Yesterday saw the release of Amy Bearce’s middle-grade fantasy, FAIRY KEEPER. We interviewed Amy to discuss the release of her debut novel, her experiences as a mother and school librarian, and why it’s important to get children reading as early as possible.
You originally had your book as young adult, why did you decide to change it to upper MG and what (in your mind) is the distinction?
There’s sometimes a fine line between upper middle grade and young adult. My editor and I both felt that the voice of the piece was just more MG, but the basic premise seemed more YA…so we merged them until both fit upper MG. While Sierra grows and changes, the focus is on the adventure itself. There was also a sweetness to the story, according to my publisher, that felt younger than what you’d expect with YA. This is especially seen in the romance area. Less heat, more sweet, you might say. J So we changed the age of the character and tweaked a few scenes so that her responses were more consistently appropriate for a 14 year old (granted, 14 year olds in this world have more responsibility than the same age person in ours.) Plus, I wanted something my girls could read and my oldest isn’t quite ready for YA yet.
How has being a mother affected the content of your writing?
I try not to think of anything other than the story while I’m drafting, but the place my children have in my heart is such a deep level that I’m sure it affects everything. I tend to write about girls who go after what they want, even if they are nervous or afraid. I like to focus on friendships and family relationships, not just romance (though I love a good romance!) During revision, I do think about how it would affect my girls to read this and know their mother wrote it. I want them to be proud of what I write and be proud of me as their mom.
The UK is celebrated World Book Day on March 5. Why is it important to promote reading to children, and how can we as individuals help?
There is one activity that’s been consistently shown to build vocabulary, comprehension, and empathy—and that’s reading self-selected books. The more they read, the better they get, yet kids spend very little time in class actively engaged in reading books that they’ve chosen for themselves. Studies have shown that kids and adults who read literature actually becoming kinder, more understanding people. They also become better communicators. So, I think it’s critical that we support kids (and adults) in reading books.
I used to teach reading in public and private school, and my experience confirmed the importance of allowing students to self-select books. As individuals, you can make a big difference. Give your kids or students a choice. Let them pick a book at the library, even if you think it’s too hard or too easy. You can offer suggestions, of course, but if a kid is dying to read a more challenging book, you’d be surprised at how they will rise to the challenge. And rereading a favorite book? That’s okay, too. Just remind yourself that they are building fluency. Generally, I think we need to relax and trust kids more.
Also—here’s a biggie—if you want your child to read, you need to… READ. Kids model what they see. And if you never pick up a book, they are going to learn from you that reading isn’t valuable, when in fact it gives them a safe place to explore the world in all manner of ways.
You are currently near Ramstein, Germany, in Europe. Do you miss hometown bookstores? Which are your favorites?
I DO miss my bookstores at home. We moved here this summer and I’ve ordered a lot of books online since then! In San Antonio, sadly, the big bookstore on my side of town closed a while back (we miss you Borders!) but there’s still The Twig Book Shop downtown, which supports indie and small press authors as well as the usual big names, and then there’s Barnes and Noble, of course. I met my critique partner at the coffee shop in B&N on many-a-Monday for writing and book chats and I miss that terribly. And the local chapter of SCBWI meets at the Barnes and Noble for events and I wish I were there to celebrate with them! I’m fortunate that there’s such a neat group of writers here in the SCBWI Germany/Austria chapter! I’ve gained several new friends through that group.
You also studied to become a children’s or school librarian…was this because you wanted to be a writer? Vice versa?
I think librarianship and writing share several things in common. I love reading and I love books. I also love writing and think that anyone who wants to be a writer needs to read—a lot. I was already writing my own stories when my oldest daughter said, “Mom, you read so much, you should become a librarian.” And I thought, “Oh my gosh, that’s a great idea!” Writing is a wonderful thing, but so is having a steady paycheck. J But there aren’t any librarian positions here at my overseas location, so I’m focused on writing full-time.
Are there any important lessons we can expect in Fairy Keeper for young readers?
Hmmmm. I don’t write a story with an eye toward teaching a lesson, but, as with any book I’ve enjoyed, I hope that my book will inspire individuals to think about life or themselves in some new way. I would hope that readers will consider that if they want to make a difference in the world around them that they first must make peace with themselves and accept who they are, with all their perceived strengths and weaknesses. I hope people can love who they are. And then go after what they want with their whole heart.
You have two daughters of your own, did you model your MC after either one of them? Someone to be a role model for your daughters?
I didn’t think of Sierra as a role model at first, honestly. She sort of sprang whole cloth from my subconscious. I think she has some admirable traits, such as her tenacity and loyalty to her sister, but she has a lot to learn about love. She sort of irritates me at times, to be honest. I think the best thing Sierra demonstrates is that it’s a good thing to be able to admit when you were wrong. So I hope in that way, my girls can learn from Sierra. Humbling up is never easy!
Forget cute fairies in pretty dresses. In the world of Aluvia, most fairies are more like irritable, moody insects.
Almost everyone in the world of Aluvia views the fairy keeper mark as a gift, but not fourteen-year-old Sierra. She hates being a fairy keeper, but the birthmark is right there on the back of her neck. It shows everyone she was born with the natural ability to communicate, attract, and even control the tiny fairies whose nectar is amazingly powerful.
Fairy nectar can heal people, but it is also a key ingredient in synthesizing Flight, an illegal elixir that produces dreaminess, apathy and hallucinations. She’s forced to care for a whole hive of the bee-like beasties by her Flight-dealing, dark alchemist father.
Then one day, Sierra discovers the fairies of her hatch are mysteriously dead. The fairy queen is missing. Her father’s Flight operation is halted, and he plans to make up for the lost income by trading her little sister to be an elixir runner for another dark alchemist, a dangerous thug. Desperate to protect her sister, Sierra convinces her father she can retrieve the lost queen and get his operation up and running.
The problem? Sierra’s queen wasn’t the only queen to disappear. They’re all gone, every single one, and getting them back will be deadly dangerous.
Sierra journeys with her best friend and her worst enemy — assigned by her father to dog her every step — to find the missing queens. Along the way, they learn that more than just her sister’s life is at stake if they fail.
There are secrets in the Skyclad Mountains where the last wild fairies were seen. The magic Sierra finds there has the power to transform their world, but only if she can first embrace her calling as a fairy keeper.
Amy Bearce was an Army kid who moved 8 times before she graduated high school.
The one constant in her life was books-particularly fantasy and science fiction-and that hasn’t changed. Despite all the moves, Amy married her high school sweetheart. They met in their junior English class in an American school in Germany in 1991. They have two wonderful daughters and are carefully teaching them to love fantasy and science fiction, too.
A former English and reading elementary and middle school teacher, Amy has recently completed her Masters of Library Science and is excited about a career field with kids, teens, books and technology.
Amy is a homebody with a serious addiction to personality tests, which is not uncommon for an INFP (Myers-Briggs) such as herself. According to the DISC personality test, she is also a perfectionist, a title she hated. She immediately retook the test, changing some answers. When the results came up as Perfectionist again, she took it a third time, changing more answers to get a better result…not even seeing the irony until later.
And yes, the result still came back as “Perfectionist.”