When Maisie is struck by lightning, her face is partially destroyed. She’s lucky enough to get a face transplant, but how do you live your life when you can’t even recognize yourself any more? She was a runner, a girlfriend, a good student … a normal girl. Now, after a single freak accident, all that has changed. As Maisie discovers how much her looks did and didn’t shape her relationship to the world, she has to redefine her own identity, and figure out what ‘lucky’ really means.
I know it sounds corny, but I am a research-happy-writer. I honestly love working on books that require a lot of investigation. Whether it’s looking into details about the place where a story takes place, familiarizing myself with a new genre, or – in the case of Faceless – learning about a rare medical procedure, I love when a story gives me a chance to learn something new. Sometimes, I begin my research without meaning to – I’ll read an article or a book just for fun that touches on a topic that sparks a story idea. And sometimes, it’s the other way around – with Faceless, for example, I spent years knowing that I wanted to write a book about a girl who was in a terrible accident, a girl who struggled to understand how much of who she was is tied to what she looked like. But I never knew how I wanted to tell her story until my American editor shared an article about face transplants with me. Suddenly, I had a story to tell and a new topic to research. I was lucky enough to read various articles in print and online about face transplants, and to have doctor-friends and friends of friends who were willing to answer my many, many questions about transplants.
But sometimes there isn’t really a straight line between my research and the story I’m telling. I’m a firm believer that almost everything I read and watch teaches me something about how to tell a story. As I wrote Faceless, I found myself thinking about stories I’d read and movies I’d seen that, on the surface, didn’t really have much in common with my book. But these little bits of unintentional research were every bit as helpful as all the articles I read and doctors I spoke to about face transplants. Here are just a few examples of my unintentional research for Faceless.
The Ice Queen by Alice Hoffman
This adult novel is the story of an ordinary New Jersey librarian to whom the extraordinary happens: one day, she’s struck by a bolt of lightning that seems to enter her house through the window. Afterwards, the world looks different – literally: she can no longer see the color red. I read this book for the first time years before I began working on Faceless, but as soon as I began writing, I knew I wanted to reread it. Though Hoffman’s ice queen doesn’t have much in common with Faceless’s main character, Maisie – other than the fact that each has a run-in with lightning – they’re both characters whose lives are changed by random events, and they have to come to terms with a new normal.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Unlike Maisie, August Pullman, the main character of Wonder, was born with a facial difference that prevented him from attending school for years. Wonder follows Auggie’s journey when he begins attending Beecher Prep in the fifth grade, as he encounters bullies and makes friends. Auggie’s story is very different from Maisie’s, but both characters look different from the other students they go to school with. Both Maisie and Auggie have to deal with being treated differently because of how they look on the outside when they don’t always feel different on the inside.
The Crash Reel
The Crash Reel is a powerful documentary about American snowboarder Kevin Pearce. Heading into the Vancouver Winter Olympics, it looked like nothing would stop Kevin from bringing home a medal (except possibly, his longtime rivalry with fellow-snowboarder Shaun White). But during practice one day, a horrific crash sends Kevin to the hospital, where he’s treated for a traumatic brain injury. All Kevin wants to do is get back on his board, back to the life he knew before – but his friends and family are worried that snowboarding again could kill him. In Faceless, Maisie was a runner before her accident – she ran track on her school’s team, she ran alongside her boyfriend, she ran for fun. Running was a huge part of who she was, part of how she defined herself – and after her procedure, she can’t run the way she used to. In fact, she might never be able to run again. Just as Maisie has to give up running, in The Crash Reel, Kevin Pearce has to come to terms with his new reality – a reality that might not include snowboarding.