If you come across a woman wandering the streets of Montclair Village and surrounding neighborhoods gazing intently at the area’s diverse architecture – or if that same woman is observed at the Sibley Volcanic Regional Reserve shouting “Elvis, come here boy !” – do not be alarmed. Most likely it’s Montclair resident and novelist Stacy Stokes, who’s cooking up her next young adult thriller and picking up the family dog from what has become her favorite East Bay regional park.
After years of commuting from San Francisco to her day job as a marketing professional at Oakland-based Clorox Co., Stokes says the move to Montclair was a time saver with unexpected benefits.
“I love walking around Montclair and looking at the old houses. The trees and greenery make it easy to forget that you are near a major urban city. I also like to listen to audio books. Last year my count was north of 80. It goes hand in hand with walking, having a good story between the ears.
Stokes’ first young adult novel, “Remember Me Gone” (Viking Press), places an adventure story in the hands of readers that was partly composed while wandering the streets of Montclair. A virtual launch at 6:30 p.m. on March 22 at A Great Good Place for Books in Montclair Village (ggpbooks.com/event/RememberMeGone) has Stokes paired in conversation with young adult fiction writer Ginny Myers Sain.
“Even when I was living in San Francisco, I attended book launch events in Oakland. I have a group of reviewers, and they all live in the East Bay. They introduced me to A Great Good Place for Books. I went to a great event there with three amazing young adult authors which was the last event I attended before the pandemic shut down. There was warmth and a love of stories. Tight by books, shoulder to shoulder with others, you just feel the comfort. The place makes me feel close to the words.
Stokes has been “close to words” since childhood. Her mum is a ‘big book lover’ who, after learning around 16 months ago that Stokes was pregnant, pulled out stacks of picture books she had been saving.
“She even read and recorded them once,” Stokes recalled. “Unfortunately, when I was a brat teenager, I took these tapes and recorded over them.”
Stokes says her mother always has a physical, tactile book in her purse and pulls it out while waiting in line at grocery stores.
“She used to leave Stephen King books around the house, and I would sneakily read them when I was too young for the content.”
Stokes grew up in Carrollton, Texas, once a small town with one dirt road and no restaurants that became a sprawling suburb outside of Dallas after several freeways with exits were built in the area. She holds a degree in marketing from the University of Texas at Austin and a master’s degree in commerce from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. While living for a time in Chicago, she spread her wings as an improv comedian.
“With improv, you’re part of a team of people, making up the story as you go. I started because I wanted to make friends after moving to Chicago. I remember thinking that it was ridiculous and then finding it so much fun My favorite was the long form because if you’re sitting in the audience it feels like there’s no structure.
“But really, when you study it, you ground yourself in a character and find out what makes that person tick. Your team members do the same. What you create is how these characters interact. The audience simply melts into the story made in the moment.
Turns out it was great practice for writing fiction.
“My forte is books grounded in the real world, but with magic, fantasy, the whole gamut,” Stokes says. “I like having a character that has a sense of humor, a bit of snark. When you’re writing something serious, the juxtaposition of tension (interrupted by) the release of something funny lets the pressure go down. escape. Then you can start climbing again.
“Remember Me Gone” builds suspense with Lucy Miller, the book’s 16-year-old protagonist whose family has run a business of erasing people’s memories for generations at Memory House in the small town of Tumble Tree, Texas. . People arrive from across the country seeking solace and escape from tragic and haunting memories and emotions.
As Lucy receives training from her father and prepares to join the operation, events unfold that expose the darker and sinister consequences of the practice and the town’s mayor uses blackmail and death threats to drag the father away. of Lucy and other townspeople on a trail of corruption and exploitation.
Stokes says that among other lessons learned about writing that she will never forget is that her job is not to put a character in a tree and then knock them down.
“My job is to put a character in a tree, throw rocks, set the tree on fire, give them something to put out the fire that isn’t working, and then have the character fix the problem. It makes a story more interesting.
Stokes began writing the novel in 2017 and sold it to Viking Press in early 2020. She wrote in a linear fashion from start to finish, working on a laptop in silence or with headphones and classical music. to eliminate all outside noise. Finding the voices of young characters, she says, is influenced by the thrillers she read as a teenager, especially books written by Christopher Pike and RL Stein, her two favorite authors at the time.
“The first draft sucked,” she says. “When it’s done, you think, ‘Who’s not going to like this?’ Then you see that the first draft needs a lot of revisions and you realize you’ve only just started.
Even so, Stokes treasures the opportunity to explore the main themes of the book – the parental instinct to protect, even overprotect, their children; how erased memories are a missed opportunity for learning and growth; and small towns as places that promote seclusion and the maintenance of secrecy.
Stokes’ next book bears the working title, “The Darkness Rises”. Slated for release in 2023, the main character is a girl who saves people from danger after seeing dark clouds above their heads. After the girl’s gift leads to an unexpected tragedy, she must wonder whether or not the people she saves will continue to endanger others, and whether an alternate narrative could result in unimaginable loss.
The discussion at A Great Good Place for Books will be webcast on Zoom at us02web.zoom.us/j/86577564825 and on Facebook Live at facebook.com/ggpbooks/live.
Lou Fancher is a freelance writer. Contact her at [email protected]