Courtney Sheinmel thinks in terms of stories. She says she’s just wired that way. It makes sense, then, that she’s a writer, and has always wanted to be.
“When I was little, my favorite spot was the corner of the couch in the den where I’d sit with my notebook and write ‘books,’” Courtney told Cracking the Cover. “Once I gave up the dream of becoming a famous singer — I can’t carry a tune — ‘writer’ became my stock answer to ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’”
Courtney is now the author of four standalone novels for middle-grade readers and the Stella Batts series for readers grades 2 and up. Her latest book, “Stella Batts: A Case of the Meanies,” hits bookstores this month. It’s is the fourth book in Courtney’s charming series about 8-year-old Stella, the daughter of candy shop owners who loves to write lists. The other books in the series are “Stella Batts Needs a New Name,” “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow” and “Pardon Me.”
In true Stella style, Courtney explained why she spends her time writing for young readers:
- When I started out in this business, I was working full time as an associate in a law firm. I wanted to write a book, and a middle-grade novel is shorter than an adult one, therefore I figured it would take less time.
- The books you read as a kid stick. At least, I remember so many of the books I read when I was young. Right now, I could describe the plots of most of the Babysitters Club series in greater detail than the book I finished last week.
- You can tackle any subject — even the hard subjects, like divorce, illness, death — because those things happen to kids, too. But in kids’ books, it’s never all sadness and the end of the story generally goes back to hope and redemption. Which is how I like to think the world works.
- I have pretty vivid memories of my own childhood — from the day my beloved baby sister came onto the scene, to playing with the superior toys at my friend Dara’s house, to my parents’ divorce. It feels natural to slip back into a younger voice.
- I genuinely like kids.
- (This is probably the No. 1 reason.) I write about the things that pop into my head, and so far they’ve been stories aimed at younger audiences.
The things that do pop into Courtney’s head come from anywhere and everywhere. “I think I hang onto stories longer than other, normal people do,” she said. “This is the way I once described it to a friend: I might be walking down the street and hear a snippet of someone’s conversation. Then as I continue past them, I’m thinking of the snippet and making up a whole life story around it. Sometimes, that gets turned into a book.”
Stella came from Courtney’s then-7-year-old niece, Sara, who complained Courtney hadn’t written anything for her. When asked what the story should be about, Sara said, “A girl who likes sweets.” Courtney sat down to write something she hoped Sara would enjoy and created Stella in the process.
Stella’s appeal comes in her relatability, Courtney says. “She lives with her parents and a younger sister, whom she loves but who sometimes gets on Stella’s nerves. She has a good group of friends, and is occasionally picked on by the class bully. She’s sweet and imaginative. She wants to do the right thing, though she doesn’t always. She could be a kid in your class. She could be you.”
There are four more books planned in the Stella series. Courtney is almost finished with the first draft of Book 5, in which the Batts house is getting pretty crowded. There’s a new addition to the family, Stella’s grandmother is visiting and Stella is watching a friend’s dog for the weekend. Things don’t exactly go the way Stella plans.
That’s all Courtney would share about her forthcoming books. “I have a pretty good idea of what will happen next, but don’t want to divulge too much since I’m still working on them, and sometimes the story changes as I write,” she said.
Courtney is also working on a picture book series, co-authored by her friend Adele Griffin.
Becoming a published author is a huge achievement, something Courtney will always be proud of. As she continues to write, she believes it can become something even more.
“Before I’d written a book that was my main goal: to write a book,” she said. “I’m incredibly proud of that accomplishment. But it’s no longer enough. And I think that has made the writing a little bit harder with each new project. But I hope that also makes it better.”
*Read the complete transcript of Courtney’s interview with Cracking the Cover.
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