Megan Miranda is the author of Fracture and Hysteria. She spends a great deal of time thinking about the “why” and “how” of things, which leads her to get carried away daydreaming about the “what-ifs.” Megan has a degree in Biology from MIT and currently lives near Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband and two young children. She can be found on: twitter | her website.
Fracture is a novel with many themes but out of them all, I think the strongest one is death. Do you believe that children’s literature has cathartic properties that do not just, as many theorists have opined, assimilate culture but provide a fictive venue through which readers can work out real life problems?
I definitely believe there are cathartic properties to the themes in children’s literature—the exploration of death, included. I can only speak for myself, but growing up, I sought out books that explored the concepts I questioned, or didn’t understand. Things I didn’t talk about, but thought about a lot, for sure. And death is pretty much the epic mystery of all, right? I found a lot of comfort in books that addressed the topic—just in the fact that it was being addressed, and knowing that I was not alone in those questions. And I find myself still drawn to the exploration of these themes now, in writing.
I also think that books that deal with these themes help us empathize with others who go through experiences that we are not familiar with.
Delaney deals with many different things after her accident on the ice but I think the isolation she feels when no one is able to comprehend the intensity of her experience is what affects her the most. The theme of isolation recurs in Hysteria when the protagonist is unable to remember the events that led to the death of her boyfriend. Both she and Delaney are Othered by their unique experiences. From your observations and experience reading and writing children’s literature, is this theme a common one in the genre? What reasons do you attribute to its recurrences in children’s lit?
Sure. I think this is one of the main themes in the genre, at least in what I read. Perhaps because the entire experience of growing up is one in which it is so easy to feel Othered. The process of growing up—or growing away from childhood and into something more—in and of itself lends to a feeling of aloneness, or otherness. Books were a way for me to realize that I was not the only one experiencing this—that others thought about or worried about the same things I did. I think there’s a fear of otherness, but also an independence that comes through experiencing it. You see yourself, for the first time, in terms of just yourself. And I think becoming comfortable with that is a large part of growing up.
As a former teacher, do you find yourself hyper aware of the subtext of the story you are writing and the messages underlying the text? Do you ever find yourself correcting or editing your words simply because the message contained the phrasing and presentation of a thought or idea may be ambiguous?
This is an interesting question, because on the one hand, I’ve noticed different readers pick up on different subtexts, and I think that’s because of what they bring, as readers, to the story. When I’m writing, I think of the story first, not the subtext or message. I try to stay as true to the characters as possible. What would my narrator think or say or do? For me, that’s most important in the story telling. I edit in regards to character, not message. I think that’s the only way it will feel authentic.
I recently read Ways of Being Male: Representing Masculinities in Children’s Literature edited by John Stephen. Many of the chapters in the book talked about the absence of not just critical literature about boys in children’s literature but they also discussed the lack of awareness of the different kinds of masculinities occurring both in children’s literature and life. When writing male characters, do you pay attention to how their gender is constructed? Do you ever intentionally subvert the gender stereotypes?
Again, I try to stay as true to each character as possible, male or female. I get a sense of character before getting a sense of the story, usually—and the thing is, I don’t feel like I’m actively constructing them, piece by piece. It’s not that I check off boxes of the different characteristics they will have, but that I get to know them as I write—figuring out their backstory and nuances as I go, and thinking about how those elements create the character on the page. This process is the same regardless of gender, for me.
What made you decide to write for children instead of adults? Was it a natural progression of events or did you specifically set out to write for children?
When I first started writing, I wasn’t actively thinking of where my stories would fall, but my main characters would always be around 16-18 years old. I think there’s something so fascinating about that time in your life—when you are still becoming, when you’re experiencing so many things for the first time, when there are so many possibilities before you. So I think about it more that I’m writing about that age instead of adults. It was a natural progression. I read a good mix of YA and adult. I’d be happy to write for all audiences. But the stories I come up with usually center on something that occurs during that time frame—I think it has such elevated internal consequence, because everything has such consequence during that time.
What books have you read recently that you have loved or have inspired you?
I just finished THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN, which I loved. I love dark themes and untidy endings and fascinating characters, and this book had it all.