Turning an Adult Experience Into a Story That Appeals to Middle-Grade Readers

Sixteen years ago, cartoonist, author, and illustrator Rob Harrell was diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer. It was a very scary and trying experience for him, and throughout his treatment he kept thinking there was a story he wanted to tell around the experience. He first thought about writing a memoir or graphic novel on the topic, or even using his Big Top comic strip characters to tell the story. Years later, a family friend's child was diagnosed with cancer and Harrell learned about her difficult experiences at school including losing friends, bullying, and a lack of empathy from classmates. He realized there was an opportunity to blend his experiences with hers and write a fiction story targeting middle-grade readers. What resulted is his critically acclaimed novel, Wink, which is an Amazon "Teacher's Pick".

One of the biggest challenges Harrell encountered when writing the story was finding the right tone. He is known for his humor in his comic strips and graphic novels, but he didn't want readers to think he was being flippant. Harrell credits his agent and editor with helping him find the right balance. The guiding light was the humor that was coming from the main character, Ross, who is diagnosed with a rare eye cancer.

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