It’s a constant refrain I hear from children I’ve visited in multi-purpose rooms and classrooms across the country once I tease them about my plans for the final book of my Hello There… trilogy. Some kids refuse to acknowledge that “trilogy” means “three,” and they’re quick to offer up their own elaborate stories about what amazing adventures could unfold with Madison McGee in the fourth, fifth, and sixth books. There’s little that makes me grin more than that.
But the truth is, I know I’m done.
In the beginning I didn’t intend to write a series. In the authors’ world that might be tantamount to a cardinal sin. If I’d started with the long view, I probably wouldn’t have had to work so hard writing the second book, filling up plot holes the size of sink holes and retroactively figuring out a long three-book arc for Madison McGee. But as a big believer in silver linings, at least I became pretty handy with the plot hole shovel.
My first book, Hello There, We’ve Been Waiting for You!, was the product of my own personal gauntlet. I’d spent twenty years penning anything and everything but long-form fiction: video scripts, commercials, interactive computer games for kids featuring beloved characters such as Putt-Putt, Madeline, and Harry Potter; the animated television shows, Dragon Tales and ABC’s What-a-Mess; plus a few picture books I’d been contracted to do based on Putt-Putt, the little purple car. I assiduously ducked away from writing long-form because I wasn’t certain it was in my wheelhouse. Eventually my uncertainty bubbled up into something approaching outright fear. The quickened pulse. The hyperactive flutter in my belly. The “I can’t do that” voice in my head. And that’s exactly why I decided to take it on. After all, I’m a parent. How could I encourage my own children to tackle something challenging if I refused do it myself?
It didn’t take long to discover that while the writing wasn’t always a breeze, I never felt as if I was opening my proverbial vein and bleeding on the page. (Those antics I save for cutting avocados with aggressively large kitchen knives). What I did unearth was my intoxicating love for deep-diving into characters and richly detailed stories – something I didn’t have the luxury of doing when I wrote kids’ interactive story games or episodic children’s television.
It was when I’d finished my umpteenth and final draft of Hello There, We’ve Been Waiting for You! that I realized I wasn’t quite ready to let go of Madison, her wacky grandmother Florida Brown, and the magical MegaPix 6000 TV – a portal into whatever is playing on the screen. I’d spent a solid year with my clear-eyed, gutsy, eleven-year-old heroine, and I’d fallen hopelessly in love with her. Sure, things looked up for her at the end of the book. She’d begun to find her stride and her voice after suffering the loss of her mother, and she discovered some peace and understanding with her grandmother through a set of sometimes harrowing, oftentimes funny, magical experiences. But I suddenly knew that her life still had a few more bumps and adventures ahead before she could truly find her way home. I’d created her and I wasn’t about to leave her out to dry. After all, by then she and I were undeniably joined at the hip. And truth be told, I admittedly was spurred on by imagining not just one, but all three books, featured on the shelves of my beloved creaky-floored Bainbridge Island bookstore, Eagle Harbor Books.
And so I dove into Hello There, Do You Still Know Me?, a second Madison McGee adventure that moves her closer to understanding some baffling things about her past. There is an element or two of magic in the first book and I knew I had to expand and deepen that world in the second and third stories. Because I hadn’t originally envisioned a trilogy, I’d never sketched out the nitty-gritty details of some pieces of her parents’ backstory and the broader rules of magic. It forced me to spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on those things to the point where it felt like my brain might explode. It was the magic that kept forcing me to bend the story to fit its quirks, but in the end, it also let me live out one my own childhood fantasies when Madison travels twenty years back in time through the MegaPix TV and comes face-to-face with own mother way back when she was just a kid, too. Throughout the entire process, I couldn’t help but wonder how much of her magical world J.K. Rowling had invented before she ever wrote her first word of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and how much she’d invented on the fly.
With the publication of my third and final book in the trilogy, Hello There, I’m Coming Home! Madison’s story is at last tied up in a nice shiny surprising bow. It’s an ending I didn’t imagine at the beginning of this marathon, and it’s one that Madison never would have thought was possible.
And now Madison McGee’s ultimate homecoming is my bittersweet farewell. Just as my own children moved off to college and their own lives, I know it’s time for my characters and their stories to move away and take up residency in the imaginations of their readers. And to those many kids I’ve met in schools across the country who have overflowed with ideas for Madison’s future stories, please pick up your pencils and get to work. Consider Madison McGee’s world of magic, my gift to you.
Laurie B. Arnold is the author of the Hello There trilogy, and the last book Hello There, I’m Coming Home! releases April 2019. She fell in love with middle grade fiction because she’s a sucker for a happy ending. Laurie has two grown sons and lives in Bainbridge Island, Washington with her amazing husband and perfect fuzzy dog, but also spends time in Santa Fe, New Mexico. You can follow her adventures on Facebook, twitter, and Instagram.