Swanky Seventeener Ellie Terry recently chatted with Sweet Sixteen Abby Cooper about her debut middle grade, STICKS AND STONES (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan, July 12, 2016).
About the Book:
Ever since she was a baby, the words people use to describe Elyse have instantly appeared on her arms and legs. At first it was just “cute” and “adorable,” but as she’s gotten older and kids have gotten meaner, words like “loser” and “pathetic” appear, and those words bubble up and itch. And then there are words like “interesting,” which she’s not really sure how to feel about. Now she’s starting middle school, and just as her friends who used to accept and protect her are drifting away, she’s been dumped by her very first boyfriend, and worst of all, the words she thinks about herself are starting to appear, she receives an anonymous note saying, “I know who you are, and I know what you’re dealing with. I want to help.” As Elyse works to solve the mystery of who has sent her this note, she also finds new ways to accept who she is and to become her best self.
Abby Cooper lives in Minnesota with her miniature poodle, Louis, and a whole bunch of books. A former teacher and school librarian, her favorite things in the world (besides writing) are getting and giving book recommendations and sharing her love of reading with others. In her spare time, she likes eating cupcakes, running along the Mississippi River, and watching a lot of bad reality TV.
Ellie: How did you first come up with the idea for STICKS & STONES?
Abby: I was working as a school librarian the year WONDER came out, and I couldn’t ever keep it on the shelf – kids loved it so much! I had been wanting to write a book for awhile, and I sort of took all the Wonder-mania as a challenge to myself – if they wanted similar books, I would try to write one!
I think Auggie, the main character, has a huge impact on readers. It seems like a lot of middle grade readers feel different from their peers in some way. I want them to know that it’s okay to feel different, and that you can still love yourself and be kind to yourself no matter what life throws your way.
Ellie: What was your revision process like?
Abby: Soooo fun! I got to revise with the amazing Gail Nall, my mentor in 2013’s #PitchWars contest. (We’re co-mentoring this year – can’t wait to find some awesome MG!) Then I revised with my incredible agent (Rebecca Sherman at Writers House) and then a little more with my editor (Susan Dobinick). I’m so grateful to everyone I revised with – all of the feedback I received made the book so much stronger. I’m so, so proud of it.
Ellie: What was your reaction to receiving the news of your book deal?
Abby: I stared at the e-mail for a super long time. It didn’t seem real. (Still doesn’t, a lot of the time!) But then I started squealing my head off, and like ten people raced into the library to check on me.
Ellie: What’s the biggest message you hope readers take away from STICKS & STONES?
Abby: I want to remind readers to be kind to others, of course, but my biggest message is probably to be kind to yourself. Kids (and grown-ups) can be really hard on themselves sometimes. Even if you make a mistake, or someone doesn’t want to be your friend anymore, or any number of tough things happen, you still matter. You’re still unique and important. Unfortunately, sometimes other people won’t be there for you. It’s important that you’re able to be there for yourself.
LIGHTNING ROUND QUESTIONS:
Favorite writing snacks?
Cheese & crackers (and cupcakes, but only when a Big Accomplishment happens, like finishing a chapter/revision/etc.)
Oddest job you’ve ever had?
I was working at a childcare center and somehow I got put in charge of giving approximately ten gazillion Legos a bath. It took a very long time, but they were super clean. You’re welcome, children.
Big brother, little sister, in the middle, or one and only?
One and only!
Favorite author when you were a kid?
Andrew Clements, Lois Lowry, Beverly Cleary (sorry, can’t pick just one!)
Do you draft longhand? Or use a computer?
Computer, but I jot down a lot of my ideas in a notebook.
What are you working on next?
My next book, BUBBLES, will be out in 2017! It’s another MG magical realism from FSG/Macmillan. In this one, twelve-year-old Sophie starts seeing people’s actual thoughts in thought bubbles that appear over their heads.
Ellie Terry writes heartfelt contemporary fiction for middle-grade readers and funny poetry for all ages. Her middle-grade debut, FORGET ME NOT, will be released March 14, 2017 by Feiwel & Friends, an imprint of Macmillan. She lives in southern Utah with her husband, three kids, two zebra finches, and a Russian desert tortoise.