Novel ideas Local author, illustrator collaborate on novel aimed at teens

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Posted: Sunday, March 17, 2013 12:00 am

Funny thing about fiction — that strange netherworld of invention and creation: of people, of minds, of actions.

It often haunts its creator’s dreams for years on end before a story begins spooling out in sometimes uncontrollable spasms of prose.

And if the novel has two first-time creators — as is the case for “BRAiN RIDE,” written by Angela Prusia of Bellevue and illustrated by Cyndi Mayer of Papillion — there’s twice the fun in crawling around not only inside characters’ heads, but another real person’s.

“I’ve been thinking about this and writing on and off for about 12 years,” said Prusia, who has published nonfiction books as a freelance writer and taught middle school English in Lexington, Neb. “These characters have been up there that long and it’s been such a neat process, tweaking the book with Cyndi and having her input and vision.”

Prusia’s novel itself perpetuates and compounds the brain-on-brain dynamics of fiction’s relation to its creators by complicating the very minds of its main characters.

“BRAiN RIDE” tells the story of two 14-year-old boys — Logan and Jason — who become kindred spirits following Logan’s sustaining a traumatic brain injury and Jason’s ostracism by his peers because he is considered “dumb.”

The two form a bond and help each other deal with their difficult circumstances, ultimately deciding to participate in the annual BRAN challenge — the Bike Ride Across Nebraska — from which the book draws its title.

Prusia said the book is loosely based on her experiences biking BRAN and on a student she knew in Kearney who sustained a brain injury. She was also inspired by the number of soldiers returning from combat duty in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq who experience some form of brain injury.

“I saw the soldiers coming back and dealing with their injuries and I wanted to think about this from the point of view of a 14-year-old dealing with what happens when, all of a sudden, you can’t count to 10,” Prusia said. “Automatically, everything becomes a challenge.”

For added material, Prusia said she was also able to mine the gray matter of her stepson, who was at about the same age as the two characters in the novel during the bulk of the writing.

“I can very easily get into the head of a 14-year-old boy,” Prusia said with a laugh. “I told my stepson: ‘I know what you’re thinking.’ That’s a little scary.”

But a necessary fixture in the novelist’s toolkit.

Despite its heavy subject matter, the book is not at all a dour read, its creators said.

“It’s lighthearted,” said Mayer, who has been running the Children’s Art Studio in Papillion since 1983 and has also taught art at St. Columbkille and St. Stephen the Martyr schools. “There are a lot of funny moments.”

Prusia said Mayer’s more than 50 illustrations were intergral in helping the book maintain its feel in dealing with serious issues but also able to bring smiles to readers’ faces.

“It deals with a difficult subject in a humorous way,” Prusia said. “I’ve never had a book illustrated and I think her work is what this book needed.”

In the process, Mayer and Prusia said their creativity was reciprocally fueled by the interactions they had with one another.

For Mayer’s part, coming to the story after it had been in and out of Prusia’s consciousness for more than a decade, she said she wondered how she could make her contribution fit with the writer’s vision.

“It was really interesting,” Mayer said. “She’s had these characters in her head this whole time and we approached it from two different perspectives. It was like climbing into her head a little bit and she’s got 16 different books going on at a time in there.”

Indeed, Prusia will have two more works of fiction released before the end of the year, both — like “BRAiN RIDE” — geared at the eight to 14 age range.

And the collaboration, writer and illustrator said, led to a stronger finished product.

“If anything, we improved each other’s thoughts,” Mayer said. “We call each other ‘soul sisters.’ We understood, through the whole process, that whatever ideas she had were for the best and we could change and vice versa.”

“BRAiN RIDE” is available in paperback and for the Amazon Kindle. Prusia has also compiled teaching materials for the book which can be found on her website:

“I hope it gets some attention,” Prusia said. “I think young readers will be intrigued with the action.”

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