As a Christian, I strive to have childlike faith in God, but the book The Edge of Everywhen by A.S. Mackey reminds me that sometimes even children can struggle to believe in the goodness of God when times are tough. But this novel offers a message of hope that will prove particularly poignant for writers and readers who believe words can change lives.
The Edge of Everywhen follows 13-old-year Piper, a self-proclaimed book nerd, and her autistic little brother Phoenix. The youngsters’ lives are turned upside down after their mother is tragically killed and they must move far from home to live with an estranged aunt. But it’s here that Piper and Phoenix happen upon a unique book that could have the power to change everything.
If you were a bookish girl growing up who lived her life caught in a storm of stories, Piper will speak to you as a kindred spirit. If you believe in the power of story, you will believe in this book. The Edge of Everywhen may have been written for middle-schoolers, but adults will get lost in this tale just as easily and will find adventure and perhaps even faith.
I recently had a chat with author A.S. Mackey about the inspiration behind the book, the process of writing and publishing the book, and how she stayed motivated along the way.
What inspired you to write this book?
It all started with a social media post! I saw a random post early in 2015 in which someone wished that a book would know just the story you needed to hear when you touched it, and referred to this magic book as, “The Book of Requirement.” The Harry Potter reference, of course, is the Room of Requirement, which is a magic room that appears only when the student needs it. So, I decided to craft a story about a magic book that changes with each reader. As a Christian, I believe that the story we need to hear is the one God is telling us about who we were meant to be. So, that’s the path I took.
What inspired the characters of Piper and Phoenix?
Piper is a mix of who I was at 13 and who I wish I had been at 13. I wasn’t nearly as gracious and kind and mature as Piper, but her voracious reading habit is ALL me! I actually still have my diary from when I was 11, so I referred to it to get a sense of the pre-teen language to give Piper’s diary entries authenticity.
As far as Phoenix – I don’t really know where his inspiration came from. My 7-year-old nephew has autism, but he was only 2 when I wrote the book; perhaps subconsciously he inspired the character of Phoenix. I’ve learned so much about Autism Spectrum Disorder while researching his character! I have several friends with children on the spectrum. I wanted to be sure not to assert that a magic book could heal a child of autism because that would be callous and insensitive. I reached out to my friends with kids on the spectrum, and one very special beta reader spent a great deal of time with me discussing Phoenix’s character, and she told me what worked and what didn’t. I also wanted to show the incredible bond that siblings of special needs children often share, and I have friends with special needs siblings, and their relationship is just beautiful. Readers will likely know a classmate or neighbor or relative with autism or other special needs. My hope is that Phoenix’s character may encourage kids to reach out and befriend other children who are vastly different from themselves.
Why did you decide to tell the story from the perspective of a book?
That’s a great question. I actually didn’t start out telling the story from the book’s perspective. In the first draft I wrote in 2015, the story was told completely in third person, primarily from Piper’s perspective.
There are two primary reasons that I decided to go this route.
Once I had the basic story structure complete, I took some time off from editing to read every book I could find about libraries and bookstores and all things literary. I found my way to one of the most charming children’s books I’ve ever read called The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce. William Joyce did an incredible job giving the books in his story thoughts and feelings and emotions. I love personification as a literary device, and William Joyce’s book certainly influenced my decision.
The second reason I chose this narrator can be traced to another book I read during the editing phase. Most folks have probably heard of The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. But his choice of narrator was absolutely unique, and I had never read a book from that perspective before. It encouraged me to rewrite my book entirely, using the magic book as the narrator, which is something I also hadn’t run into before. The unique perspective is part of what makes it different, and what I believe will make it successful.
Who did you write this for? What kind of reader did you have in mind?
I had two audiences in mind. In my personal opinion, there is a gap on the bookstore shelf that exists between Harry Potter and Laura Ingalls. Some Christian parents don’t want their kids to read Harry Potter because of how it portrays magic, but the fact is that modern kids may be bored by the Little House stories due to cultural irrelevancy. The Edge of Everywhen bridges that gap, and points to Biblical truths while weaving a story about the supernatural that kids on both sides of the spectrum will love. The second audience is the hard-core book lover. I have been a book nerd since long before the term was cool, and I love all things literary: libraries, bookstores, and the stories about them. The Edge of Everywhen celebrates all of those things and was written for the kid who simply loves to read.
What do you hope readers will take from your novel?
I hope readers will look up every single book mentioned in the story and go read them all! I also hope that readers will expand their compassion and understanding for children with autism and for grumpy older relatives who’ve dealt with loss and trauma. I hope readers think deeply about their families — the good parts, the confusing parts, and the broken parts in which they may have a role in mending. And of course, I hope they take away a faith-based message, that even in hard circumstances, God is still there and still answers prayer.
How long did it take you to write your book?
I spent about 3 or 4 months doing research (making a chapter outline, fleshing out the characters, the plot, the setting, etc). I wrote the first 50,000-word draft during the month of November in 2015 as part of NaNoWriMo, and I spent a year editing it and sharing it with beta readers. I queried the novel in 2016 to 43 agents and got nothing but rejections, so I set about making the novel better. I took a writing class, did market research on books in my genre, and read many books about the craft of writing. Then I completely rewrote it in 2017 and sent out 40+ more queries. I landed an agent in October. So, from rough outline to publication date, it’ll be about five years.
How did you land your agent and book deal?
The old fashioned way!
I knew that I wanted a literary agent because it behooves them to get you the best deal possible and they don’t get paid anything until the book is sold. I bought the 2016 edition of The Writers Market and searched for agents accepting new manuscripts in my genre. Then I sent 43 queries the first go-round – resulting in all rejections or no responses.
I figured that the book just wasn’t good enough, so I read EVERY book I could get my hands on about the craft of writing so that I could make the book better. I rewrote the novel completely (new title, new POV, more intrigue, better prose). I also researched a ton of “winning query letters,” and probably rewrote my query letter a dozen times to give it the oomph it needed.
I landed an agent in October 2017 – and yes, I cried when she sent me the offer of representation. Zondervan was immediately interested, and they had it for 6 months and went back/forth with edits and then rejected it! So sad!
But my agent shopped the novel for about 6 more months and Lifeway contacted her in December 2018 with the initial offer. It took about 3 more months to hammer out contract negotiations, so I signed in spring of 2019. It was published May 12, 2020. It’s supposed to be a trilogy, and from what I hear/read, the norm is that publishers will offer unknown authors deals on “stand-alone books with series potential.” If it bombs, they’re not stuck in a trilogy contract, and if it succeeds they can move forward with sequels.
What challenges did you face along the way and what motivated you to keep going?
My faith in Jesus is intrinsically linked to my writing and my sole purpose is to point readers to God, even if what I’m writing is fantasy fiction. There is a scene in “Chariots of Fire” where the main character Eric Liddell, an Olympic runner, says, “When I run, I feel His pleasure.” So for me, when I create and write, I feel His pleasure, and I know without a doubt that He has called me to this purpose. So, that motivated me to keep going! I also discovered that even Kate DiCamillo received HUNDREDS of rejections before her breakout novel Because of Winn Dixie was published. Dr. Seuss’s first book, Harry Potter, The Help, and numerous award-winning novels were rejected a shocking number of times. I knew that I just needed to find the right agent and the right publisher.
Come hang out with A.S. Mackey and other women writers in the See Jane Write Network Facebook group.