It's the launch of Sarah Aronson's new chapter book/middle grade, The Wish List #1: The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever (Scholastic)! We couldn't wish for anything more. Except a visit from Sarah herself!
- all of the above
Fairy-godmother-in-training Isabelle doesn't know what gusto is, but she's pretty sure she has what it takes to pass fairy godmother training with flying colors.
But then Isabelle is assigned a practice princess who is not a princess at all. Nora is just a normal girl -- a normal girl who doesn't believe in fairy godmothers, or wishes come true, or happily ever afters.
Isabelle has to change Nora's mind about magic and grant a wish for her. If she can't, Isabelle will flunk training and never become a great fairy godmother!
Welcome, Sarah! And I see two very special friends with you today -- the girlgoyles, straight out of your new book! (They don't say much, but look at those knowing smiles.) Thanks for being here, everyone.
Who was your favorite character to write and why?
Sarah: I don’t like the “favorite” question!! (Neither does the girlgoyle!) Especially in this case. The truth is, I love all these characters. They were refreshing and fun to think about. A lot of them made me laugh. But they also touched my heart. I was a kid who never felt like I’d ever measure up. I had trouble focusing. I had great intentions, but not always the best delivery. In our world today, it is SO IMPORTANT to think about happiness! And doing good for others. This series has tapped into so many things that get me jazzed up.
Girlgoyles: (crickets) Girlgoyles are made of rock. They can’t talk.
What was the spark that ignited this book?
Sarah: I’ve told this story before (as the girlgoyles can attest), but I think I can get away with it one more time.
For a long time, I referred to Isabelle’s story my “peach sorbet.” In other words, I worked on her story only when I was tired of thinking about my “important” project. It was my literary palate cleanser. I had no intention of ever showing it to anyone.
For better or for worse, I wanted to be a writer who grappled with tough topics. I went for it all—unlikeable 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 2014, 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 teaching at Highlights in Sept 2014, 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.
My agent and I agreed. It was time to put that story in the drawer.
Lucky for me, 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. It gave me some time to think about the advice I was offering them. More important, it gave me time to think about my process. This was what I realized: I was letting my intellect override my intuition. I was thinking too much about product. And my ego.
I also found myself talking about my peach sorbet. I remembered some sage advice my first editor and mentor, Deborah Brodie, once offered me. She said, “Eat dessert first. Write what makes you happy.” At the end of that retreat, I stood at the podium and read Isabelle’s story for the first time. I made them laugh. It felt great!
For the next six months, I gave myself a challenge: I was going to PLAY.
I was going to only play with ideas that made me happy, or in other words: books I had convinced myself 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. I was going to write fast. I was not going to edit myself. I was going to put INTUITION over INTELLECT. I like to say: Think less. Smile more. I was going to access my subconscious with drawing and writing and listening to new music. If I liked an idea, I was going to try it. Bottom line: I was going to eat a lot of dessert.
Amazing things began to happen.
As I played, I found a new voice. And confidence. And other things, too: I found that when I turned off my phone and walked without interruption, new ideas emerged. My memory map trick worked! Working with clay gave me time to think. Doodling—pencil to paper—gave me the answers to my questions.
(There is a lot of scientific evidence about the benefits of play. Studies show that when we play, we develop imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. All good things. Right?)
As Picasso once said: Every child is born an artist. The trick is remaining one as an adult.
When the challenge was over, I felt great. I loved writing and creating stories. Not too shabby, I had written two nonfiction picture books, an essay, the beginning of an adult novel, ten picture books, and what I hoped could be the first chapter book in a series. It’s the book that is launching today. I could not be happier!
Girlgoyles: If they could talk, they would tell you that they were the spark of inspiration. But they can’t. So they won’t.
That's a wonderful story that every writer should hear!
What's your writing superpower?
I can turn ANYTHING into a writing lesson. (Yes, I’m fun at cocktail parties.)
What do you hope you can do with this book?
I am going into the happily ever after wand making business! I’m launching a #BeAFairyGodmother campaign to encourage others to become fairy godmothers and fathers and make someone else happily ever after. As people send me pictures and posts, I will post them on my website!
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
I made great friends. I found my first story. And voice. It is still my safe place—and magic happens for me every time I return. It is the place that ignited my writing journey. That’s why I started the Writing Novels for Young People Retreat!!! Every March! It’s my birthday present!
Did you hear that, folks? Make plans now to get on board the WNYPR!
What is your favorite VCFA memory?
Another favorite question? You can’t be serious!
We think big!
I loved hanging out with Kellye Carter Crocker and Ed Briant, putting names of advisors into the magic hat! Or planning events with Tami Lewis Brown! Or dancing to "Play That Funky Music." I will never forget the first time Kathi read from The Underneath—when it was still a manuscript. Or Louise’s lecture on telling. I loved opening up all my letters—such exquisite gifts—and all different. They were motivating and exciting and I felt supported and full of energy. (I hope my students feel that way when they open my letters.) And I still reread them! I will always be grateful to Carolyn Coman for teaching me how to story board, to Ellen Levine, for re-igniting my inner feminist, and Norma Fox Mazer for pushing me to learn to write an outline.
What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?
Let go of your expectations. PLAY. Experiment. Ignite your intuition—not just your intellect. Bring a travel mug for coffee. And a bottle of something nice for celebrations.
Thanks for stopping by! Welcome to the world, The Worst Fairy Godmother Ever!
Sarah says, "I write books for kids of all ages and work with writers on books for kids of all ages. Basically, all day long I think about creativity and story, and I love it!" Visit her online at www.saraharonson.com.