Welcome to MG Book Village, Sarah! Thank you for agreeing to be part of our Fast Forward Friday feature. I really loved WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF, your debut MG novel coming out on March 31, 2020. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Hi, and thank you so much! I’m honored to be here! STARS is about a twelve-year-old girl named Libby, who was born with Turner syndrome. When her big sister announces she’s pregnant, Libby is absolutely thrilled, but also nervous because she knows about all the things that can go wrong. Things like heart problems and missing chromosomes. So Libby makes a deal with the universe and her favorite female scientist, Cecilia Payne, who discovered what stars are made of. If Libby can keep her end of the bargain, then the new baby will be born safe, healthy, and perfect.
I was so touched by the relationship between Libby and her sister, Nonny. Where did the inspiration for your characters come from?
I’m such a sucker for brightly earnest characters, and while I knew I wanted to write a character who has Turner syndrome, I wanted that to be just one part of her whole, joyful, optimistic character, and not the central focus. Libby developed from there! As for Nonny, I wanted an older sister who really got Libby, who loved and supported her without question, so that Libby could feel so strongly about trying to love and support her sister in return. I don’t have any older sisters, but I do have seven younger siblings, and maybe that’s why I often tend to write sibling stories!
I’ve never read a book about a character with Turner syndrome, and I assume most young readers haven’t either. Why is this an important topic for you, and what do you hope readers will learn from it?
That’s exactly right, I have never read or found a book that has a character with Turner syndrome either. I was born with Turner syndrome myself and wanted to finally see that story represented. For all those kids who feel on the fringes of normal, I want them to discover that they are the bright, shining stuff stars are made of, just as they are.
What’s one interesting tidbit about writing or publishing this book that you could tell us about?
I started this book in my masters program at Brigham Young University, and had the incredible fortune to work with author Martine Leavitt. (Everyone should read Calvin, it’s absolutely genius.) I wrote the first bits of this book in her workshop, and she was instrumental in helping me figure out how all the puzzle pieces fit together!
It’s been a long journey for you to get to this publishing milestone. Can you share one piece of advice you’ve received along the way that’s been helpful?
Oh man, long journey indeed! STARS is my fourth book, and I’ve been querying this and other books since 2012. Several books and hundreds of rejections later, I can honestly say that things worked out exactly the way they needed to. I feel much more prepared to launch a publishing career now than I would have been any earlier, and it is absolutely right that STARS is my first book.
The best advice I’ve been given on this journey is that the two things you really need are grit and friendship. Everything else will come if you have those two things. Find your inner-grit and learn to finish projects. Learn to keep working and moving on to the next one even when you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Hold to grit in the face of inevitable rejection (you’ll be facing that your whole career, if you’re in this for the long haul.) And find friends who are with you on this writing journey. Find writers at your same level, and follow and learn from authors who are a few steps ahead. If you can, find writers who are able to mentor you. Keep working, make friends, and you’ll get there.
If our readers want to know more about you and your writing, where can they find that information?
Are you working on another project at the moment?
Indeed I am! I’ve got another book coming out with FSG in 2021 (also a sisters story!) and I can’t wait to share more about it!
Thank you so much for sharing with us today. I look forward to adding your book to my library’s collection.
Thank you so much for having me, and giving Libby such a warm welcome into this world!
Sarah Allen is the author of WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF. She has been published in The Evansville Review, Allegory, and on WritersDigest, and has an MFA from Brigham Young University. She’s a major lover of Pixar, leather jackets, and Colin Firth.