Tributes to Katie: House With the Witch’s Hat & Henrietta Hex
The most precious gift God gives is a child. Among the many reasons why, having a child inspires even the best of us to do better, and, if our attempts fall short, the important thing is you try, because the motivation is love, and love never truly fails.
Our daughter, Katie, was inspiring me even before she was born. I had barely begun work on a Young Adult novel, Teenage Mutants, when my wife, Lisa, told me she was pregnant. I immediately promised myself to finish the manuscript before our child was born and dedicate it to her, so I could tell Katie, “This is what I was doing while we were waiting for you.”
Ten years later, Katie was in elementary school and an avid reader, which helped motivate me to refocus on writing YA and Middle Grade books after concentrating on comics for over a decade. The first effort was co-creating the Talismen series with Barb Myers (Xylia Tales, Dena & Doodle) and, as I finished each chapter of The Knightmare Knife, I asked Katie to read it. Katie not only made some really good plot suggestions, she shared the chapters with her classmates and gave me their feedback, which was invaluable. It was an once-in-a-lifetime experience for both of us, plus it was a heck of a lot of fun.
Before going on, I should confess one of my writing philosophies is that the perfect age for a MG book protagonist is twelve. It is a transitional age. A kaleidoscope year of experiences filled with unprecedented wonders, heartaches, and loss innocence. Most people on their twelfth birthday look and act like children, but by thirteen their appearance and behavior have acquired at least a little adult shine. Some folks treasure this time in their memories. Others curse it. Most of us do a little of both, but there is never any going back, except in our imagination.
Katie was eleven years old when I modeled a MG character after her. I had always intended to write an everlasting tale she could read while she was twelve, and then hopefully read to her children when they are twelve, and so on. Transition turned tradition. That character is Cardy Wagner, the heroine of The House with the Witch’s Hat, my contribution to Alan Lance Andersen’s Wizard Academies series.
Cardy is a student at Grackleflint’s Academy for Reverberaunts just north of Cardiff, Wales, a school for young wizards whose lives were cut short, either by a tragedy or personal misconduct, and who inexplicably return years, decades, sometimes centuries later. The reverberaunt concept and elements of Cardy’s backstory were inspired by Jane Churm and Little Miss 1565, but her look and personality are pure Katie, right down to her “long straight sandy hair parted on the left” (although the series’ illustrator, Lylith, drew Cardy with a long ponytail).
I won’t lie, I wanted to jog alongside Katie/Cardy in this adventure, like Charles Halloway alongside his son Will and Will’s best friend Jim Nightshade, but I never set out to create one of my most popular characters in the process. I can honestly tell you that anything successful about Alacrity Templemier, the adolescent streetwise American satyr who becomes one of Cardy’s two best friends and her sometimes guardian angel, is due more to the circumstances surrounding his creation than my intentions.
I can also honestly say that I hadn’t planned on modeling another heroine after Katie, but, again, circumstances superseded intentions when Shannon Denton and Patrick Coyle invited me to write a book for their new Actionopolis line of MG books the next year. Each Actionopolis book is based on an intellectual property created by Shannon, Patrick, or both, and is written and illustrated by authors and artists with comics experience. Shannon and Patrick posted their IPs on their Komikwerks website with accompanying promotional art and a webcomic story, and Shannon told me to go there and pick one.
That’s where I met Henrietta Hex, twelve-year-old paranormal investigator who sees ghosts and fights to protect her seaside village of Spooks Hollow from supernatural harm. I loved the Scooby-Doo concept of Henrietta Hex, and I loved that Henrietta was not only the same age as Katie but bared a passing resemblance to my daughter, so, once again I incorporated Katie’s look and personality into a MG heroine. Shannon and Patrick agreed to let my favorite comics partner-in-crime, Christopher Jones (Young Justice, Batman Strikes!), illustrate the book, so I asked Chris to draw Henrietta like Katie, and then, after submitting my manuscript to Actionopolis, I took advantage of this resemblance to help promote the book on my old website.
I had incorporated a famous regional cemetery monument into Henrietta Hex, The Black Angel, and Katie agreed to dress like Henrietta and model for some pictures with The Black Angel. I had hoped it would be another once-in-a-lifetime experience that was a heck of a lot of fun, but Katie didn’t like Shannon’s “costume” for Henrietta. Actually, she didn’t mind the pigtails, red hair band, white t-shirt, or tennis shoes. It was the denim overalls. We had to buy her a pair, so Lisa and I took her to the nearest farm supply store, but Katie didn’t want to wear them in public. As only a twelve-year-old can do, Katie complained that it was embarrassing because nobody wore overalls, even after we pointed out that we lived in eastern Iowa and were in a farm supply store. She went through with the shoot, however, which, in the end, did turn into an once-in-a-lifetime experience and a heck of a lot of fun, for me and Lisa, anyway.
Those are the dusty dry facts of how Katie has inspired my writing. Most of them, anyway. Each story, from Teenage Mutants to Henrietta Hex, is a tribute to Katie, who let me be a kid again alongside her, even if it was only in my imagination. These stories are also a thank you to Katie’s mother, because there wouldn’t be a Katie without Lisa, and I wouldn’t have a family without both of them. Yes, the most precious gift God gives is a child, but the most wonderful thing on earth is family.