Tag Archives: Nor Iron Bars a Cage

Why write a book for an audience that doesn’t read?

From 1999 to 2012 I taught at small alternative schools. One of the challenges as an English teacher is finding books that can hook students who did not grow up reading. Most students have one book that they read and loved: The Giver, Of Mice and Men, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Witch of Blackbird Pond, My Side of the Mountain, Island of Blue Dolphins,Hunger Games. I wanted to write a book for the kids who have gotten to high school without finding that book that they couldn’t put down.

I worked with a lot of young women who had lives that continually interceded with every attempt to connect with school: boyfriends, fathers, mothers, siblings, girlfriends, jobs, pregnancy, illness, drugs, boredom… Many of these young women eventually graduated from high school. Many did not. Most are doing well. They come and bring their kids, or their partners, show me pictures of their kids, their cars, etc.

I had the idea for the Deserted Lands Universe about 20 years ago right after finishing Lord of the Flies. The book made me very angry. How depressing can you be? Take the best of the best and strand them on an island and within weeks they will have degenerated into savages? Not the kind of stories I wanted to write. So I wrote a short story originally called Jailbreak 2000 or something like that. By the time I finished the first draft I had a new title: Nor Iron Bars a Cage.

The setup was that in a prison for the most violent convicts in the near future, inmates would spend half their time hooked up to a M.I.L.D. [Mescaline Induced Lucid Dreaming] System. When a plague hit killing 90% of humanity, these men and women were not afflicted by the disease due to the medicinal qualities of the Mescaline. They would start over and I wanted to show that for the most part these worst of the worst would make good. The short story grew in size and never did reach a satisfactory end.

My time for writing was limited over the next few years. I got a full-time job, had two more kids, got married, became president of Shakespeare NorthWest, got my Masters Degree and my National Board certification and released a CD, Some of the Parts. For more specifics on the writing path, you can read, Path to Indie Publication: Parts 1-10. My life took a couple left turns in there and I found myself drawn back to writing fiction.

So, 15 years after the first spark,  I had an idea. What if this plague hit and we followed the story of an At-Risk teen girl, someone who had a rough life so far? That was in 2011. The idea lay in my subconscious other than a few notes. I wrote an intro scene, Lizzie eating the last frozen pizza with a shotgun in her lap with a dead guy out in the street she’d killed while protecting herself. Oh, and the dripping can of Lima beans pierced by the buck shot. 😉 A few paragraphs actually made it into All Is Silence.

When I began writing I shared the WIP [work in progress] with two 15 year old girls. They asked for more, demanding it at times. Eventually,  I got to the point where it slow ed way down. Then the first two attempts at an ending came up short. I would have to wait quite a while to see if my novel appealed to the target audience.  My first most passionate responses came from older folks, retired Senior citizens.

When the book came out,  students started reading and responding. My fellow teachers told me they were having to tell kids to stop reading my book. My first reviews from teens came in. And most demanded more. I got my first OMG tweet exchange between two teens I didn’t know. “I just got All Is Silence.” “OMG, it’s that book!” That sounded like success to me.