The idea for McHenry native Jessica Stilling's novel popped into her head as she talked with her son about shadows.
A toddler at the time, Stilling's son was waving his hands at a shadow.
"I know a story about a little boy who lost his shadow," she told him referring to the classic tale of "Peter Pan."
"The whole thing hit very quickly," she said of the idea for the recently published, "Betwixt and Between."
Now living in New York, Stilling will return to the area for a book signing form 1 to 3 p.m. Dec. 28 at Read Between the Lynes, 129 Van Buren St., Woodstock.
Her debut novel reimagines Neverland and the story of "Peter Pan," following three intertwining narratives.
The premise is that Neverland is an in-between place where boys who die too soon wait until their loved ones are ready to heal and move on, Stilling said.
The novel follows the stories of Preston Tumbler, a 10-year-old boy who is poisoned by a neighbor and wakes up in Neverland, his mother Claire in the real world and a family in Victorian Londay as they wait for their little girl to awake from a coma. The family's neighbor happens to be "Peter Pan" author J.M. Barrie.
With the mystery of who killed the boy flowing throughout, the book also deals with grief and loss as well as the idea of growing up, Stilling said.
"It's about the little ways we lose our children every day as they grow up and stop needing us," she said. "It's not necessarily a bad thing, but a bittersweet thing. That's what the book is trying to capture, the bittersweetness of growing up."
Stilling, a 2001 graduate of McHenry High School West Campus, works as an English professor in New York. The mother of two rises early or stays up late to ensure that she gets in at least two hours of writing a day.
She said it wasn't easy getting her first novel published, having spent a year trying to find a publisher.
"It's about working really hard and part of it is dealing with rejection," she said. "And you can't give up right away. You just can't."
She's continually working on novels, and was in the midst of another one when she thought of the idea for "Betwixt and Between." She's now back to finishing that novel, which is quite different than her first.
It's based on the 1968 riots in Paris, and is more of a historical perspective. That novel is expected to be released in January.