Reeling after the disappearance of her brother and hurting from her parents’ divorce, Andrea is looking for an escape from her troubles. She finds it in a mysterious circus called “Reverie,” a show featuring tents that house actual dreams – step into this one to leap into flight; choose this tent for a pirate treasure hunt; experience a good scare at this tent of bad dreams.
But, when Andrea visits a particular tent that showcases the recurring nightmare that plagued her brother before his disappearance, she realizes that this circus may not be the escape she thought it was. It could be a trap – perhaps one in which her brother is still caught.
What happens next? You’ll have to read until the end.
“The book has a quick pace, something that will hopefully make it hard to put down,” author Lorelei Savaryn promised. “It’s an immersive magical world that has mystery and adventure and a bit of scariness in it, but hopefully the kind that’s fun.”
“The Circus of Stolen Dreams” is Savaryn’s debut novel, which was released on Sept. 1.
She still can’t quite believe it.
“I remember looking at my phone and seeing the email saying I had a book deal. I was in my backyard thinking, oh my gosh,” Savaryn recalled. “I don’t know that I fully understand the scope of it, but I know that my dream has come true.”
UWM aided a lifelong dream
Savaryn has always wanted to be a writer. When it came time to finish up her college degree, she chose to major in English with a concentration in creative writing at UWM.
Unfortunately, said Savaryn, she was probably one of the worst writers in Professor Valerie Laken’s writing workshop classes.
“Valerie Laken could have written me off as a lost cause pretty quickly. I had no idea what I was doing. But she didn’t; she gave me thoughtful critique and feedback and took me seriously, even though I was clearly a beginner,” Savaryn said. “Between the first and second semester, I was able to see my growth in the stories I was writing. That helped me realize that I could learn to be a good writer.”
After graduating in 2009 and spending a year in the private sector, Savaryn was accepted to the Urban Education Fellows Program, which allowed her to teach at an underserved school in Milwaukee while she simultaneously worked toward her Master’s in education. At home, she also worked to instill a love of reading in her own children. In fact, the idea for “The Circus of Stolen Dreams” grew out of a fateful conversation with her then 6-year-old daughter.
“My daughter and I were talking once about, what if a girl had a dream and she woke up from the dream and it followed her home? I thought, that’s a really interesting concept.”
The writing process
Of course, having children and a full-time job added some challenges to Savaryn’s writing career. She worked on her manuscripts in the evenings or hired a babysitter so she could steal a few hours to write in a coffeeshop.
“I got good at writing in short snippets. I see these pictures of famous authors with their writing desks and their writing rooms, and that’s not my reality,” she laughed. “My reality is, sometimes I’m cooking pasta and I’m typing a little bit because the kids are playing nicely outside for a few minutes.”
Then came the harder work: After the manuscript was done, Savaryn had to pitch it to literary agents who might represent her to the big publishing houses.
“Querying is terrible,” she said bluntly. “Between the two manuscripts I pitched, I amassed about 100 rejections from agents. That’s a lot of times to have your heart drop or to wonder if you’re ever going to get that ‘yes.’”
But eventually, the “yes” came. After blitz-querying about 60 agents in five weeks, a few made Savaryn an offer on “The Circus of Stolen Dreams.” She signed with one, who began the process of pitching it to editors and publishers – including the publisher Philomel, which ultimately offered Savaryn her book deal.
The process taught Savaryn how to be flexible. While she originally thought she wanted to write for an adult or young adult audience, she saw agents requesting middle-grade fiction. So, she pivoted – and found her calling.
The magic of middle-grade fiction
Middle-grade fiction is targeted towards a younger audience than a traditional young adult novel – think 10-year-olds instead of 16 and 17. It’s an age that Savaryn’s oldest daughter is fast approaching, and her kids have provided her with plenty of inspiration.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could have books for them at that stage in their life, that they could read that I wrote, partly with them in mind?” she asked.
And, she added, middle-grade fiction is just plain fun to read and write. Savaryn fondly remembers how authors like Tamora Pierce sparked her own love of reading, and she wants to inspire other children in the same way. Middle-grade fiction helps kids (and even adults) work through hard themes like grief, loss, struggle, and fear.
“But there’s always this pulse of hope in the books,” Savaryn said. “Even as adult living in the world we live in today, I feel like I need that pulse of hope in my life. If I can contribute to a canon of stories that deals with hard things but hope wins in the end, I feel that’s a great use of my time as a writer.”
“The Circus of Stolen Dreams” is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, and The Book Stall.
By Sarah Vickery, College of Letters & Science