Boomerang: A Disappearance and a Homecoming

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When Helene Dunbar described her newest book to me, I knew I wanted to have her on the blog. I mean, come on—a YA novel about a boy who disappears mysteriously and shows back up five years later, with all the messy complications you’d expect . . . what’s not to love? Today, Helene shares the story behind the story—and why she thinks some readers may want to throttle the main character.

Hi, Helene! I’m so excited to have you on the blog . . . and even more excited that your YA novel, BOOMERANG, is coming out on March 6th. Please give us a sneak peek into the book—what’s it all about, and what was your inspiration for the story?

Thank you so much for inviting me, Emily!

On the surface, BOOMERANG is about a boy who disappears when he’s twelve. Everyone assumes that he was kidnapped, but that isn’t the truth (no spoilers, it’s made clear very early in the book). He returns when he’s seventeen, not completely by choice, in order to act on a scheme to get money out of a rumored trust fund so that he can rescue his best friend from an abusive situation.

In less literal terms, I always describe it as the story of a boy who sees everything in black and white, when really everything in his life is made up of shades of grey. He’s complicated and he’s surrounded himself with complicated people, but his instinct is always to see things as good/bad when the reality of his situation is far murkier.

The initial plot came out of a read of Sara Zarr’s SWEETHEARTS, which was a book I loved about a girl whose childhood friend returns year later even though she was told he had died. But I really wanted to know the story of the returning boy rather than the girl who was left behind, so I used that as a starting point.

BOOMERANG is actually your third book—you’ve published two previous novels, THESE GENTLE WOUNDS and WHAT REMAINS, and you’ve got a fourth one, PRELUDE FOR LOST SOULS, coming out from Sourcebooks in 2019. For those writers who may just be starting their journey, can you share some of the most important lessons you’ve learned along the way?

Don’t give up. I know that sounds like a platitude, but really, if someone had told me what BOOMERANG would go through on it’s journey to publication, I’m not sure if I would have believed them. Just keep going. Look at the next goal, the next obstacle and keep moving forward.

Also, find your own way. It can be helpful to read all the writing blogs and to ask writing friends for advice. But while my CP is an outlining wiz, the one time I tried it, the process killed any interest I had in writing that book. It’s okay to break all the rules so long as you can create something you love in the end.

Why YA? What draws you to the genre and keeps you there?

Part of it is that I DESPERATELY wish that there had been this vast number of YA books when I was a teen.  Because there wasn’t, I actually read a ton of science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction. But then I hit college and, as an English/Theater major, I simply had no time to read for fun. And then I lost interest in slogging through descriptions of wallpaper. I wanted to feel something. I wanted to read about characters who leapt off the page and I wasn’t finding that in adult fiction.

Which is a long way of saying that both as a reader and a writer, I’m drawn in by the emotions and the characters and the readers and the sheer talent of the YA writers out there today.

Are there certain themes that you find yourself coming back to again and again, from one book to the next? If so, what are they . . . and do you deliberately include them, or do they sometimes take you by surprise?

That’s a great question. I think that male friendships are always a part of my books. My father has a group of friends that he’s had since high school (he’s now in his late 70’s) and I grew up watching them interact and I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by them, honestly, because there are fundamental differences (in his case anyhow) between those and the friendships I grew up watching my mother maintain.

I also think that my characters are always messy. I like seeking out the complexity in people and I try to bring that out in my characters as well. I’ll say that my characters in BOOMERANG are even messier than most! 😊

In your bio, you say that you exist on “a steady diet of readers’ tears.” I haven’t read any of your books—yet! But I plan on it; they look awesome—so let me in on the secret. Will I need a box of tissues when I do?

THESE GENTLE WOUNDS is probably a two-box book. For WHAT REMAINS, you might need one. I’d almost say a punching bag would be a better accessory to BOOMERANG. I dearly love Sean, but he has a bad habit of making ALL the wrong choices for all the right reasons and I expect some readers to spend much of the book wanting to throttle him.

Is there anything I didn’t ask that I should have? Whatever it is, please answer it here!

Two things that I’d like to throw in are: (1) I do NOT view this book as having a love triangle although I know some readers will.  In truth, Sean is really just floundering as he tried to find his way back to the person he should be with and who he needs to accept, flaws and all. The other avenue that “appears” really isn’t an option in that sense for a variety of reasons. (2) Sean is on-the-page bisexual. That being said, I made a very deliberate decision NOT to use labels in the book. First of all, Sean has been basically isolated for five years and no one he was with would ever have thought of labeling him. Second, he’s never had a reason to define himself or his sexuality until he returns to his home town and he’s getting pressed on all sides to explain himself.  I COMPLETELY understand why some people find comfort in labels and the sense of community and belonging that comes from that and I certainly have characters in other books who label themselves proudly. But Sean has other issues he’s wrestling with, and a label would have been something that I, as a writer, imposed on him, rather than something that came organically from the character.

COMING HOME CAN BE THE MOST COMPLICATED THING OF ALL

Michael Sterling disappeared from his Maine town five years ago. Everyone assumed he was kidnapped. Everyone was wrong.

Now, at seventeen, he’s Sean Woodhouse. And he’s come “home,” to the last place he wants to be, to claim the small inheritance his grandparents promised him when he graduated high school, all so he can save Trip, the boy he developed an intense and complicated relationship with while he was away.

Sean has changed, but so has his old town and everyone in it. And knowing who he is and where he belongs is more confusing than ever. As his careful plans begin to crumble, so does everything he’s believed about his idyllic other life.

Told in gorgeous prose, BOOMERANG is an honest, authentic exploration of coming to terms with who you are, what you want, and how vast the distance can be between the two.

Bio

Helene Dunbar is the author of THESE GENTLE WOUNDS, WHAT REMAINS (Flux), BOOMERANG (Sky Pony 2018) and PRELUDE FOR LOST SOULS (Sourcebooks 2019). Over the years, she’s worked as a drama critic, journalist, and marketing manager, and has written on topics as diverse as Irish music, court cases, theater, and Native American Indian tribes. She lives in Nashville with her husband and daughter, and exists on a steady diet of readers’ tears.

Website: www.helenedunbar.com

Twitter: @helene_dunbar

IG: helenedunbar

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/helenedunbarwrites/

When Helene Dunbar described her newest book to me, I knew I wanted to have her on the blog. I mean, come on—a YA novel about a boy who disappears mysteriously and shows back up five years later, with all the messy complications you’d expect . . . what’s not to love? Today, Helene shares the story behind the story—and why she thinks some readers may want to throttle the main character.

Hi, Helene! I’m so excited to have you on the blog . . . and even more excited that your YA novel, BOOMERANG, is coming out on March 6th. Please give us a sneak peek into the book—what’s it all about, and what was your inspiration for the story?

Thank you so much for inviting me, Emily!

On the surface, BOOMERANG is about a boy who disappears when he’s twelve. Everyone assumes that he was kidnapped, but that isn’t the truth (no spoilers, it’s made clear very early in the book). He returns when he’s seventeen, not completely by choice, in order to act on a scheme to get money out of a rumored trust fund so that he can rescue his best friend from an abusive situation.

In less literal terms, I always describe it as the story of a boy who sees everything in black and white, when really everything in his life is made up of shades of grey. He’s complicated and he’s surrounded himself with complicated people, but his instinct is always to see things as good/bad when the reality of his situation is far murkier.

The initial plot came out of a read of Sara Zarr’s SWEETHEARTS, which was a book I loved about a girl whose childhood friend returns year later even though she was told he had died. But I really wanted to know the story of the returning boy rather than the girl who was left behind, so I used that as a starting point.

BOOMERANG is actually your third book—you’ve published two previous novels, THESE GENTLE WOUNDS and WHAT REMAINS, and you’ve got a fourth one, PRELUDE FOR LOST SOULS, coming out from Sourcebooks in 2019. For those writers who may just be starting their journey, can you share some of the most important lessons you’ve learned along the way?

Don’t give up. I know that sounds like a platitude, but really, if someone had told me what BOOMERANG would go through on it’s journey to publication, I’m not sure if I would have believed them. Just keep going. Look at the next goal, the next obstacle and keep moving forward.

Also, find your own way. It can be helpful to read all the writing blogs and to ask writing friends for advice. But while my CP is an outlining wiz, the one time I tried it, the process killed any interest I had in writing that book. It’s okay to break all the rules so long as you can create something you love in the end.

Why YA? What draws you to the genre and keeps you there?

Part of it is that I DESPERATELY wish that there had been this vast number of YA books when I was a teen.  Because there wasn’t, I actually read a ton of science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction. But then I hit college and, as an English/Theater major, I simply had no time to read for fun. And then I lost interest in slogging through descriptions of wallpaper. I wanted to feel something. I wanted to read about characters who leapt off the page and I wasn’t finding that in adult fiction.

Which is a long way of saying that both as a reader and a writer, I’m drawn in by the emotions and the characters and the readers and the sheer talent of the YA writers out there today.

Are there certain themes that you find yourself coming back to again and again, from one book to the next? If so, what are they . . . and do you deliberately include them, or do they sometimes take you by surprise?

That’s a great question. I think that male friendships are always a part of my books. My father has a group of friends that he’s had since high school (he’s now in his late 70’s) and I grew up watching them interact and I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by them, honestly, because there are fundamental differences (in his case anyhow) between those and the friendships I grew up watching my mother maintain.

I also think that my characters are always messy. I like seeking out the complexity in people and I try to bring that out in my characters as well. I’ll say that my characters in BOOMERANG are even messier than most! 😊

In your bio, you say that you exist on “a steady diet of readers’ tears.” I haven’t read any of your books—yet! But I plan on it; they look awesome—so let me in on the secret. Will I need a box of tissues when I do?

THESE GENTLE WOUNDS is probably a two-box book. For WHAT REMAINS, you might need one. I’d almost say a punching bag would be a better accessory to BOOMERANG. I dearly love Sean, but he has a bad habit of making ALL the wrong choices for all the right reasons and I expect some readers to spend much of the book wanting to throttle him.

Is there anything I didn’t ask that I should have? Whatever it is, please answer it here!

Two things that I’d like to throw in are: (1) I do NOT view this book as having a love triangle although I know some readers will.  In truth, Sean is really just floundering as he tried to find his way back to the person he should be with and who he needs to accept, flaws and all. The other avenue that “appears” really isn’t an option in that sense for a variety of reasons. (2) Sean is on-the-page bisexual. That being said, I made a very deliberate decision NOT to use labels in the book. First of all, Sean has been basically isolated for five years and no one he was with would ever have thought of labeling him. Second, he’s never had a reason to define himself or his sexuality until he returns to his home town and he’s getting pressed on all sides to explain himself.  I COMPLETELY understand why some people find comfort in labels and the sense of community and belonging that comes from that and I certainly have characters in other books who label themselves proudly. But Sean has other issues he’s wrestling with, and a label would have been something that I, as a writer, imposed on him, rather than something that came organically from the character.

COMING HOME CAN BE THE MOST COMPLICATED THING OF ALL

Michael Sterling disappeared from his Maine town five years ago. Everyone assumed he was kidnapped. Everyone was wrong.

Now, at seventeen, he’s Sean Woodhouse. And he’s come “home,” to the last place he wants to be, to claim the small inheritance his grandparents promised him when he graduated high school, all so he can save Trip, the boy he developed an intense and complicated relationship with while he was away.

Sean has changed, but so has his old town and everyone in it. And knowing who he is and where he belongs is more confusing than ever. As his careful plans begin to crumble, so does everything he’s believed about his idyllic other life.

Told in gorgeous prose, BOOMERANG is an honest, authentic exploration of coming to terms with who you are, what you want, and how vast the distance can be between the two.

Bio

Helene Dunbar is the author of THESE GENTLE WOUNDS, WHAT REMAINS (Flux), BOOMERANG (Sky Pony 2018) and PRELUDE FOR LOST SOULS (Sourcebooks 2019). Over the years, she’s worked as a drama critic, journalist, and marketing manager, and has written on topics as diverse as Irish music, court cases, theater, and Native American Indian tribes. She lives in Nashville with her husband and daughter, and exists on a steady diet of readers’ tears.

Website: www.helenedunbar.com

Twitter: @helene_dunbar

IG: helenedunbar

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/helenedunbarwrites/

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