Today we have the honor of welcoming a guest post from Beth Vrabel, author of the recently released middle grade book Bringing Me Back. Below, Beth shares her weirdest writing inspiration – then keep reading to learn more about her book!
I wrote my first story when I was 10 years old. In a moment of bravery, I shared it with my mom. She closed it, looked me in the eye, and said, “Someday, Beth, you’re going to write a story, and it’s going to be published.”
That idea—a book with my name on the spine—stuck. It helped carry me through the awkwardness of middle school. After all, it was all fodder for my future book, right? But by high school, I started to wonder if it was too big of a dream. In college, I focused on journalism, where at least I’d still be a writer even if I never had that book.
Writing a novel felt like too wild a wish to set free. Better to lock it up inside.
But after years as a journalist, moving up the ranks at my newspaper to become a columnist and editor, I knew I had the skill set to be a novelist. And then, when I stayed home with my children, I also had the time. The only thing keeping that wild wish trapped was … me.
And so, every day, I’d pull open that blank white page on my laptop and fight for the determination to fill it with words. After years of this—including three failed manuscripts that even Mom would have trouble praising—most of me screamed to give up. That it was useless, that so few actually made it as a writer.
But another part? It whispered, maybe. Maybe you could.
That whisper stuck with me. It had grit.
And then, in 2014, my first series, PACK OF DORKS (Sky Pony Press) debuted to critical acclaim. The next year, A BLIND GUIDE TO STINKVILLE released, earning the ILA award. And the following year, Sky Pony published its companion, A BLIND GUIDE TO NORMAL, which became a Junior Library Guild selection.
Set free, that dream became a reality. Books with my name on the spine! I was crafting a reputation for writing funny middle grade books.
A young black bear had been spotted around Clarion, Pa., with what appeared to be a bucket wedged on his head.
Yes, a bucket. Stuck on its head.
Now the closest I had come to a bear was a few years earlier when, as I was driving my son to preschool, a black bear trotted up the road past us, thereby expanding my son’s vocabulary. (“He told us all about it!” the preschool teacher said at pick up. “So it was a mother bear?” Uh…)
But I couldn’t stop thinking about Bucket Bear. I followed postings on social media. For weeks—seriously, weeks—residents shared pictures when they spotted him around the town, hoping rescue workers would track him. But anytime someone got close, he’d run.
He was more frightened of those who wanted to save him than he was of having a trap around his neck.
In each picture, I could see the bear was weaker, shaggier, thinner. Even if rescuers were able to get the bucket off of him, would he have enough time to bulk up for the upcoming winter? When would it be too late to save him?
About this time, I began visiting schools around the country. At each stop, I told young writers to dig deep into their own experiences, use them to root their stories.
My experiences had nothing to do with a trapped bear. But I couldn’t shake this bear.
I called my agent and told her I had an idea. “It’s about a bear with a bucket on its head.”
She paused. “Are you sure there isn’t anything else you’d like to write?” I kept talking. And soon, maybe even before me, she saw I wasn’t about to write a story about a bear at all.
It’s a story about a boy, trapped by his past decisions. Decisions that had led to his mom being in prison and his friends abandoning him. So blinded by his own shame, the boy—Noah—runs from everyone who might want to help, anyone who could lift or share some of that regret.
Though Noah believes everyone has given up on him, when he hears about an injured bear cub, he refuses to give up on her. No one else thinks she can be saved. Maybe. Maybe you could, part of him whispers.
BRINGING ME BACK is a book about grit. About never giving up.
Somehow this book, inspired by a weird news story, reflects more of me than just about anything else I’ve written.
(The actual Bucket Bear, by the way, was saved by a group of townspeople who somehow found the courage to jump on top of a live bear. They used tools to chip away at what had been trapping it, and the bear ran free into the woods.)
His mom is in prison, he’s living with his mom’s boyfriend–who he’s sure is just waiting until his mother’s six month sentence is up to kick him out–and he’s officially hated by everyone at his middle school, including his former best friend. It’s Noah’s fault that the entire football program got shut down after last year.
One day, Noah notices a young bear at the edge of the woods with her head stuck in a bucket. A bucket that was almost certainly left outside as part of a school fundraiser to bring back the football team. As days go by, the bear is still stuck–she’s wasting away and clearly getting weaker, even as she runs from anyone who tries to help. And she’s always alone.
Though Noah ignores the taunts at school and ignores his mother’s phone calls from jail, he can’t ignore the bear. Everyone else has written the bear off as a lost cause–just like they have with Noah. He makes it his mission to help her.
But rescuing the bear means tackling his past–and present–head-on. Could saving the bear ultimately save Noah, too?