When I was signed by my awesome editor at Aladdin, Amy Cloud, one of the first things I did was look up what other books she was working on, to learn her style and to see what kind of company I was in. I’ve since had the pleasure of reading many fun and amazing books of hers as they released, such as The Last Boy at St. Edith’s by Lee Gjertsen Malone, The Classy Crooks Club by Alison Cherry, Jennifer Weiner’s first book for kids, The Littlest Bigfoot, and I Am Fartacus (you read that right!) by Mark Maciejewski. But I admit to being most intrigued by a title called Holly Farb and the Princess of the Galaxy, which was in my genre (humorous sci-fi) and pitched as a cross between The Guardians of the Galaxy and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Not too shabby!
Luckily, I got to read an advance copy of Holly Farb and get to know the author, Gareth Wronski, through a writer’s group we both joined. Holly Farb sets a high bar, not only for our genre but for middle grade books in general. Get this for your kids! And if you want to learn more, as I did, here’s a Q & A between me and Holly’s creator:
Q: I like to ask sci-fi authors: if given a chance, would you like to go into space yourself?
A: I’ve honestly never given it much thought, since I was so thoroughly unexceptional in school that it didn’t really seem like something possible, but… yes, I guess I would if given the chance. I could see myself doing quite well as the lone person aboard some space station, shuffling around my potato garden, mumbling to myself.
Q: I’m sure most readers can pick out some of such influences for Holly Farb as Star Wars and the Hitchhiker’s Guide. Can you name some less obvious examples?
A: The Wizard of Oz. I always thought of the book as basically like if Dorothy’s tornado was actually space pirates, and instead of whisking her away to Oz she ended up in space. And then the various supporting characters are like the Tinman, Scarecrow, etc. There was even a yellow brick road and Emerald City thing I was trying to do at one point but I think I gave up and just settled for there being a gold floor during one chapter. That level of effort is why I will never go to space.
Q: What sparked the creation of your story?
A: I was feeling pretty down and wanted to write something fun that would cheer me up.
Q: What, if any, story details change most drastically from first draft to last?
A: The biggest thing was that it was much shorter. The first draft was about 20k words versus the final one of around 60k. I think the most significant element not in the first draft was the President character.
Q: What has been the most surprising thing about the debut publishing process?
A: Probably how slow it is. [nervous laugh]
Q: Do you write full time or also have a “day job”?
A: I’m trying to do the writer thing full time.
Q: What advice would you give to kids who like to write? And to adults who want to write for kids?
A: For kids who like to write, I would say to figure out what it is you enjoy writing and then not let people dissuade you from doing it. Your sensibilities as a person are the most interesting part about you as a writer, so you want to keep them safe. And above all, just try to have fun. Starting to write at a young age is great because you have so much time ahead of you to experiment and see what suits you and what doesn’t.
For adults who want to write for kids, I would say the important thing is to not think you’re better or smarter or wiser than your audience.
Q: Of your cast of colorful characters, do you have a personal favorite?
A: It usually changed whenever I read it, but right now I would say Holly.
Q: What’s one interesting tidbit about yourself or your book that you haven’t admitted online or publicly yet to anyone?
A: Other than the fact that it’s a 100% accurate true story? Something I’ve never said is that it was previously called A Very Galactic Story, a title pretty much entirely inspired by a Harry Potter YouTube musical.
Thanks, Gareth. Holly Farb rocks!
Gareth Wronski was born and raised in Toronto. After watching Star Wars as a child on his grandparents’ VCR, he decided he wanted to tell science fiction and fantasy stories of his own. He currently resides in an old house by the Avon River in Stratford, Ontario, where he lives in constant terror of roaming swans. You can find out more about him at garethwronski.com or say hi on Twitter @garethwronski.