The Writers' Loop

For Readers and Writers

Author Sarah McGuire Chats About Writing, Fairy Tales and Her Debut Novel, Valiant

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By Peggy Morehouse

Who doesn’t love a story that starts with Once upon a time… and ends with …They lived happily ever after?  Put some magic in the middle, add a protagonist who always  overcomes an obstacle, and you have a formula for a winning story. It’s called a fairy tale. They’ve fascinated readers for centuries with stories from The Elves and the Shoemaker by the Grimm Brothers to Stardust by Neil Gaiman. Now there’s a new addition to the list. Sarah McGuire released her debut novel, Valiant, in early May. She describes it as:

Reggen who still sings about the champion, the brave tailor. This is the story that is true. Saville despises the velvets and silks that her father prizes more than he’s ever loved her. Yet when he’s struck ill she’ll do anything to survive–even dressing as a boy and begging a commission to sew for the king. But piecing together a fine coat is far simpler than unknotting court gossip about an army of giants, led by a man who cannot be defeated, marching toward Reggen to seize the throne. Saville knows giants are just stories, and no man is immortal. Then she meets them, two scouts as tall as trees. After she tricks them into leaving, tales of the daring tailor’s triumph quickly spin into impossible feats of giant-slaying. And stories won’t deter the Duke and his larger-than-life army. Now only a courageous and clever tailor girl can see beyond the rumors to save the kingdom again.”

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 Sarah was kind enough to answer a few questions about her writing journey and Valiant for The Writers’ Loop.

 1. What inspired you to write a reinvented fairytale?
To be honest, I never considered writing anything but a fairytale. I’d worked for years on another fairy tale retelling before Valiant, and even though I put that first story aside, I always knew the next books would be fairy tales.

Fairytales were the stories that shaped my childhood. They showed me worlds that were richer and more magnificent than I could imagine. So it made sense to dive back into them when I started writing. For me, fairytales (both writing and reading them) are a return to wonder.

2. Tell us a little about your main character. What will make the reader say, “I love her” and what will make us say, “Oh no. Stop doing that!”

Oh goodness. Well, Saville is the only child of an amazingly gifted but horribly bitter father. He dragged her to the city of Reggen when the tailor’s guild in their old home rejected him. When Saville’s father suffers a stroke, she works to keep them both alive by masquerading as a boy- a tailor’s apprentice. She goes from trying to escape her father to caring for him as well as sheltering a street boy she meets. And then there are the giants…

As far as what would make people love her? She’s smart and scrappy, and more than that, she looks out for her own. Her bravery is rooted in her care for her family, and eventually, her city, even though she never wanted to live there in the first place.

And the “Oh, no!” Hmmm. I tried not to make any of it easy for Saville. That was a conscious decision- to make sure that things only became more complicated, plot-wise and emotionally, as the story progressed.

3. Is Valiant considered middle grade or young adult fiction? What is the primary difference and what will all age groups love about your story?

They have entire panels devoted to this topic in various conferences! Valiant was marketed as Upper Middle-Grade, though from what I understand, it might have been considered YA years ago.

However, YA has shifted up since then. So while Valiant has a 17-year-old protagonist, the story itself has a more traditional fairy tale feel. It’s not very gritty: there’s romance but no sex, violence but not too much gore. Because of that, precocious 10 or 11 year old readers could read it and there wouldn’t be anything really prohibitive in the content itself.

Valiant will appeal to readers who enjoyed Ella Enchanted or Goose Girl or retellings that are more … earnest or heartfelt. Readers who want gritty probably wouldn’t like Valiant as much.

4. You are a busy math/creative writing high school teacher. How do you make time for writing?

I heard a writer say once that she wanted to shout when someone told her he’d write if only he had the time. The truth (as you say!) is we make time for writing.

I carve writing time out of my evenings since I tend to be a night owl. I’ll get home from work and take a nap. When I wake up, I finish grading and/or lesson plans. Then I work on writing till I’m too tired to work any more. I don’t have time to write every night, but I make it a priority. I’ve also found that it’s easiest to revise during the school year, and draft novels during the summer, when I have time to immerse myself in the story. But I’ve also drafted during the school year and revised during the summer. I think the main thing is to figure out what works best for you, and then just do it.

5. What has been your biggest challenge taking Valiant from idea to published novel?

If you ignore the years I spent learning to write on that first, shelved, novel, I had a short road to publication. I found an agent in my first batch of queries for Valiant and sold it in the first round of submissions. Then I worked with a fabulous editor, Alison Weiss, so even the revision process was great.

For me, the biggest challenge was finding out this January that my publisher, Egmont USA, was closing. I had one weekend to take care of final page passes, and those revisions were due the same morning that semester grades were due. My publication date was moved from June to April, and I found out that there wouldn’t be as much support as I’d originally thought for Valiant’s release.

(Let me say, however, that I was one of the lucky ones. There were other Egmont USA authors who had covers and ARCs, and they ended up having to sell those stories all over again.)

So I ended up banding together with other Egmont authors who had books releasing this spring, and we created Egmont’s Last List. So many people in the industry helped us get the word out about our books. At first, Egmont’s closing was incredibly daunting, but it turned out well. And it was wonderful to get to know the other Last List authors.

6. What advice do you have for anyone who has a story to tell and wants to start putting it on the page?

Put it on the page. Seriously. Just write it. You can’t learn how to write if you don’t write. You can’t revise if you haven’t written a first draft.

Just write.

For me the hardest part of writing is figuring out how to live in the tension of having a wonderful story inside me, yet putting down absolute dreck when I try to write it. That gap between what could be and what exists on the page can be horribly demoralizing. But the people who eventually sell books have figured out how not to become immobilized by their imperfection, and they keep going. So as you write, be aware that half the battle is just about whether you continue to write.

And then, once you’ve been writing for a bit, find people who know more than you do. Read their books. Go to conferences. Join a crit group where you are not the best writer. And then have the sense and humility to actually learn from those books and conferences and crit groups.

And keep writing. 🙂

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Sarah McGuire

Sarah McGuire loves fairy tales and considers them the best way to step outside of everyday life. They’re the easiest way, at least: her attempt at seven to reach Narnia through her parents’ closet failed. She lives within sight of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, where she teaches high school creative writing and math classes with very interesting word problems. Valiant is her first novel.

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You can purchase Valiant at: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1606845527/ref=x_gr_w_bb?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwgoodco-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1606845527&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

You can find Sarah at:

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2 thoughts on “Author Sarah McGuire Chats About Writing, Fairy Tales and Her Debut Novel, Valiant

  1. Nice! Beautifully said – I agree, fairy tales are the best, whether for children, or for adults.

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