Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
In Abby Cooper’s MG debut, STICKS AND STONES, the main character, Elyse, is starting middle school. Her best friend is drifting away, she’s dumped by her first boyfriend, and she’s facing self-esteem issues. For Elyse, middle school is made harder by a skin disease that causes the words other people use to describe her to instantly appear on her arms and legs. Elyse has had the disease all her life, but suddenly words like “cute" and “adorable” are replaced by BOZO, PITIFUL, and TOTAL FAILURE. Worse yet, words Elyse thinks about herself pop up on her skin and itch.
A book for fans of Wonder, El Deafo, and A Snicker of Magic, STICKS AND STONES has a theme of self-acceptance that is powerfully important for readers of all ages.
Author Abby Cooper kindly answered the following questions concerning her inspiration for the book, her spot-on middle grade voice, and her writing journey:
1. What inspired the idea for your main character’s disease, cognadjivisibilitis?
The title STICKS & STONES came to me right away. Elyse's cognadjivisibilitis, however, did not! I didn't come up with it until about halfway through my first draft. I was experiencing the dreaded "oh here I am in the middle of my book and I'm stuck and I'm never getting out" thing that a lot of writers are probably familiar with. I thought back to my title, and to the expression that inspired it. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. I began to wonder - what if words could literally hurt someone? It was a question that really intrigued me. Sometimes words (both positive and negative) feel so powerful that it's like they really are displayed on our skin for all the world to see. I was curious what it would be like for someone if they really were.
2. You nailed the self-esteem issues and shifting friendship issues of middle school. (And the elusive middle grade voice!) Any advice for middle grade writers trying to accurately portray this age group?
Thank you! I think you just have to channel your inner 12-year-old. As cringe-worthy as it might be to read your old diaries, look at old photos, etc.., it'll be sure to bring back memories that make excellent book material. Also, get out in the modern middle grade world! Volunteer at a middle school or an after-school/summer program. Hang out with your friend's/neighbor's/whoever's kids. Talk to them and listen to what they say.
3. How long did it take you to write Sticks and Stones? How many drafts did you write before you found an agent and editor? Were beta readers a valuable part of this process?
Sticks & Stones was a NaNoWriMo project, so it only took me a month to write. Revising took much longer; my first draft was a total mess. (Like I said, I didn't even think of CAV until halfway through it!) I don't even know the exact number of drafts because there were SO. MANY. DRAFTS. But I'm so glad I revised as thoroughly as I did because I couldn't be happier with the finished book. And yes, beta readers were absolutely essential. I was fortunate enough to have the chance to work with author Gail Nall during #PitchWars 2013, and her feedback made an enormous difference. (I also made a ton of friends through the contest, and we still beta read for each other years later!) I'm really looking forward to being part of PitchWars again this year. Gail and I are co-mentoring, and we can't wait to find some awesome MG!
Thank you, Abby, for answering these questions and for writing such an amazing book!
STICKS AND STONES, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, releases July 12.