I love novellas. Snow Day, the ebook and audiobook thriller that I’ve recently published, is a novella.
I even like the sound of that word. It has a nice ring to it. Say it with me – no-vel-la. Many great writers like John Steinbeck, Charles Dickens, and Ernest Hemingway have written famous novellas. And for those of us who prefer to read about things that go bump in the night, authors like Richard Matheson, Stephen King, Robert Lewis Stevenson and many others can be added to the list. That’s not bad company. In fact, I love the form and I’m excited to tread, with light foot, along the same literary path as such worthy craftsmen.
Longer than a short story, but shorter than a traditional novel, the novella is a wonderful but rare bird. So rare, in fact, that many young adult readers have never encountered one – not in paper form, any way. Sometimes, when I tell people I’ve written a novella, they cock their heads like a confused puppy. The words of encouragement or congratulations that spill from their lips are always polite, occasionally enthusiastic, but often accompanied by a questioning tone that lingers in the air like the scent of a sweet-smelling herbal cigarette smoked less than an hour ago – not terribly unpleasant, but still, something I could do without.
In that moment, I pretend that I can read minds, and their thoughts often fall into three categories. Either they think they misheard me – He said novel, didn’t he? Or, they are mildly disappointed, as if a good friend missed the mark on the grail-like quest to write the great American novel– Only a novella, hmm, that’s too bad. And then there are those who dismiss it as something it is not – Oh, it’s just a short story. At least, that’s what they think as they smile and wish me well.
Snow Day is simply a tale that found its natural length and scope in the land of not-quite-a-novel. But like King’s The Mist, or Matheson’s Duel, or Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, its size is its charm. Like all good novellas, it strives to concentrate its impact on the reader into a single evening of thrills, and if I’ve done my job right, offer a few interesting ideas that may chill you. All in one evening, all for the price of a cup of coffee, and for no more personal commitment than the time that passes between the end of dinner and the start of Charlie Rose. In this age of long work days and over booked calendars, who could ask for more?
As a parent, I was eager to use Snow Day as way to explore an earlier time – 1975 – a time when the world that young children played in was much different from what we know today. As they page through Snow Day, younger readers will no doubt think they’ve entered an alien world, one that their parents might call the good ol’ days. But as you’ll discover, they weren’t always as good as we remember, and they certainly weren’t any more safe. In Snow Day, Billy Stone, a middle-aged father of two sons, has been haunted for years by nightmares that only come when a blizzard is brewing the evening before a school day. In his personal recollection, written at the suggestion of his doctor, he takes us back to that one unforgettable snow day from his childhood and the origins of his dark dreams. Essentially an ode to the campfire stories of my youth, I readily and proudly admit that Snow Day owes a few strands of its DNA to tales like Harper Lees’ To Kill a Mocking Bird (still my favorite novel), King’s The Body, and others tales of their kind. There is even a subtle nod Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. See if you can’t find it in Chapter 15.
I’m sure these influences will be clear as you read Snow Day, but the real question will be this: did I do them justice, and more importantly, did this novella fulfill the promise of the form – a single night of thoughtful thrills and an interesting, perhaps chilling idea for you to consider as you power down your Kindle, iPad or Nook, refresh your night-cap, and tune in to hear Charlie Rose utter those familiar words…”Welcome to the program.” Only you can be the judge of that.
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