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Pam, thanks so much for letting me visit the Unconventional Librarian and chat about my Young Adult novel, The Boy Who Loved Fire
Manny O’Donnell revels in his status at the top of his high school food chain. He and his friends party in the mountains on a blustery night, sharing liquor and lame ghost stories around a campfire. The next morning, as a wild fire rages in those same mountains, Manny experiences doubt. He was the last of the drunken crew to leave the cave, and he’s uncertain if he extinguished the flames. Within hours, he becomes the number one arson suspect.
Santa Ana winds + matches = disaster. You’d think he would’ve learned that the first time he started a fire.
As he evades a determined arson investigator, Manny, a modern-day Scrooge, is visited by ghosts of the past, present, and future. He’s forced to witness the fate of his inadvertent victims, including Abigail, the scarred beauty who softens his heart. Manny must choose between turning around his callous, self-centered attitude, or protecting his own skin at the expense of anyone who gets in his way.
How was this story created? Real life.
In 2007, my family almost lost our home to an out-of-control wildfire that swooped in on Santa Ana winds that blew at 80 miles per hour.
In 2003, my then three-year-old son sustained third degree burns and had to have skin graphs. Skin was shaved from his head and applied to the burn; cadaver skin was also applied to the burn.
These two life-changing events provided the foundation for the story, The Boy Who Loved Fire.
The fire that threatened our home burned several other houses to the ground. At the time I wondered, Who started this fire? Was it a child playing with matches? If so, did this child realize what had happened? Did he realize how many homes were lost? I couldn’t get these questions out of my mind. I made lists of “what ifs” and decided to write a story. I created a main character, Manny, who had started a fire when he was a child. Tragedy ensued, and Manny was kept in the dark about the far-reaching ramifications of his actions.
When creating the story’s love interest, Abigail, I drew on my experiences with burn victims. I remembered the pain my son went through with the skin graph. I remembered how embarrassed he was with the fresh scars. I remembered how guilty I felt that, as a mom, I hadn’t protected him from harm. These memories were used when creating Abigail, a special girl whose outlook on life and healing guides Manny through the story.
My main character, Manny, had become a shallow guy who hid his insecurities behind a macho veneer. How could he see the damage that had been done by the fire he’d started? While I drove on the freeway one day, inspiration hit me: I’d use the Scrooge model as a vehicle to tell the story. Manny would learn of those horrible events through three spirits. The spirits show Manny how the fire had affected the past, present, and future. He sees the fire rip through homes. He’s shocked to learn that Abigail, a former schoolmate, was irrevocably damaged. This sets up the change Manny must go through to redeem himself.
When writing each of my novels, I’ve drawn on real experiences, real pain, real happiness, and real hope. In doing so, my goal is to create characters who readers want to root for.
From first word to the published version, The Boy Who Loved Fire has been a labor of love. I hope readers will love it, too!
Julie Musil writes Young Adult novels from her rural home in Southern California, where she lives with her husband and three sons. She’s an obsessive reader who loves stories that grab the heart and won’t let go. Her novel The Boy Who Loved Fire is available now. For more information, or to stop by and say Hi, please visit Julie on her blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook.
Thanks for popping by to visit; see you next time!