Author Spotlight: Sally Engelfried
August 26, 2022
We are excited to feature author Sally Engelfried and her debut middle grade novel, LEARNING TO FALL (Little Brown Books For Young Readers), out on September 6, 2022. Enter to win a copy!
|art by Chris Danger
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
Hi! My name is Sally Engelfried and I write middle grade books. I’ve always loved writing and I’ve always loved reading middle grade, but it took me a while to figure out that I wanted to put the two of them together. Now I’m hooked!
Congrats on your debut middle grade novel, Learning to Fall! Tell us about the story and what inspired you.
Thank you so much! Learning to Fall is the story of twelve-year-old Daphne, who has to spend the summer with her dad in Oakland, and she really doesn’t want to. She’s been mad at him for three years, ever since he made a promise to her that he didn’t keep. Her dad is an alcoholic, which has made him an unreliable father, and Daphne doesn’t care how hard he’s trying to make up for it now. For her, it’s too late. But then her dad takes her to a skate sesh, and she remembers how much she used to love everything about skateboarding, and how that was a passion she and her dad shared. As the two of them start to spend time skating together, she begins to trust him again, enough to make plans for the future. And then he breaks another promise. Daphne knows skating is all about accepting failure and moving on. Can she learn how to forgive her dad and move on from his failures?
Learning to Fall was inspired by a few things. I know a bunch of skaters and when I heard one of them was coaching a twelve-year-old girl, I thought that was really cool. I started researching, and I found so many girls and women doing amazing things on skateboards. I also loved the philosophy surrounding it, that skateboarding is all about getting up after you fall—because you will definitely fall.
I’m not a skater, though, and I wanted to connect with this story on a personal level, so I made Daphne’s dad an alcoholic, like my own father was. Daphne’s dad is a very different person from my dad, but there are some things every kid who has an alcoholic parent understands, and that’s that while that parent is drinking, they can’t be there for you in the way that kids want their parents to be there. I started thinking about how that failure as a parent could tie into skateboarding, and how that philosophy of falling in skateboarding could help mend a broken relationship.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
Very long and very winding! I spent years trying to finish one novel and doing something I think is pretty common: I kept starting over rather than writing the book all the way to its end. After I finally completed that book, I wanted to hold myself more accountable, so I joined a critique group that I’m still with to this day. Being with a group of similar-minded, serious writers really kept me on track and also helped me become a better writer. I eventually found my agent, the fabulous Jennifer Unter. When we started submitting my first book to publishers, I thought I was on my way! Unfortunately, that book didn’t sell, and neither did the next one. My third book was Learning to Fall, and I’m actually very happy that it ended up being my debut.
What are some of your favorite classic MGs? Recent ones?
f we’re going way back, the Betsy-Tacy books and Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series were childhood favorites. For more recent classics, I love anything by Hilary McKay, especially the Casson family series. I tend to find authors I like and read everything by them—Meg Medina, Leslie Connor, Varian Johnson, Lindsey Stoddard. I’ve been reading a lot of debut authors lately too, and I absolutely loved Chad Lucas’s Thanks a Lot, Universe, Sylvia Liu’s Hana Hsu and Ghost Crab Nation, Melissa Dassori’s J.R. Silver Writes Her World, Monica Roe’s Air, Nichole Collier’s Just Right, Jillian, and Lisa Stringfellow’s A Comb of Wishes. As you may have guessed, I read quite a bit, and so many good books are coming out this year, I can’t possibly name them all!
What projects are you working on now?
I’m currently revising another middle grade contemporary novel and playing around with an idea for a brand new book.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
If you’ve been at it for a while and are feeling discouraged, I’d say the best thing to do is to follow what gives you joy and sustains you—focus on your own writing and reading books that inspire you rather than worrying about who’s getting published or wrapping yourself up in social media. If you’re just starting out, my biggest piece of advice is to avoid that first trap I fell into: write one book all the way to the end before you go back and revise anything. You learn so much in that process of completion.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
I’m a high school dropout. I did end up getting two college degrees, but not until 25 years later!
Where can people find you online?
Sally Engelfried is an author and a librarian in Oakland, California, where she lives with her family, two cats, and a dog who is fond of stealing slippers. LEARNING TO FALL is her first novel.
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