It's funny how writers don't always see themselves in their books. Recently, I was scrolling through a lineup of authors for an event where the site featured their book covers beside them. When I tell you that every single one of those authors resembled their cover in some way, I am not exaggerating! Whether in how they presented themselves, the color themes, the character depictions, etc.— it was like a mirror reflection of them.
But personally, when I wrote Dazzling Travis, I was not sharing my own story. Or so I thought.
Dazzling Travis was written after a conversation I had with one of my former drama students, who was being teased at school because he was a boy who enjoyed doing theatre and dance. After our conversation, the text for Dazzling Travis poured out of me in a heated frenzy. That is how it so often happens when I write—when inspiration is wanted, I fall short, but when an unjust situation arises, my brain becomes hyper focused.
Roughly a year later, the story of a boy who does not hide his confidence and originality was off to the printers.
This story was dedicated to my former drama student.
This story was dedicated to all the boys who were told they couldn't do something because it was too "girly."
This story was dedicated to all the girls labeled as a tomboy for being too "boyish."
This story was for someone else who wasn't me.
It was a book I felt the world needed and a message I wanted to spread. Yet, it took that lovely thing called the pandemic to really put things into perspective for me. I found myself questioning my place, my purpose, and my career. Then as I read over my past books, I suddenly saw how much of myself was in Travis. I needed this story, just as much as the people I’d written it for did.
Like Travis, I have many different interests, and like Travis, I very often get ridiculed for enjoying things that a mom, 30-something-year-old, or woman shouldn't. Yet, unlike Travis, I was not standing my ground. Somewhere along the way, I had lost my voice, and that inward knowing that simply being me was enough.
It took a storybook character of my own making to remind me of the strength inside. Along with many corny moments of questioning, 'what would Travis do?' to ultimately find my way back to me.
Nowadays, when I talk to students about Dazzling Travis, and they share their anecdotes of what it meant to them, I have my own to share right back.
See, at first, we may not always see ourselves in the characters we read (or *cough* write), but I encourage readers to keep an open mind. There will always be traits with which we can empathize, and finding empathy within ourselves creates a healthier world.
While I'm not entirely positive that books can fix all the world's problems, they can undoubtedly be the stepping stones to crucial conversations, emotional releases, and a source of simple joy.
As Travis taught me, words are powerful. Both the words that are spoken to us and the ones we say to ourselves.
So, how will you use yours to make a positive change?
Hannah Carmona lives in her imagination and on the occasion that she manages to write those thoughts down, she creates something that the world knows as bestselling picture books. She is a proud Latinx (who doesn’t speak a word of Spanish), Audiobook Narrator, Herbalist, and mom of two fierce girls and a fur baby.
Her picture books include: Anita and the Dragons, Dazzling Travis, and Beautiful, Wonderful, Strong Little Me.
Additionally she is the author of the Maria and Mato chapter book series as well as the playwright of Hansel and Gretel: Candy Warriors and an adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
She started out as a stage actor, with a BA in Theatre from Western Kentucky University and went on to direct children’s theatre for many years after.