I’m pleased to introduce Sarah Aronson. Sarah holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the author of two books for young readers: a retelling,The Princess and the Pea: A Very Short Pop-Up (Little Simon, 2002) and the Young Adult novel Head Chase (Roaring Brook Press 2007). Head Case was named a 2008 Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.
Sarah is also the co-founder and organizer of the Novel Writers Retreat at Vermont College. She speaks regularly at SCBWI events and writing conferences and reviews teen novels for Jewish Book World. She is a regular contributor to the craft blog, Through the Tollbooth. She is currently hard at work on two new novels for middle-grade and young adult readers.
Sarah’s newest book is Beyond Lucky (Dial Books for Young Readers). In Beyond Lucky, readers meet Ari Fish, a soccer goalie with a passion for the American presidents, and a fierce loyalty to his family and friends. Readers will root for Ari as he faces challenges head-on, both on and off the field.
What was the inspiration for Beyond Lucky, your first middle-grade novel?
Hmmmmm….that’s a tough one. I think that “being inspired” is a big part of being a writer, and my observations change my stories on a regular basis. Every morning, I try to put myself in the position of welcoming inspiration. I look at my environment, eavesdrop, and pay attention to things that bother me, themes like injustice, luck, and community. It took me a long time to write Beyond Lucky. I put it back in the drawer many times. So at different stages, different experiences inspired the story.
At first, I thought about my own childhood and my childhood heroes. I also remembered what it was like to have problems with friends. I thought about the role Judaism played in my life. (I’m the granddaughter of a rabbi. Let’s just say: it was big.)
It was also my job! Early in the book’s development, I was working as the educational director of a small Jewish community. I could see just how important community could be to kids Ari’s age—I talked to many families who were struggling to find a balance between secular and religious life. At the same time, I was struck by the changes in my students as they approached b’nai mitzvah! Later, as I revised the final version of Beyond Lucky, I worked with a number of girls on their dvars. Our discussions very much inspired me to think about Ari’s feelings about responsibility, family, and heroism.
Of course, my family inspired Beyond Lucky, too. My son, Elliot, was the inspiration for Ari’s interest in the U.S. Presidents. The day he brought home Cormac O’Brien’s Secret Lives of the US Presidents, our meals changed! He began to read about the presidents all the time. I could predict his mood, based on the president he was interested in at the moment. (Bad mood=Gerald Ford. Good mood=Teddy Roosevelt.) At about the same time, my stepson graduated from college, became an Army ranger, and left for Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne. Here was a true hero. He inspired Sam. We were so proud of him, but like Ari’s parents, we worried about his safety.
Did you do a lot of research about club soccer for the book?
I talked to a lot of soccer players and fans. I watched a lot of games. And I read a lot of soccer commentary. You know, people are really passionate about their teams!
For me, sports offer a great community to explore in a book. Like a lot of parents, I enrolled my kids in club soccer. Elliot may bike and swim now, but soccer was not his sport! Because he was mostly picking daisies, I watched the families. I took note about how kids played together. I have to admit—I LOVE the thrill of sports. Reading about girls breaking through the gender barrier totally inspired Parker. (The truth is: in the early drafts Parker was a boy!)
Ari is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. How does Ari’s Jewish identity impact his daily life?
I set out to write about a Jewish kid who has a regular story. But the more I dug into his story, the more I understood just how much his Jewish identity and family impacted the plot. Ari is a boy who wants to be a hero. But like a lot of the people from the Torah, he is just a regular person. Sometimes, doing the right thing is hard!
In Beyond Lucky, Wayne Timcoe is the local hero. Is his character based on a real person?
Not really, although I did go to school with two guys who eventually made it to the pros. I have always been interested in how athletes and other entertainers deal with life after their fifteen minutes are up. I like thinking about transitions like that…how a person adjusts to that sort of monumental change.
Ari has a lot of rituals that he thinks will bring him luck (counting presidents, reading his horoscope, etc). Do you believe in luck?
I don’t know a single writer who does not acknowledge luck! But the truth is, I have always been a little bit superstitious.
I sit down and write at the same time every day—right before and after yoga.
Before I send out a manuscript, I kiss it.
I make foods for different stages of my manuscript. (When the spicy soup comes out, my family knows we’re celebrating a “hundred page party!”)
I make a point to celebrate every step of the process. A new first page? A new chapter? A big revision? I celebrate! When I meet new writers, that is the advice I offer them.
What is your favorite holiday?
Passover wins by a hair over Purim. They both have great stories. And great rituals. The hamantaschen could have put Purim over the top, but over the last few years, my sponge cake has greatly improved.
To learn more about Sarah, please visit her at http://saraharonson.com/