Heidi Lang’s newest contemporary Middle Grade novel, OUT OF RANGE is a survival story that explores the complexities of sibling relationships. I’ve featured some of her other books here, including the ones she cowrote with Kati Bartkowski here.
Sisters Abby, Emma, and Ollie have gone from being best friends forever to mortal enemies.
Thanks to their months-long feud, they are sent to Camp Unplugged, a girls’ camp deep in the heart of the Idaho mountains where they will go “back to nature”—which means no cell phones, no internet, and no communicating with the outside world. For two whole weeks. During that time, they had better learn to get along again, their parents tell them. Or else.
The sisters don’t see any way they can ever forgive each other for what they’ve done, no matter how many hikes and campfire songs they’re forced to participate in. But then disaster strikes, and they find themselves lost and alone in the wilderness. They will have to outrun a raging wildfire, make it through a turbulent river, escape bears and mountain lions and ticks. They don’t have training, or food, or enough supplies. All they have is each other.
And maybe, just maybe, it will be enough to survive.
In one of our previous interviews, you said, “Whenever I write, I have this terrible mixture of pride and also extreme self doubt.” To what degree, if any, is this still the case, and if so, what has helped you cope with the ‘self doubt’ part of it?
Oh, that is definitely still the case. I’m proud of everything I’ve written, but also, always, worried it isn’t good enough. OUT OF RANGE is my eighth published book, and in many ways my most personal one; I drew on my own experiences as the middle of three sisters to try to describe the main characters’ complicated sibling relationship dynamics, and I also used a lot of the emotions I felt when I got lost backpacking to hopefully make the wilderness aspect of the story feel realistic and scary. But there’s a vulnerability that comes from digging inside yourself and then spreading it out on the page. And with that vulnerability comes the self doubt.
I’d say the biggest difference in how I feel now versus earlier in my career is that I used to care very deeply about what other people thought of my books. And I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t still important to me. But I’ve learned that I have no control over how my books are received. All I can control is my own opinion of my work. So I think that self doubt is actually a good thing. That little voice that whispers “But is it good?” in the back of my mind whenever I write something keeps me striving. I want to make sure I can answer it. The day that I stop hearing that voice and feeling that self doubt is the day that I stop really caring about improving my craft.
I never thought I’d consider my self doubt as a strength, but you’re right; those voices can be extremely helpful. OUT OF RANGE offers a great survival story for middle grade readers. What do you love most about writing contemporary fiction for this age group?
I’ve always been interested in coming-of-age stories. The moment when a kid has that major internal shift in how they view things, suddenly seeing either the world, other people, or themselves through a more adult lens, is fascinating to me because in some ways, that moment changes everything. So I like writing for this age group because it gives me a chance to really explore that change in my characters, as well as all the other changes that occur when a kid is in the process of growing up.
And I love writing contemporary because, to me, that genre especially is all about character development. The characters drive the whole story, which means they need to have tons of personality. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top exaggerated, but it does have to be present on the page on every page. I try to do this when I write fantasy and horror as well, but I feel like contemporary—where I don’t need to devote quite as much time to world building—gives me the room to really focus on this internal space.
And it’s those unique character self-perceptions, how each character sees the world in ways that no one else does, that make their stories jump off the page. There will also be a fourth book in your middle grade fantasy Whispering Pines series. Without giving away spoilers, is there anything you can tell us about it yet?
I can tell you that this book will be the final book in the series. My cowriter Kati and I have really enjoyed building the world and creating the characters of Whispering Pines, and we’d be open to a potential spin-off series down the line if there’s enough demand, but this fourth book will wrap up the main storylines. Where is Rae’s father? What will happen to Vivienne? Will Caden turn into his brother? These questions and more will be answered in…WHISPERING PINES: EXTINCTION. Coming in September 2023.