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Hope Is a Ferris Wheel – The Lost Characters

Happy Monday! I debated posting this on Saturday, and then figured that if you’re anything like me, you are scrambling to get errands done on the weekend and don’t have time for the Internet.

Today I’m posting about the lost characters of Hope Is a Ferris Wheel – the characters that got CUT.

Erin Delligatti

Erin holding cat

Erin was the most important character to get cut. In the first and second drafts of the book, Erin was another fifth-grader at Pepperwood Elementary who lived in Treasure Trailers and who was Star’s next-lot neighbor, as you can see in this sweet, sweet map. (Big version HERE)

Treasure Trailers Map

You can also see where Gloria’s, Mrs. O’Grady’s, and the tinfoil man’s trailers are! Plus, the owner’s shack. This map isn’t up-to-date as there’s now a storage area behind the owner’s shack where Star’s mom keeps some important things in a storage shed. Anyway, back to Erin.

I actually liked Erin’s story quite a bit! It was established at the beginning of the story that Star and Erin had been friends over the summer, but when school started and Star said she lived at Treasure Trailers, Erin stopped talking to her. Because Erin was hiding the fact that she lived at Treasure Trailers, knowing it was something she’d be teased for. Star spent a lot of that first draft missing Erin’s company and trying to win her back as a friend, but in the end, Erin just wasn’t secure enough to be Star’s friend. (And then, from the curtains, came Genny! Heeeey!)

Erin also hung out at the dump a lot, as she was planning to build a robot out of junk for the science fair, and she also took care of Treasure Trailers’ resident stray mama cat, Queen Elizabeth, and her kittens, whom Erin had named after planets. The idea was that Erin was a really nice person, but not a good friend to Star.

Erin head

Unfortunately, her story detracted a lot from the story I was trying to tell, which was the story of Star and Genny’s friendship. Why should I write Star spending time wishing Erin was her friend when I could do that with Genny? Erin had to go. And when Erin went, so did her fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Keyes. (DUN DUN DUNNNNN… that’s why Mr. Keyes isn’t in Hope Is a Ferris Wheel!)

So, Erin doesn’t live in the trailer park anymore. She’s still in Mr. Keyes’ class, and her family lives in a tiny run-down house not too far from Pepperwood. But she and Star don’t interact at all. At least until… SIXTH GRADE!

Nichole “Nicky” Konicke

I almost snuck Nicky into the final draft of Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, but my editor saw right through my attempts and said, “Why is this random character here at the end?” So I cut her, YET AGAIN.


In the first draft, when Star first goes to detention, she meets a group of kids she dubs the Detention Junkies. Eddie was one of them, and Nicky was another. Nicky’s story was that she never really tried in school, and thus got detention a lot. Miss Fergusson, through sheer force of will (and kindness), was able to turn Nicky around. Towards the end, she stopped going to detention, which made Star wonder why she was still in detention.

Nicky got cut at the same time as Erin, because it was more important to me to have Eddie in the story, and she and Eddie were kind of crowding each other. In between draft 1 and my last draft, I changed Nicky’s character considerably.

Nicky age chart

Here’s an age chart on new Nicky, showing her in Kindergarten, 3rd grade, and 5th grade. I gave her a sense of style, made her wealthier, and streamlined her design. New Nicky was set to join Star’s club at the end of the book, because of spoiler-y reasons, so I won’t go there now. But you can ask me in person after you’ve read the book! Also, if I ever write a sequel to Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, Nicky will definitely be in it.

But Erin won’t. Sorry!

Couple more things about Nicky:

  • In the Sixth Grade Delinquents story, Nicky was the “wildcard” of the class. No one knew if she was good or bad, and even Eddie kind of stayed away from her.
  • Nicky wears fancy and colorful cowboy boots.
  • This wasn’t originally the case, but Nicky has a huge crush on Eddie. She’s always trying to impress him.
  • In sixth grade, she no longer has her braid.
  • She’s very mildly based off this tough-as-nails fifth-grader I taught at one of my school jobs. A girl who could pound anyone into the pavement, but was also conscientious of her clothing and style.

Amanda Parker

Okay, Amanda was hardly even important to the plot, but she’s pretty cool, and I wanted to post a bit about her.

Amanda first

When I describe Amanda to you, she might sound a lot like Nicky, but the fundamental difference between Amanda and Nicky is that Amanda does what she does out of malice, while Nicky does it out of indifference.

Amanda was in the first two drafts, I think, along with Nicky and Erin. (Draft 3 was like a massacre.) She was another one of the Detention Junkies, and her crime was plastering everyone at Bloody Knuckles behind the dumpster during recess. At Pepperwood, Amanda was the Bloody Knuckles Champion. (Her teacher was also Mr. Keyes.)

Amanda colored

Amanda’s definitely not a nice person AT ALL. She’s downright cruel. She has a superiority complex that makes her think she’s better than everyone else, so she treats them accordingly. (Which is why she has no friends.)

So, no, Amanda didn’t add anything to the story, and so she was cut. BUT.


Remember, if you have to cut characters, you can always tell yourself you’re saving them for the sequel! πŸ™‚


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Hope Is a Ferris Wheel – Teachers and Students

Considering the fact that I was busy plotting the Sixth-Grade Delinquents story, I don’t think you’ll be at all shocked at this map of Pepperwood Elementary, with all the teacher/room assignments, that I drew about five or six years ago.

Pepperwood Map

Big version is HERE if you’re interested. Clicking on the big version, you’ll be able to make out the names of every single teacher at Pepperwood Elementary. I’m stretching credibility a bit here, because honestly, this is too many teachers for a lot of California schools. Pepperwood has a pretty big student population, though. Over 400. So it’s not completely unreasonable.

Anyway, this map will tell you how meticulous I was in making this school feel like a real place. The only thing to note on this map is that Miss Minh, the 6th grade teacher over in the portable, isn’t a teacher during the events of Hope Is a Ferris Wheel. When Star is in 6th grade, Miss Minh joins the staff as a student teacher, then joins the staff full-time the year after that. (Miss Minh is not Star’s 6th grade teacher, though. Ms. Davenporte is.)

Okay, enough about teachers you don’t care about! Here’s some teachers you actually might care about if you’ve read the book.


From left to right: Miss Fergusson, Mr. Savage, Mr. Keyes. The three fifth-grade teachers of Pepperwood Elementary. I like these three a lot. If you’ve read the book, you know that Mr. Savage is kind of a jerk, and that Miss Fergusson is stern but sweet, and you have no idea who Mr. Keyes is. More about him later.

Mr. Savage was the only choice for Star’s teacher. Why? Because I knew they would clash, and when you’re not sure about the plot of your story, it’s sometimes a good idea to just put your main character in a terrible situation. The fact of the matter was, Miss Fergusson is Star’s ideal teacher, and Star is Miss Fergusson’s ideal student, so there’s no conflict there. Mr. Keyes is laid-back, having taught kids for over thirty years, and he knows when he needs to be tough on kids, so he wouldn’t be tough on Star, since, like Eddie says, she’s not really a bad kid.

But Mr. Savage is a new-ish teacher. He’s full of raw idealism and he’s a little terrified that his class will someday get the better of him. At the first sign of delinquency, he would turn on Star like that. (Imagine me snapping my fingers.)

Sometimes people ask whether the characters in Hope Is a Ferris Wheel are based off anyone I know. The kids aren’t, but the teachers are.

Fergusson first

Miss Fergusson is based off my own fifth- and sixth-grade teacher, Ms. Lawson. Like Miss Fergusson, Ms. Lawson was caring and strict. She cared about every one of her students and did her best by every single one of them. (Above is the first drawing I ever did of her, sometime in 2006, maybe.)

Mr. Keyes is based off a teacher I worked with in Oakland, Mr. James. (The kids called him by his first name.) Mr. James was an art teacher and an artist who encouraged his students – even the ones who weren’t good at or interested in art. He was funny and lively, and the kids loved him, because they knew he loved them, too. Even when he had to discipline them.

Mr. Savage… is based off me. I was only an after-school teacher for 6 years, which, in teaching, is a tiny fraction of experience. Suffice to say, I made a lot of mistakes as a teacher. Sometimes, like Mr. Savage, I put on this “tough teacher” mask instead of being myself. Luckily, Mr. Savage works with a couple of experienced teachers, both of whom don’t mind guiding him in a better direction. (I worked with lots of awesome teachers, too, and I like to think they rubbed off on me.)

Anyway, Mr. Keyes doesn’t appear in the book because, well, he just got cut. His character was extraneous, and Star doesn’t interact with any of his students anyway.

Along with teachers, there are a couple of students mentioned in Hope Is a Ferris Wheel. I could give lots of info-dump on Maggie, Meg, and Chelsea, but I forgot to scan their stuff in. So all you get is Delilah and Jared.

Delilah Lilac Manning

Delilah was originally a much more involved character. She was actually kind of the villain in the story! But a lot of Delilah’s stuff was given to Denny, and Delilah quietly slipped into the background to occasionally give biting comments and be a jerk.

There was a part in the first draft where Star threw a basketball in Delilah’s face for making fun of another trailer park resident, but of course that all got cut/repurposed. But I liked that scene, because it led to Star going to the principal’s office and Winter coming down to pick her up, pretending to be Carly.

Jared Barrel

I think what happened with Jared (who never actually had a bigger part – he’s always been a small fry) was that I had all these traits from the old Denny (timid, mild, meek, soft-spoken, etc.) and I needed to give them to someone else. So I picked Jared. There’s not a whole lot revealed about Jared, but Jared is one of Eddie’s unfortunate victims. So not only is he timid and quiet, he also lashes out at others, like Star. (Now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t remember if he actually lashes out at Star in the book. He is the boy who asks if he can join her club and then laughs in her face, though.)

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Hope Is a Ferris Wheel – Eddie and Langston

Eddie is actually my favorite character in Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, and even in the Sixth-Grade Delinquents story. My favorite characters are the ones who are very contrary. The basis of Eddie’s character is that he’s a “bad” kid who is slowly realizing that he doesn’t have to be a bad kid.

I won’t give away too much of Eddie’s backstory, but if you’ve read the book you know that he thinks he’s stupid, because that’s what people have been telling him for a long time. DESPITE the fact that he has a bunch of poems memorized, and DESPITE the fact that he’s reading a thousand-page novel to himself in his free time.

Eddie first

Here is the earliest picture I have of Eddie, who predates every other character in Hope Is a Ferris Wheel except for maybe Miss Fergusson. In the Sixth-Grade Delinquents story, Eddie was the top delinquent. He’s the one no one else would dare challenge, because he’d been beating up other kids since like, the second grade. But Eddie wasn’t a dumb bully, he was a smart bully, and he’d already figured out how to play sixth grade.

Denny and Eddie sixth grade

This is a picture of Eddie and Denny in sixth grade. They were part of a group, and I won’t say anything else in case I ever end up writing that story. πŸ™‚ But you can see here how smug Eddie looks, like he’s got everything figured out. Which he does.

Eddie glasses reading

But fifth-grade Eddie is a lot less confident and much more insecure about his intelligence. (If you’ve read the book – you’re right, Eddie doesn’t wear glasses. He gets them right around Thanksgiving, right after Hope Is a Ferris Wheel ends.) (Oh, and yeah, his last name is Valentine, which is never mentioned in the book since he’s not in Star’s class.) Also, you can see that, since that first picture, his hair has expanded quite a bit, and that I got a lot better at drawing it.


So, Eddie’s tough and a bully. And a major reason of why he’s a tough bully is Langston.

Langstons early

Langston is not in the Sixth-Grade Delinquents story at all, because at that point he wouldn’t be a sixth-grader anymore and wouldn’t go to the same school. But in the story, there were a lot of rumors about him. The administration of Pepperwood Elementary sees Langston as the ringleader and Eddie as the sidekick, even though it’s actually the other way around. But Langston and Eddie do feed off of each other. Langston likes being a bully, making fun of other people, feeling like he’s in charge of things, even if it’s just his own thing he’s in charge of.

Above are early pictures of Langston looking a lot meaner than he actually is. I gave Langston a mohawk because I’d taught some kids with mohawks, and I noticed a couple things about these kids that I wanted to convey in Langston’s characters.

Kids with mohawks:

  • Got them because their parents or parent were convinced that their kid having a mohawk would look cool and make them stand out
  • Were wisecracking and troublemaking, but also charming, with a soft side
  • Usually only had it once and then let it grow out

Langston head

Langston’s a good foil for Eddie. Eddie is perceived as stupid but is actually very smart, while Langston is perceived as stupid and is actually stupid. But it doesn’t bother him the way it bothers Eddie. Langston’s also very cocky where Eddie is insecure. Langston is pretty easy-going while Eddie has a short temper and tends to be angry and hold grudges.Β And even though Eddie’s smarter than Langston is, Eddie’s the one who was held back in first grade, not Langston, and Langston holds that over Eddie’s head quite a bit.

Still, they’re best friends. They live in the same neighborhood and, despite being a grade apart, are always together. The thing that binds them is that they’ve been branded delinquents from an early age. But again, despite what everyone thinks, Langston is the one who follows Eddie, not the other way around. (Eddie’s also older than Langston by about a month.)

And in case you’re wondering, Langston’s last name is McNeilly, which again isn’t in the book since he’s not in Star’s class.


I drew the above image around the time Langston started being more involved with the plot. And also when Star would wear a ponytail to disguise her mullet. And I guess wore fancy zip-up boots? Oh, wait. I remember why I drew those boots on her – because Langston was already wearing combat-esque boots and I thought it would seem odd if they were both wearing them.

Okay then!

Oh, and one more little tidbit: Langston didn’t have a name until I think draft 2. The kids in the Sixth-Grade Delinquents story referred to him as “Firestarter” for reasons I won’t get into. And then he didn’t have a last name until draft 3.

Now that I think about it, Langston might predate Eddie. The idea of a kid called Firestarter has been in my mind for a long time.


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Hope Is A Ferris Wheel – The Libras

Denny and Genny Libra are, after Star and her family, probably the most important characters in Hope Is a Ferris Wheel. The story, after all, started as a way for me to explain how Star and Genny became best friends, basically. But first, a little about how they came to be!

Denny early design

I actually laughed when I found this old Denny drawing. This, I’m pretty sure, must be the first drawing of Denny I ever did. I left my notes there so you could read them. From the beginning, there was a pretty heavy emphasis on his eyes. The first version of Denny was a timid, shy boy who didn’t say much. (And he was a sixth-grader in the Sixth-Grade Delinquents story.)

Shortly after drawing this doodle, I named him Denny. While walking to the store one day in my hometown of Eureka, California, trying to come up with a good last name for him, I thought up the name “Libra.” It sounded pretty good. Denny Libra. I knew I’d remember it!

I didn’t. I forgot it as soon as I got home and didn’t remember it for several months. So, writers: ALWAYS WRITE STUFF DOWN.

Denny long hair

Not too long after naming Denny, I got Star. The two seemed like a hilarious pair: Star, loud and flashy, Denny, quiet and mousy. They were natural-born enemies. Oddly enough, Denny’s “theme song” was “Jenny, You’re Barely Alive” by Rilo Kiley. Something about the way it sounded matched Denny’s personality pretty well at that point. While listening to that song one day and thinking about Denny, I decided he should totally have a sister named Jenny.

Except… I couldn’t figure out why Denny’s parents would name him something a little weird like Denny and then slap the very common name Jenny on his sister.

So I changed it to Genny. I didn’t want her to be Gennifer, though, so I made her full name Geneva. Geneva and Denny are two names I can believe that two kids in the same family can have. (Names are important! Always think about names and whether they fit together!) The only thing I didn’t like was that Geneva Libra doesn’t have quite the awesome ring to it that Denny Libra has. BUT I figured maybe that’s part of the reason why Genny likes to be called Genny instead of Geneva.

Also, c’mon. It’s hilarious to have a brother and sister named Denny and Genny. There’s a good line I had in one of the previous drafts where Eddie refers to them as “The Wonder Twins” and Star just says, “They’re not twins.” I can’t explain why I think that’s funny. It just is.

Denny fullGenny full

Here’s the first picture I ever drew of the two of them together. (They were on opposite sides of the page, though, so I scanned them separately.) Denny was still a bit timid at this point, but you can tell that Genny’s personality has always been upbeat. But they’re both lanky, it’s just that Genny hides it better, and they have the same face shape. I always meant for them to look like a brother and sister. (I also think, at this stage, that I wanted Denny to look like a kid whose mom still dressed him, while Genny was a kid who dressed herself. I later dropped that.)

Denny thoughtful

Denny glare

These two Dennys were probably drawn about a year apart. In that time, I began actually writing Hope Is a Ferris Wheel and mean Denny took over, pushing timid Denny off a cliff. Mean Denny is more fun to write than timid Denny anyway. All the insults he shoots at Star aren’t things he actually believes, they’re things he thinks would bother her. So he’s not really the jerk he seems to be. Still, Denny and Star aren’t and probably never will be friends.

Genny OLD

Genny, on the other hand…

Man, look at that hair. This is an extremely old picture of Genny, a picture where I was trying to capture what she might look like during 4th grade. (Because, like every other character in Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, Genny started out as a side character in the Sixth-Grade Delinquents story. As a fifth-grader, of course.)

Genny nice

Genny’s two main characteristics, to contrast her brother, were “nice” and “talkative.” In the first two drafts of the book, Genny was sick with a disease I never bothered to look up. It didn’t really fit in the story and felt too trivial, so I dropped it. I also changed my mind about a later plot point – in the Sixth-Grade Delinquents story, Genny died a little over halfway into the school year. I never figured out what she died of, only that she died, and that Star and Denny never spoke again afterwards.

It was kind of a bummer of a storyline. I dropped it for reasons I won’t get into now, but if I ever write a sequel to Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, I’ll be able to explain.

Genny tattoos

I’m pretty sure it was draft 5 where Genny got her signature tattoos. She and Denny didn’t actually have standout personalities for a long time (aside from being nice and mean, respectively), so I spent some time on their characters. Denny didn’t actually change much, but I gave him some family issues and he seemed to stand out a bit more. Genny got tattoos, probably because I’d worked with kids who slathered themselves with rub-on tattoos and thought that was interesting.

But every time I draw Genny with her tattoos, I only get halfway down her arms because I’m lazy. They’re supposed to go all the way down to her wrists. And she’s probably got a couple on her legs.

One thing that never gets mentioned about Genny is that she loves to draw. There was a scene in some early drafts in which Star goes to the Libra house and sees Genny’s room, which is kind of messy and filled with fantasy novels. I imagine Genny draws her own fantasy lands in her spare time. Even though it never made it into the story, it informed a bit of her character for me.

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Hope Is a Ferris Wheel – Star’s Family

Today I’ll talk about Star’s family, which includes her mother, Carly (short for Carlotta), her sister, Winter, and her pseudo-godmother, Gloria.

Winter, Carly, Gloria

Here’s a fairly recent picture of the three of them (from left to right: Winter, Carly, Gloria). I was really excited, by the way, that a recent review of Hope Is a Ferris Wheel referred to Winter as “goth,” even though I didn’t use that term once in the book. (“Goth” is a term I hardly ever hear anymore, so I decided to leave it out and avoid possible confusion.) But yes, Winter is goth. She dyes her hair black and wears black clothing and combat boots.

Carly is sensible. She’s flaky, but sensible. She dresses as professionally as she can because she often has to deal with food bank people or welfare people and she doesn’t want them assuming she’s flaky, even if she is. Carly takes pride in her role as a mother and she assumes she’s a great one because, despite being impoverished, she provides everything her children need.

Gloria is like a fun aunt. Winter’s too old to be amused by Gloria anymore, but Star is still the right age for it. Gloria does her own thing, mostly. She works at a salon, having recently graduated from beauty school. She’s sloppier about her appearance than Carly is, but proud of her credentials. She thinks she’s the world’s expert on hair despite giving Star a mullet.

Carly and Gloria are kind of a reference to me and my childhood/current best friend, Tessa. Tessa also had a child when she was 19, and I am the weird pseudo-aunt that her child will probably find unamusing in a few years. Gloria’s love of donuts is a reference to my sweet tooth, but Carly isn’t a whole lot like Tessa, except that they both wear glasses.

Alright, back to Winter.

Winter OLD

This is, I think, the first picture of Winter. She was a bit more bubbly at first, and instead of having dyed black hair, she had dyed blonde hair. (She wasn’t goth yet, obviously.) I was basing Winter a bit off my older sister, who I’ve always thought of as way cooler than me. When I was Star’s age, my sister had the coolest clothes and was super smart, and everyone in the family thought she’d be a writer because her English grades were ridiculously high. The notoriously tough Shakespeare teacher at my high school said that she was one of his favorite students and that she wrote amazing essays.

(She’s in a geology-related field now. WHO KNEW?)

So I based Winter off that. Amazing writer, but on the morbid side. Totally cool, but also a teenager and therefore pretty contrary regarding her mother. (My sister had a rebellious phase, but she stayed a good student and was always nice to our mom.)

Winter and Allie

So, I ditched blonde-Winter pretty early on. Here she is with a character not worth mentioning until you’ve read the book. Her hair became curly/tangly and she became a lot rougher around the edges. I don’t remember when I decided she’d go to an alternative school due to being expelled from her old school, but it was definitely before I started writing the first draft. Winter was also originally kind of mean to Star, but when I started writing it didn’t work out, wasn’t going anywhere. Once I made their sisterly relationship a positive one, the writing came easier.

Sometimes, you gotta switch characterizations at the last minute!

Winter Harper

A post-it doodle of Winter from 2008. I had an internship at a publishing house, where one of my tasks involved using a system that took a long time to load things. So while I waited for stuff to load, I banged out lots of doodles on tiny post-it notes. I think Winter’s look really took shape during that time.

Winter glasses

In I think draft 5 of Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, Winter wore giant sunglasses as a way to hide her emotions from her family. That only lasted one draft. (I think she might put them on once in the book.)

Winter color

This is the quintessential Winter. And it’s like, a thirty-second doodle. So there you go. I’ve reached the point where I can capture her in thirty seconds. HUZZAH

Carly ages

Carly is a different story. In fact, it wasn’t until about draft 3 that I actually knew what she looked like. (She was always just “vague mother figure yelling in the trailer” before that.) Between drafts 3 and 4, I started wondering a bit more about her past, so I drew this quick reference sheet for myself of Carly when she had Winter (age 19), when she had Star (age 25), and in the current storyline (35/36). You can see that at age 19 Carly was a bit more lively. After she had Winter she got that “professional” look so she could get benefits more easily.

carly mackie

Carly’s story is a bit tragic and not at all like Tessa’s. Carly was in community college when she became pregnant with Winter, and she had to drop out to take care of her, which was disappointing because Carly was the first in her family to go to college. Her family also kicked her out when she got pregnant, so she moved in with Gloria until she saved enough money to live on her own. (They all lived in the same trailer park, which made things awkward.) Star followed five years later, and Carly was never quite able to get back into school.

Carly has a history of staying in jobs for less than a year. In a previous draft I explored this more: Carly’s a bit restless. It’s just her personality. She doesn’t do well doing the same thing for a long period of time. So she’s reached a point in her life where she’s had so many jobs that nobody really wants to hire her. Thus, she has a hard time finding a job. She’s not on unemployment because she always quits her jobs and is never actually fired from them.

As for Gloria, well, I don’t draw her much, but I imagine she looks like me if I had a degree from beauty school and actually did my hair and wore makeup. Her last name is never mentioned in the book, but it’s Sanchez.

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Hope Is a Ferris Wheel – Star Mackie

I’ve got two full weeks until the release of Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, so I decided to do some process posts. There’ll be one every weekday!

So, the way I write a story is that first I draw out the characters. I draw them until they’re very clear in my mind, because when they are, they start to interact with their environment and tell me (indirectly) about their stories. These drawings usually start as classroom doodles. Things I doodle during a lecture or what have you.

(Now that I’m not in school, I do a lot of doodling on my iPad while watching TV. Closest I can get.)

So, I’m starting with STAR, the main character of Hope Is a Ferris Wheel.

Star was actually not the first character I had for this story – Eddie and Denny came before her. But they weren’t doing much until Star came around.

Star first

The girl on the right is the very first drawing of Star I ever did. (You can see some java notes on the far right of the notebook paper; I drew this during a computer science class. I’m almost positive it was early 2007, but it could have been late 2006.) She started out a bit older, as you can see, but when I did the drawing on the left immediately after I made her a bit younger and that seemed to fit her.

You can see a small star right by Star’s head in the drawing on the left. I believe I made that star so I would remember to figure out something with her later, but looking over my notes at the end of the day, I decided that “Star” was a good name for her.

Now, what in the world was I thinking with her hair? I have no idea. But I do know that, looking at the picture later, I said to myself, “In the drawing, that looks kind of cool, but in real life that would totally be a mullet.” (I was thinking a flashy David Bowie type mullet.)

I decided to go with that. A young girl with a mullet. Named Star.

That’s where it all started.

Star color second

I guess Star’s mullet is midnight blue because of this drawing. My original idea for Star (and here, she’s a sixth-grader, not a fifth-grader), was that she was a somewhat-streetwise trailer park denizen who knew a lot about things like make-up and hair products, and who tried to act more mature than she was, even though she was still a child and very naive. (Hence the eyeliner and the high heels.)

And yeah, she was a sixth-grader. I originally put her in this story I was working on about a sixth-grade class of kids, who were known as the “bad class.” Star was a side character who would brag about her life and how cool she was, not realizing that it wasn’t actually cool to live in a trailer park.

I also had this character named Denny, a timid, nervous kind of kid, who I’d drawn and named right before Star. So naturally, they became connected. I thought it’d be funny if they were enemies, and then I had to figure out WHY they were enemies, so I decided that Star was friends with his sister and was constantly over at their house, driving Denny crazy. (More about Denny and his transformation from timid to glaring in another post.)

Star Grin

The more I drew Star, the more I got to understand her mullet and the way it worked. For a while, it was kind of curly. And though I often imagined her in skirts, she sometimes made appearances in straight-legged jeans.

Star and Genny fifth grade

One day in 2008, during a lecture in my History of Latinas/os in 20th Century California class (as you can tell from the terms “chicano” and “gentrification” up there), I drew this picture of Star and Genny. I liked the way Star looked like she’d achieved something great, so I added the caption at the bottom, which eventually became the working title of the book. I made Star a 5th grader here because I’d made her hair a little different, but then I thought it could be a good “origin story” for this side character. The two things I’d need to cover in the “origin story” were:

1. How Star and Genny met and became friends

2. How Star ended up being placed in the “bad class”

So, I started working on that. In my head, not on paper. I decided early on that, despite my love of YA, this would be a story for children. (Like the children I was working with at the time as part of my work-study job.)

Star boots

In my sketchbook, I drew a page devoted to Star Mackie: Queen of Fifth Grade, deciding which characters from the aforementioned Sixth-Grade Delinquents story would make appearances. Genny and Denny, obviously, would need to be there, and I also decided to put Eddie in. There were some other characters on the page who either didn’t make it in or did and were cut later. (I’ll cover those characters in a different post.)

Star and Winter

Star had always had a sister. She was a vague figure in Star’s life until I started doing Star Mackie: Queen of Fifth Grade, and then she became a full-blown character. More on her later. For now I’ll just say that Star’s sister, Winter, became an extremely important part of the book. In fact, there was a vague side-plot in the Sixth-Grade Delinquents story regarding Winter that I moved into Star’s origin story. But you have to read the book in order to know what it is. πŸ™‚ Anyway, note in this picture that Star is wearing high heels and that they are too big for her feet. That’s because they’re Winter’s. (And Winter is wearing the combat boots that Star now wears in Hope Is a Ferris Wheel.)

Star incensed

Eventually Star’s mullet became a bit more streamlined, which is what happens when you draw a character over and over again. She was in combat boots full time now, too, due to a comment I received from my would-be editor, Tamar, about the high heels making Star feel too mature. There was an entire plot thread of Star wearing high heels and gradually moving to Winter’s combat boots, so I decided to nix that and just put her in the combat boots from the beginning. Made some things a lot easier.

Star Skull Janes

Here’s a somewhat more recent picture of Star. I haven’t drawn her a whole lot since getting the book deal, sadly! I was also experimenting with some different footwear for her (these are called “Skull Mary Janes” in my notes), though that never panned out. You can now make out the separate layers in her hair and see how it can be viewed as a mullet. As far as I’m concerned, it’s totally a mullet and Star is in denial about it, but some readers have stayed adamant that it’s a “layered cut” and totally not a mullet even, and that’s a valid interpretation. I think there are a lot of people walking around with mullets who are in denial. Own your mullet! They’re actually pretty cool. πŸ™‚

So, there you have it! Star Mackie was created SEVEN DANG YEARS AGO. And now her little origin story is out in the world.

It just goes to show you to keep your eye on those side characters. They’ll sprout their own stories when you least expect it.


Filed under Art, Hope Is a Ferris Wheel, My Books, Writing