It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for another author interview. Today I talk with Elly Swartz. Elly’s debut novel, FINDING PERFECT (FSG 2016) is about a twelve-year-old girl named Molly, friendship, family, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. In 2018, you meet the spunky and big-hearted Frankie in SMART COOKIE (Scholastic, 2018). Frankie is all about family with a dash of mischief and mystery! And then in 2019, say hello to Maggie in GIVE AND TAKE (FSG).
When did you decide to become an author?
I have been creating stories since I was a little girl, but never with the idea of becoming an author. Simply for the love of story. I remember writing short stories and a lot of really bad poetry at my yellow desk. As a young mom, I dove into storytelling. I would weave adventures with my sons until they fell asleep, the hidden doorway was discovered, or the world was saved. Then, sixteen years ago, I started the journey to writing a children’s book. I wrote my first book. Then I wrote another. And, another. And, another. And, finally, I wrote Finding Perfect. Then Smart Cookie. And now Give and Take. I love telling stories and writing for kids. I love the way the words weave and bounce, and the way the characters unfold. I consider it a true privilege.
Finding Perfect was my first published book, but not the first book I wrote. It was the fifth book I wrote. The first four are fondly known in my family as practice. Those books taught me how to be a better writer, and for that, I thank them. My journey was 15 years to yes. A long and winding road that happily led me to my agent, Trish Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. She believed in me. And that meant everything. After revisions and submissions to about thirty editors, Finding Perfect sold. It was a moment I will always remember. The wait was finally over. My dream had come true.
Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?
It was never about giving up writing, but more about accepting the idea that I may not ever get published. Because no matter how many no’s I got, and over 15 years there were many, I always ended up back at my desk, writing. On a recent school visit, one student asked me why. It was a good question. A valid question. I thought about it for a long time. Ultimately, I realized that I love writing more than I hate rejection.
I heard you talk about your motivation for writing Finding Perfect at a conference this year. Can you share some of those influences?
Every story I tell, begins with a character that is with me long before I write the first word of the story. With Finding Perfect, that character was Molly. I woke with her in my head and the more I got to know her, the more she tucked into my heart. I knew she was scared and worried, but I also knew that she was braver and stronger than she realized. In this gap, I found the heart of her story.
I knew Molly had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and I knew she didn’t understand what was happening to her. I also knew, like many with OCD, she saw herself differently than the world saw her. She was scared and vulnerable and struggling. But to the world, she was confident and smart and so capable. This disparity drew me in. I wanted Molly to discover her voice and her strength. I wanted her to find her courage. Happily, she did.
Your new book, Smart Cookie, releases on January 30, 2018. What can you tell us about this new book?
Smart Cookie (Scholastic) is a story about family and secrets and eleven-year-old Frankie who is equal parts spunk and heart.
Frankie knows she’ll be in big trouble if Dad discovers she secretly posted a dating profile for him online. But she’s determined to find him a wife, even if she ends up grounded for life. Frankie wants what she had before Mom died. A family of three. Two is a pair of socks or the wheels on a bicycle or a busy weekend at the B&B where Frankie and Dad live. Three is a family. And Frankie’s is missing a piece.
But Operation Mom is harder to pull off than Frankie expects. None of the Possibles are very momish, the B&B’s guests keep canceling, Frankie’s getting the silent treatment from her once best friend, and there’s a maybe-ghost hanging around. Worst of all, Gram and Dad are definitely hiding secrets of their own.
If a smart cookie like Frankie wants to save the B&B and find her missing piece, she’s going to have to figure out what secrets are worth keeping and when it’s time to let go.
Is there anything about being a published author that has surprised you?
Everything! But the one wonderful stand-out has been the community of educators and librarians who have welcomed me and my books so warmly into the kid lit fold. I am honored to be a part of this gracious community.
Any advice you would give to a writer just starting out?
Write because you love writing. Because you have a story to tell. Because you can’t not write. Then follow your heart and embrace the journey!
Is there anything else about you would like to tell us?
Thank you for reading. All books. In my heart, I believe books are that unconditional friend, that safety net, that next great adventure.
Smart Cookie (Scholastic) comes out January 30, 2018 and then in 2019, get ready to meet Maggie in Give and Take (FSG). Twelve-year-old Maggie. Maggie has a big heart and a hard time letting go. Of stuff. Of people. Of the past. With the help of her turtle Rufus, a baby named Izzie and the almost all-girls trap shooting team, she begins to understand that people are more than the things that hold their memories.
Thanks so much for coming by, Elly. You can find out more about Elly Swartz and her books by visiting her online and on twitter. And don’t forget to preorder Smart Cookie!
Teacher friends, here's a Finding Perfect CurriculumGuide. This book is definitely one that you'll want in your classroom.