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Amanda Rawson Hill: Once Upon a Family (Anxiety)

My third middle-grade novel ONCE UPON A FAMILY is a story about blended families, fairy tales, and anxiety. I started writing it in early 2016 and it’s changed a lot since the first draft. I’ve changed a lot, too -- something I think most people can say after the events of the last four years.

Like many other women my age, I finally contacted a doctor about my worsening anxiety symptoms in the summer of 2021. A year of the pandemic had finally taken enough of a toll, and made me have a breakdown in front of my family, humiliating enough to make me realize that the way my brain was functioning was not normal or healthy.

About a month after getting on meds and admitting that I did indeed have anxiety (after diagnosing every single other female in my family with it, of course. Ha!) I watched THAT episode of Ted Lasso. The one that clearly shows what a panic attack feels like. The next day, I had one. I’ve had these panic attacks my whole life, with them increasing drastically in college. I always called them my “fever feelings” because they reminded me of how I felt when I had a fever as a child. But this time, I thought, this feels like Ted’s panic attack.


Everything started making a bit more sense after that.

ONCE UPON A FAMILY had been giving me fits in revision. I’d chalked it up to second-book syndrome and/or the industry’s issues with unlikeable, angry female protagonists. My editor and agent kept giving me the same notes. Your main character, Winnie, is unlikeable. And she’s hard to relate to. Why is she so sure everyone hates her? Why does she worry so much that everyone thinks she is stupid? Has she been bullied? We don’t understand why she would have these thoughts.

I was flummoxed. Doesn’t everyone have these thoughts all the time? Is this something I really have to explain? These all seemed like pretty normal thought processes to me.

Then I got my anxiety diagnosis. Lo and behold, it turns out Winnie also had anxiety all along. We were just learning the ropes together.

Now that I understood this integral part of who my main character was, I could actually get down to the business of really knowing and understanding her. Pieces of the book that just never quite fit suddenly made sense. It is rather amazing how our characters sometimes know who they are more than we do. But I couldn’t just write Winnie’s fear and anxiety onto the pages, I needed to give her hope.

So I dove into Anxiety Relief For Kids, the book I’d been studying with my husband to help our own anxious kiddo through his own fears and panic attacks. I ran my manuscript past folks with experience and knowledge of therapy techniques. And then in one of the last drafts, I added a completely new character.


That’s right, my main character’s anxiety is presented as its own character in the story. Named Eustace Clarence Scrubbs (because he definitely deserves it), this is a recommended technique in therapy. But even more than that, allowing Winnie to separate herself from her anxiety allows a bit of space between herself and the actual villain in the story. Even though Winnie really is causing most of her own problems, the tiny bit of separation gives the reader and Winnie herself, enough space to love her, empathize with her, and relate. And in the process, perhaps it will give readers the chance to love, empathize with and relate to the people in their life dealing with anxiety, including themselves.

I will always appreciate Winnie teaching me about the voice in my head that I don’t have to listen to. The one that tells me I’m not good enough. I’m the bad guy. I’m screwing everything up and everyone hates me. I will always be thankful for the insight writing this book gave me into why my son blows up and why I do as well.

My hope is that readers might also come away with a new understanding of how anxiety can look and feel and what they can do about it.


Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in Rock Springs, Wyoming with a library right out her back gate. She moved to Provo, Utah, to earn her bachelor's degree in chemistry at Brigham Young University. Today she resides in Atwater, California with her husband and five children. She loves to knit, homeschool, make music, and volunteer in the community.


What would you wish for? This middle-grade novel exploring what it means to become a blended family is perfect for fans of Rebecca Stead's The List of Things That Will Not Change.

"Hill enables readers to see deeply into Winnie, including her past, fears, anger, wishes, and the way she perceives her own story...Hill's writing is full of poetic references readers will recognize, as when Winnie feels 'like the oldest sibling in a fairy tale where only third children ever win.'...A modern blended family story with a sprinkling of magic." --Kirkus Reviews

"With immersive prose and a pinch of real magic, Amanda Rawson Hill spins a fairy tale about anxiety, anger, and acceptance that will linger with a reader ever after."--Cindy Baldwin, author of Where the Watermelons Grow

"An honest exploration of how anxiety can impact the stories we tell ourselves; readers will cheer for Winnie as she fights to write her own happily ever after." --Jessica Vitalis, author of The Wolf's Curse


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