I’m excited to participate in The Writer’s Voice this year! Thanks so much to the organizers.
TITLE: The Weight in the Clouds
GENRE: Contemporary Upper Middle Grade
WORD COUNT: 54,000
Twelve-year-old Sylvia Strand can’t believe she has to spend her entire eighth grade year in Germany. Moving for her dad’s new job means saying goodbye to friends, Gram, and the woods and water that define her home.
But there’s more to living overseas than fumbling through a new language and navigating Skype. Sylvia has an assignment to worry about as well: her choir teacher back home has charged her with composing a song the eighth graders can sing at graduation. It should be easy, since Sylvia’s always inventing music in her head. The only problem is that she’s never actually finished a choral song—because as much as she likes singing other people’s lyrics, she hasn’t figured out how to write them herself.
Hearing the music in a new language helps. So does meeting other “third culture kids” who share common interests despite their different pasts. And when the German boy who lives next door teaches Sylvia to ride horses, she senses a growing love for her new home. In her composer’s notebook, a song begins to emerge. But finding words to tie two worlds together seems almost as hard as feeling completely at home in either one. Sylvia fears that if she can’t finish the song that binds her past and present places, she won’t belong anywhere at all.
This novel’s lyrical style and focus on a life-changing journey will appeal to readers of Beth Hautala’s Waiting for Unicorns and Thannha Lai’s Listen, Slowly. I previously worked as a middle and high school teacher in international schools overseas and wrote about travel as a Glimpse Correspondent for The Matador Network. My creative nonfiction chapbook was awarded publication by the Michigan Writers Cooperative Press.
I think about what I would grab in a fire. That helps.
I already know that the things I love most have to weigh less than fifty pounds stacked one on top of the other. They have to fit into a suitcase small enough to drag behind me, big enough not to break under the weight.
I’ve started a checklist. Everything already feels heavy, the numbers rolling together, adding up fast—my supersoft t-shirt with tiny quarter and eighth notes soaring up the back shoulder: 6 ounces, the hiking boots I bought downtown with my Christmas money: 24 ounces, framed picture of Gram and me: 8 ounces. I’m really glad my iPod only weighs 1.1 ounces, and that I can store as much music as I want without making it heavier. Because there’s no way I’m going anywhere without songs.
I know I might have to take some things out, tossing what I thought I needed into a corner to forget. I’ll probably haul my suitcase onto the bathroom scale five times before I get it right.
But I also know this. If you live in a world where the things you carefully planned and packed get thrown out of your hands onto a moving belt and then into the belly of a metal plane, in a world where crackling flames and silent smoke could lick them up before you realize they’re gone, you might as well get used to not having them at all.