Richland author's novel wins national recognition

By Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 9, 2013 

Maureen Doyle McQuerry of Richland is a teacher, a mother, a wife, and between all the hustle and bustle she finds time to write novels.

Her latest, The Peculiars, recently earned recognition on the American Library Association's 2013 list of best fiction for young adults. The fantasy-themed book was one of 102 books chosen from among 200 nominations nationwide.

"I feel very grateful my work is recognized," said McQuerry, who teaches English 101 and creative writing at Columbia Basin College. "That recognition is validating and helps me feel like I'm doing what I should be doing with my time and talents. It's especially great when it comes from such a well respected group as the American Library Association."

Though this is McQuerry's first national fiction writing award, she's received accolades for books she's collaborated on with Tri-City area students, such as the Independent Publisher's award for the nonfiction book Nuclear Legacy: Students of Two Atomic Cities in 2000.

The Peculiars takes an alternate history look at life in the late 1800s. McQuerry weaves a bit of fantasy, mystery and steampunk culture into the storyline. Steampunk is a form of science fiction that usually centers around steam-powered machinery, with a 19th century setting -- think of the film The Wild Wild West and you'll get the idea.

The Peculiars are the fantasy side of the book, which features some characters who are part goblin or have angel wings, though they can't fly. The book is geared toward younger readers from middle school through high school, but is just as entertaining for adults.

Mostly, it follows 18-year-old Lena, who sets off on her own to Scree to find the father who abandoned the family when she as a child.

Along the way she meets a charming young man, Jimson, who is on his way to work as a librarian for the wealthy, eccentric Mr. Beasley.

She also runs into a seedy U.S. Marshal who coerces Lena to infiltrate Mr. Beasley's home, working as a librarian with Jimson, and to find clues that the old man is harboring Peculiars.

Lena's father is a goblin but her mother is human, which makes her half Peculiar. She has mostly human characteristics but her hands and feet are elongated like her father's, so she keeps them hidden with gloves and long skirts.

It is this blend of heritage that troubles Lena and leaves her confused and embarrassed about herself.

But the imaginative story goes far beyond the fun of fantasy reading. There's a definite moral to the story that delves into that part of our youthful psyche that wonders if we are locked into becoming exactly like our parents.

"It's really a story about the quest to find out who you are, which speaks to the teenage years," McQuerry said. "It explores that part of us that sometimes struggles with our self image, and lets the reader know that we always have a choice in who we become as adults."

It took McQuerry about a year to write the book, then a little longer to find a literary agent to help her sell the book to a publishing house. She found the agent, and Abrams/Amulet Books published it.

She has another fantasy book -- Beyond the Door -- scheduled to be published later this year or the next, she said.

"The best thing about the American Librarian Award is that the book is included in a list of recommended books to school librarians across the country," McQuerry said.

The book is available in bookstores and from Amazon.com. The hardcover costs about $16, depending on where you purchase it.

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