Andrew Auseon: Coming-Of-Age Stories...But With Zombies
As far as craft goes, I often revisit the work of macabre middle-grade novels of John Bellairs. I enjoy reading his stories because of the setting and tone. Bellairs’ Gothic adventures take place in a very specific narrative space: a gray, spooky, 1950s, Midwestern Catholic sphere, where the dead rise from the grave, and the old eccentric at the end of the block could very well be a sorcerer who’s been living there since the Crusades.
It’s funny, because I always talk about Bellairs’ books and evangelize them to everyone I know, but as far as his legacy goes, I have no idea what the greater kid lit sphere thinks of him as an author. Frankly, I don’t care. Earlier in the interview I talked about voice, well, I think John Bellairs has a unique voice. It’s not so much a style of writing as it is his use of select details to create a very specific world, a place and time. At the core, his books are pretty standard Baby Boomer coming-of-age stories...but with zombies. What I love most is that all the supernatural elements in his early books have origins in the occult. The Johnny Dixon mysteries in particular have this wonderfully rich vein of Catholicism running through them, and that makes the whole adventure seem all the more realistic, or all the more outlandish, depending on your thoughts about religion and history.
I’m such a big fan of John Bellairs that I spent several years writing a middle-grade adventure novel in homage, in an attempt to duplicate his strong sense of setting. The story is chock full Bellairsian tropes: a bookish main character, a school bully, an adult confidante, a sinister madman who dabbles in the occult, a cool priest, ancient relics, and an Act III road trip to a meaningful destination where the climactic final scene takes place. However, I added my own twist to the formula by using my father-in-law’s childhood as inspiration for the protagonist’s emotional arc. In a way, it was a tribute to both men whom I respect greatly for different reasons. The novel, Cross Falls, is set in upstate New York in the 1950s, and features a Lebanese-American Catholic schoolboy named Jimmy who awakens the leader of a magic cult who has been hibernating below the town for centuries.
Unfortunately, the best thing about the book was its title.