The Next Big Thing: The Red Oak

I was tagged by Sharon Overend in the blog chain The Next Big Thing at the beginning of January. I had been hoping to get further into my latest revision before writing this as there are a few major changes I am playing around with, but the revisions are taking longer than I hoped and the people I am tagging are waiting, so here you have the current state of The Red Oak.

What is your working title of your book?     

The Red Oak

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 

An under-appreciated, suburban teen must defy her mother and claim her magical birthright to battle the monster that escapes from the ancient prison her grandmother has been guarding.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was working with a community of parents of highly gifted kids who were struggling to have their kids’ strengths adequately challenged by schools. Many behavioural issues that arise with gifted kids develop because they are under-challenged. The greater the intellectual capabilities of the kids, the more difficult it is for schools to accommodate them without radical changes to the curriculum. When these kids are properly identified and supported, their lives can be transformed from hellish to excellent.

In the midst of my conversations with these parents, I found myself asking what would happen if a character had an unappreciated magical power that she was challenged to embrace and apply to an appropriate task. I wanted to write a story that set out a parallel world in which these extremely bright kids could recognize their own struggles to figure out how they fit into the world.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The specific story ideas for this book come from three sources in addition to the kids who inspired my protagonist.

The Ondeygi was inspired by this picture of an unrecognizable animal found by the side of an Ontario lake in 2010.


The were-squirrel who introduces the protagonist to her power was inspired by the white squirrels of Exeter, Ontario.


The red oak of the title, which forms the heart of the Ondeygi’s prison, is based on the copper beech tree in my grandmother’s garden.

What genre does your book fall under? 

YA Fantasy: specifically, contemporary fantasy or mythic fiction for a YA audience.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I am not against self-publishing, but I will be shopping the manuscript round to traditional publishers before I go that route.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? 

I wrote the first draft in 30 days as part of NaNoWriMo 2010.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

There are similarities to Holly Black’s work, to The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, and also to the mythic fiction written by Charles de Lint. The mix of dark, mythic and suburban ya without a crossover romance is not one I have found much to compare directly to what I am doing. I am always on the lookout for similar books, so tell me in the comments if you know of any that sound close.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Despite the fact that in many ways, The Red Oak is a traditional hero’s journey, I have tried to twist some of the conventions of modern mythic fiction. The story is set in a fictional suburbia based on a mix of places I have lived over the years, with modern developments not entirely overrunning older small towns – a strange place to find monsters and were-creatures. A were-squirrel and a were-gopher are important characters and shape-shifting coyotes, wolves, and coy-wolves make appearances.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

The protagonist, Cheryl Wynona Lake: Emma Watson about 10 years ago would have been perfect. I don’t know a current young actress playing characters with the right gravitas, awkwardness, and smarts at the moment, but there are always good young actresses out there.


Her mother: Kelly MacDonald



Her grandmother: Judi Dench


Squiros, the were-squirrel: Halle Berry


In the spirit of the blog chain, I am now tagging Christine Fonseca, and Jen Merrill.

Christine writes non-fiction about teens, parenting, and giftedness and YA fiction focused on the intense emotional experiences of late adolescence.

Jen writes nonfiction focused on twice-exceptional kids.

Both of them were part of the conversations that inspired me to write The Red Oak, so it is only fitting that I spread the word about the work they are doing. Go visit them. They are both awesome.


8 thoughts on “The Next Big Thing: The Red Oak

  1. Patrick Ross says:

    Kate, this sounds absolutely great. And how amazing you wrote the first draft in 30 days. I’ve never done NaNoWriMo but it seems to help a lot of people. Best of luck with this; I know it’s YA Fiction–not meant for a middle-aged guy–but I read that genre when the story is good, and this sounds more than good.

  2. Thanks, Patrick.

    NaNo was exactly what I needed when I started writing seriously again. I don’t think I would have ever completed a first draft without that motivation.

    I’m chuffed that you like the sound of the story.

  3. Dale Long says:

    Ever since James’ pitch class, I’ve been looking forward to reading this.

    The idea of the creature being imprisoned by a tree is an old Native folklore but also has roots in the Celtic folktales about the Banshees. It has always intrigued me.

    Can’t wait!

    • Dale,

      Ever since James’ class, you have been on the list of people I want feedback from when this revision is done, and I have committed to having it done by the end of March, so I’ll be asking you to have a look at it then. 😉

      The idea of a tree as a prison has been bouncing around in my head since I was a kid; I always come back to Ariel in The Tempest and the story of Merlin and Nimue as my primary sources of that image. And I must have been 10 or 11 when I first read those stories.


  4. That looks terrific! Please let me know when it’s published… I’d also be happy to review it!

  5. […] by a friend of mine, I have a new writing circle that is supporting me in the current revision of The Red Oak; and I am putting together some new online classes on overcoming writer’s block and public […]

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