Cyclone is a story about twelve year old Nora, and her cousin, Riley, who fight different fears to ride the oldest, shakiest wooden roller coaster in the world. Approximately one minute and fifty three seconds after the safety bar comes down, the girls’ lives and the language of their friendship — and their families’ — may be changed forever.
I’ve loved rollercoasters since I was a kid. I loved the speed, the unexpected drops and the hairpin turns. So I thought nothing of getting on a rollercoaster – the Cyclone, nonetheless — for the first time in a decade with my visiting nieces and nephew a few years ago. I was fine on the slow rise up the first hill and terrified a millisecond after our release downward. What the hell was I doing on this thing? I didn’t laugh or scream on that ride. I no longer loved the lack of control or the unpredictability. I was terrified – and not in the fun way.
So I wrote the beginning of the story when I got home (what else is there to do with fear?) As I began to write, my words pulled out some neatly filed chapters in my brain — re-opening the first five weeks my daughter’s life spent in the NICU, and then my mother’s stroke about six years later .. I struggled in both of those circumstances, and I am a (mostly) high functioning adult. What would it look like for a 12 year-old to have to navigate them?
So many of our crises – and our triumphs – involve a new set of words, a new language to learn. Whether its 7th grade , American History, or a summer spent in the hospital family room, eventually, we find the words. I read Sharon Creech to my four-pound daughter when she finally came home on a heart monitor. Six years later with my mom, my kids and I moved in for a month and we used our own spelling flashcards along with the immeasurable guidance of a speech pathologist who came to the house and a speech pathologist on speed dial (my sister!) to communicate with her.
My wish is that readers think about words – which ones limit them and which ones are opportunities; which ones define them and which ones they might want to let go of. I hope they discover the strength and complexities of silence. I hope they marvel at their own fluency is unnamed languages– spoken and unspoken, private and public, school and home, close friend and stranger; safety and fear. And maybe, just maybe, what and who we lose when we rely on the bare bones of a screen blinking “R U there?” instead of showing up and standing by for the answer.