I recently chatted with GAC member and Guelph author Aaron Blair about his upcoming book entitled “The Mystic of the Midway”, published by Histria Books and due out this fall. The story is targeted toward eight-to-twelve-year olds and is a fantasy/supernatural story that takes place at an amusement park called Crystal Beach – a real place that existed in Fort Erie, Ontario from 1888 to 1989.But the ghosts of Crystal Beach have a story to tell. Long before the summer amusement parks of Canada’s Wonderland and Marineland, going to Crystal Beach was a very special vacation for families. Blair has many great memories of being there.
The book’s demographic focus is influenced by two factors. First, when ideas about writing the book began to take shape, Blair’s children were entering that stage, so he had first-hand experience to draw upon. In addition, this particular age group has always held long-lasting memories for Blair and it’s a comfortable voice for him. It’s a time when the “realities of the world are beginning to collide with the magic of innocence”, he says.
The process of writing the book was full of interesting journeys. Because Crystal Beach closed in 1989, Blair spent a lot of time doing research about the park. Reaching out to historian William E. Kae who wrote several books on Crystal Beach, Blair was able to benefit from that insight and dedicated the book to him. In addition, Blair decided to work on bringing greater “life” to the story by integrating some adult social contexts, such as the impact of urban decay and changing jobs on the community, paying particular attention to how these situations might be experienced from a preteen perspective. He suggests that looking at these issues from other viewpoints creates layers to fictional characters and shows their growth and development as people. Blair also studied other books that had “lit up the faces of my children” as part of his process and incorporated styles, like those of author Judy Blume, into his own story. “It was important for me to have children’s faces light up when reading my book too!” he said.
Reading aloud and “test-piloting” the story on his own kids first, and then on others, was also an important part of the process. “It’s a litmus test to read it aloud,” said Blair. “Seeing their reactions, hearing the flow yourself. Kids wear their hearts on their sleeves so it’s easy to see what is working and what is not”.Once his confidence grew, Blair approached Guelph author and friend Dawn Matheson for her professional editing services to help him with the final product.He says that Guelph is a very supportive art community.
I ask him why he chose to publish with American-based Histria Books. His answer is honest and full of advice for new authors. The book was sent to lots of publishers, he admits.You have to have a thick skin and be persistent to get your story published. Fortunately, Histria Books had just started Histria Kids as a way to enter the children’s market and the company was very pleased to publish his book.Persistence is the key.
Final piece of advice? “Finish what you start”, he said. “You can get stuck and the story may not be going the way you want. But you can fix it in edits. Get to that end point and reflect on the journey”.
Like the excited children who couldn’t wait to get to Crystal Beach amusement park…I look forward to the fall and the launch of what feels like an intriguing book!
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