When I sat down to write my latest book, I knew very little about the plot. All I knew for sure was that it needed to start with an unprecedented tragedy—a state of international heartbreak and desperation so raw that the world would be at a total loss for what next.
Because that’s the question I ask myself nearly every day now. I read the news, learn about the latest local or national or global tragedy, and I wonder: what could be worse than this?
What could be worst?
For TRANSCENDENT, I chose to bomb Disney World. I knew that my mind would have to go to exceptionally dark places. But it felt necessary to me, starting these conversations—and it feels more necessary, more relevant today than ever.
I chose Disney World because I can recall, as I’m sure we all can, exactly how I felt when I first heard about Sandy Hook. A mass shooting is horrifying no matter who the victims are—but targeting children? I couldn’t stop watching the news updates, staring at the faces of the students who’d been killed, thinking about the futures they would never have, the families left behind. It was this memory that guided me here—the question of what could be so completely awful that people might actually stand still.
What could be so completely awful that maybe things would get better. Have to get better, because what other option do we have besides total self-destruction?
I can only read so much news anymore before I have to tune out, move on with my day. It’s not that I don’t want to know and understand what’s going on in our country and in our world—of course I do. Awareness is the first step at enabling any kind of change. But still, I have a mental and emotional limit. There is only so much suffering my brain can absorb.
The speed of the news is part of it—every day a revolving flow of red letter, all cap headlines. We rely upon that in 2016; the Internet and social media have buoyed our expectations for fresh, compelling content. We mindlessly pick up our phones all day, refreshing our feeds: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, repeat. Our phones are with us as soon as we wake up in the morning, right before we close our eyes at night. Even without directly checking news sites, the news reaches us, always.
Week after week, day after day, it’s something new, something equally or more shocking than we’ve seen before, more graphic and uncensored. More real. A picture of a dead child, a video of a man dying.
I worry that I’m becoming numb.
Because the names and the faces fade so quickly. Too quickly. When the violence in Orlando happened, I felt sick, heartbroken that TRANSCENDENT targets that same city.
But just a few months later, Orlando and Pulse already feel so long ago, because we’ve had so much tragedy to face since then. The faces, the names change. But the feeling is the same. Orlando could be any city, every city. This is our reality now.
We need some outlet for our fear—we need to find a way to still have hope.
In times like these, I turn to books. Reading. Writing. Because sometimes it takes stepping out of reality, the day to day, to process what is actually happening around me, to understand my place in it all.
Fiction slows us down, shows us new perspectives, challenges our beliefs. We form intimate connections with characters, individuals—like people we know, and more importantly, like people we don’t yet know. People we’ve never met in our small towns, or even in our big cities. But—in a good, successful book—even through the differences we can see truths that speak to our own lives. Our own fears and dreams.
Through books we question, we learn, we grow. And, hopefully, we leave each story with a new understanding of our real world—a new appreciation of all the beautiful people in it—and a renewed sense of hope. Because more hate will not solve our problems. More hate will never solve anything.
We, as readers and writers, can take the negative and react in positive ways—turn the bad news to good. We don’t have to give up, accept that worse will keep on happening. We can be a part of the solution, in our own little ways. Reach out to others. Help our communities. Talk to someone new. Start small.
I chose Disney World—I chose the most heartbreaking tragedy I could think of—because sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you discover what really matters. But I don’t think TRANSCENDENT is ultimately a depressing book. Not at all. Or at least that’s my most sincere hope as its message goes out in the world. Because through the darkness, there is light. Through the suffering, there is an appreciation for the simple things that make life good: community, tolerance, friendship.
Katelyn Detweiler was born and raised in a small town in eastern Pennsylvania, living in a centuries-old farmhouse surrounded by fields and woods. She spent the vast majority of childhood with her nose in a book or creating make-believe worlds with friends, daydreaming about how she could turn those interests into an actual paying career.
After graduating from Penn State University with a B.A. in English Literature, emphasis in Creative Writing and Women’s Studies, she packed her bags and made the move to New York City, determined to break into the world of publishing. She worked for two years in the marketing department of Macmillan Children’s Group before moving in 2010 to the agency side of the business at Jill Grinberg Literary, where she is currently a literary agent representing books for all ages and across all genres.
Katelyn lives, works, and writes in Brooklyn, playing with words all day, every day, her dream come true. When she’s not reading or writing, Katelyn enjoys yoga, fancy cocktails, and road trips. She frequently treks back to her hometown in Pennsylvania, a lovely green escape from life in the city, and her favorite place to write.
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