All important people and heroes have an origin story, right? Today author Mark Schreiber is going to reveal to us how Amanda911 came to be. You'll also get to look inside the book with an excerpt. Be sure to follow the rest of the tour for even more. Leave your questions and comments along the way! Best of luck entering the giveaway!
Falling down a well was both the best and worst thing that ever happened to my granddaughter.
She was a Disney princess to me, but a comic sidekick to her classmates, who’d never been kissed by a boy—or I suppose by a girl—been asked to a dance, or chosen for any role in a school production that did not conceal her face.
Most people under twenty probably don’t know what a well is.
Haven’t seen one. Probably think it’s just something you say when you need to buy time, like like, or when someone asks you how you’re feeling, although I guess these days everyone says good or OK, or nothing at all, opting for an emoji instead. Do kids even talk anymore, in the crowded loneliness of their bedrooms? Did Amanda even scream when she fell down the well? Or did she just send a screaming emoji?
So, when millions of kids all over the globe saw the headline, they shared via social media:
Girl Plummets Down Well
More than plenty had to Google well to comprehend its meaning.
I’m sure she got at least half a million hits just from image searches that returned a picture of an oil rig in the North Sea. Geez, her international peer group must have thought, or words or emojis to that effect. A girl has fallen thousands of feet smack into a tidal wave. I hope she’s more Kate than Leonardo.
Amanda911 began as an essay I wanted to write, but never did, called Superficial Superficiality, about people who want to be famous for being famous, rather than for any particular field of excellence.
The new profession of influencer was really the first time in history people could fulfill that need, and as a result it is often disparaged as empty and exploitive. However, being an influencer is hard work, demanding a specific skill set, and it allows people who do have talent but have previously been silenced by society—by oppression, or gatekeepers, or commercial constraints—to find an audience.
I like humor, so I wanted to write a book that would be funny. But I didn’t want to simply satirize the excesses of social media. I also wanted to write a book for influencers themselves, because when I started there weren’t any influencer protagonists in novels. And I do admire them. So although I wanted to examine the culture critically, I also aspired to write a book that influencers could relate to and say, “Yeah, that’s what it’s like.”
I wanted my influencer to be a teenager because I wanted someone without a history, without a profession or spouse or kids. And I wanted someone who was unpopular. Someone who didn’t want to be an influencer.
When I was in fifth grade my class had an election to send one of us to city council for a day. Several kids campaigned eagerly. I wasn’t one of them. But somehow I received a groundswell of support and was even carried around on the playground. This could have been the beginning of my political career, but I resented even having to dress up for City Hall. Now I reflected on that experience and thought, what if my influencer is carried away like that?
I wanted it to be a girl, plain, sweet, someone everyone can root for. Someone deceptively perceptive and filled with common sense that sees people’s flaws yet at the same time accepts them. My niece Amanda. She’s Costa Rican, one of my ex-wife’s nieces. She was only 12 when I decided to write the book, but I would make her sixteen. Of course my Amanda is very different from the real Amanda. But her sweetness and acceptance of others and being easily overwhelmed by life are imprinted on my character.
Oh yes, and she fell down a hole while playing in the street and woke up in the hospital. She was only five and there was no media coverage, but it reminded me of stories of kids falling in wells or getting lost in the woods that riveted the nation in the days before cable TV. Maybe her family has a farm with a well in the back. Maybe that farm is in Iowa and she falls in during presidential primary season, when all the national media are there.
In real life these horrific stories can last days. Remember the Thai soccer team trapped in a cave? That still gives me the creeps. But I wanted to write a comedy, and I thought with the frantic pace of social media she would only have to be trapped in the well for a few minutes for it to go viral.
When I was five I dug a hole in our backyard. My mom said if I dug far enough I’d reach China. That was a common saying back then and I thought it would be a great metaphor for the book, because in effect Amanda does fall all the way to China, by becoming a star on their PingPong platform.
Of course, everyone would assume she would have her fifteen minutes of fame, and everything would go back to normal. But I felt her normalness would be exotic. She would be special for being ordinary, because when the whole world is on stage, it’s the solitary person sitting in the audience that stands out. Kids in megacities in Asia would be fascinated by her lifestyle, just as she was fascinated by manga and K-Pop. But they would also love her authenticity and sweetness, and that would make her fame stick.
But she’s not articulate. I didn’t want her telling the story. I wanted it framed from a cultural perspective, and that’s when I decided on the grandfather. He’s a failed writer, a bitter cynic who doesn’t even own a cell phone and still uses a manual typewriter. He hates social media, but he loves his granddaughter more than anything. So what happens when she invites him to chaperone her to the Influencer Festival?
If I could answer that question, I could write the book.
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