First Book Friday: Sherwood Smith

Welcome to First Book Friday, with today’s guest star, Sherwood Smith (sartorias on LJ).

How to introduce Sherwood … I’ve never met her in person, but we’ve been chatting online for years.  She’s a delightful person, warm and genuine, and if you’re not reading her blog then you’re missing out.

She’s been a writer pretty much her entire life.  Read on to learn how she went from writer to published writer.  And when you’re done, see here for my review of her book Once a Princess [B&N | Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].


I started typed up my novels and sending them out in eighth grade. I knew zip about quality—I was writing the sort of book I liked to read, so they were all kid adventure stories, heavy on the castles, princesses, sword fights, and pie fights . . . kid drama and kid comedy. No romance! There were plenty of boys, but only as friends. Or rivals. But girls got the lead roles.

The very first one was written with a friend. We wrote it in secret code, trading off bits and delivering chapters each day to one another’s locker. It was set in the Netherlands around 1700, so that there were not only castles and princesses but wigs that could be lifted on fish hooks, a comedy plus to thirteen-year-olds. We were so thrilled with our masterpiece that we learned how to type, and typed it up. I illustrated it copiously—still have some of the drawings, and most of that first submission.

We submitted it to the eighth grade writing contest at our junior high. It was 400 pages long. I remember one of the teacher judges turning pages over with her fingertips, and looking down at it with this peculiar expression . . . rather as one might regard a fish long since gone to its reward. We did not win, needless to say—some kid who wrote inspirational poetry did. I bet her poetry was good. Our story was . . . *ahem* . . . enthusiastic.

By that point I’d already been writing about another world for some years, but I knew from my reading that “they” would never publish anything in which kids from Earth went to the world and never came back. Never grew up, either, but had great adventure lives. For hundreds of pages! (In those days, kidzbooks were max 60k words. It was hard to find a good long adventure until I started reading adult historical novels.) So I knew that if I wanted to actually get anything published, I’d have to write “they” books as well as my “me” books.

So, to the first published book. When I was seventeen, a friend said to me, “I wish all the heroines weren’t blond with blue eyes.” So I told another friend that I was going to write about a brown-skinned, brown-haired, brown-eyed heroine, but that friend got quite angry, saying that I ought not dare to write about minorities as I was a WASP and didn’t know how minorities suffered. (We were in high school at the time, remember.) I got the idea for Wren, and blithely began writing it—and I found my way between the wishes of the two friends.

The first line was: “The phone rang.” The title, which I thought so cool at age seventeen, was Tess’s Mess. Since I knew no one would publish my real secondary world, I thought I’d make one that publishers of kids’ books would like. It would have some of the fun stuff that I loved, but it wouldn’t break the “rules” I perceived in children’s literature at the time. I also wouldn’t commit the error of presuming to write about a minority; I might mention Wren’s brown skin, but she would have blue eyes, and the brown and blond striped hair, so she’d be in between.

I submitted the first half, as was (handwritten into a notebook) to a local contest—and won! So I thought, fame and fortune here I come! Finished it, laboriously typed it out on my Mom’s WW II-era typewriter, with its fading ribbon, sent it out . . . and it came back. And back. And back.

So when I turned nineteen, I figured I needed to learn something about writing, and I pretty much stopped trying to send things out for another fifteen years, though I never stopped writing. Every five or six years I’d take out Wren again and try a new rewrite, and in the late eighties, I was lucky enough to catch the eye of Jane Yolen, who taught me a whole lot about rewriting by having me give it three or four more drafts before she published the first one, Wren to the Rescue, at Harcourt, under her own imprint, Jane Yolen Books. By then I’d actually already gotten published, but these were work-for-hire without my name on them. Wren was the first with my name, and one of the first ones I’d tried to get out there.

The last of the Wren books just came out as an e-book. It pretty much stands alone. It’s available at Kindle and Book View Café.