In 2016 I fell in love with a book called Finding Perfect. It was by a debut author Elly Swartz and just by reading that book, I fell in love with Elly's writing. There was such heart to the story. It was a book I got lost in, read quickly, and then held to my heart when I finished it. After many conversations with Elly I'm honored to call her a friend and know her heart even better.
Now we have Smart Cookie. Another realistic fiction, another book full of heart... it has all the feeling, yet it's a different story.
by Elly Swartz
published by Scholastic
In this book we meet Frankie. Frankie lives with her dad and grandmother at the family's bed and breakfast in Vermont. Her mother passed away in a crazy accident years ago. Frankie misses her like crazy, but she also really misses being a complete family. So she steps up and makes a decision... it's time to set her dad up! And in this modern world, it means using a dating website! Frankie makes up a profile for her dad and does all of the initial interviews, because, you know, her dad doesn't know anything about this!
What I love about this it's not a typical missing parent story. Frankie wants to see her dad happy, Frankie wants to have a complete family again. It seems too many times we read stories where there is sabotage involved when a parent starts dating. This was a refreshing take on a familiar scenario. It doesn't mean that Frankie goes through some growing pains and needs some time to figure things out for herself, but it's all done in an original way.
Of course there are other strands to be woven through this story, like a friend that is obsessed with ghosts... and one that may live at the B&B! Or a friend that hasn't been a friend lately, but once her story is told, may become a friend again! Or why her dad is acting so mysterious and why he is fighting with her grandmother so often. All of these strands are pulled together in a way that pull at the reader's heartstrings!
I'm thrilled to have another story by the absolutely talented Elly Swartz to share with our readers. Make sure you pick up your copy on January 30th!
1. I see pieces of you throughout this book. How much of your own experiences did you pull in?
This question reveals how well you know me! Smart Cookie has a lot of me in it. But, that was a happy accident, not a grand plan.
Frankie’s story is all about family. For me, family is at the heart of everything I do and everything I am. I grew up with a very close family. And 27 years ago, married the love of my life and began my own wonderful family. But when I was thirty, my mom died. She was 55. Her loss opened a hole in my heart. And after 22 years, I’ve realized some holes aren’t meant to be filled. Not in the same way. And that is ultimately what Frankie learns. Family isn’t about having all the same pieces in place, it’s about having people in your life who love you unconditionally. And that circle is so much bigger than those with whom you shared a bedroom, a childhood, a name.
And there’s more. Smart Cookie was a nickname my very loving, almost 102-year-old gram used to call me. So, when it was suggested as a title for Frankie’s story, it seemed serendipitous. She passed before my first book was published. But, I’m certain she’s having her nightly glass of Harvey’s Bristol Crème, reading Smart Cookie, and loving my girl, Frankie.
Frankie’s friend Elliot’s ghost hunting was sparked by my youngest son and one of his childhood friends. When they were eleven (now 22), they went ghost hunting at my husband’s office. My husband’s office is the John Ebenezer Hancock House in Boston, MA. It was built in 1767 and owned by John Hancock until 1785. It’s the oldest brick building in Boston. That fateful night, the boys entered the building, turned off all the lights, and roamed the office with their ghost hunting laser. After about forty minutes of silence, the boys screamed. Loudly. The needle on the laser’s meter sprang to life, the hair on the boys’ arms stood up. They’d found a ghost!
Frankie’s snow globe collection was inspired by my oldest son. He collected snow globes when he was little. Everywhere we went, we brought one back for him. When I started this book, I found the box marked ‘snow globes’ and shared them with Frankie.
Lucy and Winston, Frankie’s pets and companions, came to the page right from my home. Lucy, my beagle, was about eight weeks old when I started writing Smart Cookie. (Below is her puppy pic.) And every day Lucy insisted on sitting in my lap as I wrote. So, I wrote her and all her funny and endearing antics into the story. Lucy is all spunk and love. Just like Frankie. Winston was my youngest son’s pet named Hippie. She was an African Pygmy Hedgehog, who kept him company all night long.
So, yes there is a lot of me and my life and my heart wrapped up in Frankie and Smart Cookie!
2. I always love seeing how strands of a story are pulled together. How did you plan them out? Did you know how they would come together?
This story took a lot of planning. There were many different plot lines, and when I first started writing, there were lots of sticky notes and index cards all over my desk. Each plot line had a different color. Think rainbow meets outline. It looked something like that. And, while I did know the strands would come together, how they came together changed as I revised and got to know the characters. There were even versions that ended differently! Ultimately though, when I wrote the ending that stuck, it felt different. It felt right. And, I knew that I had finally put all the pieces where they belonged.
3. I think, and I know you've said this too, that Molly from Finding Perfect and Frankie from Smart Cookie would be friends. They are different, but both have amazing hearts. As you are writing, how do you ultimately keep characters separate from each other?
I do think Molly and Frankie would be friends. They’re both loving and loyal and brave, but they are very different people. When I write, I don’t think about making the characters different from each other, I think about really embracing each character. Becoming each character. To create a truly authentic character, I feel I need to wrap my whole self around that character. For Smart Cookie, I had to be eleven-year-old Frankie, spunky and mischievous and vulnerable. I had to take off my mom hat, my writer hat, my adult hat, and look at life through her eyes. Only then, could I see and feel her world.
4. I'm thinking this book is going to make readers want to start baking! Any cookie recipes included in the final book?
So here is the funny story about this. I don’t bake. Not the way you’re thinking. I box bake. Usually, all I need is an egg and some vegetable oil and water. Or just a knife to slice the dough. Don’t get me wrong, I love baking. And thankfully, my husband is a great baker! And I have baked. When I was little, I baked with my best friend Jodi. We were terrible bakers. Leaving ingredients out when we didn’t have them. Spoiler alert – that never works out well. As a mom, I loved the smell and feel of baking. To me, baking has always been about bringing people together. So I became a box baker. Just like my mom. I make a delicious, crooked, birthday cake from the box in Aisle Seven!
However, some wonderful bakers and readers have shared their recipes. And I will be putting those on my site. And who knows, maybe I’ll become a good, scratch baker after all!
Elly has very generously donated a personalized copy of Smart Cookie to giveaway to a reader! I know you want a copy, or two or three, for your readers! Enter below, giveaway will be open until Monday, January 29th at 8pm CST. Giveaway open to US residents only. Best of luck!