Monday, August 31, 2015

How I Came up with the Idea for "Delano in Hollyhook"

By Cameron Glenn

I had finished my first attempt at a children’s novel called “The Glow Worm Gang” and queried it to lit agents and publishers. I had hope for it, as I had more fun writing it than anything I had written in a long time and I thought it original and imaginative. I’ve developed a tough skin and healthy perspective about writing, yet still when the polite rejections boomeranged back they stung a bit more than usual, leaving me in a bit of a discouraged and morose headspace for a little while.

It was in this mood that I came across two letters by one of my favorite authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald that he wrote to his niece Frances about her story, in 1938. They’re excellent written letters, of course, full of tough love, good advice and quotes, one being:

“Nobody ever becomes a writer just by wanting to be one. If you have anything to say, anything you feel nobody has ever said before, you have got to feel it so desperately that you will find some way to say it that nobody has ever found before.”

This quote is a variation of his more famous quote: “You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.” Such sentiments have become a bit of a cliché since Fitzgerald’s time, but the truth of it impacted me. I wanted to give writing a children’s, or “young adult fantasy” novel another try, and it should be about something I feel and care about deeply.

I’m not usually a morose person, and I think the best writing is light and vibrant, but what I was feeling most profoundly in that moment was a sense of loneliness. It is a universal feeling everyone, even kids, and maybe especially teens, can relate to. I decided to make loneliness one of the themes of Delano. The theme came before the characters and plot development.

Looking back, it seems a bit strange that this was the genesis of Delano, as “loneliness” might not seem as a major or obvious theme. Yet, I do think that it is there underneath everything: not “loneliness” perhaps, as the desire to belong, to have friends, to find yourself, your purpose, and your identity, the desire not to be lonely, and then ultimately to accept loneliness as a sacrifice to a greater purpose.

That’s a deep read though, and it’s my belief and hope that a reader will still enjoy “Delano in Hollyhook” without noticing that interpretation or coming up with his or her own. I do believe, in the case with this novel anyways, that a reader’s interpretation is just as valid as the authors are.

As for the plot and characters: a lot of brainstorming and trial and error went into the planning. At first Delano was a time traveler in an organization tasked with preventing famous assassinations throughout history. I still think that idea may not have been a bad one, just, going back to the Fitzgerald quote; I didn’t feel I had the passion to develop it further than I did, although I did waste some pages and time struggling with it. I came up with the name “Delano” after watching the great Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelt’s, and thinking “Delano” a great heroic game that has really been underused. This was before I found out there was a casino in Las Vegas called “The Delano”. Still, I think it’s a good name.

In my brainstorming, I wondered what some familiar themes in popular children and Young Adult novels were. Two that jumped out to me were orphans and the groupings or ‘sorting’ of young people. I wondered what it was about these two tropes that so resonated with young readers, and then decided that I would try to use those tropes as well, but in a way that subverted and commented on them, rather than simply trying to follow a trend and be a part of a cliché. So that is where the ideas of Delano being (or considering himself as) an orphan came from, as well as the sorting of the campers of Camp Hollyhook into types.

For the plot much of the inspiration came from mashing up the “Pleasure Island” aspect of Pinocchio with the “forgetting their moms” Lost Boys of “Peter Pan.” The idea that the longer one is submerged in a fantasy, the more one forgets “the real world” is an interesting one to me. Trying to imagine the story as both a video game and a movie (and sometimes even a Broadway musical) also served as goals and inspiration in the plot. In the beginning stages, I was visited by my twin sister and her two daughters Jane and Emma, ages ten and twelve and I bounced ideas off them, which was fun. I just got an e-mail from my sister saying her daughter had just read it and gave it “two thumbs up” which made me happy and feel like anything else that happens with Delano in Hollyhook now will be added gravy (although of course I do want it to be as successful as it can be).
Cameron Glenn grew up the third of seven children in Oregon. As a child he dedicated hours to the pursuits of basketball and cartooning, as well as waking up way too early for his paper route in order to earn money to buy toys, candy and comic books. He also loved to read and write, which he continues to do voraciously. He currently lives in Salt Lake City after having earned a BA in literature from Boise State. Here's a fun YouTube video I recently created trying to advertise some of them:

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