Escape from the Wildfire: Jack and Tess

James Lorimer & Company publishers; Lorimer Kids & Teens, fall 2022.

I was originally inspired to write a story about a wildfire since there seemed to be so many happening throughout Western North America. Originally, I wrote this story with a girl as the main character. Her name is Tess, and she LOVES trees! But after interest from the children’s acquisitions editor at Lorimer, I rewrote it with a 15-year-old boy as the main character.

The problem was that I wrote the original story set in a fictitious place. They asked if I would be willing to set it either in Fort McMurray, or a real place in British Columbia, which would give the story more impact and also tie-into real-life events. I had already written about the 2016 Horse River Wildfire, so I decided to use Google Earth to virtually walk the streets of a tiny village named Lytton, the location of a devastating wildfire in the summer of 2021. It was eerie. Google Earth acted as though nothing had happened there. The streets had been photographed years before the village was decimated. Fortunately, this provided an invaluable tool to see the beautiful place and see all the homes, businesses, the Chinese History Museum, the school, the deli, the gift shop, the pool, and so many other places which appear in the story. It was a gift, and I was so grateful to be able to walk those streets back in time.

After some time, I saw an image which inspired the main character, Jack. I didn’t copy the exact idea, but it was a jumping off point to create my character who is into mountain biking. I also used my own kids’ love of biking. Well– not all my kids love it equally, but two of them really enjoy getting out on the trails and downhill bike, even going over jumps, just like Jack in the story.

And Tess wasn’t completely forgotten. I wrote her into the new story, too. She appears as much more than Jack’s crush. She influences Jack to care about trees, biodiversity and the climate. She’s someone who is not unlike so many kids today who want us to do something, anything, to help Earth. Escape from the Wildfire is a story for our time.

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