How a Novella is Born

This fun novella started as a completely different story called How the Bees Got TV, which was about, well, a hive of bees that became addicted to television and the ensuing media circus. As I was working on the rough draft, the main character’s daughter started taking over the narrative. I realized I had to abandon Bees and follow the daughter’s story, which ended up becoming The Junior Arsonist’s Club.

The entirety of the novella took over two years to write, though much of that was thoughtful hibernation. Zhanna eventually became a sort of antagonist and her mother, Marilyn became the main character. I still feel a pang of loving sympathy for her and everything I put her through. I hope you enjoy.

Here’s an excerpt from The Junior Arsonist’s Club:


Zhanna wanted to burn the couch.

I watched the TV. She watched the couch. It was like that every night.

She sat in one of the armchairs with her knees drawn up to her chest while the celebrities tangoed beside her (Dance Idol: All-Stars was on). Her eyes were fixed on the couch, right where I sat– but she stared straight through me. I might as well have been invisible. Anyone else would think it was just some blank adolescent stare, her mind dazed by the tsunami of hormones inside her head. Harmless enough. But I could see the wheels spinning in between those pigtails. I could see flashes in the murk of her dark brown eyes. The TV light flickered there, too, and it seemed like the couch might already be burning, the reflection of the fire twitching across her pupils. She was imagining the couch boiling in flame. She imagined the fire’s crackling static drowning out the TV, and the pulses of heat warming her face. She saw the cushions buckle and turn black and little charred specks go weightless. She wrinkled her nose, maybe smelling the acrid odor of stain-resistant microfibers melting into blobs of synthetic lava. I saw it all on her face. She wasn’t conscious of it, but her mouth widened in the beginnings of a junior arsonist’s smile. I wondered, did she think that staring at a little detail hard enough– a single stitch, or a crinkle in the piping– would turn that pinpoint bright orange with the heat of her intent and pop into spontaneous flame? It made me nervous, but I sat there anyway and pretended I was intensely interested in the final round of the competition.

The Junior Arsonist’s Club will be published soon. Subscribe to the newsletter if you’d like to get an email when it’s released.