Ask the Author: Elly Swartz
What would you like readers to know about you?
I love this question, Maddie! I want readers to know that I see them, respect them, and hope to honor them on the pages of the stories I write. I want them to know they are not alone and that we all have challenges that we’re working on. And those challenges do not define us. They are a part of us, but they are not us.
What is your newest book about for those who haven’t read it yet?
My most recent book is Give and Take (Farrar Straus & Giroux) and it flew into the world on Oct. 15, 2019. In Give and Take, you meet twelve-year-old Maggie who knows her new baby sister who smells like powder isn’t her sister for keeps. Izzie’s a foster baby awaiting adoption. So in a day or a week, she’ll go to her forever family and all that sweetness will be gone. Except for those things Maggie’s secretly saving in the cardboard boxes in her closet and under her bed. Baby socks, binkies, and a button from Bud the Bear. Rocks, sticks, and candy wrappers. Maggie holds on tight. To her things. Her pet turtle. Her memories of Nana. And her friends. But when Maggie has to say goodbye to Izzie, and her friend gets bumped from their all-girl trapshooting squad to make room for a boy, Maggie’s hoarding grows far beyond her control, and she learns that sometimes love means letting go.
At its heart, this book is about loving big. Deeply. Wholly. Loving because that’s the best gift we have to give. Not to be remembered. Just because we can.
It is also about accepting ourselves – all of ourselves.
When we think about who we are, we often define ourselves the way the world sees us. We allow others to determine our strengths and highlight our weaknesses. We allow them to put us in a pocket. Maggie’s story pushes past those definitions and looks inward. Who are we? Really? What layers make up the person we are. The great. The good. And the maybe not so good. Accepting all of them and knowing that no one layer, trait, or moment defines us. Together they blend to make us the wonderful unique and extraordinary individuals we are.
What are your other books about?
I am so grateful to have 3 middle grade novels out in the world.
In Smart Cookie (Scholastic), Frankie’s equal parts spunk and heart. But since her mom died many years ago, she feels like a piece of her is missing. So, Frankie secretly puts a dating profile online to find her dad a wife. No spoilers, but what she finds instead, is her herd. Her community. We all have one. And this herd is often so much bigger and wider than those with whom we share a name or childhood.
And in Finding Perfect (Farrar Straus & Giroux), my debut novel, you meet Molly Nathans. To Molly, perfect is:
- The number four
- The tip of a newly sharpened number two pencil
- A crisp, white pad of paper
- Her neatly aligned glass animal figurines
What’s not perfect is Molly’s mother leaving for a faraway job. Molly hatches a plan to bring her mom home: Win the middle school slam poetry contest. But there’s a problem. Molly’s poetry is becoming hard to create. Actually, everything’s becoming harder as new habits appear, and counting, cleaning, and organizing are not enough to keep Molly’s obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and world from spinning out of control. Ultimately, Molly learns there’s no such thing as perfect.
What was your inspiration for writing Give and Take?
Love. I wanted to write a story where the impetus for change was something positive. And that was the power of love. Loving big. And loving for the sole purpose of loving. Not to be remembered. In a world of manicured moments on SnapChat and Instagram and TikTok, I wanted Maggie to learn to love simply because it is the most cherished and beautiful gift we have to give.
I also wanted Maggie to see that she’s more than just her anxiety. That she’s not defined by her hoarding. I wanted her to know she’s so much more. And that she’s stronger and braver than she realizes.
What were the easiest and hardest parts of writing this story?
Give and Take flowed out of my heart. By the time I sat down to write (and there were lots of prewriting exercises I did to get to know Maggie), I felt like I really knew her. So putting Maggie’s story on the page was in some ways easy. I knew what she wanted. And maybe more importantly, I knew what she needed. But then came the hard part.
To write from that place of true authenticity, I couldn’t just know Maggie. I had to be Maggie. I had to feel what she was feeling. The joy. The love. The hurt. The sadness. The anger. I had to go to that dark place where she went. And live there awhile. That was the hard part. For me to emotionally connect with her, I needed to get into her head space. To feel what she felt. And when her heart was dark or scary or filled with mounds of anxiety, that was hard.
But that’s the point, right? Sometimes feeling big is scary. Sometimes it is hard. And we need to get through. Move past. Embrace. Learn. Let go. So, my feeling is, let’s do it together. On the page. You, me, and Maggie.
We are always better together.
What books or authors inspired you to become a writer?
When I was little, I loved Ramona the Brave, Pippi Longstocking, Eloise, and anything by Judy Blume. I connected with these stories about strong girls with big hearts and lots to say.
But the spark to write came when my oldest son (who is now 27) was in fifth grade and together we read, Mick Hart Was Here by Barbara Park. This book made me feel all the feels. I laughed and cried and knew then that this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to write. For kids.
That summer 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. Then Give and Take.
Finding Perfect was the first book that was published, but the 5th book I wrote. It took 15 years and lots of rejection to get published. Those years taught me the importance of following my dreams.
And the inspiration for dreaming big and never giving up was not from an author. That was from my mom.
She passed away long before my first book was published. Actually long before I ever dreamed of writing a book. But I know she is somewhere watching over me with a full heart and good book.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors who want to write a book?
My advice to aspiring authors would be to read everything. And write what matters most to you. If you write from that place of true authenticity, the place that tugs on your heart, you’ll find the voice and words and story that will connect with readers.
I would also recommend jumping onto social media, and Twitter, in particular. Meet the educators and librarians who are talking books. They are the most gracious, kind, dedicated group of people. Their love of their students and their love of reading is palpable. Introduce yourself, engage. Connect with other authors. Create community.
Then follow your heart and embrace the journey!
https://ellyswartz.com/ (Resources, curriculum guides, school visit information, and more!)
#FirstChapterFriday – Tune in and listen to Elly reading the first chapter of her books and share some writing tips.
My YouTube Channel
Give and Take Playlist on Spotify
How to connect
You can connect with Elly on Twitter @ellyswartz, on Instagram @ellyswartzbooks, on her site at ellyswartz.com, or on her webseries #BooksintheKitchen with author Victoria J. Coe.
Where to purchase Finding Perfect, Smart Cookie, and Give and Take
Links on Elly’s site – https://ellyswartz.com/
Elly Swartz loves writing for kids, Twizzlers, and anything with her family. Her debut novel, FINDING PERFECT (FSG 2016) is about 12-year-old Molly, friendship, family, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. In her second book, SMART COOKIE (Scholastic, 2018), you meet the spunky and big-hearted Frankie. Frankie’s all about family with a dash of mischief and mystery! Then in October, 2019, say hello to Maggie in GIVE AND TAKE (FSG). With the help of a foster baby named Izzie and Bert the turtle, Maggie learns that sometimes love means letting go. Elly lives in Massachusetts with her family and beagle.