In Holly Goldberg Sloan’s latest novel for children, Short, the advantages and disadvantages of size are explored through the perspective of her bold and completely memorable main character, Julia Marks. From Julia playing the part of a munchkin in a performance of the classic musical The Wizard of Oz to plenty of humorous and awkward situations, readers are sure to be inspired and find hope in Julia’s story — especially for those on the shorter side. Below, Holly Goldberg Sloan details her experiences as an author, her inspirations, and her advice for aspiring writers.
What inspired you to write a novel that focuses on theatre and the challenges and benefits of being short?
This novel starts from my own childhood experience. I was short. Very short. My mother insisted I audition for a play. I don’t sing. I don’t dance. I think it’s possible that I was asked to not return to ballet class when I was six. I know for a fact that I don’t have great balance. But behind many performers are mothers. Mine saw a future for me that I didn’t see.
If you could play one part in The Wizard of Oz, which would it be, and why?
Villains usually have the best parts. The Wicked Witch is a homerun role. But I so love the music written by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, and the Wicked Witch doesn’t get to sing. I’d want to sing. So I would go with the Scarecrow. Also, who doesn’t have days where they wonder if they have a brain?
Was writing Short more or less difficult than that of your previous novels?
Writing is hard. There. I said it. It’s work. I make a living telling stories the way some people get a paycheck constructing walls. It’s a brick by brick situation. You don’t just wake up and find something fully formed. You have to press on through the good and the bad, and you must know that writing is rewriting.
What was different about Short was that I had my own experience to draw from. I didn’t have to make everything up in my head. I started from something that happened — and in a way that made it easier.
If readers could take one thing from Short, what would you want that to be?
I think that Short is funny, and that’s because I think that Julia Marks is a humorous main character. I like to laugh. I guess I would hope that people find the story compelling but also find they are smiling at times. Most of all, I’d like a reader to want to go out and put on a play.
If you could describe Short in three words, which would you choose?
WOW. I answered in two words. Cool.
What was your favorite part of writing the novel?
My favorite part of the writing process was that I got to go back and remember my own childhood. I looked through scrapbooks that my father made. I found photographs. I spoke with my little brother, who was also in the play. Of course we remember it very differently, but that’s correct because we all experience the world in our own way.
One of the best parts of writing this book was reading the first chapter out loud to my mother. I would call her a fan of my work, but in this case, I would say she’s a super fan.
Since Short is mainly about children performing in a musical, can you tell readers which ones are your personal favorites?
I love productions of Alice in Wonderland. I like musicals and especially a good staging of Guys and Dolls, Grease, or Mary Poppins.
Finally, what advice do you have for young writers?
Young writers should be activists. And by that I mean they should be out in the world. They should be engaged in their communities — through work, public service, the arts. The more experiences you have, the more you have to write about. Walk out the front door and live as fully as possible. Don’t be afraid. Your voice needs to be heard. We are all waiting for you. I know I am.