Elly Swartz’s new middle grade novel, Smart Cookie, has all the elements that are sure to delight young readers – friendship, family, secrets, mystery, a cool granny and ghosts.
At a young age, Frankie lost her mother but rather than wait for fate to intervene and choose a new partner for her father, she is determined to influence events. Along the way, she will have to wrestle with family secrets, an irritated best friend and, possibly, a haunted B&B. I loved Frankie’s spunk and grit and I know you will, too.
(Also by Elly Swartz: Finding Perfect)
What were your favorite books as a kid?
I was a huge fan of Pippi Longstocking, Ramona the Brave, and Eloise. I think I loved their spunky, mischievous, independent nature.
In Smart Cookie, protagonist Frankie creates an online dating profile for her dad without his knowledge, with humorous results. What sparked this idea?
The best ideas are everywhere! You just have to store them away for the right story. I run a business where I help students and their families navigate the college process. And a long time ago, one of my students shared that she created an online dating profile for her grandmother. It wasn’t, however, a secret mission. Although this was many years before Frankie came to life, it planted the seed for Operation Mom. That’s the thing about idea seeds, you collect them, but they only germinate when the story is ready to spring to life.
Frankie feels like a classic middle grade hero – her voice is genuine and relatable. Did she show up that way or did you experiment with different versions of her?
Frankie came to me with all her spunk and heart. I loved her from the first moment she started whispering in my ear. She’s filled with a strong sense of loyalty and love of family. But, ultimately, learns that family isn’t about having all the pieces in place, it’s about having people in your life who love you unconditionally. And that circle is so much bigger than those with whom you’ve shared a childhood or a name.
Secrets and mystery are at the heart of Smart Cookie. Are you a mystery fan or did this just evolve as you went along?
The secrets and mystery element of Smart Cookie evolved as an integral part of the story. When I write, I start with the heart of a character. In this case, that was Frankie. From there, it’s like I’m the muse and the characters are whispering in my ear. They are sharing their secrets and telling me why it’s so important to keep them hidden. And, if I am listening, really listening, I get to write their story.
Frankie, her dad and her grandmother live together in a struggling B&B. I loved the details. How did you research what it might be like running a place like The Greene Family B&B?
My husband and I have spent a lot of time in B&Bs. They are warm and friendly and filled with family. And many of these B&Bs have been nestled in wonderful small towns in Vermont. During our stays, I’ve spoken to the owners of the B&Bs about what motivated them to buy the inn, how life has been for them as owners, and the travails that have ensued at the B&B.
What are you currently working on?
I am in the middle of revisions for a new middle grade novel that comes out in 2019. In GIVE AND TAKE, you’ll meet twelve-year-old Maggie. Maggie has a big heart and a hard time letting go. Of stuff. Of people. Of the past. With the help of her turtle Rufus, a baby named Izzie and the almost all-girls trap shooting team, she begins to understand that people are more than the things that hold their memories.
I also have ideas stirring for a nonfiction book and another new mg novel. So stay tuned. Good things are coming!
How do you prefer readers get in touch with you?
I love connecting with readers! They can reach me via my website, http://ellyswartz.com/contact or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ellyswartz. And, for all the educators and librarians reading, I also love visiting schools and Skyping!
Smart Cookie Curriculum Guide