Virginia Burton Stringer Q&A
getting to know the author of just maagy
The Bookshelf is excited to welcome author Virginia Burton Stringer to Thomasville for a Saturday afternoon book signing from 2-4 pm on July 27th!
Here’s a little about the book: Set in a long-ago far-away land of kings and castles, swords and sorcery, The Maagy Series is a Young Adult Fiction/Fantasy novel series about the coming of age of a young woman. It is metaphorical for the journey all girls embark upon through adolescence. The four published books include Just Maagy, Krispen, Enchantment and Warrior with three more yet to come to finish the series; Wizard Queen, Legacy and Last Heir.
What do you think is the most important thing about children’s literature?
The most important thing about children’s literature is that it encourages very young minds to enjoy adventures through books. Children who begin reading early generally continue to read through adulthood. When a story has interesting characters, a few intriguing plot twists, and dramatic climax, children and young adult readers as well are bound to be drawn in. When children are introduced at an early age to colorful books with good storylines, it encourages good reading habits.
What led you to writing as a profession, or was it something you ever thought could be a profession for yourself?
In 2004, I found myself with an empty nest. Our son David had long-since flown the coup, and both daughters, Alice and Melanie, were off to college. David had two daughters of his own and was beginning to experience some of the unique challenges of raising intelligent and artistic girls. It made me think of my own two precious young women and what it was like with them. Girls and boys are definitely NOT the same! So, a story about a bratty little princess came to mind. As my medium had always been theatre (I’m a published playwright and had my own touring youth theatre company), I thought it would be a fifty-minute play about said princess. At 150 pages of more description than dialogue, I knew it was not a play at all and it was definitely not restricted to children’s literature. The rest, as they say, is history! It wasn’t until about 2010 that I decided to publish my work. By then, I was writing in any one of three books at the same time. It became the greatest joy of my life, living in the world of my impetuous little Princess Melania Abigail Alice Grace. Heretofore, the idea of being a professional writer was as foreign to me as being a queen myself!
Do you believe in the phrase “write what you know”?
Absolutely, I write what I know! While I did not live in the Middle Ages or in the long-ago far-away fictitious Berensenia as Maagy does, I did grow up in the 1950’s in my grandparents’ home which was a 112-acre farm in rural Virginia. We had no indoor plumbing and only downstairs was wired for electricity. A large wood burning stove in the dining room and the kitchen cooking range, which also burned wood, were the only heat sources in the house. So, I’m very familiar with chamber pots, oil burning lamps, and very cold winter nights. My grandmother had a “bed warmer”; a brick she put on top the stove. When it was hot and time for bed, she ran it between the sheets until they were toasty. I’d jump in and snuggle quickly under the layers of feather bed and feather comforter and sleep warmly all night! I learned to milk cows, muck stables, and ride horses there. My grandparents, Robert and Bertha Burton, were the models on which I based Grandpa Kris and Grandma Polly without actually realizing it. Also, my mother worked as a nurse for a country doctor, the only one in town, sometimes twelve hours a day six days a week, so I saw very little of her. I realized very late in the writing process that Maagy’s growing up without her mother mirrored my situation. Maagy herself is a combination of my daughters and granddaughters with a healthy dose of me thrown in. So, yes, I definitely write what I know!
What does your writing space look like?
My writing space looks like a lot of things! Sometimes, it’s the driver’s seat of my car at an interstate rest stop on the way to South Carolina or Virginia to visit family. I’m a road warrior and love to drive long distances alone. Some of my best ideas have come to me in those hours of solitude while concentrating on the road ahead. Sometimes it’s in the shower or the grocery store when an idea hits me, and characters start having a conversation. Those moments are really annoying! It’s almost as if they know I don’t have my computer at hand, and they’re challenging me to remember what they’re saying while I’m rinsing my hair or picking out a good cantaloupe! Mostly, my writing space is my den during the day or my bedroom after dark. I’m usually at home alone during the day, so I take advantage of the quiet and the serenity of our huge private backyard to write. After dark, I retreat to our comfy bed with plenty of pillows to prop up on and occasionally fall asleep.
What is your earliest memory of writing? Did you write as a child?
My earliest writing was actually poetry in high school and college. I still run across some of my poems every so often. They’re not exactly Wordsworth, Frost or Poe, but I can’t bring myself to throw them away. I didn’t write as a small child that I can recall. I was too busy outside with animals or following my granddad up and down the rows as he plowed. I didn’t get a good start in reading. Elementary school was such a shock for me, being a very shy child and having only animals and old folks to talk to until I was six and a half and started first grade. The trauma of having all those children around and having to sit still in a desk all day was overwhelming. It wasn’t until I got to college the first time and was a drama major that I started reading play after play and my reading skills improved. So, the idea of actually writing something of my own was quite foreign. That all changed when I became involved with Holocaust education through my touring company. That’s when the creative juice began to flow and I began writing plays for young audiences. Ten years later, I began Just Maagy and I’ve never looked back.
What was your favorite part of writing Just Maagy?
My favorite thing about writing Just Maagy and the whole series has been allowing my imagination to go wild and conjure such a complex storyline. Just Maagy may seem like a quiet little tale of a bratty child beginning to grow up, but it’s really more complex than just what’s between the front and back covers. While written in a slightly younger voice than the rest of the series, all the groundwork, the clues, the foreshadowing of the harrowing adventures that are to come in the rest of the books are placed there. Before Just Maagy was published, I was simultaneously writing in Enchantment and Warrior. When a great idea for a story thread would strike me, I had to go back to Just Maagy and make sure it was properly set up for the future. That was really fun!
Do you see yourself in any of the characters?
Yes! I am definitely in Maagy. I admit, I have a hot temper and like to slam doors. I’m also a little bit Grandma Polly in that I’m nurturing of my grandkids. Mary Lu Gray has a good bit of my spitfire attitude. Wesley is painfully honest with Maagy. I think every author must put a bit of themselves in their characters to make them fully rounded and believable.
What kind of obstacles did you face writing this book?
This is a good question! I had to get over myself and the idea that I had to conscientiously develop a writing style. I got so caught up in writing cleverly that I forgot about the story. Getting past this hurdle led to many, many rewrites and edits. Another obstacle was the choice to actually publish. I realized I had written much of the story for my own catharsis and that there was much the reading public would not relate to or find interesting. So, I had to put on my big-girl panties and cut, cut, cut! I cut about 100 pages in all from Just Maagy and Krispen. I was also myopic in my approach. I was writing from Maagy’s point of view and therefore wasn’t able to see the big picture for myself. A friend pointed out that he wanted to know more about Maagy’s mother and why she was missing from her life. My response was that I was writing from Maagy’s point of view and she didn’t know the truth about her mother, so I couldn’t write it. I was looking through a very narrow periscope! He kindly and gently pointed out that I was not Maagy. I was the writer, therefore, I was omniscient! It was like the lightbulb went on, and suddenly the entire story opened up in front of me. The characters took on much more dimension and depth, as the story began to unfold its complexities. As Maagy’s adventures have continued, and she has grown up, my writing has matured, as well. I also learned to use the word “lovely” much less!
If you had to choose one aspect, what would you say is your favorite part about being an author?
It surely is not the fame and fortune! That aspect has thus far escaped me, but I hope to correct that in the near future. Truthfully, I never started this whole journey of the last fifteen years to become rich and famous. I started writing because it was in my head. The story had to find a page… or a couple of thousand by the time it’s all told. The pride of accomplishment of seeing the actual, physical books is something I never dreamed I’d feel. I never knew I wanted to feel it until I sent the manuscript to the publisher. If it never catches on; if The Maagy Series never makes the big screen, as I have always envisioned; if I never recoup my financial investment in the project, I’ll still feel that warm sense of a job well done. The fun and fulfillment of writing and publishing four books already and knowing there are three more to finish out the series has been the greatest joy of my life besides raising my children and watching them become successful adults.
What are you currently reading?
Ironically, just this week, I made the commitment on a Facebook Live on The Maagy Series page to read three of the classics this summer. I’ve started with To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It’s been in the news lately with the Broadway adaptation opening. My husband and I were talking about the book that we both had probably read in high school but that neither of us remembered much actual detail about. I must admit, I never liked to read. As I stated before, I didn’t get a good foundation in reading, so in high school, I’d read the first chapter or two and maybe one in the middle and the last. I had an uncanny ability to grasp characters, motivations, and foreshadowing. I suppose it’s why I went to drama school and worked as an actor. Anyway, I could write a great book report! My English grades were always A’s! So, now it’s time to do penance and read what I should have read back then. I’m going to read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, as well.
Thank you, Virginia, for sharing with us! We can’t wait to see you this weekend, July 27th at 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. for a signing!