I sure wish I’d had Kate O’Shaughnessy’s debut novel when I was a kid because I would’ve loved to read about a character who knew what it was like to move away from friends, as I frequently had to. But Maybelle faces challenges that I certainly never had to, as you will discover when you read The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane (Knopf Books for Young Readers). Read on to find out how her main character grew out of Kate’s own journals and experiences.
Lots of people ask me where I got the idea for my debut middle grade novel, The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane (Knopf Books for Young Readers).
What I tell them is that it started with a feeling: loneliness. My own. I’d recently moved from the east coast, where pretty much my entire family is located, to California. It was a jarring change. I’d never lived away from my family before then. I even went to college in the same state where I grew up, an easy 45-minute drive away from my parent’s house.
The words themselves started in the pages of my journal, which I try to write in most mornings. I hold myself to no specific plan: I write about my dreams, little to-do lists I have for the day, or I write a page or two about something that’s bothering me. I wrote a lot about how to felt to “start over,” in a way, in those first six months after my move. There are coffee stains, wine stains, pages ripped out here and there, doodles in the margins. It is messy and imperfect which is the perfect canvas for new, tender ideas.
On the page, it was May’s voice that first came to me. She was chatty and willing to talk about her problems, like she’d been longing to have someone to finally listen to her.
She, like me, recently moved and was feeling lonely for the family connections she lost. Mine was merely the loss that happens through distance—I’m very close to my family—but her loss was something more substantial.
And I realized I wanted to uncover what it was.
So there’s a seed of me in her, for sure. For Maybelle, it’s a physical journey—she road trips from Louisiana to Tennessee to compete in a singing competition that will be judged by the father she’s never met. For me, the journey was writing the book itself. I wanted to know that after moving across the country, away from my family, I would be okay. That I would find my people, a community, and that the feeling of loneliness and separation would go away.
More than anything, I wrote the book to remind myself that there’s always family waiting in the wings, wherever you are, if you’re willing to put yourself out there, be vulnerable, and make connections—much like Maybelle does in this story.
Kate O’Shaughnessy writes middle grade fiction. She has been a chef, earned a fellowship with the Yale Sustainable Food Program, and backpacked around the world. She and her husband live in Berkeley, CA. You can read more about her at kloshaughnessy.com and follow her on Twitter at @kloshaughnessy. The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane is her debut novel.