A Long Way from Home: An Interview with Author Laura Schaefer

There’s a lot to worry about in the current day, and twelve-year-old Abby holds it all in her head. In A Long Way from Home, Abby meets two boys from the future who need her help, so she decides to escape the depressing present by traveling to their time with them. But that’s not as simple as it seems.

Today author Laura Schaefer joins us to reveal her inspiration and how she explored her own style while writing the book. Read on to download the free educator resources!

What was your inspiration for the book?

This story started with a question: What if the future could be better than the past? Instead of heading toward some kind of dystopia like the ones popularized in many YA books, what if the dystopia is actually happening right now and we’re moving to a future that’s full of abundance and new possibilities?

This idea was born out of the angst I felt in 2016 and 2017 due to the 24-hour news cycle, my own homesickness after moving, shocking political upsets, and the constant sense so many of us had (and continue to have) that big, foundational problems with the health of our environment and the needs of all people in it are not being addressed. When I spoke about a story in which the future was better (as in, a lot better), both my husband and best friend talked about how this notion is the basic premise of the Star Trek universe.

Though I’ve seen and enjoyed the movies, I’ve never really watched the show. But I knew they were right about Trek universe and I was intrigued. I did some research, started watching episodes from the original series, and was immediately captivated by a specific Season One episode written by renowned science fiction author Harlan Ellison, The City on the Edge of Forever.

The episode is on many people’s “best of” lists for good reason. Its fascinating premise sees Kirk and Spock travel back through time to New York City in the year 1930—during the very beginning of the Great Depression—to rescue Dr. McCoy. There, they meet a young woman named Edith Keeler played by Joan Collins. Though she lives and works in a troubled world, Edith still has a great deal of faith in the future, which is charming to Kirk (who knows her beliefs and hopes will prove correct).

After watching the show, I wondered, “What would this story look like if it were told not from the perspective of the advanced spacefarers of the future, but through the eyes of someone like Edith, living in a troubled time?”

Thus, the basic set up for A Long Way from Home began percolating.

The only thing I knew for sure was that my Edith wouldn’t be quite so positive and proactive in the face of difficult circumstances. She would have her own unique story and it would be one filled with the anxieties of this particular time in our culture. It’s hard to believe I wrote the entire first (and second and third and fourth) drafts of the book well before the pandemic, which has exponentially heightened the fears and struggles we’ve all been grappling with in our present era.

Over time, I added new layers to the manuscript, details that included my own interest in today’s innovative space exploration efforts and scientific breakthroughs, as well as my personal struggles adjusting to a new home in Florida—not to mention my very strong instinct to withdraw from the world when it all gets to be too much, like Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. I wanted to write a story about all of that, and make it entertaining.

What did you learn while writing this book?

I read a lot about the challenges of space exploration and continue to be absolutely thrilled by what humans have been able to accomplish. It is so, so hard to launch a rocket into space in a reliable manner. The tyranny of the rocket equation is real and unavoidable. It holds that as the mass of a vehicle increases, so does the amount of fuel required to break it free of Earth’s gravity. Of course, propellant itself has mass, so the engineering of each and every part of the spaceship has to be considered. Some rockets have to be 90% fuel by weight.

Space is an unforgiving environment, and the smallest mistake or miscalculation can lead to calamity. I can’t help but think, however, of that famous line from A League of Their Own, where Tom Hanks’ character says, “The hard is what makes it great.” I’m not sure physicists and rocket scientists would agree with that sentiment, actually. They might prefer it be a little bit easier.

It would be excellent if more people took the time to learn exactly what scientists and engineers have accomplished and the significant challenges they’ve overcome along the way. It’s staggering. To me, they are heroes. Yes, they are humans, too, with all the missteps and foibles that designation implies. But the work they are committed to doing moves us forward and seeks answers to the hardest questions. I’m very excited, for example about all we’ll learn from the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

As a writer, I have the easiest job in the world compared to the people who actually build things in real life that I can only dream of. I hope someone out there is creating everyday clothing that can actually heat and cool its wearers. I’m ready for my space unitard!

This title is quite a bit different than The Teashop Girls or Littler Women. Why the switch?

This is the story that wouldn’t leave me alone. Though I’ve loved reading science fiction since middle school, I had to build up to writing this kind of book, both at a craft level and at a life experience level. Becoming a mother, for example, led me to yearn to communicate a big idea to my daughter and to every reader who might pick up this title: despite the giant size of our universe, you matter. You are capable of incredible things despite your struggles and burdens. And while you’re at it, think bigger. I love the quote, “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.” Maybe even time travelers from the 23rd century!

One of the aspects of the book is the main character Abby adjusting to living in Florida, a transition you made yourself in 2015. How’s that going?

The Florida sun and the energy and ideas of the people here changed me for the better. I love a lot of aspects of the lifestyle here, and appreciate everyone I’ve met. I’ve been more productive and happier on the whole thanks to all of the Vitamin D and freedom from fighting snow and ice and months of gray skies.

That being said, I still miss Madison a lot. It is such a special city. My family spends summers up north, and after our daughter finishes school we’ll probably live both places, perhaps six months in each locale. I just can’t quit you, Wisconsin!

Free Educator Resources

This title has both a discussion guide and activity guide to use with your readers. Download both from the Lerner website.

Praise for A Long Way from Home

“This one is all about hope and not forgetting all the wonderful things life has to offer.” – Bookworm for Kids

“Funny, fact-filled, and philosophical. This is an inspiring story for any kid who has been forced to move—to a new school, a new state, or a new point on the space-time continuum.”—Edward Bloor, author of Tangerine and Taken

“A blend of fantasy, science fiction, and coming-of-age…You won’t want to miss this remarkable book.” —Karen McQuestion, author of The Watchful Woods series

Connect with the author

Laura Schaefer is the author of The Teashop Girls, The Secret Ingredient, and Littler Women: A Modern Retelling, as well as the coauthor or ghostwriter of several nonfiction books. She is based in Windermere, Florida, with her husband and daughter.

Find more amazing authors on the Lerner Blog here!

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