Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Young Adult
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Seventh-grader Mitchell Brant and three of his classmates inexplicably wake up at the back edge of a softball field to the sounds of a game, the cheering of the crowd. None of them remembers coming here. And as they soon learn, “here” is like no place they’ve ever seen. Cars resemble antiques from the 1950s. There are no cell phones, no PCs. Even the spelling of words is slightly off.
A compulsive liar, constantly telling fantastic stories to garner attention and approval, Mitchell can only wish this were just one more of his tall tales. But it isn’t. It’s all too real. Together, as they confront unexpected and life-threatening dangers, Mitchell and his friends must overcome their bickering and insecurities to learn what happened, where they are, and how to get back home.
The answers can be found only in the mysterious little girl with the blue, hypnotic eyes. The one they had each dreamed of three nights in a row before arriving here. She is their only hope. And, as they eventually discover, they are her only hope.
And time is running out.
Interview with Author Michael Fedison
Can you talk a little about what the book is about?
The Eye-Dancers, at its core, is about growing up. It’s about the pressures, confusions, friendships, trials, and discoveries of adolescence. Each of the main characters in the book (Mitchell Brant, Joe Marma, Ryan Swinton, and Marc Kuslanski) struggles with his own particular insecurity and emotional hang-up. And each must confront it, face it down, and overcome if he wants to survive the journey the novel takes him on.
On another level, The Eye-Dancers is a story about time and space, dreams and parallel worlds, and connections. As the characters come to learn, even those people and events that seem so far away, a universe away, are actually much closer to us than we ever dared to believe.
Where did you get the idea for the book?
Way back in the late 1980s, when I was a teenager, I had the same dream Mitchell Brant, one of the protagonists in The Eye-Dancers, has in the novel’s opening scene. Like Mitchell, I dreamed of a little girl, perhaps seven years old, with hypnotic blue eyes that swirled and swirled as I looked into them. She appeared ghost-like, rather than flesh-and-blood, and in my dream, she wanted me to come with her—wherever that might lead. I woke up scared that night, my bedsheets wet with perspiration.
Immediately I wanted to write about this mysterious “ghost girl.” But try as I might, nothing seemed “right.” I had no story in which to place her. Reluctantly, I filed her away in a “story vault,” wondering if I’d ever write about her.
Fast-forward almost twenty years, and, inexplicably, I had the same exact dream, of the same exact “ghost girl”! This time, though, when I woke up, the basic kernel for The Eye-Dancers was in place. I was excited. Finally, after all this time, the “ghost girl” would find her way into a story.
Couple that with a desire to write about four characters inspired by childhood friends I knew growing up, and The Eye-Dancers was born.
What message do you want readers to get from reading the book?
That we all have intrinsic value, whether the “in” crowd accepts us or not. We all belong, we all have a purpose and a way in life. We just need to find it. Also—we are all connected. We are all one. And ideas that seem new or different or “outlandish” may, in actuality, be very true. Just because something has never been done doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
How long did it take to write the book?
The first draft took two and a half years. And then revising, editing, tweaking, rewriting took another year. All in all, then, it took nearly four years to complete.
Who is your favorite character, or what character was the most fun to write?
Well, probably my favorite character is Mitchell Brant. He is a dreamer. He struggles to believe in himself for who he is, often making up tall tales about himself to impress others. But beneath it all, he’s a good person, someone with an open mind, a sensitive heart, and a spirit for adventure.
Probably the character most fun to write for was Marc Kuslanski—the science wiz, the know-it-all. I have always had a soft spot for science nerds. And Marc was no exception. He was a blast to write for.
Can you talk about how you wrote it? Did you do any outlining? Did it take you in any unexpected directions?
I had a general outline, with a basic plan on where the story would go and how it would end. I did not (nor do I ever) create a detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline. I find those too constricting. So often, during the creative process, characters say and do things you never expected beforehand. So, for me, having a basic overview of where I want to go, and yet, at the same time, being flexible and allowing the creative process to go where it will, is the approach I take.
If you could go back and change anything in the novel, what would it be?
Honestly, not a thing. The Eye-Dancers isn’t perfect (no novel is), but it does represent nearly four years of hard work, and the best I could do. I have no regrets.
How did you come up with the cover?
I am lucky to be a lifelong friend of a graphic designer. When the time came, I gave him an idea what I wanted the cover to look like, and then he went to work. He is great at what he does, and I am very fortunate to know him!
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I have always known, really—well, ever since the second grade, anyway. One day, the teacher gave us a writing assignment. Very open-ended. We could write about pretty much anything, as long as it was at least a full page in length. I wrote a four-page short story called “The Magic Key.” From that day on, I knew I wanted to be a writer, and I’ve never looked back.
What are your favorite books and authors?
It’s always hard to choose just a select few—I am a lifelong book lover and reader, of many genres. But if I had to choose three favorite authors, they would have to be Ray Bradbury, Truman Capote, and Stephen King. Bradbury’s enthusiasm, imagination, and boundless energy as a storyteller have always inspired me. Capote is a master wordsmith, a craftsman of the highest order. And King is underrated in the sense that most think of him as the “master of horror.” But he is much more than that. He creates palpable tension in his stories, his imagination is one of the best, and he writes very vivid and real characters.
If I had to choose one all-time favorite book it would probably be To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. A masterpiece in every sense of the word.
What are you working on next?
I am currently working on a sequel to The Eye-Dancers. It’s very early in the process—no title yet! But it has been a lot of fun delving back into that world again and writing for those characters again. I look forward to where the journey will take me.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Above all, write what you want to write. If someone tells you, “Don’t write about that. That’s yesterday’s news,” ignore them. You have to write for yourself, and love what you write. You have to care. Don’t worry about the market or the critics. Just write the stories that are yelling and punching and kicking to be let out. This is where great writing has to start, and it’s the only way you can ever cultivate your own unique voice. Say what you have to say. Write the things that mean the most to you. Share a little piece of your heart every time you sit down to write.
Peering out his bedroom window, his eyes flattened into squinting slits, Mitchell Brant saw her.
“No,” he said. “It can’t be her. It can’t be.”
But it was. She had come again.
He looked away, at the night-shadows on the floor, at the sheets jumbled and strewn on his bed. Maybe she wasn’t really out there. Maybe it was just an illusion, some odd distortion of the light.
He looked out the window.
She was still there.
He felt the fine hairs at the nape of his neck stand up. Gooseflesh, cold against the stifling humidity filtering in through the open window, speckled his forearms.
The girl was standing under the streetlamp, looking straight in at him—the same way she had last night and the night before. She was just a child, probably no more than seven years old—his sister’s age. What was she doing out in the street, alone, well past midnight? Was she a runaway? And why had she come three nights in a row?
He tried to look away again, but he couldn’t. It was as though the girl had cast a spell over him. “What’s with you?” he said to himself. “Just go back to sleep.” Instead, he stood up. She had raised her right arm above her head, waving at him frantically.
“Help me.” The voice filtered in through the window. “Why don’t you . . .?” The girl’s voice. And yet, there was something different about it, something off. It sounded hollow, as if it had originated from a dark place, a secret place, cold like the grave.
The grave. Maybe that was the answer. Maybe that’s where she had come from.
“No.” Her voice rose, more insistent now. “Don’t be so silly.”
He reached for the window. He wasn’t going to let her fool him. He’d just finished the sixth grade last week, and he wanted the chance to live long enough to begin seventh grade in the fall. Communicating with ghosts was great when kept within the safe confines of horror stories or movies. But not here. Not on his quiet small-town street. Not in real life.
He grabbed the window sash, pushed down. Instantly, he was transported to his front lawn! How had that happened? The girl, still standing in the light, gestured even more vigorously now that Mitchell was outside with her. He knew she had worked some sort of magician’s trick on him.
“Who are you?” He looked down at his feet and saw they were moving—in the direction of the street, the light, the girl. He tried to stop them, but it was as if they had a will of their own.
As he neared her, he was able to get a better look at the girl. She had the bluest, deepest eyes he had ever seen. They were mesmerizing.
She also had an airy quality to her. The light from the streetlamp filtered through her, as though she were only partly there, only a small portion of her flesh and blood.
I was right, he thought. She is a ghost.
“Stop it!” she said. “Stop calling me that.”
He reached the sidewalk, nearly face-to-face with her. He closed his eyes, but they stung, so he opened them and looked up, at the streetlamp. A small gathering of luna moths aimlessly fluttered about, landing on the bulb, then jumping off, occasionally flying into each other, as if drunk from the light and the oppressive humidity.
“Help me!” The girl’s voice, so near yet so ethereal, caused Mitchell to lose his balance. He fell, landed on the pavement, scraping his knee. A trickle of blood snaked down his shin. “Come with me,” the girl said, and offered a hand. But he knew better. Once she grabbed him, she would never let him go. She would lead him through the darkened streets, past the statue of the white, marble lion that marked the center of town, and on to the Bedford Cemetery, where she’d force him to serve her for all eternity in the form of some tortured, wandering spirit.
The girl’s hand brushed against his, a faint whisper against his skin, and then the sensation was gone.
“Come with me,” she said again. “Please.” He told himself not to look into her eyes, but he did. He couldn’t resist. It was like looking into two blue pools of sky-water. Somehow, he was sure that if he looked into those eyes long enough, hard enough, he would see where the universe ended, and began.
He stood up, wanting desperately to turn around and flee back into the house. But he wasn’t able to. Her eyes wouldn’t let him. The night air, muggy, close, felt like a dull weight intent on forcing him back down to his knees.
The girl said, “Yes, that’s the way. Keep looking into my eyes! That’s the way I can take you with me.”
He tried to look away, but couldn’t. He just continued to stare at her blue, blue eyes. He stared until her eyes seemed to expand, the shape of them lengthening, widening. He stared until the blue in her irises dilated and spun, slowly at first, but gradually picking up speed, spinning round and round, faster, faster.
He screamed then—the loudest, longest scream of his life. He would wake up his parents, his sister, the neighbors. Maybe they could reach him in time to save him. Maybe they could—
Suddenly, he was back in his bed, thrashing and kicking and yelling, “Let me go, let me go!” It took a moment for him to gather his wits.
It had been a dream, a nightmare. That was all.
He sat up. Was that all? What would he see if he dared to look out his window? Would the ghost girl still be there? Not wanting to, but needing to know the truth, Mitchell glanced outside.
No one. Only the mosquitoes and the spiders and the night birds, creatures that he couldn’t see but knew were out there. But at least they were a part of the natural world. They belonged. The ghost girl didn’t.
He hopped out of bed, too wired to lie still. But as soon as his feet touched the floor, he grimaced. There was a stinging pain in his left knee. Groping his way through the dark room, he reached for the lamp atop his dresser and flicked it on.
His knee was bleeding. A small strip of skin had been scraped off, and the blood, though drying, was still trickling down his shin. How could he have scraped his knee in bed?
Then he remembered. He had done it in his dream. He’d fallen in the street when the ghost girl had reached for him. But if it had only been a dream, why was his knee bleeding now?
He limped to the bathroom, where he washed the wound and then bandaged it. He reminded himself not to wear shorts in the morning. On top of everything else, he didn’t need Mom asking questions.
He had no answers, anyway. He had no idea what happened. Had he dreamed of the girl in the street—tonight, and last night, and the night before that? Or had she really been there? He tried to think it through. It had seemed like a dream. But since when did people scrape their knees in a dream? Had he been sleepwalking? He’d never known himself to sleepwalk, but how could he know, if he was sleeping while he did it?
“C’mon,” he said, staring at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. It was a tired-looking reflection, with the last hints of fright still manifest in the eyes. “Don’t be stupid. It was just a nightmare, that’s all.”
But as he walked into the kitchen, turned on the tap, and slurped the water as it streamed out, he knew that the truth was very likely more complex, and more troubling.
He turned off the faucet, wondering why water always tasted so much better straight out of the tap. He tried to think about that, ponder it, anything to get his mind off the ghost girl. But it didn’t work. How could he forget her?
“Cut it out, Mitchell,” he said. “Just quit it.”
He needed to get back to sleep. When he was little, if he’d had a bad day, his mom used to tell him that everything looked better, and happier, in the morning. He hoped she was right.
But when he returned to his room, sleep still seemed a long way off. His bed, with the disheveled sheets and sweat-drenched pillows, didn’t look very restful. He needed something to calm him. He opened the lower drawer of his dresser. Piles of old comic books, bagged in protective Mylar sleeves, greeted him like devoted friends. He picked up the top comic, a worn copy of Fantastic Four no. 99, and sniffed it through the sleeve. He loved the smell of old comic books. It was musty, but in a special way, like the smell of his grandfather’s attic littered with knickknacks and family mementoes. A treasure-house smell. He had asked his sister to sniff some of his comics once, but she thought they reeked. Well, what did she know? She was just a little kid.
He took the comic out of its sleeve and read it, even though he knew the issue by heart. But it did the trick. He got lost in the story, savoring the artwork, the dialogue, the sheer fantasy of the plot. When he put the comic book away thirty minutes later, he felt ready for bed.
He climbed in, wondering if he should glance out the window again, to see if the girl was out there.
“She isn’t,” he said, but he didn’t look.
He lay there, his mind racing, and it seemed to him that he wouldn’t get to sleep. He did, eventually, but it was a restless sleep, as he thrashed throughout the night. When he woke up, a few short hours later, he was quite sure he had dreamed again, though about what he couldn’t remember.