Huge thanks, Karen, for connecting and having me on your blog. Most grateful!
You’ve written so much heart into these characters, and in how Autumn deals with her struggles, compounded with her worries about tiny animals being lab experiments, her social anxiety, a missing father, taking care of a little sister, being caught between two opposing friends, and the first day of middle school! Quite the setup.
1. Your young characters have difficult problems to solve. What speaks to you about this age? Were you ever concerned about topics being too tough?
I love this age! It’s an age of honesty and discovery. A time when my readers are finding their voice. And themselves.
As for tough topics, they are part of kids’ lives. And the most important way I can honor my readers is to talk about these topics. Because the more we talk about them, the more readers feel seen, heard, and respected. And the more we break down the barriers to having these important discussions.
In my heart, tough topics need empathy, kindness, conversation, and compassion. Not silence.
2. It’s the first day of middle school for Autumn, she suffers from social anxiety, and her father, who’s in the Peace Corp reminds her to find Fearless Fred. What was your Fearless Fred growing up? How did you find yours?
I think we all have our own Fearless Fred – the part of each of us that fear can’t boss around. And like Autumn, I often found that part of me through writing. Connecting to the feelings I was sometimes too shy or worried or anxious to say out loud.
3. Autumn meets Logan, her polar opposite, she’s outgoing, courageous, and even though both her parents live at home, Logan’s mother is absent most evenings doing activist work. Gone, like Autumn’s dad. Growing up did you have a bestie who was your polar opposite?
In what ways?
Ha! I love this. I did have a bestie. We were a lot alike—our hearts valued the same things – friendship, family, and each other, but yes, we were different, too. Maybe not polar opposites, but we each had our strengths. She was bold when I was scared. I was compassionate when she was hurting. But truly what I remember most, is that we were always there for each other. No matter what. And we laughed a lot. We made a great team. And I am grateful every day for her friendship then and now.
4. Autumn’s mother is a vet, and she helps take care of her little sister. Their relationship is very sweet. Living above the veterinarian’s office, they encounter all varieties of pets, including the iguana found lying wounded in the street. The culprit is the boy riding the blue bike. He accompanies Autumn to the vet’s office, then leaves mysteriously. When you sit at your computer, struggling with a scene, what do you choose as your mascot, avatar, spirit animal?
Oooh. This is such a fun question! I think my spirit animal is a dog and my mascots are my pups, Baxter Bean and Lucy. They remind me to be present. And playful. They love me up when I’m feeling stuck. And help me celebrate with a long walk when I happily get to the end.
5. The boy’s name is Cooper, he’s a new student, but Autumn’s new bestie, Logan, who’s all kinds of cool, thinks he’s weird and Autumn’s conflicted about the three of them hanging out together. It’s hard making new friends and she doesn’t want to blow it. A tough social situation for any age. How do you come up with such heartfelt conflicts? Any tips for writers?
Agreed, Autumn finds herself in a tough social situation. Stuck between two friends who don’t get along. I feel this situation is one many can relate to. And a situation I have been in. More than once.
So, my advice to writers would be to write the stories that matter to you. That have touched your life and your heart. Write what’s important to you. Because in those moments you connect personally and authentically with your story. And with your reader. That is truly when the magic happens.
6. Autumn’s writing a story, mirroring her life, a place she’s free to express her thoughts. When there’s a call for a Dear Student columnist, an anonymous position at school, she applies and to her surprise, gets the position. It might be her one thing, her father always asking her to find. She finds it’s easier being honest and true to her heart when people don’t know it’s you. Have you ever written an anonymous advice column? If so, did anyone know it was you?
I haven’t, Karen, but I’d love to! So, if you’re reading this and want to give me a shot, I am all in!
7. Logan’s fired up when she discovers the beauty supply in town tests on animals, like Autumn’s guinea pig at home. This is super important to Autumn, but now she doesn’t know what to do. Cooper’s mother works there. I was eager to see how the kids would resolve this complex problem, how they might triumph. What is your experience with animal rights?
I love this part of the story. And how Autumn ultimately resolves the conflict. (No spoilers I promise.)
There was a time when my beagle Lucy got into poison like Mr. Magoo did in the story. And like that scenario, we were terrified and never found out where it came from. But it did get me thinking.
And when the opportunity to write about animal rights came, I was excited. I love pets, have had many in my life, and, like Autumn and Logan, would do anything to protect them.
Here are a few of my pets and grandpets through the years! Look at those sweet faces. Wouldn’t you do what you could to make sure they were okay!
I loved the nod to Ruth Bader Ginsberg and to the beloved middle-grade book, The Vanderbeekers Of 141 Street. The Fearless Fred’s Famous Whoopie Pies recipe at the end looks yummy! Thanks for the substitutions, because like me, and so many of my friends, we have those food sensitivities too.
Thanks, Karen. I love weaving in books I adore and people I so admire. Hence the nod to Ruth and the Vanderbeerkers by Karina Yan Glaser.
As for the whoopie pies, yay! It was such fun making them. And like you, I have lots of dietary restrictions, so it was important to me that all readers get the opportunity to make Fearless Fred’s Whoopie Pies.
8. Lastly, If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
Believe in yourself, you’ve totally got this!
Elly Swartz grew up in Yardley, Pennsylvania. She studied psychology at Boston University and received her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center. Elly lives in Massachusetts and is happily married with two grown sons, a beagle named Lucy, and a pup named Baxter Bean. Finding Perfect, called “a clear, moving portrayal of obsessive-compulsive disorder” by Publishers Weekly, was her debut novel. She is also the author of Smart Cookie and Give and Take, novels for middle-grade readers.
Read more about Elly on her website: