This is one of THOSE posts, so please, bear with me while I tell you a story.
This is the story of Ellie Baum, a girl who accidentally time travels back to 1988 East Berlin with a magical red balloon, and who gets caught up in a conspiracy to manipulate time and magic. A conspiracy tied to her grandfather’s miraculous escape from a death camp in 1943…
Just over three years ago, I was driving and I was late so I was driving maybe, a tiny bit fast, and 99 Red Balloons came on the radio. Suddenly, instantly, in my head, I saw a girl being carried over the median, and then a wall, by a floating red balloon. I asked my imagination, Where, and my imagination said Berlin. When I sat down at my computer, I typed the first 1700 words of what would become the first draft of a book I call/ed #magicballoonbook.
The first draft of Magicballoonbook (MBB) clocked in at about 93,000 words. It barely had a plot, wandered around for 10,000 words somewhere in the middle, and had no purpose. I put it down and wrote a few other things (literally. One of those things was Second Position, which became my debut novel). I picked it up a few times, replotted it a few times, but couldn’t get it right. I let it sit for five months straight. In March 2014, I sat down, replotted it, and rewrote it from scratch. I added 2 timelines, one whole new character, and 2 points of view. I rewrote it in less than five weeks.
One line survived the first draft of 93,000 words to the final draft of 78,000 words. One. Line.
I sent it out to readers. Waves, and waves, of readers. Magicballoonbook has had so many beta readers my acknowledgements page is as long as the book. I am so incredibly grateful to each and every reader who considered all the angles of this book, all the nuances and all the hopes poured into it.
Between the whole new draft and revisions, I sold Second Position, Turning Pointe, and Finding Center, edited Second Position, wrote and edited Turning Pointe, and wrote Finding Center. I sent Magicballoonbook to my agent Louise Fury a few days after turning in Finding Center with a “don’t rush on this, but I’m very very hopeful about this book” note.
In early January, I got a gushing email from Louise. Look. All of her clients know, Louise does not gush without reason. She’s always going to tell it to you straight, and it’s one of my favorite things about her as an agent. I never feel like I have to read between the lines (which for someone with anxiety, is awesome). So when she GUSHED, I felt like I had hit a home run when I got her email.
And then we set about revising it. Revisions are NEVER done, my friends.
It’s a book we knew would need to find the right editor. The one who let it sit somewhere on a fuzzy line between historical and fantasy. The one who loved the one point of view/timeline that was tonally very different than the rest of the book. The one who let my protagonist be the quiet girl she is, not the barn-burning, sword-wielding heroine we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. The one who let my book be a commentary on history, and a commentary on us, without pushing it to be didactic. The one who didn’t blink at an interracial, inter-religious romance. The one who didn’t blink at a book written in English that contained French, German, Yiddish, Hebrew, and a dialect of Romani.
I love this book with all my heart. When I sat down with it, I sat down to think about my family’s relationship with Germany all these years later. The loss of my grandfathers within six months of each other, two people who undoubtedly shaped who I am. My own relationship with Judaism. My trust in history and the future meaning something. The Exodus, as a story and as a metaphor. The idea that we are always, no matter where we go and what we do, recreating our idea of home.
And then…magicballoonbook, amazingly, went to auction three years to the day that I started writing it.
I’m not superstitious except…well, it’s hard to ignore that, isn’t it? And after many many phone calls and emails with Louise (this is why agents are awesome btw), I knew we’d found the right home for this book.
And I’m happy to announce that Wendy McClure, senior editor of Albert Whitman & Company, has acquired THE GIRL WITH THE RED BALLOON, coming to you Spring 2017!
Thank you, thank you everyone along the way, for every helpful, kind, enthusiastic response along the way.
I can’t wait for you to go over the Wall with me! And yes, I am filling the room with red balloons for the launch party. You’re all invited. Bring your grandparents. (Really. This book came to be because of my grandparents and how much I love them.)
While you wait for this book, I want to recommend ten books similar to The Girl with the Red Balloon that you might like!
- Sekret by Lindsay Smith (1960s teenage psychic spies in the USSR where you can trust no character fully)
- Going Over by Beth Kephart (Berlin Wall Romeo and Juliet esque romance)
- Future Shock by Elizabeth Briggs (time travel)
- Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (alt history with fantastical elements)
- Timekeeper by Tara Sim (time travel. Out this fall!)
- Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore (alt history with fantastical elements)
- Anya’s War by Andrea Alban (Jewish heroine in historical fiction)
- Tamar by Mal Peet (granddaughter’s relationship with who her grandfather was)
- Starglass by Phoebe North (Jewish heroine in science fiction)
- Playing with Matches by Suri Rosen (Jewish heroine in contemporary YA; authentic Orthodox representation)
ASK ANY AND ALL QUESTIONS. I AM HERE FOR YOU. (And your feels. My beta readers and friends will tell you that this book will give you all the feels and you’ll probably send me hate mail. But the good kind of hate mail? Anyways. THANK YOU!)