Marcie Roman is the winning recipient of our 2020 Kraken Book Prize for Middle-Grade Fiction
I’ve always had a junk drawer. You might have one of these too. Or maybe it’s a junk closet. (Or fine, I’ll fess up, an “everything-but-the-washer-and-dryer” junk basement.) It’s where you collect all the things you might have use for, but don’t know why. Just that they seem to hold a bit of potential. A curl-worth of ribbon. Sunglass frames with the lenses popped out. Unmarked keys. Paper scraps with mostly illegible notes. The endless array of rubber bands, ponytail holders, twist ties, and other means of organizing the drawer’s contents. A project you will absolutely get to….eventually.
Even if you resoundedly do NOT have such a place. Rather you are someone who keeps all of your drawers (and closets, and basements) meticulously organized by color, size, and frequency of use (aka my teenage daughter’s bedroom), then perhaps you can still relate to the experience of going to a yard sale or an antique shop and rifling through a box labeled “Odds and Ends.” What could be hidden? What magic might exist in those knobs and buttons, the broken toys, and sepia-toned photos?
One of those items might even come home with you and… er…get put into a drawer.
And then comes a day when the drawer demands attention. Most likely because it’s jammed open, or items have escaped into other drawers, like rats jumping ship (though thankfully no actual rats….at least as far as I know).
Sifting through the hodgepodge you discover, AHA, these items DO serve a need. Collectively they might even offer up a useful perspective, one that’s been scribbled on expired coupons, crumpled post-its, and those notepads that come with donation appeals. Pay attention, they seem to say. Look closely. There’s more here than meets the eye.
The story of The Parallels—a middle-grade fantasy novel about perseverance, civic responsibility, and the power of the imagination—seemed to come about through a similar process. Except instead of compiling buttons and paper clips, it was the accrual of characters and settings. Of tales I told my kids to help them fall asleep. Or to keep us all entertained on long car rides. Of imaginings, and questionings, and trying to see beneath surfaces, alongside a growing list of observations about a world that was shifting in a direction that didn’t seem right.
The overflow of urgency to put finger to keyboard happened in the spring of 2016. In so many ways that seems like universes away from where we are now, a tipping point in a long series of tipping points. There’s a quote I often turn to, courtesy of Fred Rogers, whose mother advised that when scary things appear in the news, it helps to look for the helpers. I am grateful right now that there are so many helpers to see; from healthcare workers to front line activists, to everyday people who are eager to engage in dialogue about each other’s experiences. When I was growing up, helpers often came in the form of books. Traveling by giant peach. Entering through a wardrobe. Tesseracting to Camazotz. Arriving by train in Avonlea. Passing through a phantom tollbooth. The reading journey helped me escape into other worlds while, at the same time, it expanded my understanding of my own. But the world of 2016 was changing so rapidly, it occurred to me that the book that I needed most might be one I’d have to write myself.
Of course, I didn’t really write it by myself, because also in that drawer were lessons gleaned from all the writers and other artists I’d turned to through the years. Whose characters made me laugh when I was sad, taught me how to be brave and stand up for what I believed in, or provided a friend on a day I felt alone. (Although, in this context, it might be best not to refer to it as a “junk drawer” and instead go with “collection.”) In many ways, The Parallels is a long overdue thank you note to all those storytellers who helped me grow as both a writer and human being. (Sorry Judy, I know it’s been forever; Madeleine, I fear yours took a side-trip to the moon.)
I won’t delay nearly as long in expressing my gratitude to Jaynie and the team at Fitzroy Books for awarding The Parallels the Kraken Book Prize and welcoming me into this amazing community of writers. While it’s hard to speak of joy in this time of significant struggle, it does bring me joy to know that a future reader might now have an opportunity to discover, in the collective odds and ends of The Parallels, a sense of hope. Something that could even resonate enough to be tucked into the reader’s own beautiful, unique, junk drawer, in case it might someday be of use.
Marcie’s short stories appear or are forthcoming in CALYX, upstreet, Split Lip Magazine, Black Fox, and The Gravity of the Thing, among others. Her short story collection, Residential Units, was a finalist in the 2019 Autumn House Press fiction contest. Originally from Baltimore, Marcie now lives in Evanston, IL with her husband, two teenagers, two dogs, a friendly backyard squirrel, and lots and lots of books.