I disappeared to a corner of the crowded terminal and took out a well–used notebook. After teaching all weekend to a group of teachers in Beaufort, South Carolina who were enrolled in a Master’s degree program I was still keyed up and ready to start this new writing adventure. Before beginning, a lady plopped her self down three seats from my space. She pulled out a burrito twice the size of her hand. It looked like a submarine and smelled like it had seen better days. I was sure she’d be in my row on the upcoming flight in 27C with the half eaten burrito occupying 27B. I turned away and began thinking about the task at hand.

What would my novel be about? I had spent 20 years in the classroom with kids age 9-13 so the story had to be about this age group.  They are so unique, acting like miniature adults one minute, then in an instant they are back to being a child. Debating skills are well on their way with many swiftly moving past the “Why can’t I?” to the “Here is why I can” stage. I had also been active with two youth mentoring organizations—Big Brothers, Big Sisters  and Denver Partners . I was awarded the honor of Colorado’s Big Brother of the Year in 2008. With this background the storyline came into view almost at once: My novel would be the story of a boy who longs to find the father he never met and will do anything to make it happen despite having no clue as to his dad’s whereabouts.

By this time the burrito lady had gotten up and gone into a nearby restroom. I never saw her come out but the slight leftover scent of Mexican food remained. Now with the storyline complete I needed to write the story. Hmm… writer’s block already because where does one start?  It was like being in a new city. Okay, let me think, characters are important and probably chapter topics. There would be Henderson Wently, his friend Jonson and two or three other kids. A mom. A grandfather.

The setting was easy: Mount Charleston, Nevada, a small mountain community northwest of Las Vegas. I had visited and hiked up there several times and was struck by the solitude and calmness of this place. In 30 minutes you could be back in the desert and heading towards the nonstop craziness of the city with lights. I placed the story in the near future to include some future technology and a subplot about Hender’s dad who was born in the year 2000. I also mapped out Hender’s entire life and it was apparent he was a next generation kid.

“Flight 254 is now ready for boarding…” Where did the time go? I’ve been in another world.

After boarding the plane, I nestled my knees sideways in seat 27A, it’s the only way for me on some of these cramped flights and the Boeing 757 is the worst. The people responsible for legroom were never 6 foot four. For the next three hours I wrote a sentence for each chapter, 32 total. The story had a beginning, middle, and end though it seemed like too many chapters. I had heard somewhere, “Write your story and worry about number of words later.” Not such good advice for someone like me who will write until a hard drive is giving you the “I don’t feel so good” message.

I wrote the first and last chapters and within three months the other 30 received equal time. My first draft was complete at slightly over 80,000 words. I would soon find out 40,000 words was a more realistic number for a first time middle grade author.  Yikes, half my story would have to go. I had gone way overboard. It was time to begin slicing and dicing without losing the voice in my strong characters. It wasn’t long before my first lesson surfaced: Strong characters are important but you must have a great story for them to thrive.

“A burrito is full of surprises much like a book; they can be good, mediocre, or bad.”

About Greg Pattridge

Climbing another mountain...writing middle grade novels.
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