By Julie Smith
The world is definitely coming to an end next year. Haven’t you heard? Well, six years ago, I had, but I didn’t know everybody was going to make such a big deal about it. Back in 2005, when I started writing a YA book, then called BAD GIRL SCHOOL (now CURSEBUSTERS!), I wanted to use an ancient Mayan city as a setting and I knew that thing about the Mayan calendar stopping in 2012. Great idea, I thought, to have my protagonist time-travel back to a Mayan site and prevent the end of days.
But the first eighteen or so versions didn’t work out and next thing you knew it was almost the end of the world! I based the story on something that happened to someone close to me—a kid who ended up in a “school for troubled teens”, a place so strict you couldn’t even talk to the other kids. And where you were watched every second and there were walls to keep you from running away. How on earth was Reeno, my teen-age burglar protagonist, ever going to have an adventure under those conditions? Well, there was the time-travel thing—you can do that without going anywhere. But who was she going to talk to? Enter the Alpha Beast (aka A.B.), her “handler” for the adventure, a telepathic….um…cat. See, a cat wouldn’t be noticed by anyone at the school, I reasoned. Kind of like a fly on the wall. That seemed innocuous enough. I didn’t actually realize he was going to take over the book. Or at least try.
All good ideas, right? Bad girl, time travel,
talking cat. But there were more—Reeno’s mom was trying to kill her, for one thing.
And maybe her little brother too. Aaargh. Too much, said a kind editor who
wanted to publish the book. So I made Mom nice, but harassed because Grandma
had Alzheimer’s and lived with the family, all of whom were pretty much
full-time babysitters. Well, that helped, but there was more.
Many rewrites ensued. The original beginning was harrowing. Reeno got kidnapped and dragged off to school by detectives hired for the job. But that didn’t fit with the humor. So I made the first part kind of slapstick—the burglary that goes
wrong and lands the kid in Bad Girl School.
That was better, but still, Reeno couldn’t talk, except in Group, which
was basically a psychotherapy sharing kind of thing—very stiff and unnatural.
It still read kind of like two different books—one about the school and the other about the time-travel adventure. Said the kind editor. I was about to go back to the drawing board when she quit her job and moved back to the Midwest. Waaaah!
So I put the book away. Until one day I woke up and realized it was almost the end of the world. Or at least 2012. My agent suggested I run it by a new kid in the office, a young man named Cooper. Well, Cooper was just full of
ideas, one of which was a conclusion I’d come to as well—I just had to relax
that rule about talking! Reeno had to have some real friends she could talk to.
And maybe a boy friend.
Make them psychic, he said—that could be a lot of fun. Well, yeah. So I did.
And let’s have a curse, said Cooper. If she has to break the curse on her family, she’s got a lot more reason to do the stupid cat’s bidding. Great idea, I said! I love curses.
And I love that time-travel thing where you caused something
in another time period and now you have to go back and undo what you did—which
wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t gone, so you’d think all you have to do is
not go. But time travel just doesn’t work that way. Which is great! It’s a lot
more mind-bending when it’s all tangled up.
I had a lot of fun rewriting with
the curse and the friends and the psychic shenanigans. And od course the love
interest. Guess what I named him? Only one choice there.,
And then I had even more fun making
the CURSEBUSTERS! trailer and watching the characters
come to life. Want to see? Check it out.