Check This Out: Keep Calm and Sparkle On!

Hey, everyone! With me on the blog today is the always charming, super splendid Sarah Aronson. She’s here to talk about the second book in her Wish List series, Keep Calm and Sparkle On! (The interview with Sarah about her first book in the series can be found here.) Keep Calm and Sparkle On! was published by Scholastic on December 26. Sarah is represented by Sarah Davies.

   

Now, grab the pastry of your choice, get comfy, and let’s talk to Sarah!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Sarah: (1) People think I’m tough, but I’m totally a softie. I cry at the end of almost every book and movie! Forget about standing ovations! I’m a mess!
(2) I once deadlifted 300 pounds. (Just once. And I’ll never do it again.)

El Space: Amazing! 🤗 🤩
Sarah: (3) I started writing on a dare!
(4) After scoring Hamilton tickets, I ran out the door and promptly fell into a sewer! Luckily, my elbow stopped me from going too far. I was so excited about the tickets that I climbed out with no loss of shoes, jumped on my bike, and rode to work, leaving a bloody trail behind me.

El Space: Oh my goodness! 😱 Glad you were okay. . . . And here you are at book 2 of your fairy godmother series. How much of the series did you plan in advance, before you began writing the first book? Did you plan for a certain number of books or were you leaving it open to inspiration?
Sarah: I just sent my editor the draft of the fourth and final book! From the beginning, we knew we wanted four—for four levels of training. I have loved every minute of the process. I thought of the series like a pop song: verse, verse, bridge, verse!

Book 3

This is what I can tell you about writing a series: You have to trust your subconscious! And always leave space for the characters to impose themselves on the story.

Yes, I planned ahead. But I also took Annie Dillard’s advice and “spent it all” in every single book. While revising each book, I had epiphanies. Details found their way into the story—and I didn’t always have time to think them through before starting the next book. As it turned out, those details became the keys to the inevitable and surprising ending of the series. They helped me figure out what I wanted to say in each book.

Book 1

El Space: What was one of the most fun aspects of writing this second book?
Sarah: The DRAMA! Growing up, I loved theater! When I took that dare to write, I teamed up with a musical friend and wrote three plays for my daughter and her friends. One of the plays was called, The Secret of the Magic Wishing Well, so I have been thinking about wishes for a long time. I incorporated some of the details of that play into the story. I also used theater to say something about the pressure many kids feel when they are constantly treated like professionals when they could be just having fun. As a director, I did not do that. I limited my players to ten rehearsals. As a writer, I was happy to use the tension that happens when friends are forced to compete!

El Space: Many authors have playlists of songs that remind them of their characters. Thinking of the characters in your book, what songs would be on your playlist?
Sarah: I may have structured my series like a pop song, but I don’t make playlists. When I need inspiration, I walk by Lake Michigan. Or I doodle. Or ride my bike. I love music from the Beatles to the Cure to classical and jazz, but it’s not really part of my writing process.

   

El Space: You’ve been given a magic wand, giving you the ability to grant someone a wish. What wish would you grant if you could, and why?
Sarah: If I could make a wish for the world, I would have to start with more wishes! First, I would bring back trust in objectivity—in the truth. Then I would give everyone a feeling of safety and security, and the confidence that comes with those feelings, so that we all can do our best work. Last, I would grant everyone access to the magic of books! When we read, we understand each other. We feel less afraid. We reach for higher goals that make our world better.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Sarah: Pretty soon, I’ll be revising book four! I’m also working on some picture book manuscripts as well as a super secret project that is making me happily ever after. I love having a peach sorbet—a project that is just for me! No one’s waiting for it. No one even knows what it’s about. One of my goals for 2018 is to finish it and show it to my agent and critique group!

Thank you as always, Sarah, for being my guest!

Looking for Sarah? You can find her at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Keep Calm and Sparkle On! can be found at

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
iTunes

But one of you will find a copy of this book in your mailbox or on your tablet! Comment below to be entered in the drawing. The winner will be announced on January 15.

Olive the Ostrich believes she would be an excellent recipient of magical wishes. Just putting it out there for any fairy godmothers in the area.

Wish List book covers courtesy of Sarah Aronson. Hamilton image from phxstages.blogspot.com. Lake Michigan photo from livescience.com. Beatles album cover from amiright.com. Magic wand from clker.com. Olive photo by L. Marie.

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Check This Out: The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever!

Today Sarah Aronson is in the hizz-ouse. She is an author, teacher, mentor, and all around awesome person. She wears a ton of hats, some I haven’t even mentioned! She’s here to talk about book 1 in her Wish List middle grade series, The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! which was published by Scholastic with covers illustrated by Heather Burns.

      

Sarah has written these young adult novels . . .

   

. . . and is represented by Sarah Davies. Now, please give it up for Sarah!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Sarah: I am the oldest of three sisters, but was no Clotilda!
My first favorite book was The Carrot Seed. I am still an effort girl—not so much into momentum.


I met my husband when I mistook him for someone else, and before I could stop myself, kissed him on the cheek.

I am very fond of shoes! And handbags!

El Space: This book is very different from your other novels. What inspired you to write it?
Sarah: A lot of people have been asking me that. The short answer is, I wrote this for myself. For fun! The idea made me laugh. I like the idea of fairy godmothers, and I wanted to see if they still fit into my feminist mindset. When I thought about them, I realized: they didn’t do that much! And that today’s princess needed a godmother with more skills. Training was imperative!

But I also wrote it because I had come to a turning point in my writing life. Up until September 2014, I was a writer who grappled with tough topics. I went for it all—unlikable characters, themes filled with conflicts, questionable morals, provocative endings. Although I found these books grueling to write, I told myself that the work was worth it—these characters and ideas were calling me. And up until then I felt pretty good about it. I had a great agent. There were editors willing to read my next WIP. My family might have been confused about why I wrote such dark, sad books, but they supported me. 100%. I was not deterred by the mixed reception my last novel received.

That changed, when I got some bad news that had followed other bad news: the editor who loved my newest WIP—a story I had taken two years to write—could not get it past the acquisitions committee. The novel needed to go in a drawer. I began to doubt myself. I don’t know a writer who hasn’t experienced doubt and fear, and yet, when it happened to me, I felt unprepared. I wondered if perhaps my writing career was coming to a close.

Lucky for me, I was at the Highlights Whole Novel Workshop, and I was surrounded by friends. I also had the best kind of work to do—writers to counsel—writers who trusted me to help them work on their novels. I had to get over myself fast. I had to stop worrying about my ego. Product. News. All those obstacles. I had to embrace creativity the way I had when I first started writing.

So right there, I gave myself a challenge: For the next six months, I was going to PLAY. I was going to reclaim my intuitive voice. I wasn’t going to worry at all about finishing anything.

My only goal was to work on projects that made me happy—books that my ego had convinced me I couldn’t/shouldn’t write: picture books, humor, essays, an adult novel, poetry, and most important, my peach sorbet: a chapter book about a very bad fairy godmother. For six months, I was going to write fast. I was not going to edit myself. I was going to focus on accessing my subconscious with drawing and writing and listening to new music and having fun. If I liked an idea, I was going to try it. I was going to eat dessert first. In other words: think less. Smile more.

In my newsletter, i wrote about this a lot. How freeing it was. How happy I felt to be writing for the sake of story and nothing else.

When I was done, I had written a lot of terrible manuscripts. But some held promise. I dipped back into the revision cave. When i was done, The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever sold. So did a picture book biography about Rube Goldberg. And I was once again a writer with a lot of energy and ideas.

El Space: Please tell us about the girlgoyles—what they are, and how you came up with them.
Sarah: The girlgoyles came from a great moment of inspiration. Isabelle’s safe space—her cozy spot—is up at the top of Grandmomma’s tower. I pictured that tower like the churches of France and England—with ornate architecture. And gargoyles. Of course, this was a world of all women and girls. I couldn’t believe it—they weren’t gargoyles. They were girlgoyles!!! Even they don’t talk—they can’t, they’re made of rock—they are Isabelle’s friends. They’re really good listeners.

   
Illustrations by Heather Burns

El Space: How is Isabelle, your fairy godmother protagonist, like you? Different from you?
Sarah: Oh, my mom would love to answer this one!!! But since she’s not here, I’ll tell you: I was not the best student. I still have a hard time paying attention and I never read the fine print. I learn more by doing. Just like Isabelle, I can be a bit impulsive. And just like Nora, I can take things WAY too seriously!

El Space: In a Psychology Today article, “Why We All Need a Fairy Godmother,” the author gave some characteristics for the ideal fairy godmother:

The fairy godmother (or “guidemother”—or, for that matter,“guidefather”) that I have in mind here is one that would encompass a broad array of caring, nurturant qualities: such as empathy, compassion, understanding, trustworthiness, and respect.

I couldn’t help thinking of the list on the synopsis for your book. Why do you think fairy godmothers are such nurturing icons in literature?
Sarah: In theory, I think we all love the idea of a fairy godmother, a nurturing character that makes us happy and wants nothing else in return. But the truth is, there is nothing more satisfying than making the world better! Already, I have spoken to readers who want to be real-life fairy godmothers. I made a Wish Wall for families and classrooms who want to establish “Be a Fairy Godmother” programs.


I believe that today’s fairy godmother needs compassion and kindness, but also gusto! A big, big heart is essential, too. When you think about it, it’s sort of like writing a book!

El Space: What do you hope your readers will take away from this book?
Sarah: First, I hope they laugh! I laughed a lot writing it. But to be serious, I hope they’re excited about sharing the sparkle and helping each other!!! Today’s world needs fairy godmothers. Empathy makes us all happily ever after. Right?

El Space: Yup! What will you work on next?
Sarah: Well, we just released the cover of book two, Keep Calm and Sparkle On! I’m getting ready to revise book three, and book four is not far away. I’ve also got a picture book biography to finish and a brand new peach sorbet to play with. For now, that’s a secret!

Thank you, Sarah, for being such an inspiring guest!

Want to find Sarah online? Check out her website, Facebook, Twitter.

The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! can be found at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound.

But I will be a fairy godmother to one of you! Poof! You’ll find a copy of The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever! at your home! But first, you have to comment to be entered in the drawing! Winner to be announced on June 19.

Lippy Lulu and Kirstea are excited about Sarah’s series. They’re wondering how they can get a fairy godmother.

Author photo and Wish List series covers courtesy of the author. Other book covers Goodreads. Fairy godmother from clipsarts.co. Magic wand from clker.com. Creativity image from weerbaarheidlimburg.nl. Peach sorbet photo from dessertbulletblog.com. Shopkins Shoppie dolls Kirstea and Lippy Lulu by Moose Toys. Photo by L. Marie.

Like a Movie?

I’ll get to who won Kinda Like Brothers by the awe-inspiring Coe Booth in just a minute. But first, you know me. I have to share what’s on my mind.

bigbrain

Three years ago, I wrote a fight scene and submitted it to one of my grad school advisors, thinking that it was pretty good. She totally ripped into it. Her problem with it had to do with cause and effect. If Adam punches Claude (cause), what is the effect of that punch? If the effect is Claude falling against Jared, why didn’t I state this? Why did I instead cut to Sam throwing a knife, when I started the fight talking about Adam and what he’s doing to Claude? And where is Adam positioned by the way? Where is Claude? I didn’t provide enough information to make the fight understandable. 

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Though I thought I adequately conveyed the scene I saw in my head, I left out key steps to help a reader track the action. I’ve begun to think of that experience as “movie shortcut thinking.”

In a movie, we can see a ton of action in a wide shot. I can’t help thinking of a scene from The Return of the King (2003, directed by Peter Jackson), specifically, the Battle of the Pelennor Fields where thousands of characters fight. (Um, my fight scenes are not on such an epic scale by the way.) A camera can easily pan or zoom in quickly to show us key elements in a scene. Also, a director might make the decision to fade to another scene altogether in the blink of an eye.

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The Battle of the Pelennor Fields

We’re not bothered by the switch in scenes, because the eye can process a lot of images quickly. We’re getting used to seeing films like The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012, directed by Peter Jackson), which was filmed at 48 FPS (frames per second). But the mind’s eye is different. In a book, a reader’s imagination requires more cues to track the action. While writing my fight scene, I had taken too many shortcuts, as if I were a camera panning across a landscape. The scene I presented to my advisor needed more work than I’d originally thought to make it effective. Every action needed a reaction. Newton’s third law at work.

According to Newton, whenever objects A and B interact with each other, they exert forces upon each other. . . . For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

fall_2013_sketcheskey_3I needed to show the pertinent actions and reactions in this fight. Doing so doesn’t mean spelling out every microbe (which would be boring) and spoon-feeding a reader (which would be condescending). It simply means making the action clear and compelling. That required slowing down and writing the fight step by step.

                         step-1  Step-1-and-2-.1

But I didn’t understand all of this when my advisor ripped into my scene. Understanding dawned finally this year when I was asked for my opinion about a manuscript written by the relative of a friend of mine. I had trouble tracking the action in—you guessed it—a fight scene. I didn’t understand who was fighting whom or which actions caused the reactions described. Now that I had walked a mile in my advisor’s shoes, I understood her frustration with my scene. Some lessons take years to sink in, I guess. The gist of the lesson: when it comes to writing, a shortcut is not a good thing.

Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for: the announcement of the winner of Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth.

            coe_booth_-_author_photo KindaLikeBrothers

That person is . . .

. . . Is . . .

. . . Is . . .

. . . Is . . .

Sharon Van Zandt!

Congratulations, Sharon! Please confirm below. Let me know if you want a hardcover or eBook.

Battle of Pelennor Fields image from comicvine.com. Step 1 from kirbasinstitute.com. Step 2 image from addictionblog.org. Action/reaction image from wired.com. Fight scene image from forgotmylines.com. Mind image from bubblejam.net.

Check This Out: Kinda Like Brothers

Over the past year, I’ve had the pleasure of talking with wonderful authors. That’s definitely the case today as I talk with the marvelous Coe Booth, who today will discuss her latest book, a wonderful middle grade novel (her first)—Kinda Like Brothers, published by Scholastic Press.

        coe_booth_-_author_photo KindaLikeBrothers

Coe is represented by Jodi Reamer at Writers House. Here is a synopsis of Kinda Like Brothers:

Jarrett doesn’t trust Kevon. But he’s got to share a room with him anyway.

It was one thing when Jarrett’s mom took care of foster babies who needed help. But this time it’s different. This time the baby who needs help has an older brother—a kid Jarrett’s age named Kevon.

Everyone thinks Jarrett and Kevon should be friends—but that’s not gonna happen. Not when Kevon’s acting like he’s better than Jarrett—and not when Jarrett finds out Kevon’s keeping some major secrets.

Jarrett doesn’t think it’s fair that he has to share his room, his friends, and his life with some stranger. He’s gotta do something about it—but what?

Cool, huh? Let’s talk to Coe!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Coe: (1) I’m seriously afraid of moths (and all kinds of creepy flying bugs!) (2) I’m a vegetarian, but I enjoy letting my characters eat meat. (3) I have a somewhat unhealthy addiction to fountain pens and pretty notebooks. I have more notebooks than I could possibly use in my lifetime! (4) I go on at least one week-long meditation retreat every year—a silent retreat where reading, writing, and even talking are not allowed.

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El Space: Awesome! You’re well known for young adult novels like (Tyrell, Kendra, Bronxwood). What inspired you to write a middle grade novel?

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Coe: When I was really young, I hated reading. I loved writing my own stories, but I didn’t like reading books because I couldn’t relate to any of them. That all changed in fourth grade when my teacher gave me a copy of one of Judy Blume’s novels and I discovered that books could actually be fun. Ever since then, I recognized the power that middle grade books can have, and I’ve always wanted to write for that age group. My hope is that I can write something that can grab kids who don’t like to read and possibly change the way they think about books, too.

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El Space: Kids in blended families will relate to Jarrett and Kevon. How has your background prepared you to write their story?
Coe: Several years ago, I worked as a child protective caseworker, investigating child abuse cases. Sometimes I would have to remove kids from their homes and place them in foster care. Working with foster families is what sparked the idea for Kinda Like Brothers. I was always curious what being a foster family was like for the biological children in the home, the ones who had to adapt to kids coming and going from their lives over and over again. Jarrett is one of those kids. He’s used to the foster babies because his mom has been taking them in ever since he can remember. But when Mom takes in Kevon, who is a year older than Jarrett, this is a little more than he can handle!

El Space: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
Coe: With all my books, I struggle the most with characterization and voice. This book was no exception. I spent so much time writing and writing, and then I got to the point where I felt like I knew who Jarrett was and what he sounded like. Unfortunately, everything I had written up to that point wasn’t really the story I wanted to tell, so I ended up deleting the whole thing and starting all over again. That was really, really hard. But in the end I’m glad I let go of what wasn’t working so I could make room for what was.

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El Space: What do you hope readers will take away after reading your book?
Coe: There are so many foster families, and so many kids living in foster care. I hope I’m giving readers a little insight into a world they may not have thought about. But more importantly, of course, I hope readers fall in love with Jarrett and Kevon, and enjoy the story of how these two boys become (kinda like) brothers!

El Space: You’re on the faculty at VCFA. Yay! You usually have to give advice to students. Lately many people have addressed the need for more diversity in books. What advice do you have for aspiring writers on this topic?
Coe: Diversity is one of those things that’s easier said than done. Achieving diversity in the world of children’s books is a complex matter. It is so challenging getting these books written, published, and placed into the hands of children, and attention needs to be placed on each of these stages. As writers, we don’t have to force diversity into our novels. All we can do is make sure our writing reflects the world in its entirety and diversity would be accomplished in a natural way.

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El Space: What’s some of the best advice you’ve received about writing?
Coe: You don’t have to know where you’re going to get started. Just sit down and write.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Coe: Right now, I’m working on another YA novel. I’m still in the thinking-on-paper stage, so I’m not really sure what it’s about yet, but it’s fun discovering what this novel wants to be.

Coe, thanks so much for stopping by! You’re welcome anytime! And thanks to everyone else who took time out to join us. I’m giving away a copy of Kinda Like Brothers. Anyone who comments will be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced Wednesday, October 8.

Can’t wait for that? If you have to have Kinda Like Brothers right now, you can find it here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Indiebound
Powell’s

Looking for Coe? Check out her website and Twitter.

Flags image from diversity.uno.edu. Judy Blume cover from Goodreads. Fountain pen from eBay.