Best Books for Kids and Teens 2009, The Canadian Children’s Book Centre
Imagine bombing down hills at up to sixty miles per hour on what looks like a short snowboard with four giant spring-loaded wheels. Fifteen-year-old best friends Jake and Peter have decided that mountain boarding is the best free-ride sport around. So they’re totally stoked to join a junior-guide training trip on three of the Northwest’s most picturesque mountains. The only trouble is, both boys are hiding secrets from one another, and all three mountains are sleeping volcanoes that could wake up any time. Don’t miss the explosive finish to Pam Withers’ Take It To The Xtreme series.
Click here to learn about the story behind the book!
Three weeks before Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980, friends and I foolishly ignored authorities and their road barriers in order to whitewater kayak the volcano’s Toutle River. The actual day of the eruption, we were caught in heavy ashfall 150 miles northeast, making it a struggle to see our way through final rapids on the Wenatchee River. I still recall pulling to shore, turning my boat over and soberly writing my name on it in the ash that fell as everyone thronged around car radios, shocked at the news. Mt. St. Helens, it turned out, had erupted much sooner and more violently than anyone had predicted. Had my Toutle and Wenatchee weekends been swapped around, it’s unlikely I’d be alive today.
Clearly, it was my Mt. St. Helens experience that inspired Mountainboard Maniacs. But there were two things I needed to do before I could even begin outlining this novel:
- Ask a volcano scientist how fast, on average, a mudflow would come down an erupting volcano (answer: 20 miles per hour)
2. Ask a mountainboarder how fast mountainboarders can board without killing themselves (answer: 60 miles per hour)
With those two pieces of information, I knew my characters could outboard the killer flow, and my plotting took off from there. Naturally, I read a lot about the 1980 eruption before proceeding.
Because I happened to visit Australia about this time, I sought out some Australian mountainboarders there, and they were very helpful in answering my questions as I shaped the novel. (How else could I have come up with lines like “I noticed you were putting too much pop in your pump, Peter,” or know the names of mountainboarding tricks like Chicken Salad Air?)
One of the questions I asked my consultants, Peter ends up asking Australian guide Jarrad on p. 37: “Tell us some crazy things you’ve done on your board.”
And Jarrad’s answer two pages later, of course, came from my real-life mountainboard helpers: “So we headed [into] this pipe on our boards. Figured it’d be an easy ride, that we’d get to work up some speed, maybe hit 30 miles per hour. Didn’t reckon on some idiot who didn’t know we were there opening the sluice gate and letting water out when we were about halfway down and still underground. We heard this rumbling behind us…”
Obviously, that serves as a foreshadow of the mudflow that almost kills them on Mt. St. Helen’s.
Although this book didn’t do particularly well in terms of sales (the sport is too strange or elite, I suppose), it remains one of my favorite. I worked very hard to make the plot, dialogue and character arcs work together as a grand finale to my ten-book series.
One element I inserted was a theme about black and white: white chalk against a blackboard, the white moon against the black sky, the white snow on the volcano turning black when it erupted, the dark and light side of Melissa’s face and the lunar eclipse. It was meant to reflect the dark and light side of personalities (like Jarrad’s) and nature’s inevitable renewal of Mt. St. Helens after its eruptions (and Melissa’s renewal after her trauma).
No one seemed to notice, not even my editor, so there you go! J But I dare readers to go through the novel now, looking for the black and white analagies.
More trivia regarding the making of Mountainboard Maniacs:
- I loved learning Australian expressions from a booklet for tourists that I picked up Down Under, and assigning them to Jarrad. (My favorite: “You’re moving like slugs in a drought.”)
- My Australian mountainboard consultants gave me a video of mountainboard action, and one of its shots inspired the scene in Chapter Two where they leap into a river off a kickboard.
- The triage exam with which the story opens is much like one I had to undergo to certify in advanced first aid.
- Pretty much all the anecdotes that Peter trots out about the three volcanoes in the story, from the flash-fried elks to the JB Cooper story, are true anecdotes I picked up in my research.
- Jake and I have the same birthday: July 31.
Many people have asked me how I felt about closing up the series, and turning to writing stand-alone adventure novels. My reply is a joking “ball and chain removed.”
Writing a series is a fantastic opportunity to polish one’s writing skills under expert tutelage, establish one’s name in the market and plumb the depth and width of the series’ characters. But ten was stretching it, and by the end of the series, I was craving the opportunity to write without the parameters required for the Jake and Peter series.
So, like any mother who must see her children leave the nest, I was okay with saying goodbye to Jake and Peter. They continue to live on thanks to readers out there, and I have thoroughly enjoyed re-reading the series recently in order to write these behind-the-scenes blogs. May they continue to entertain and inspire kids to read for many years!