. I am putting your books on my TBR list!

  10. Yes, Hank, I have an identical twin sister. [Her name is Jean; we went through lots of teasing over that when there was a commercial featuring twins named Jean and Joan]. We now live within shouting distance of each other . . . .

  11. Welcome, Gail. Another Mainer; how wonderful!

    How many remember The Bobbsey Twins? If I remember correctly there were two sets of twins. I loved those stories.

    My sister and my niece both teach in (Maine) elementary schools. You may even know them. I'll have to make sure they know about these books.

    Thank you for sharing with us.

  12. Joan, are you or Jean the "good twin?"

    It's funny - I have another close friend as well as Gail who is an identical twin. (And my first serious boyfriend in college was one!) In both cases, there's a real dichotomy between the twins: one has a long and happy marriage, one took a long time settling down; one is very family and community oriented, the other travels and keeps trying out new jobs, education, etc.

    It's the sort of difference you'd comment on if it was between siblings who grew up with the same parents in the same household. It's even more striking when it's between two women who look and sound just like each other!

  13. I wanted to be a twin. My mother said one of me was enough! I suspect she was thinking something a bit harsher than that at the time!

  14. Julia, I guess I was the “good” twin, although Jean was not a “bad” twin, just more outspoken and less likely “fall in line” over things. I never minded being a twin, but I think there were times she wished we were just “regular” sisters. She was more outgoing and athletic, I was [and still am] more quiet and introspective. We have very different interests, but there’s far less dichotomy between us . . . we both have long and happy marriages, both have grown children, both of us are active in the church . . . .

  15. Ooh, this sounds good.

    I've always been fascinated by twins. My parents were both opposite sex twins whose twin each either died at birth or was born dead. I always thought that was amazing, that out of everyone in the world they found each other.

    And my husband is a fraternal twin. I learned many years ago that their relationship is not something I should get involved in; they, like many same-sex fraternal twins, have an odd combination of sibling rivalry and devoted loyalty that most other sibling relationships don't have.

    Marianne, I loved the Bobbsey twins! Ned and Nan, and Flossy and was it Freddy?

  16. And Joan, my mother's name is also Joan. Her twin brother's name was John, since he lived a few hours. My dad's twin was born dead, so she was not named, nor spoken of, since she would have been the only girl born in the family, and my grandmother was bereft to have lost her. My dad did not know he'd been a twin until Mother was pregnant with me and they were talking about how maybe she would have a twin. Then my grandmother finally broke her silence.

    There's a different dynamic with identicals than fraternals, don't you think? Fraternal twins are much more likely to have "good" and "bad" labels, in my experience.

  17. Oh, these looks good. I love the covers. My nephews are the perfect age--one of them is a huge reader too.

    I'm also fascinated by twin-dom. Admittedly, my imagination sometimes wanders over to Stephen-King land, i.e. twins with dark powers. :-) However, I've heard fascinating real life stories about twins adopted out to different families at birth, who end up being eerily similar to each other as adults.

    My first novel (drawer novel, practice novel, never-see-the-light of day novel) featured twins. They were fun to write!

  18. Yes, Karen, I think the dynamic is very different between identical twins than between fraternal twins, but both seem to have that loyalty to each other down to perfection . . . . How sad that both your parents were not able to experience the uniqueness of having a twin . . . .

  19. The Bobbsey Twins! I loved them! That must have been the beginning of my fascination with twins. My brother is almost ten years older, so growing up more or less as on only, I always dreamed of having a twin. When my daughter was little we bought a couple of the "updated" Bobbseys--horrible. We dug out my old copies after that.

    I love mid-grade and young adult fiction, and am so glad there seems to be an abundance of choice these days. Gail, yours sounds like a winner.

    Writers tend to be wafflers, don't you think, because we always see more than one side of things. I'll bet I identify with Wally!

  20. Karen, the Bobbsey twins were Nan & Burt, the older, brunette twins and Flossie and Freddie, the younger, blonde twins. At a local animal shelter, a dog had four puppies, two bigger and two littler, and since I helped care for them, I got to christen them. Yup. Burt, Nan, Flossie & Freddie!

    You all are very lucky to have had all this twinning experience! I realize that in all the genealogy I've done, I've not seen anybody in my extended family ever, ever, ever have twins! Back some 150 years or more! I am jealous of y'all!

  21. I have no guilt about reading books for young readers, and I hope you won't either, Kristi. As for being on the right level, I think it stems from putting yourself in the character's shoes and going from there.

    Karen, I'm intrigued by your idea that good and bad labels are given more often to fraternal than identical twins.

    Finally, despite the cauliflower incident, I loved being a twin so much I hoped I'd have twins, at least the first time around. Second time, I knew better and prayed not to! Happy I ended up with two girls--not twins.

  22. Gail, at one time, back in the early 80's, I gathered research, hoping to write a non-fiction book about twins and the dynamics within the multiple relationships. Ended up getting sucked into the drama of my own life and never got any further into it.

    But I did learn some interesting facts about having twins: It's more common in older mothers, especially if they have had other children previously. Tall, slender, Caucasian women are more likely to have twins than other ethnicities (this research was done in the 70's, so this could have changed by now), and if fraternal twins are in the mother's side of the family, that is another identifier. (It's the tendency to release more than one egg at a time that does it.)

    I had all those markers, by the way, in my last two pregnancies. Scared me to death. LOL

    Kristi, thank you! Ned must have come from Nancy Drew books.

    It's weird, but in our very large Catholic family there are almost no other twins. One of my aunts had twins, and her son's wife had them, but that's it.

  23. "I was the "good" sister -- my younger sister got my parents' attention while I snuck out the back, rolled up my skirt, and hopped on my boyfriend's motorcycle."

    Hallie, I want to hear more!

    Sorry to be late to the party again, but it's that crazy time right after new book release.

  24. How totally delightful your book sounds, Gail. And I love knowing the background on it. Onto my TBR list it goes. I maintain a collection of children's literature for the ever-growing tribe of great- and great-great-nieces and -nephews in my life, and the children and grandchildren of my friends.

    Growing up in the 50s and 60s, one of my family's close connections was a family that included fraternal twin girls. One of the things I remember liking was that they didn't have alliterative names, and we never refered to them as The Twins. Even as a child (I'm two years younger than them) I knew it was important that they be called by their own names.

    In a lovely touch of whimsy, one of my verification words is counterpart.

  25. Visiting on Jungle Red was such fun. I feel like a little kid who got to play with the big kids. Thanks to all who added my books to your TBR list!

  26. I love Gail's fiction and I love hearing about her real life as a twin too! This short piece packs a punch and really captures the intensity (times two) of sibling love. Kudos to Gail and Jungle Red!

  27. Enjoyed reading the comments since I am a twin also. So I know of what you speak-there are 2 of you and independence is hard to come by in the beginning. However, different jobs and different locales help one to become their "own self".
    Your book sounds clever and would like to read it even thought i am past the age of reading kids books.

  28. As a pre-print reader of THE WAFFLER, I can testify to its vividness, humor, empathy, and wisdom. Gail Donovan is a wonderful talent!