Hi readers and listeners! Elizabeth Lenhard, author of the Chicks with Sticks series, has been kind enough to share some insight into the books with us! Read ahead for origin stories, how knitting patterns are born, and who won the 2016 election in the world of the Chicks with Sticks....
What inspired the Chicks with Sticks series? Was the knitting trend the catalyst?
Well, it was! My editor, who was amazing, went to my agent and said, “All these young women around New York are knitting like crazy and I think teenagers are going to be at it next. Do you have a writer who might want to go there?” My agent thought of me. Was I a knitter? Uh, not really! Thank goodness for YouTube. I taught myself how to knit really, really fast. As I learned, Scottie, Amanda, Tay and Bella learned with me. I became a legit knitter eventually and even had a pattern published in a book. (I didn’t write the patterns in the back of the CHICKS books, though. Those were dreamed up by me and executed by some talented pros which was kind of like seeing my words brought to life by an illustrator. In other words—magical!)
If you were writing the series now, would you have done anything differently?
I bet I wouldn't change much because if you go down that road, you want to change everything and then you get sad. I’ve been writing books since the late 1990s and I’ve come to accept that each book is something I wrote at that moment with the tools and experiences I had at that time. On the rare occasion that I go back and read one of my books, it’s like looking at a photo album—I’m taken back to what my life was like then. I reminisce about the long-ago things that inspired scenes and settings and situations. And that’s pretty cool.
What was your favorite thing about writing the series?
I started the series as I left my life as a single woman in Chicago and began my life as a married lady in Atlanta. During the years I wrote the CHICKS books, I became a mother, too. So it was a time of big transition for me. I remember choosing Chicago as the setting because I wanted to write a love letter to my former life. I ended up being glad to be writing from a distance and not just because I was falling in love with my new community. The chicks' world became less Chicago and more its own little fictional, whimsical universe. It was a sweet place I loved retreating to as my own life was going through so much upheaval. All that change was welcome and wonderful, for sure, but it was still a shake-up!
4. What is your favorite location where a Chicks with Sticks scene took place?
Oh, there are so many. I usually start a story with its setting rather than character, so even all these years later, I can really see a lot of them. One that stands out is, of course, KnitWit, because it was such a cozy, messy, delicious home for these girls. Another that I remember vividly, but not in the best way, is Scottie’s loft, because it didn’t feel like home. Even though I think of Scottie as having an affectionate relationship with her family, her loft was kind of cold. I remember it as all sharp edges and open spaces when what Scottie needed was a soft hug of a home full of books and memories and trinkets. So the loft was very important and useful even if it wasn’t one of the series’ more lovely settings.
What are the Chicks doing with their lives in 2017? (Bella is president...right?)
Bella is totally president! And just mowing everybody down with her optimism. She's very sweetly getting shit done. And Tay is badassedly running a non-profit and suffering no fools. My imaginings about Scottie and Amanda are more realistically messy. They’re muddling through and having triumphs and making mistakes; they're having interesting and highly flawed (but happy) lives. One thing I’m very certain of is these four are still friends and they still talk to each other a LOT. They definitely go away together once a year for a weekend of gabbing, knitting, eating and drinking. I know this because I do this every year with five dear friends from Chicago and it’s the best thing ever.
What does the future hold for fans of your books?
That past couple years have been a bit twisty-turny for me. I guess you could say I had a bit of a writing crisis and countered that by doing other things — I worked for two years as a restaurant critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and I also became an author escort, which I continue to do because it’s such an awesome sideline! All the while, I kept trying to hammer away at this romantic YA novel that just. Wasn’t. Working. Finally, I realized that this novel was not YA and was not romantic! What it was meant to be was a contemporary middle grade about the changes that have to happen when 1) you’re 11 and on the cusp of everything and 2) your tight and quirky and loving but just a little bit dysfunctional family explodes. So I started over completely and that’s what I’m working on now. I’m writing it on spec after many years as a scribe-for-hire. This new direction is wonderful and scary and I am leaping in faith, y’all. Wish me luck!
Again, thank you Elizabeth for being part of our inaugural episode!
Check out some contemporary romances by Elizabeth Lenhard! We are especially fans of Our Song, set at a folky retreat in the mountains and filled with bluegrass music and blacksmithing, and love that Fifteenth Summer and Sixteenth Summer were created as companions to Seventeenth Summer, a favorite at Go Your Own YA!