Hi Megan, thank you for being on my blog today to discuss your debut novel, Alone!
Thanks, Liv! I’m happy to be here.
How excited are you for people to read your book?
So excited that it’s impossible to quantify. I love hearing from all the teachers and librarians who are writing and telling me their students are lining up to read it, and I’m excited to connect with young readers. It’s a project I’ve been working on for over ten years, and I couldn’t be happier with where it’s landed.
Can you tell us a little bit about Alone and what inspired it?
ALONE is the story of a girl who lies to her parents and arranges a secret sleepover, but then at the last minute her friends can’t join her and she ends up spending the night by herself. When she wakes up the next morning, she discovers the entire town has been evacuated and abandoned, and she’s been left behind. She has to figure out what to do and how to survive on her own, and it becomes even more difficult when the power goes out and she can’t communicate with the outside world at all.
The genesis for the story came from a mother-daughter book club gathering when my daughter and her friends were in fifth grade. We read Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, and the girls were fascinated by how the main character could survive alone on an island. I pointed out that the island was her home, so she was comfortable there. I asked them to imagine what it would be like for them to come home after school to find everyone in the entire town gone. What would they do? How would they survive? What if they couldn’t reach anyone for help? What if no one came back? I couldn’t get the idea out of my head and it became the seed of the story.
The biggest enemy Maddie faces in the book is loneliness and I think considering the ongoing pandemic, this is going to resonate with a lot of children and adults alike. When you wrote this book did you imagine it coming out in a situation like this?
I could never in my wildest nightmares have imagined this. It’s interesting, because some of the early feedback I got when querying the book in its first iteration was that it was too far-fetched. Now it almost feels too close for comfort. There’s nothing good about the pandemic; I’d much rather be called far-fetched than live with the horrors COVID-19 has wrought on people’s lives. But if the book can give people some measure of hope or comfort or even just escapist pleasure, of course I’m delighted.
What would be the first thing you would do if you were suddenly in Maddie’s position with no one to rely on, no power, and no working phone lines or internet access.
When I was twelve I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to drive, so I might have taken the car and tried driving out of town to see if I could find other people. I don’t know if I would have had Maddie’s foresight to consider the possibility of running out of gas and being stuck in the middle of nowhere.
I can also be pretty extroverted, so I might have decided to reveal myself to the looters immediately instead of waiting and watching to see if they were safe the way Maddie does. I guess it would just depend if my fear of them was greater than my eagerness to be with people again. But would interacting with them be a smart choice in the long run? Hard to say. There are real risks with every decision and the stakes are very high.
Being alone at 12 years old is a lot, there any advice you’d give to Maddie?
I think I would tell her to resist the urge to panic and to remember to breathe. And I would remind her that breathing involves both inhaling and exhaling. Too often when we’re stressed, we forget to exhale. The more grounded she can stay, the more clearly she will be able to assess each situation, and the better her decisions will be.
Sometimes when I read a book, I recognise myself in a character. Is there any character in your book that you see yourself in?
I put a lot of myself in Maddie. We love the same books and have a lot of the same interests. And a lot of the writing process was asking myself what I would do in the situations she found herself in. But I’m also her mom. I would move heaven and earth to get to my daughter if she were left behind somewhere. It’s actually a recurring nightmare that I have on occasion, even though my daughter is now an adult.
Finally, if anything, what do you want readers to take away from this book?
I don’t intend any kind of message or lesson, or any one kind of reaction to the story. I hope it will inspire the children who read it to engage their imaginations in creative ways. I hope it will make them hungry to read more.
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Megan E. Freeman attended an elementary school where poets visited her classroom every week to teach poetry and she has been a writer ever since. She writes middle grade and young adult fiction, and her debut middle grade novel-in-verse ALONE will be published in January 2021 from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin. Megan is also a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet, and her poetry collection, Lessons on Sleeping Alone, was published by Liquid Light Press. An award-winning teacher with decades of classroom experience, Megan is nationally recognized for her work leading workshops and speaking to audiences across the country. Megan used to live in northeast Los Angeles, central Ohio, northern Norway, and on Caribbean cruise ships. Now she lives in northern Colorado.