Pictured Lisa Ann Scott with her children, Jack (13) and Riley (10)
It all started with a conversation with a 5-year-old.
Lisa Ann Scott, of Batavia, had just lost her job as a news anchor for Channel 4. Understandably, she was very upset.
With a determined look on her face, Scott's daughter, Riley, came into her bedroom to talk to her. The conversation went something like this:
"Mom," she softly said, "you need to stop being so upset. This is just a job."
"Yes, but it was a job I really loved," Scott said. "I kind of feel like I was in a party bus, and they kicked me off without food, water or a map."
"I'll be your map."
"All right, 'map,' what do we do?"
"Go chase the bus."
"Honey, they don't want me on the bus."
Riley had to think about that one for a minute, but then she shrugged and said:
"Wait for the next bus."
Then she patted her mom on the head and said:
"Put that in your imagination and dream about it tonight."
Today, Scott describes these as "just the right words at the right time."
"She made realize, 'Of course this is not the end of my life. Something else that's great is going to come along.' "
That "something else great" turned out to be writing fiction. HarperCollins recently published Scott's "School of Charm," a novel for middle-grade readers.
"School of Charm" follows Brenda "Chip" Anderson, an 11-year-old girl who has recently lost her father, as she adjusts to a new life in Mt. Airy, N.C., after relocating from Upstate New York with her mother and two sisters. As an outdoorsy, nature-loving, tomboy explorer "in a family full of beauty queens" (quoted from the book's front flap), she is struggling to find a sense of belonging.
Her fortune changes when she stumbles across Miss Vernie's "School of Charm," an unconventional beauty school, in the middle of the woods.
Scott answered questions about the book at her home:
Tell us about your protagonist, Chip.
She's an 11-year-old girl, and she's always been daddy's girl. She and her father always went on adventures together and played in the woods, whereas her two sisters are more girly-girl types who hang out with their mother.
Chip is definitely the odd one out; she's not certain how she fits into the family. In fact, she trains in secret to enter a beauty pageant because her family is so convinced that she's not a pageant girl. That's why she goes to this unusual school she finds. And the lessons she learns aren't quite what she thought they were going to be.
Can you talk a bit about the book's setting?
I picked Mt. Airy because it's where the Andy Griffith Show was filmed, and it's supposed to be the best little town in America. Chip is super unhappy about being there, because she doesn't want to move. So it's sort of ironic that she's moving to the "best little town in America." Plus I have a writer friend who lives there. After reading some of her work set in that area, I fell in love with it vicariously. I just loved her description of the area.
I also wanted Chip to have to face a big change, you know, a totally different setting, where they have Southern accents...something very different and unsettling from where she had lived.
Tell us about your first inspiration for the story.
I woke up from a very vivid dream of this elderly woman, with a knowing look on her face, in this woodland setting where she was holding class with these girls. I think that if you're a writer, when something intrigues you, you can't stop thinking about it -- what it means, what these people are doing there, etc. And so I just kept thinking about it and thinking about it, and it grew into "School of Charm."
Nature and the outdoors play a huge role in Chip's life -- how realistic do you think that will seem in a time in which children do not play outside as much?
That's why I chose to set "School of Charm" in the 1970s. I did a lot of exploring when I was a kid. I grew up in Marilla, NY, which is in Erie County, and I was in the woods a lot of the time. When I imagined this girl out exploring and finding this school, I just couldn't conceive of it...kids really don't play outside too much, and they certainly don't get to disappear for the whole day like we did when we were kids. So I knew I needed to set this story in a different time and place. And I picked 1977 because there are a lot of unique things about that year...one of them is that Chip is expecting something magical to happen on July 7, or "7/7/77."
But the outdoors are really big in Chip's life. She looks for signs in nature -- she's looking for a "sign" from her father that everything is going to be all right. Plus a lot of the School of Charm's lessons are held outside in the woods.
Your first children’s story was turned down. What did you learn from that experience?
I only sent that one out a little bit. It didn't get any interest. When I took another look at it, I knew it had a lot of plot problems that I just wasn't sure how to fix. The next shiny idea is always more interesting than trying to fix what you've written that isn't working.
I've been to a lot of writer's conferences and groups, and I've read a lot of books, so with time I've understood more about plot, how a character needs to change over the course of the story, and how the story really needs to be propelled by the characters' choices rather than by the things happening to them.
Did you borrow either from yourself or from anyone you have known for the character of Chip?
I guess there's a little bit of me in her. I used to catch turtles all the time and run around in the woods.
When I'm writing a book, I go on really long walks. I think about the story and who the characters are, and they slowly reveal themselves. As a writer, you start to understand why your characters are a certain way and what they want.
What are you hoping readers will carry away from this story?
I would hope that after reading this and seeing Chip's strength, they will think, "Do I have this strength too?" Also, throughout the book I've tried to leave little wisps of magic to sort of make you look at the world differently, (to see that) magic is all around us if you're looking for it. I like to think that it's a book filled with hope and heart, and I just hope that when somebody closes the cover on the book their heart will feel full and happy.
Scott plans to hold book signings and appearances, but the details of those are still being worked out. People can keep up to date on this by visiting Scott's Web site, www.lisaannscott.com.
"School of Charm" is Scott's first children's book. She is the author of a self-published romance novel and a number of romantic short stories for different magazines. She also works as a voice actor.