It takes a village to make a novel the best that it can be, and I had a fantastic village at Simon & Schuster and the Paula Wiseman Books imprint when I was working on ARROW. My editor, Sarah Jane Abbott, was indispensable, giving me suggestions that helped lift the characters and story to new levels. With the book coming out on paperback, I chatted with her about her experience working on ARROW. Here’s what she said:
When you first read ARROW, what made you decide that this was a book that you and Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster would want to publish?
From the very beginning, the characters in the book captured my heart. Arrow and the Guardian Tree have such a special bond with each other and their mission to protect their home and forest family resonated with me. I also loved the juxtaposition with the arid, almost apocalyptic outside world and the way it has shaped the kids who grew up there. The manuscript was like a middle grade version of “Mad Max” meets Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke” or the nineties movie “Fern Gully,” which I loved!
What did you like best about working on this book?
I got to work with you again, which was such a pleasure! I always enjoy brainstorming with you and working out world building things like the “rules” of how the Guardian Tree can see and hear around the forest.
Relatedly, it was fascinating learning about all of the real-life science that went into creating the book. I was introduced to so many rain forest plants and animals I had never heard of before. I also loved listening to the TED talk that partially inspired the book about how trees “communicate” through a root network, to share information and nutrients. It’s real life magic!
Do you have a favorite character, or one who resonates with you the most?
Every character in the book has a special place in my heart, especially Arrow and the Guardian, of course. But actually, besides them, my favorite is the leader of the Herd, Storma!
Whenever my partner and I start a new TV show, he can guess right away who my favorite character is going to be, because I absolutely have a type. I love a strong, female character—usually a leader—who keeps people at arm’s length, may have some trauma in her past, and sometimes makes morally gray decisions, but ultimately is a good person who would do anything to protect her family. And that’s Storma! Plus, how cool is her name?
This was our second book that we worked on together — and I always feel very grateful that THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST was the first book you ever acquired as an editor. Did you feel that working on these two books were different? If so, how?
I feel so lucky that BBB was my first project as an editor and that you trusted me to work with you on it!
By the time we started working on ARROW together, I think we had a good workflow and sense of how each other’s brains worked. Which was a good thing, because in my opinion, ARROW is a more complex and ambitious book. There are more moving parts, more world building, more characters. So it was different in a sense that we had to have in-depth conversations about things like the logistics of getting groups of characters where they needed to be, and making sure large amounts of exposition and world building information was integrated naturally. We definitely racked up the phone hours!
You are no longer at Simon & Schuster but have your own editorial service. So exciting! Can you tell us about that and all the work you’re now doing?
I’m so grateful for my time at S&S and everything I learned there. Since starting my own editorial service, I’m working on a wide range of projects. I work with both publishers and authors, published and pre-published, to polish up their picture books and middle grade novels. I also work on helping authors prep their query materials for submission. I have a couple of ghostwriting projects in progress too, which is fun. I’m working on the next installment of a mystery series I loved as a kid, which feels like a big life achievement!
If other writers want to work with you, how should they contact you?
I’d love to hear from writers about what they’re working on and how I can help them make their manuscript the very best it can be. My website is sarahjaneabbotteditorial.com and there is a contact form there, but authors can also reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.