What inspires us? What drives us to go after our dreams without hesitation? Nineteen year old Jacqueline Abelson held tight to an inspiring story at a young age to fulfill her greatest dreams.
That dream came in the form of the Pasadena native's very first novel at the age of fifteen. Centered around a disorder called neurofibromatosis, Abelson's main character, Charlotte Goode suddenly learns from her oncologist that she has relapsed from remission and has two tumors on her auditory nerves. She has to make a decision between a surgery that will leave her deaf, but will save her life, and her passion for music. Prior to discovering the new tumors, Charlotte's boss gives her an assignment to find a band for a benefit concert for multiple sclerosis and she has to rely on both her emotions and her hearing to get the job done.
Charlotte's story was inspired by the real life account of Jessica Stone, a then 23-year-old young woman suffering from the same genetic disorder. Stone was featured on a segment of Good Morning America in 2008. Like so many authors, Abelson suffered from writer's block and wrote several drafts of different stories, but her compassion for others made Stone's story seem like the right path to take.
“I was struggling to figure out what I was going to write about,” the young author said. “I was writing drafts of things that didn't really have an ending, but this was a story that had an ending and there was a plot that could be made within that news story.”
The inquisitive Abelson spent numerous hours researching the disorder to ensure that all of the facts on neurofibromatosis were as accurate as possible. With the help of her science teachers, she was able to study the right textbooks to make sure everything was as authentic as possible. She countered her editor's criticism by taking the right steps to verify her information.
“My editor, at the time said 'This seems a little unrealistic, go check your sources.' I visited a neuroscience center in Pasadena when I was about seventeen,” Abelson said. “I interviewed people with neurological diseases and their answers, their real answers are what I incorporated in[to] the novel about their struggles and how they found a way of overcoming them and accepting what fate had brought to them.”
At the suggestion of her mother, Abelson joined a creative writing class called YouthInkwell, where she met and attracted the attention of an editor, Elizabeth Slocum who helped her breathe more life into her character, Charlotte. She was encouraged to draw on her experience as a teenager and the events that helped shape who she is to give Charlotte the voice that suited her.
“One of the things I remember my editor telling me, was it didn't sound like a teenager, it sounded like I was writing basic actions that were happening in the character's life,” Abelson remarked. “Instead of writing these long and descriptive sentences, I shortened them to give a more realistic teenage voice. Essentially, the character took on a lot of my own mannerisms as I wrote.”
Abelson followed the advice about writing and stuck to what she knew. She stayed close to home and described landmarks that were familiar and held deep meaning.
“The place where the story is located, Coronado, is a place where my family and I have always vacationed to over the summer,” she explained. “ I knew the area well, and when I was writing I thought things like 'Oh she has to go to MooTime [Creamery] to get ice cream' because that's where I went for the summer.”
Though the most of the words flowed freely, putting the novel together was not an easy feat. Over the span of three years, the Mount Holyoke College first year's novel was edited, spliced and molded until it was perfect to hit the shelves. Readers made numerous suggestions which were added to the original manuscript to create the novel that is available today.
“There's no back-and-forth between when she's in the hospital and when she's in the present,” Abelson explained. “That was added later on because one of the readers suggested that 'You should have a back-and-forth thing so you know the difference. That way the readers can be entertained by both scenes.''
The Mount Holyoke student has has impressed many readers with her novel since it was published in 2012. Readers have been captivated by the page turner that had an unusual plot.
“I read Jacqueline's book, Hear, this past winter break and fell in love with her well-developed and brave protagonist,” close friend and Mount Holyoke sophomore Ila Addanki said. “Once I started, I didn't want to put it down until I had finished. It left me feeling incredibly emotional, and wishing there was a sequel to continue her heroine's inspirational journey. I passed the novel on to my mother who also adored it. She commented that it was a very complex and well-written piece of literature for such a young author.”
Her mother, Nella Abelson, thought her daughter would become a talented visual artist. It was the younger Abelson's passion for telling stories that steered her towards the pen.
“Jacqueline has been writing ever since she could write,” the elder Abelson explained. “ I remember sitting at our kitchen table watching Good Morning America and Diane Sawyer was interviewing a young woman who was about to lose her hearing. I could see Jacqueline's eyes grow big thinking about the story behind the story and that's when Hear was born.”
Abelson will continue to carry that passion as she works hard to complete her second novel. This time around she journeys away from the real life drama of her first novel and explores a fantasy world for young adults. Plot-wise, Abelson takes themes from two classic fantasy stories, Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz.
The turn was inspired by her experience watching the “Cirque du Soleil: Beatles LOVE at The Mirage” show during the finalization Hear. She wrote down several different ideas that were further developed upon her arrival at Mount Holyoke. Abelson plans to use her experience as a first year at Mount Holyoke to explain the main character's adjustment to a foreign place. Her experience allowed her to better understand how someone struggles as they adapt to a completely new situation.
Abelson is unsure of where she will end up, but she is ready to continue driving until all her dreams are fulfilled.
Story by Lauren Williams '14 - Mount Holyoke student and
member of the lLyons' varsity swimming and diving team. Photo
courtesy of Doug Keller.