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The Summer Prince

It can finally be told…my YA debut is coming out next spring from Arthur Levine/Scholastic, and I am so excited!

You can read the announcement on PW’s Children’s Bookshelf (scroll down). Here’s the description, though:

Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince. Set in a utopian city in a futuristic Brazil, it’s a coming-of-age story about a rebellious young artist and her unlikely friendship with the city’s “summer king,” who is destined to be sacrificed after one year of rule, as they spark a revolution that threatens to overturn the city. Publication is set for spring 2013.

The Summer Prince is an odd book, which I wrote when I should have been doing other things. But the idea and the characters invaded my brain like a virus, and I basically had to write the book or suffer forever.

That probably doesn’t sound like an awesome time, but for me this is a very good sign that I’m onto something. So my life felt like it was kind of falling apart around me, but I had a book idea, and I had some Amtrak points. I decided to pack a bag and head off to the other coast and hopefully find inspiration and many, many words, in order to placate the story-virus.

There are few things on earth more conducive to story telling and story finding than riding a train across three thousand miles of America in coach. In New York I can feel like I’m at the center of the world, but in many ways I’m in a bubble. I met people on that train I never would have crossed paths with otherwise: a former urban pot farmer who gave it all up to meditate in Minot, North Dakota; a middle aged Montanan widow who played video bridge and wondered about the strange things I was furiously typing beside her; a gaunt, determined man in his forties, telling about his granddaughter who nearly died of Leukemia. I was astonished at how readily these strangers shared their stories, but in the end, it made sense: we were together for days, packed together by whatever strange circumstances had led us to take a cross-country journey by train in the first place. The narrow world of coach felt like a place out of time, where you could find a sympathetic ear and feel a little less alone. And we all traveled alone, for reasons that might get slowly shared as the sun went down over strange and unknown landscapes.

I talked, but mostly I wrote. I sat in the viewing car, with its high, long, windows, and watched the country slide past. Pink salt flats, rotating sentinels of wind farms, parched grass on flat lands, stretching for miles around us without even sight of a road. I wondered what it would be like to live in a place where a horse was still a viable method of transportation. My eyes saw the American west, but in my head I saw Brazil, my imagined city of Palmares Tres. In my present I took a train, but in my future my characters sprinted around their vertical world of shuttle pods and aerial plazas. It didn’t feel like a contradiction to me: both worlds rattled in and out of my imagination with ease, filling me with wonder and the quiet happiness of having done the hard thing, which turns out to be the best thing.

I spent two weeks by myself in Vancouver, walking around the city, watching plays, drinking amazing coffee. I wrote until I was out of my head with it, but eventually I had to acknowledge that my frenzied plans of just getting this novel out in a three week burst of creativity were impossible. My life—and my deadlines—were going to have to change again. I used the last of my Amtrak points and headed down the coast to LA— back to friends and responsibilities and delicious baked goods. I flew back home, and I wrote, and I started to feel like I had patched my life together just a bit. Just enough for a novel I shouldn’t be writing; a story I had to tell.

Eyes painted on the walls of a Sao Paulo favela


Mar. 9th, 2012 08:41 pm (UTC)
Oooo, looking forward to it!