Monday, February 22, 2021

Megan E. Freeman Interview - Alone

Photo Credit: Laura Carson Photography

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, ALONE, is available from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin. Megan is also a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet, and her poetry chapbook, Lessons on Sleeping Alone, was published by Liquid Light Press.

An award-winning teacher with decades of classroom experience, Megan taught multiple subjects across the arts and humanities to students K-16, and she is nationally recognized for presenting workshops and speaking to audiences across the country. She studied theater and dramatic literature for many years, earning degrees from Occidental College and the Ohio State University.

Megan is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Northern Colorado Writers, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Columbine Poets of Colorado, and Lighthouse Writers Workshop. She is an Impact on Education Award winner, a fellow with the Colorado State University Writing Project, a Fund for Teachers fellow, and a member of the Colorado Poets Center. She used to live in northeast Los Angeles, central Ohio, northern Norway, and on Caribbean cruise ships. Now she lives in northern Colorado.


Where were you born and where do you call home?
I was born in Los Angeles, California, and lived there until I graduated from college, minus thirteen months when I was an exchange student above the arctic circle in Norway. After college, I moved to Ohio for graduate school, then worked and lived on cruise ships. Now I live in northern Colorado.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
I love receiving photos of young readers with big smiles holding up their copies of ALONE. I also loved a Facebook Live event I got to do with the poet Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer. It turned out to be a very special reading.

What inspired you to pen your first novel?
My very first novel (which is still in a drawer and should probably stay there) was inspired by my divorce from my first husband. I took two of Ovid’s myths and contemporized them around two main characters whose stories started out separately and then intertwined over the course of the story. It was very satisfying to write and I occasionally think about pulling it out again. I wonder how horrible the writing is. I suspect I’ll find a lot of extraneous adverbs and a fair bit of passive voice.

Tell us your latest news.
Honestly? I’m thrilled that a loveseat I ordered last August was finally delivered (thanks, COVID supply chains!) and I’m very happy to have just sent my latest work-in-progress to my critique partners for feedback. I’m also really enjoying all the bookstore and library events I’m doing for ALONE, and I’m loving doing virtual school visits and talking with students.

Can you tell us when you started ALONE, how that came about?
The idea first came to me in a mother-daughter book club gathering when my daughter and her friends were in fifth grade. This would have been back in 2009 0r 2010. We read Island of the Blue Dolphins and the girls were fascinated by how the main character, Karana, could survive alone on an island for eighteen years. I pointed out that the island was her home, and she was already comfortable there. The greater challenge was being all alone for so long. 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 for the story of ALONE.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I think survival stories invite readers to imagine themselves in the same situation as the main character and to ask, “What if that happened to me? What would I do?” That’s what I was doing throughout most of the writing, and those are the questions that invite the reader’s imagination to come out and play.

What part of Maddie did you enjoy writing the most?
Once I had the narrative arc and structure established, I really enjoyed exploring Maddie’s inner life and her progression through the emotional and spiritual experiences she has. Surviving alone presents challenges on multiple levels, and while her physical survival and safety are paramount throughout the story, her psychological health is also tested. I really enjoyed figuring out her emotional through-line, and how having her find and read books of poetry could help her move beyond her existential suffering.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I would take Maddie to dinner with Karana, from Island of the Blue Dolphins. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in that restaurant. And then maybe Brian from Hatchet could show up for dessert.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
For most of the time I was writing ALONE, I was a single mom working full-time in a K-12 school. My daughter lived with her dad every other week, so I compartmentalized my time and wrote in the evenings and weekends when she was gone. She was a three-sport athlete, so most weeks I was also going to her games and sporting events, which as many parents know, can be all-consuming. I loved it, though, and I knew she would be off to college in the blink of an eye (she was!), so I never felt conflicted.

There was also a very clear moment after I’d been out on a very dull date, and I was driving home and said to myself, “If you get hit by a bus tomorrow, will you feel worse that you never finished your book or worse that you didn’t have a boyfriend?” I went home and disabled my online dating profile and didn’t go on another date until I had sent a completed draft to my critique partners.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?

Best date you've ever had?
My husband and I have so much fun, it’s impossible for me to answer that. Whether doing something as exotic as whale watching in the Salish Sea or as banal as hauling a truckload of cardboard to the recycling center, everything feels like a date. He did throw a very romantic party for my fiftieth birthday. He ordered a cake that looked like a stack of my favorite books with my poetry collection as the top layer.

If you could go back in time to one point in your life, where would you go?
I don’t think I would. I like being right where I am, and I’d worry about the whole butterfly effect, you know? Ray Bradbury was a pretty smart guy.

Have you ever stood up for someone you hardly knew?
I’m a volunteer victim advocate for our local sheriff’s department, so I go on-scene with law enforcement in some pretty challenging situations. It’s often my role to advocate for people who have been victimized or traumatized. Ninety-nine percent of the time I’ve never met the people before and I almost never see them again, though we sometimes stay in touch via phone for a while.

First Heartbreak?
College boyfriend. Shattering.

What is your most memorable travel experience?
I am lucky to have traveled a lot in my life and to have amassed many memories. But I’m going to go back to a trip with my family when I was nine. My dad was on a sabbatical from his teaching job, and my parents took my little brother and me out of school, and we traversed the U.S. for four months in a Dodge Fireball motorhome.

Halloween landed on Sunday that year, and we were in Oberlin, Ohio. My brother and I put on our dress-up-clothes (cowboy hat and chaps for him, sunbonnet and prairie skirt for me) and started trick-or-treating in a neighborhood near the college. At the first two houses, no one answered the doors. At the third, a kind woman told us that the local children had trick-or-treated the previous Friday, and that Halloween in Oberlin was over. We trudged back to our motorhome disappointed, embarrassed, and frustrated with my parents for not knowing the Halloween practices of northern Ohioans.

If you’ve ever met my parents, you know that they are not the kind to be defeated by something as minor as showing up to a holiday two days late. As it happened, they had purchased a bag of candy for emergencies just such as this one. They had us knock on the motorhome door over and over again, yelling, “Trick or treat!” Each time they answered, they pretended to be different people with thick accents and silly voices. We trick-or-treated at our own camper until all their candy was in our pillowcase sacks, and then they invited us in to count and divvy up our loot.

I’ve never forgotten that trip or that Halloween, or my parents’ ability to turn disappointment into laughter. They showed us that day that fun is where you find it, even in Oberlin, Ohio, on the very last day of October, 1976, which turned out to be a happy Halloween after all.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
Heartbreak, every time.

  • A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus
  • Before and After the Book Deal by Courtney Maum
  • Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
  • Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker
  • My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
  • Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead
  • Writers and Lovers by Lily King
Writing Behind the Scenes
Writing ALONE in verse was so satisfying because the poetry could do so much for me and for the reader, and the more I wrote the more I discovered. Something as simple as a poem title could place a scene in a specific location (“Millerville Public Library”) or a season (“Short Days, Long Nights”), establish time passing (“Days. Weeks. Months.”), or foreshadow something the main character is going to encounter (“Equus” and “Ashes, Ashes” and “Deluge”).

The poems also allowed me access to Maddie’s interior experience in nuanced ways. In the poem “Paradox,” she processes the nightmare she’s just had:

maybe God
sends us nightmares
so our living reality
doesn’t seem so bad
when we wake up

until we wake up
and remember
we are living in a nightmare
we can’t escape
except by going
to sleep

When Maddie successfully grows a garden, the poetry invites us into her sensory delight in eating a fresh radish after months of only canned food:

It smells like earth
and life
and prosperity.

It tastes like euphoria
and hope
and laughter.

the bite
the crunch
the tang
the sweet

And when Maddie is overwhelmed by grief and despair, she expresses herself in metaphor:

loneliness and insanity
are twin houseguests
it’s hard to entertain one
without inviting the other in
as well

With a novel in verse, the storytelling is a collaborative endeavor between reader and author. The reader has to trust the author to give them enough words to navigate the story, and the author has to trust the reader to enrich the empty space left on the page. It’s a delightful symbiosis, since the human imagination loves nothing more than co-creating stories. The poetry provides handholds and stepping stones to grasp and follow along the way. 

When twelve-year-old Maddie hatches a scheme for a secret sleepover with her two best friends, she ends up waking up to a nightmare. She’s alone—left behind in a town that has been mysteriously evacuated and abandoned.

With no one to rely on, no power, and no working phone lines or internet access, Maddie slowly learns to survive on her own. Her only companions are a Rottweiler named George and all the books she can read. After a rough start, Maddie learns to trust her own ingenuity and invents clever ways to survive in a place that has been deserted and forgotten.

As months pass, she escapes natural disasters, looters, and wild animals. But Maddie’s most formidable enemy is the crushing loneliness she faces every day. Can Maddie’s stubborn will to survive carry her through the most frightening experience of her life?
You can purchase Alone at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you MEGAN E. FREEMAN for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Alone by Megan E. Freeman.