Like lots of little kids, Jeremiah Nebula — the main character of a children's book called Large Fears — has big dreams. He wants to go to Mars.
But Jeremiah is also pretty different from the characters that Myles Johnson, the author of the Kickstarter-backed book, met in the stories he read when he was growing up. Jeremiah is black, and he really, really likes the color pink.
"He's queer, and he's a bit unconventional. He's essentially myself as a child," says Johnson, a 22-year-old freelance writer based in Atlanta.
Johnson says the idea for Jeremiah Nebula came to him while dancing around to some '80s music in his room one day. "I started thinking, what is Jeremiah like? What are his fears and dreams? What does he like to eat?" Johnson says.
So Johnson called up his friend, Kendrick Daye — a 26-year-old visual artist who runs a magazine called Art Nouveau in New York — and told him about his idea. They began collaborating on the book last year.
The book opens on Jeremiah daydreaming about jumping so high that he lands on Mars. On his way to Mars, he has to hop-scotch across a series of stars, which, it turns out, represent his fears and anxieties.
The storyline reflects Johnson and Daye's childhoods — they both say they grew up with large fears of their own. "When you're black and queer, you learn at a very early age that what you like or who you are isn't accepted everywhere," Johnson says. "You realize that you're not safe everywhere."
Dreaming up alternative universes was a form of escape. "When I was in school, I got into a lot of trouble for daydreaming," Daye says. "If you grow up and you feel like you don't fit in, you just start to live in a fantasy world."
As Johnson and Daye were developing Jeremiah's story, they realized they wanted to create something for "any kids who feel like they don't quite fit in or blend in," Johnson says.
Johnson spent his formative years watching far too much Twilight Zone ("I loved the really scary ones!" he says), while Daye was engrossed in R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series. They loved those stories, but something was missing.
"Growing up, there were rarely any characters who were black, and never queer. Not being visible in the media really does something to your psychology," Johnson says. "It's easy to feel invisible, it's easy to believe you're invisible."
So far, the pair has raised about a third of the $3,000 in Kickstarter funds they need to publish and promote the book. They're planning to use a portion of the funds toward workshops helping young kids discuss their own fears about not belonging.