Every time Angela Sage Larsen asks “what if…?” she ends up with a story or a series on her hands. Her series of seven picture books (which she wrote and illustrated), now being adapted into a Broadway-bound flying musical, Petalwink the Fairy, and her 5-book time-travel series for tweens, Fifties Chix, all started with characters Angela sketched followed by imagining possible answers to “what if…?”
For what age audience and in what genre do you write?
I don’t think about it this way, but I guess technically I’ve been writing fantasy! My picture book series is about Petalwink and her fairy friends which includes talking animals, and the Fifties Chix books for middle grade readers is about 5 teens who time travel from 1955 to present day. Though the time travel theme is considered fantasy, there is a lot of history in the Fifties Chix books from the Civil War through present day. It was interesting to research the astounding events this country has seen and weave them into my stories, trying to retain as much accuracy as I could while being true to my fictional characters. I think about my audience all the time, but I’m not as conscious of the genre; I just use whatever devices I need to get the story told! I’m more excited to think about the characters and what we can learn from their adventures.
Tell us about your latest book.
The last book I completed was Fifties Chix: Till the End of Time, the final book in the 5 book Fifties Chix series. It answers all kinds of questions the rest of the series raised about the characters and their adventures, but I left a little room to revisit the characters. The book I’m working on now is the script for Petalwink: The Musical, which is like Frozen with fairy wings meets Cirque du Soleil! Our lyricist-composer, Deborah Hurwitz (who’s in the original Broadway cast of the Tony award-winning Jersey Boys) has written five amazing pop songs and is waiting on me to finish the script to write more. It has been surreal to see my characters come to life on stage over the past year as we’ve been workshopping the script and showcasing the scenes and songs at Principia College!
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
From any of the books I write (including books for stage!), my hope is that my audience will come away feeling delighted, uplifted, inspired, and ready to celebrate an imaginative and innocent childhood. I am heartened by the growing social movement, which is a rebellion against the superficial and hyper-sexualized portrayal of girls and women in the media. I am passionate about this cause that is taking a second look at how gender stereotypes are limiting boys and girls. I champion “Good Books x Strong Girls” on my blog and in my books. So while I write fiction (that is fun and uplifting), I write with the intention of creating strong female characters that offer an alternative to the often discouraging and demoralizing portrayal of girls and women.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
Writing has taught me to have more empathy for my fellow man. As I imagine conflicts for my characters (so hard to make people I love, even if they’re fictional, struggle on purpose!), I must think through the ways that they deal with these conflicts. The plot usually demands that a character’s first response isn’t the most productive and she makes the situation even harder on herself. (For example, in Petalwink Comes in Second, Petalwink “loses” every contest she enters by coming in second place. When her friends go missing and she’s the only one left to go find them, she has a pity party instead of taking the opportunity to be a hero.) Writing Petalwink’s and the Fifties Chix (Mary, Maxine, Beverly, Judy and Ann)’s stories has made me more alert to how people act in real life and helped me have compassion on them. People don’t act like jerks in a vacuum! There’s always something they are struggling with that may not be immediately obvious.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
I’m always thrilled to meet someone who says they are working on writing or publishing a book and I get emails constantly asking for advice, which I am happy to give. I’m enjoying coaching several people on how to write and publish their books. The publishing industry is undergoing huge changes right now and I forever remind myself and others that this means there are more opportunities than ever. A writer who is working to get published should be like a tree, rooted and grounded in the love of their writing and ideal reader, strong and always reaching out, but flexible when the big storms (rejection, unforeseen obstacles, etc) come. My mantra is “Keep going!” Though, I guess if we’re talking about being a tree, “Keep growing!” is more accurate! My favorite advice, which you hear from authors time and again, is to write what you want to read, even as you’re keeping your ideal reader constantly in mind. I think this is really important because then you’re being authentic and continually refining your voice and message. When your writing is coming from a place of love, you’re assured of success (when success is defined as finishing a piece of work and connecting to a reader through that piece).
Where can readers find your work?
The Fifties Chix book series is available as ebooks and in print and are available wherever books are sold and also on FiftiesChix.com, where you can also find a link to the Fifties Chix lit guides. The Petalwink picture book series has 7 ebooks and 4 of those are in print, available on Petalwink.com. You can get the books there and also find a link to info about the musical, or you can go straight to Petalwinkthemusical.com.
This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.