Welcome to Cantastic Authorpalooza, featuring posts by and about great Canadian children’s book creators! Today’s guest: Susan Currie. Take it away, Susan!
Iz the Apocalypse took me seven years to write. I’ve honestly lost count of how many versions there were. Characters and storylines came and went as I fought to figure out exactly how to tell Iz’s story. My husband told me I needed an exit strategy from this book!
I don’t know exactly why I kept struggling with the manuscript, except that there was something about my main character, Iz, that wouldn’t let me go. She’s the definition of resilient—a highly gifted 14-year-old foster kid who desperately wants to attend The Métier School, a prestigious international high school for music. When faced with systemic barriers to her goal, she resorts to creative manipulation of multiple bureaucracies. She fights for the opportunity to find her people and her voice. In the process, she catastrophically overturns the world around her, like an apocalypse that obliterates old things but leaves room in the wreckage for the possibility of something new.
Probably my own experiences as a frustrated teacher with a front seat to the challenges of children in foster care, were part of what drove me to keep going. I’ve worked with kids who were moved around so much that their report cards were mostly incomplete or else peppered with mediocre marks. Their arrival in a new school was often preceded by case conferences intended to manage anticipated issues. Their potential, even giftedness, ran the risk of being unnoticed because divergent words and actions could be so easily misunderstood as a problem to be fixed. It bothered me intensely that talented students were being systemically barred from the opportunity to go on to higher education because of conditions simply related to being in foster care.
Another factor that made me unable to let this story go was my own history as an adoptee who spent a short time in the foster care system. Iz is very close to me, as we share the sentiment that we don’t quite exist in three dimensions, as well as the resentful feeling of being “managed” within the tangled bureaucracy of care. This management has continued into adulthood. For example, my personal records were sealed until I was well into middle age; and when I finally received a copy of them, I discovered that much of my own information had been blacked out. Furthermore, when I learned that I had a birth sibling who had also been placed in care I was firmly told that the system would not be able to provide me with any information about him unless there was a medical emergency he needed to know about. After some creativity worthy of Iz’s best moves, my brother Rob and I are now happily very much in each other’s lives.
Another reason why I couldn’t walk away from Iz is that I was entirely obsessed with embedding a secret second story in hers, kind of like a crossword puzzle. As I kid, I was deeply influenced by Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, in which the myth of Blodeuwedd simmers magically and threateningly just under the surface of the story of teenagers in the present. Iz’s journey to find herself is entangled with Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise (“The Winter Journey”). Schubert’s work is wound into the plot, into characters, into dialogue and eventually into Iz’s own explosion of creativity. Basically, I spent seven years deep in a rabbit hole of symbol and metaphor, in which hardly a word of the manuscript doesn’t have some kind of link to an alternative meaning. If you’re familiar with Winterreise then you will see it everywhere, in Iz’s wandering, in doubles and doppelgängers, in Hurdy Gurdy men, in wedding planning, in the seeming madness and meaninglessness of the world of Dominion Children’s Care. If you’re not familiar with Winterreise, though, the story of Iz still works just fine as a story of a kid engaging in criminal activities in order to achieve her dream!
So, here we are, with Iz the Apocalypse finally in the world, after I’d truly despaired of it ever finding a publishing home. It’s a nominee for the 2024 White Pine Award in the Forest of Reading, as well as a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Book. In addition, it’s just been named a Fall 2024 YA book in “Top Grade: CanLit for the Classroom.” CBC listed it in “25 YA books to read in Fall 2023.” Quill and Quire included it in their “2023 Fall Preview of Young Adult and Nonfiction.” And I’m excited to reveal that I’ve just signed a two-book deal with Common Deer Press to turn Iz’s story into a trilogy.
Ultimately, then, I guess the moral of this blog post is that one shouldn’t give up, even when a way forward seems murky and unclear. I found my exit strategy by just doggedly stumping alongside my ferocious foster kid until we came out the other side.