Letters to Frankie and Max

When the stories are giving me fits I try writing letters to my characters to see if I can unlock some of the problem areas. Sometimes the characters even write back! This has led to some interesting insights into the stories and created opportunities in telling the story that may not have otherwise come to me. Sometimes it has been tricky writing and answering the letters without giving away the book but I think that part of the challenge has been fun.

Max the dog and Frankie the boy are the main characters in a middle grade novel that is still simmering. They have a hard life and I found that trying to write their story straight through hurt too much. The letters to and from the kid who is Max’s best friend help me to explore their plot and get to know them better.

Dear Max,
They’ll find you. They always do. I’m sorry.

Worriedly, Me

Dear person who is ignoring me,
I refuse to call you the author of my story because you’re not working on it. It’s cold out here. I’m hungry.

Max doesn’t look too good. There’s a lot of blood from where, well, you know. I’m pretty sure his leg is broke too. But you don’t care about any of that, do you? The gypsy lady would help, I know she would, but I think they scared her off for good this time.

What am I supposed to do now?

Signed, Max’s protector

Dear Character Who is Taking Care of Max,
The gypsy’s back. But she moved. Check out the vacation rentals over by the roller coaster. Whatever you do, don’t antagonize “him.” Whatever he says to you, just walk away.

Signed, Author who has your back

To anyone who reads this,
They took Max away today. They won’t tell me where. I don’t know if I will ever see him again.

I will never, ever forgive YOU for letting this happen. NEVER.

Signed, The only person who REALLY loved Max

Dear Lost Boy,
I’ve done all I can for the moment to get rid of the BIG BAD THING in your life yet that doesn’t make you feel as safe as it should. Why not? What do you know that I don’t know? And why won’t you visit Max?

Signed, Me

Dear Author Ignoring My Story,
I gave you the first line of the book last night. It led you right to the first scene, with me and Max and meeting the gypsy lady for the first time. I know you remember it because I heard you repeating it before you went to sleep last night and in the shower AND on the way to work.

I’ll visit Max as soon as you give ME a name and commit to my story.

Signed, Lost boy

Dear Friend of Max,
Tell me about the very first day you met Max, please. There is so much I don’t understand.

Author who knows this story will make some people mad

Dear Author Who is just a big old Chicken you-know-what,
Yes, some people are going to be mad at you when you write my story but does that mean it shouldn’t be written? Are you one of those people who just walks by the homeless people and wish they didn’t exist? Do you sit in your fancy house and push the remote control button every time you see a picture of a starving kid come up on the screen.

I’ve got news for you—pretending like something doesn’t exist doesn’t make it go away. Believe me, I’ve tried. Every night before I can fall asleep I pretend there isn’t a monster in the house but every morning I wake up, he’s still there.

My dad is the one who brought me and Max together for the first time. My real dad. Not that loser of a guy who convinced my mom to marry him just so he could get her money. I was scared of Max at first. He was pretty scary looking. Still is, only not to me anymore. That first time I met Max all I could think was how much I didn’t want to tick him off because I knew it would be real messy in a hurry and that most of the mess would be me.

My dad thought me and Max needed each other. That made me laugh so hard that it made my dad laugh hard, hard enough to bring a crowd of people around us (we were sitting on the front porch) and pretty soon the whole neighborhood was laughing right along with us and me and Max, we were on our way to being best friends.

Signed, Kid who misses his dad

Dear Friend of Max,
Attacking me is NOT going to get your story written. Do you think you are the only one in the world to go through hard times? If so, you are sadly mistaken. The world is not always a pretty place. Life is not easy and it is never, ever fair. Ever.

I’m sorry about the monster. We all have them in some degree or another. Some people have monsters they can see and other people have monsters who live inside them. Everyone gets broken. It’s how you pick yourself up and put yourself back together again that decides how you will live your life.

You dad sounds like a great guy. I’m sorry he’s not in the book but you can go visit him whenever you want.

You were afraid of Max? Really? That made me laugh too! I just remembered about Max and pickles. There’s another story there, I’m sure. Can you tell me more about it?

Author reading up on the legalities around your situation

Dear Author,
Today was a good day and then a bad day and then a really, really bad day.

I went to see my dad and told him all about Max and everything that’s been going on. Then I went to see the gypsy lady but I got lost and ended up on the east side after dark. This big kid chased me for the longest time, I guess he thought I had some money (ha!) but I finally lost him. When I got home my mom had locked the front door and wouldn’t let me so I spent the night on the front porch. No dinner, of course.

Signed, Kid who still has no name
PS. It was raining.

Dear Lost Boy,
I’m sorry. I’m sure it’s all my fault so go ahead and rant at me if you want. All things considered, when you think about what went on that night on the OTHER side of the door, maybe being wet and cold and hungry was better after all?

What do you think?

Signed, Author who hates hurting characters she loves

Dear Person Who Keeps Ignoring Me Even Though
Everyone Says You Should Be Writing About Me First,

I am not talking to you anymore.

Not at all.


I am not even going to tell you about what happened when I went to see Max.

Signed, Lost boy

Dear Lost boy,
I understand. Really I do. I want to remind that I did share the beginning of YOUR story in my Teaser Tuesday. I haven’t done that for anyone else yet. I think you and Flyboy are neck and neck. I know more about his story than I do yours but I know more about yours than I do Plant kid’s story.

There’s another thing I’ve been thinking about with you. There’s this kid who used to talk to me. His name was Frankie. Frankie grabbed me by the throat when I was driving one day and wanted to tell me about some terrible things. He had a sister. A sister with a secret. I saw Frankie’s house and I saw where his mom worked and I saw a bunch of not-so-pretty things in Frankie’s life. The last time I saw Frankie he was running, fast, away from something or someone. He hasn’t spoken to me for over a year. Maybe longer.

Now I can’t help but wonder, are you Frankie?

Signed, Author who needs to read through her old notebooks

Dear Author Putting 2 + 2 Together,
The answer is yes.

But please don’t ask me to talk about my sister yet. I’m not ready.

Signed, Frankie

Dear Frankie,
At last, you have a NAME! I’m so happy. I’ve been wondering if it might be you but I’ve been a bit afraid of going back to your story. I mean, the stuff that happens to Max is bad enough but the stuff with your sister … Even as backstory it’s not going to be pretty or fun. I’ve seen books written about the sort of thing that happened to your sister and I’ve seen books written about the sort of thing that happens to Max. How can I make it different?

Of course here is where I start to second guess myself. Maybe it is all going to be too icky and depressing and maybe people don’t want to read about that kind of stuff. Or not anymore. I can psych myself out by reading articles about too many depressing stories for kids today or why can’t there be any happy families in children’s books. The more I read those sorts of things the less I think anyone wants to hear about your story. And I can’t help but wonder if dark, hard hitting books with issues at the core, are they the kind of books that people reread again and again? I’m thinking maybe not.
I know you said you didn’t want to talk about it but you know we have to. Now is as good a time as any. Frankie, tell me about your sister.

Signed, Author stocking up on tissues

Dear Nosy Author,
The trouble with little sisters is they’re so darn cute all the time. Or they think they are. Or everyone around you thinks they are. Do you have any idea how many times someone pushed me out of the way so they could get to her and go gaga over her stupid baby noises?

Lots of times it’s the same thing with dogs. But different. Or maybe it’s me that’s different now. I won’t make the same mistake with Max that I made with my little sister.
Of course I probably won’t get the chance, either.

Signed, Frankie

Dear Frankie,
We are at an absolute stop. I mean it. A complete and utter stop until you fess up and tell me what happened to your sister. I mean what REALLY happened. Not what you keep telling everyone else.

Signed, Author sitting in the dark

Dear Author,
The creep knows what he did. I’m not talking about it until I know he’s locked up or dead. And I’m not lying about my sister. It’s plain and simple. I told you what happened. I told you it was my fault. Would I admit something like that if it wasn’t the truth? Max wants to know how you are going to make sure to keep him safe.

Signed, Max’s friend

Dear Max,
Even though you’ve been pushed to third or fourth on my list doesn’t mean I’m not still thinking about you, jotting down ideas as they come to me. But you know where I’m stumped. You have to tell me what really happened with your mother’s boyfriend and you have to quit lying to me about your sister.

Signed, Author afraid of what you are going to tell her

Dear Author,
When I was a little kid, I mean really little, I used to think that going for a ride in the car was this great big adventure. Even if all my mom or dad was going to do was race down to the quick mart for diapers for my sister, I wanted to go. I was good at pretending we were heading for the moon instead.

I was pretty good at getting my way too. I had the cute face and the pouting face and the please don’t you know I’m the best kid in the entire world face down to a science. It was all in the timing. Ask too soon and the answer would still be no. Ask too early and my mom would tell me to quit being a goofball. But if I asked just right I had a pretty good chance of making one of them say yes.

Now I’ve just got one face. It’s just the here I am what do you want me to do now kind of face. Nothing special.

And I don’t ask anyone for anything anymore.

Signed, Frankie

Dear Max,
Ask your boy to tell me something that would surprise me.

Author wondering how she is going to balance all the horrible stuff that is going to happen to you with something good

Dear Author Who Will Figure Out the Balancing Act When She Needs To,
You asked me to surprise you and I’m sure how to do that. I was going to tell you that me, Frankie, and that other guy you were writing about, Cooper, were probably the same guy but it looks like you figured that one out for yourself already. You already know I used to have a baby sister but now I don’t.

Did you know that it’s my fault that she’s dead?


Dear Max,
You may have just been trumped by a dead sister but it’s a temporary situation I’m sure. I suggest you stay where you are for the time being. I know it’s not the home of your heart but you’re safer there and that makes it easier for your boy when he does what he has to do next.

Signed, Me

Dear Author in hiding,
First off, you need to remember that the thing with my sister and the thing with Max are not the same thing. What happened with Max WASN’T my fault. What happened with my sister was.

Second off, if that person thinks they are keeping Max or keeping me from Max, they’re in for a big surprise.

Third off, I know I told you I didn’t want to talk about it but I think if I’m going to fix things with Max, I’m going to have to tell about what happened with my sister.

Signed, Max’s boy

Dear Frankie,
Were you trying to shock me with that comment about how you killed your sister? Because it’s didn’t work.

I’m not shocked and you didn’t kill your sister. Forget what your mother and her loser boyfriend of the week are telling you. It’s not your fault. You didn’t pull out a gun and shoot her or sit on her in the bathtub until she drowned. It was an accident. Really.

Can you tell me one happy memory about you and your sister? Just one?

Signed, Author who wants to be sure she gets your story straight

Dear Author,
Every day I had with my sister was a happy memory. The problem is there weren’t enough of them. But here’s my favorite.

The day my mom came home from the hospital with my baby sister it was raining. Pouring buckets. Mrs. Winslow from next door was taking care of me. Mom pushed open the front door, cursing about the rain and being all wet and stuff. She put the baby carrier down as soon as she walked in the door and said she needed a hot shower and dry clothes. She didn’t even care that my new sister was absolutely soaked. Just left her sitting there, crying, and walked away.

So me and Mrs. Winslow took her over to the sink and gave her a warm bath. Mrs. Winslow showed me how to use towels in the sink with a rolled up one for behind her neck. She showed me how to wash her, real gentle like, so it wouldn’t hurt. And then she showed me how dry her and put a diaper back on until she was all clean and warm and pink and dry.

Later, after Mrs. Winslow went home, I sat on the couch, holding my baby sister and watching her sleep. Every once in a while she would do a little hiccup in her breathing and then let out a sigh. I held her for a long time, even after I could feel my arm falling asleep, and I promised her I would always keep her safe.

Signed, Frankie, the kid who broke his promise

Dear Frankie,
Thank you for sharing that special memory of your sister with me. I know it wasn’t easy. I’m glad you had Mrs. Winslow there to help you. I seem to be focused a lot on dead dads today so maybe, since you aren’t ready to tell me about how your sister died, maybe you could tell me what happened with your dad?

And what about that gypsy lady? Is she still around?

Signed, Me