by Roger Zotti
The best advice Barbara A. Mahler ever received about writing is not to obsess over the first draft. “Be willing to write a lousy first draft,” she said. “You have to be willing to write badly in order to write well. Don’t judge your first draft. Just get the story down on paper first and don’t worry about the quality of the language. Just write. Then later, when you revise, you go back over and over what you’ve written.”
Barabra’s first novel, ‘The Hole in the Sky’” (Sea Turtle Publishing), a terrific feat of fantasy and reality, concerns 13-year-old Kaela Neuleaf, who is grieving over her mother’s death and struggling in school. The magic has gone out of her young life. As Barbara puts it, “She longs for it to return.” Her father, too, is having a tough time. Barbara writes: “[He] wore his sadness like a protective cloak…”
The story involves a butterfly pendant that belonged to Kaela’s mother and it has magic powers. The action begins when Kaela and her cousin Shawn, accompanied by a visitor named Netri, slide “into another world.” A place, Barbara, told me, “that can’t be found on any conventional map.” It’s called Muratenland.
In the chapter titled “Magic” we learn Netri is a wizzen – that is, someone who “is similar to a human, but our bodies are not built the same as yours….We hold onto each breath like the kindest caress…for it is through our breath that we can reach the heavens. My people live for many, many generations compared to humans.” He continues, telling Kaela that “You are the chosen one,” and explains that the King and Queen’s baby has been kidnapped, will be killed, and “You are the only one who can rescue the child!”
The book is written for children ages 8-13. “Right now, for example, I have a mother-daughter book group reading it,” Barbara explained. “The girls are nine years old and they love the story. I recently went to their book group and they talked to me about the book and how my characters came alive for them. So it’s been successful.” Please note that “The Hole in the Sky” can also be read and enjoyed by adults if they willingly suspend their powers of disbelief – which young readers do effortlessly. Believe me, if adults let their imaginations loose, they’ll be transported into Kaela’s story and all its wonders.
“Butterfly Breath” is one of the novel’s most significant chapters and explodes with revelations. Barbara writes, “A buried memory from years before rose to the surface of [Kaela’s] mind.” I’d be giving away too much if I went into detail about her “buried memory” – but it enables the young girl to regain “her self-awareness.”
Kathryn Navarette’s and Joan Swan’s striking illustrations appear at the end of each chapter. Kathryn may be reached at email@example.com; Joan, Swanillustration.com. Barbara’s website is www.theholeinthesky.net.