Local author shares his ‘Unbelievable Fib’
“The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable Fib,” the first published novel by Waterford resident Adam Shaughnessy, was just released and it’s already been selected as an “Autumn 2015 Kids’ Indie Next Pick.”
The first in a new series for middle-grade readers, the novel begins when 11-year-old Prudence Potts comes across a card with the words “What is the Unbelievable Fib?” written on it. The card is invisible to everyone else in her little New England coastline town except for ABE, a new kid at school with a penchant for solving riddles.
Pru takes on the role of her recently deceased father, who was a police detective, and starts her own investigation into the meaning behind the card. Along with ABE, she discovers another world beneath her quiet town that’s inhabited by Viking gods. Finding herself embroiled in a mystery of mythical proportions, quite literally, she employs her keen sleuthing skills to save her town.
Shaughnessy grew up in the Boston area, graduated from Connecticut College in 1996, and has lived in the local area since then, teaching and creating school enrichment programs.
He talks about his first published novel and how it all began with an interactive game he created for teens.
Q. How did “The Entirely True Story…” evolve out of your school programs?
A. I taught at LEARN (Regional) Multi-Cultural Magnet School in New London for five years and moved into directing after school and summer programs with academics and enrichment. Over the years I developed programming that put physical, interactive games into the context of stories I wrote. Laughing jumping playing, interacting is such an important part of the childhood experience. Kids explore through play just like they explore through stories, and when you put those two things together it’s very powerful — besides all the health stuff and emotional benefits.
I enjoyed it so much, I wanted to go further with it. In 2009, I left LEARN and started a master's program in children’s literature at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, because I had decided to turn my interactive games into novels, and I knew I needed a more sophisticated understanding of how to structure the story in written form and of the publishing business.
Q. In your interactive games, kids are empowered to actually become the heroes in the stories. How do you create this feeling of engagement of the reader in a novel?
A. The way I tried to do that was by making it a mystery in which the clues to solve it are actually throughout the book. Instead of a ‘whodunit,’ it’s more a ‘who is it?’ The villain is hiding in plain sight. So the clues are in the book (for the reader) to figure out who that is. That’s where a lot of the interactivity comes from.
Q. Why is mythology woven into the plot? Did you study it or grow up hearing these tales?
A. I always loved mythology as a kid and I really had a lot of success sharing it as an educator. It’s obviously something that resonates because it’s been around for such a long time. If you think of what myths are, they were a way for ancient people to understand or explain the world around them. I made a connection with how children are trying to understand the world around them. I made the story around the idea of kids as detectives because the great thing about that age is they’re doing so much to make sense of the world — socially, academically, emotionally — everything is a mystery to them to a certain degree, and so I linked detective work and mythology.
Q. Why did you make the protagonist (Pru) a girl? Do you think there’s a lack of strong female characters in fiction for this age group?
A. I do think the whole idea that we need diversity in heroes in books arose because of a real need, (whether it’s) sexual orientation identity, gender, or race. There is an under-representation of girls in adventure stories. Also, (a female main character) worked more for the story I wrote.
Q. Can you comment on the line in the “Publisher’s Weekly” review about the book being “a moving exploration of the ways people can close themselves off to magic in the world?
A. One of things I liked about this book was the way I handled magic. One thing we see so often in children’s stories is that you have to believe in magic for it to happen. Tinkerbell (for example) — you have to believe in magic to bring her back to life. To hear the bells in the book, ‘The Polar Express,’ you have to believe in magic. It’s a kind of convention in children’s books. But if you believe in something, you’re sure about something, then you don’t ask the questions, you don’t investigate it. The model for the ‘Unbelievable Fib’ is don’t be so sure, ask questions because when you’re certain and not open to possibilities, you close yourself off to magic, Magic is a source of wonder in the book.
Q. Congratulations on getting published by a major publisher out of the gate. Was that exciting?
A. I had offers from three publishers — two from the big five — and making that choice of which one to go with was a little overwhelming. But yes, it was exciting and surprising.
“The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable Fib” by Adam Shaughnessy (Algonquin Young Readers) is $16.95, hardcover.
What: Reading and signing of “The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable Fib” by Adam Shaughnessy. The bookstore will provide snacks, juice boxes, and candy, plus a make-your-own-bookmark station and a photo booth with props, where kids can pose with Shaughnessy and a poster of the book.
When: Tuesday, Sept. 8, from 5 to 7 p.m.
Where: Bank Square Books, 53 W. Main St., Mystic
Info: Online at www.banksquarebooks.com or call (860) 536-3795