Photo credit Rena O. Productions

Sponsored Content | September 1, 2023

Dear Reader,

I’ve always been drawn to spooky stories. Scary books allowed me to deal with some of the darker realities of life, some of the negative feelings and pain . . . but in a really cool way. It created a distance, as I experienced all the feelings and frights of the protagonist from the safety of my own bedroom. It was also an escape between pages, whether it be just to experience a new point of view or to enter a wooded spirit realm full of monsters.

But for someone so drawn to the creepy and crawly, I’ve always been a big scaredy-cat.

I would read books about these heroic kids that march right into danger, that have eagerly awaited adventure and conflict, that were ready to investigate every bump in the night, and I knew one thing for certain: I was nothing like them. I marched to the call of caution and anxiety, eagerly awaited the comfort of my stuffed animals, and would rather pull up the covers because if the bumps in the night couldn’t see me, I’d probably be okay.

The opening of The Otherwoods came to me thinking of my younger self. A story of a kid who could see monsters and ghosts, but was terrified of them and would simply choose to ignore them . . . until they couldn’t. It’s a book that shows how us scaredy-cats can be brave when we need to be and how even the hero would sometimes feel like hiding under the covers too.

In the way I processed some of my feelings and understanding of the world through spooky books, I was able to learn about my identity through fiction. Seeing protagonists of stories that were queer, that were nonbinary, not only allowed me to better understand myself, but to realize there were other people just like me. Not just any people, but protagonists. It saved my life in my darkest times, and I knew I wanted to write characters who would allow others to feel the same way.

River is nonbinary, often scared, unsure of themselves, and a brilliant hero. Through them, I hope kids (and even some adults like me) can see a piece of themselves and realize that these things that make us different are the very same things that make us magic.

Thank you for entering The Otherwoods. It’s a bit spooky of a place, but I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I did.

Justine Pucella Winans

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