Sunday, June 4, 2017

Europolitan Mentor Interviews Part 1: Sarah Aronson

by Patti Buff

Welcome to our interview series with the Europolitan Mentors! The Europolitan Mentorship program pairs qualified, inspirational mentors with aspiring authors and illustrators, who write in English, to help bring them closer to publication, or to publication at a higher level. Each mentor will select one mentee from all applicants.

This six-month online one-on-one program provides mentees the opportunity to work personally with and learn from a successful professional with teaching experience and a proven track record in children’s literature.

In this series of articles, you will get a closer look at the 2017 mentors; who they are, their writing journey and what potential mentees should know about them. For more information about the program and how to apply, visit the website. 

Our first interview is with Sarah Aronson. Sarah is mentoring picture books as well as middle grade to young adult literature.

Sarah Aronson began writing for kids and teens when someone in an exercise class dared her to try. Since then, she has earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and published three novels: HEAD CASE, BEYOND LUCKY, and BELIEVE. Titles forthcoming include her first nonfiction picture book, JUST LIKE RUBE GOLDBERG (Beach Lane Books, TBD) and a new chapter book series about fairy godmother training (and the worst fairy godmother ever), THE WISH LIST (Scholastic, 2017-2018).

When Sarah is not writing or reading (or cooking or riding her bike), she loves working with new writers to help them discover their stories and get them ready for submission. She teaches classes at Writers on the Net ( as well as the amazing Highlights Foundation. She is also the cofounder and organizer of the Writing Novels for Young People Retreat at VCFA, now approaching its fifteenth year. She loved serving as an SCBWI mentor in both Illinois and Michigan and enjoys speaking at many conferences. Sarah believes that we do our best work when we feel safe and supported, when we embrace the process and the power of play! Sarah will push you to see your manuscript in a new way. She is open to all genres, but particularly enjoys realistic middle grade and young adult fiction. Learn more about her at Like tips? Don’t mind exclamation points? Sign up for her weekly newsletter on her creative process, Monday Motivation.

First off, thank you so much Sarah, for becoming a Europolitan Mentor! I always like to know about how people became writers so could you share with us your path to writing. Was this something you’d always done or did you pick it up along the way?

Sarah's workspace
When I was young, I definitely did not want to be a writer. I was more interested in becoming a famous actress or maybe the first NFL punter! I loved story—but I spent more time acting than reading. (My most memorable acting experience was as The Nurse in Romeo and Juliet. We started the play with the ending, and then retraced it to the moment when they prepared to meet.)

When I was done with college, I worked for Jack La Lanne, the famous exercise enthusiast. I became 
a physical therapist. I became a mom and began to read books to my kids. They were the ones who LOVED books. One day in 2000, while I was teaching a spinning class (the kind on bikes), someone dared me to write. (He thought I was funny.) I thought: why not? That day, when I had time, I took out a paper and pencil. I loved my kids’ books. I gave it a try!

So nice to know you were a late-bloomer, too. And since writing and publishing are two different beasts, could you share with us how you first became published and what you’ve learned over the years about publishing?

When I began writing, editors had more time to do the kind of mentoring I do now. I owe so much to the late great Deborah Brodie, who was an executive editor at Roaring Brook Press. For some reason, she took an interest in me. She read and critiqued three bad manuscripts. We spent many hours talking on the phone and meeting in person to discuss the craft of writing. Since I was not the fastest learner, she wrote my recommendation to Vermont College of Fine Arts, and pushed me to study harder. The second I got to Montpelier, I knew I’d found the right place to create. I wrote and revised HEAD CASE in my first two semesters. I sent it to her and Deborah bought it!

What a great experience to have an editor have so much faith in you from the very beginning! What role did other mentors, critique groups, or your MFA program play in your creative career?

The summer office where she can
listen to a church organist
In every experience, from my first critique group, to working with Deborah, and then at VCFA, working with Kathi Appelt, Jane Resh Thomas, Margaret Bechard, and Tim Wynne-Jones, I learned to read like a writer, so that I could read my own drafts with a critical eye. I also learned it was easy to delete! And that writing didn’t have to feel hard all the time—it could also be a joy! Norma Fox Mazer reminded me that structure didn’t hold me back—it was freedom! And Carolyn Coman gave me tools that have gotten me unstuck. They all showed me to trust my intuition before my intellect—to get to the inside story—the inner struggle first—and to believe in myself. These lessons have helped me when I thought I had no answers—when I worried that my career had hit a dead end. They taught me that ego can get in the way of the magic of creativity—that story needs space and time and a listening ear. They taught me to trust the process. I have. And it hasn’t let me down.

It’s also given me a safe supportive community. I think this is a mandatory component of the writing life.

In my own classes and workshops at VCFA,, and The Highlights Foundation, I welcome the magic. I strive to help writers listen to their characters, to try new ideas, and re-imagine (not just revise). In every group, I start with trust—and showing fear the door. It is exciting to see new stories come to life! I am a big believer in validating your progress—every milestone needs to be acknowledged and celebrated.

Ernestine, the girlgoyle, joins
Sarah in her summer office

    What excites you most about being a mentor for the SCBWI Europolitan Mentor Program? 

    New writers!

    New stories!

    I love collaborating!

What else should potential mentees know about you?
There will be points in this process when you will agree with me and feel very excited. There will also be times when we disagree with me—sometimes adamantly. You may even feel defensive. Irritated. So let me say upfront: that is okay. Mentorship is more than a to-do list toward publication. Although my friends like to tease me about being bossy, I am not the boss.

This is your book.

My job is to put the ball in play!

I believe our stories get better when we are willing to try, to experiment, to fail. We must be flexible and look at story and character from every angle possible in order to create the best book possible. I believe that we write for a reason—we have something to say. I want to honor your themes at all times.

I will introduce you some craft techniques that will help you create more authentic characters and exciting, tension-filled plots. I will encourage you to dig and explore and re-imagine elements of your story. I will challenge you to think about the possibilities that are already there on the page. It’ll be fun. We will laugh a lot!

Sarah's Books:

Scholastic Press (May 30, 2017)

Q: What do you need to become a great fairy godmother?

a) kindness
b) determination
c) gusto
d) all of the above

Fairy-godmother-in-training Isabelle doesn’t know what gusto is, but she’s pretty sure she has what it takes to pass fairy godmother training with flying colors.

But then Isabelle is assigned a practice princess who is not a princess at all. Nora is just a normal girl—a normal girl who doesn’t believe in fairy godmothers or that wishes come true or happily-ever-afters.

Isabelle has to change Nora’s mind about magic and grant a wish for her. If she can’t, Isabelle will flunk training and never become a great fairy godmother!

Carolrhoda Books (September 1, 2013)
When Janine Collins was six years old, she was the only survivor of a suicide bombing that killed her parents and dozens of others. Media coverage instantly turned her into a symbol of hope, peace, faith–of whatever anyone wanted her to be. Now, on the ten-year anniversary of the bombing, reporters are camped outside her house, eager to revisit the story of the “Soul Survivor.”

Janine doesn’t want the fame–or the pressure–of being a walking miracle. But the news cycle isn’t the only thing standing between her and a normal life. Everyone wants something from her, expects something of her. Even her closest friends are urging her to use her name-recognition for a “worthy cause.” But that’s nothing compared to the hopes of Dave Armstrong–the man who, a decade ago, pulled Jannine from the rubble. Now he’s a religious leader whose followers believe Janine has healing powers.

The scariest part? They might be right.

If she’s the Soul Survivor, what does she owe the people who believe in her? If she’s not the Soul Survivor, who is she?

Dial Books (June 30, 2011)
Ari Fish believes in two things: his hero—Wayne Timcoe, the greatest soccer goalie to ever come out of Ari’s hometown—and luck. So when Ari finds a super-rare Wayne Timcoe trading card, he’s sure he must be the luckiest kid ever. Especially when he’s picked to be the starting goalie for his travel team. Everything is going perfectly until the card goes missing and Ari’s luck runs out. Suddenly he can’t save a goal, his team is fighting, and he can’t rely on his lucky card to fix it. Will his luck turn back around in time for the league championships, or will he need to find something else to believe in?

Beyond Lucky was named a VOYA 2012 Top Shelf Pick for Middle Readers. It received a starred review from Jewish Book World. It was nominated for the 2012-3 Maine State Book Award, the 2014 Sequoia Book Award, and the 2013-4 Mark Twain Award.

Roaring Brook Press (September 4, 2007)
One mistake.
One bad night.
One too many drinks.

Frank Marder is a head, paralyzed from the neck down, and it’s his fault. He was drinking. He was driving. Now Frank can’t walk, he can’t move, he can’t feel his skin. He needs someone to feed him, to wash him, to move his body.

When you’re a head, do you ever feel like a whole person? Will Frank eve get to forgive himself?

If you ask most of the people who post on the www.quadkingonthenet, he hasn’t been adequately punished. Two people are dead because of him. Frank should go to jail. Only “Anonymous” disagrees.

A powerful and heartbreaking debut novel and a guy who had it all . . .until he drank that one last beer and got into the car. Head Case will make you consider how we judge each other. And how we can move beyond our mistakes—with honesty, compassion, and even humor.

Named a 2008 Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.

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