I’d like to welcome Sarah Floyd to the Mixed-Up Files blog.
Thanks so much, Mindy! This is a dream come true for me. I’m a huge fan of this blog!
Butterfly Girl, or at least the idea of flying, has percolated in my mind for as long as I can remember. As a child I often dreamed of flying (sleeping dreams as well as daydreams), and on one particularly windy day in kindergarten, I ran across the playground with my umbrella open and lifted two feet off the ground. If my umbrella hadn’t flipped inside-out, breaking its spines, I might have flown right over the rooftop! As a fourth grader, my friends and I tried to levitate. During lunch period, we sat cross-legged on our school’s tall lab tables, eyes closed in meditation, whispering “light as a feather” and waiting to float toward the ceiling, mind over matter. And in sixth grade we created wings out of cardboard and duct tape and ran down the hills of San Francisco (where I grew up), flapping our arms and trying to fly. None of our attempts were successful, but there was a delicious sense of almost flying, that the secret was ever so slightly out of reach. That secret, that mysterious missing ingredient, is magic—and that’s why the book’s main character Meghan can fly, and I still can’t!
Butterfly Girl literally woke me up at 5:00 every morning, demanding to be written. I navigated daily life distracted by thoughts of magic spells, wings, farming, paparazzi, frenemies, and first crushes. I became a master list-maker and relied on timers to pry myself away from the manuscript to take care of my family and other responsibilities. Some days my head was so full of characters chatting with each other and plot points twisting and turning that I could hardly fall asleep at night!
I love when a manuscript begs for attention like that!
What type of research did you have to do so we could experience circus and farm settings and what inspired you to include them in Butterfly Girl?
Most of the settings in my writing have a personal connection to my own life, although I often do additional research to support my understanding and add details. So, farm life and the circus both have a basis in my own history.
I spent my early childhood on the Big Sur coast of California, near the Salinas Valley, the most productive agricultural region in California. Farm life was all around me, part of the landscape. My best friend’s mom had a wonderful organic garden (smaller in scale but similar to Meghan and her grandfather’s garden), where I learned about composting, organic fertilizer, and the challenges and rewards of working the land. For accuracy in the book, I researched crops that would thrive in Oregon, where Butterfly Girl takes place, as well as bird species and geographical details that are specific to that state. The idea of terraced farmland came from the year I spent in Malaysia as a ten-year-old, where fields are often cut into the hillsides like terraces, which helps maximize irrigation and land use (it’s a method that some savvy organic farmers have also adopted here in the United States).
The circus element in the book comes from my current life in Florida—the Ringling Circus Museum is located in Sarasota, Florida, about an hour from where I live. It is the former winter home for that circus, and over time, many performers have settled in Florida year-round. There’s a strong sense of family within the circus community, which was a perfect fit for Meghan’s mom. The notion of her running off to join the circus came from a childhood memory of my teenage brother taking me to the circus . . . everything about it seemed magical and exciting, so different from anything I had ever experienced, and I remember him talking about how the circus moves from town to town, and often attracts runaways. He wondered who in the crowd might run away and join the circus that very night! That idea stuck with me—the circus was the perfect place for Meghan’s mom to disappear for a while, and it suited her spotlight-loving personality.
Wow! I love seeing your connection to the settings in Butterfly Girl.
You weave in lots of senses and find unique ways to describe things that really make us feel like we’re there–things like baseball sized tomatoes, shiny red strawberries the size of a baby’s fist, and Greta’s eyes glinted like shards of green glass.
Can you share a writing exercise that will help students (as well as writers) dig deeper to find creative ways to make their prose pop?
This is a fun and easy exercise that taps into emotions to create vivid imagery. Later, students might label their sentences as similes or metaphors, or categorize parts of each sentence, but ideally this starts as a brainstorming session to unlock creativity and show students how to come up with fresh, vibrant imagery. Students can work individually, or if groups are preferred, they can collaborate by using a shared list or index cards to come up with their group’s sentences.
Sensory writing exercise:
Combining sensory details with mood words is a great way to create more depth and emotion in your writing. A deeper emotional connection helps readers immerse themselves in the story by experiencing whatever your characters are feeling. Here’s how to get started:
- Make a list on the board or a sheet of paper, or use index cards to write one or two Sensory Details for each sense: sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Here are some examples:
Sight: sun beaming, the sky
Sound: my dog barking, birds chirping
Smell: bread baking, fragrance of wildflowers wafting on the breeze
Touch: velvet texture of moss, rain dripping onto skin
Taste: sour lemon, cotton candy
(“Taste” is tricky—along with taste words like sour, sweet, or salty, I sometimes use an actual food item to create the emotion I’m trying to convey, such as “cotton candy clouds,” a cheerful and pleasant image.)
- Make a list of Mood Words (things, not feelings) that match whatever emotion or mood you would like to create. So, for “happy,” my list might include:
a gold medal
a life raft
the summer sky (sky is on both lists—some words can be both sensory and mood words!)
- Now, mix it up! Combine a Sensory Detail with a Mood Word to express each of the five senses and create more emotional depth. Here are some examples:
The sun beamed like a gold medal above the finish line as I rounded the final bend.
Marley’s familiar bark echoed across the distance, a life raft in the storm.
Cotton candy clouds floated across the summer sky.
Sensory details combined with mood words will make your writing more vivid, emotional, and memorable. Try different combinations and see what happens!
Thank you so much for that fantastic writing exercise!
If Meghan wanted to be anything besides a butterfly, what would it be…and why? What would you want to be?
Meghan wishes she could fly like a butterfly, but the wings she grows aren’t actually butterfly wings, although there’s a connection to butterflies—which I can’t talk about without spoiling. : ) The shape of her wings is reminiscent of a butterfly’s wings, but they are sturdy and flexible, with a leathery consistency, not delicate and fragile. If given a choice, she might have liked to grow bird wings, if it was only about flying . . . but from the author’s point of view, Meghan’s longing for wings and her connection to butterflies is also about her longing for independence, and about the transition from childhood to becoming a young woman—coming of age. So, even though bird wings would have worked, the idea of a butterfly’s metamorphosis from a crawling caterpillar to a joyful winged-creature seemed like a perfect fit on a meta-level, and was more emotionally resonant.
As far as what I would want to be, I would want to be myself, but with the ability to “think” myself airborne. When I fly in dreams, I just think myself into the air and suddenly there I am, flying. I love when that happens!
What’s something unique people don’t know about you?
I know how to ride a unicycle! I learned when I was eleven and my cool older sister received a unicycle for Christmas, which she promptly hid in the garage. The boys on my block laughed at my clumsy attempts to ride it, so of course I had to learn how! That stubbornness (let’s call it tenacity) helped me stick it out through many clumsy manuscripts and queries—thank you, trusty old unicycle! I passed the unicycle along to my young nephew—he was so excited to try it, and over time I realized I wasn’t riding it very often (my husband and son both have two-wheeled bikes, which are faster and more stable for the longer distances we travel together). It’s great to see someone else enjoying my old unicycle, and keeping it in the family means I still get to ride it once in a while. I will never completely turn away from that determined little girl who worked so hard to learn how to balance on one wheel.
I love how a unique activity when you were a child shows the determination that helped you become a published author!
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
I have wanted to write for children since I was in elementary school, and finally decided to go for it when my now sixteen-year-old son was in kindergarten. I started with picture books and then branched out to include writing for tweens and teens. I’m happy to share that my first picture book will be released soon, Ten Clever Ninjas. It’s an incredible feeling to finally see some of my work making its way into the world!
Congratulations, Sarah! It’s great to see your childhood dream of being a children’s author come true. Thank you for stopping by the Mixed-Up Files and letting us celebrate with you.
Thank you so much for having me, Mindy! It has been an honor and a pleasure to chat with you! : )
Sarah has generously donated 3 signed copies of Butterfly Girl along with awesome butterfly swag bags which include bookmarks, stickers, tattoos, and other surprises!
Twelve-year-old Meghan is abandoned on her grandfather’s Oregon farm, stumbles on an ancestor’s magic spell book . . . and sprouts wings. When her absentee-mother shows up with superstar plans for her Winged Wonder Girl, Meghan must decide if a Hollywood life with the mother she longed for is worth leaving the friends who stood by her, and Grandpa, who loved her before the whole world knew her name.
2 signed books plus a cool butterfly swag bag for a teacher or media specialist
*1 book for a teacher or media specialist
*1 for their classroom, media center, or library
A signed book plus a cool butterfly swag bag
*These giveaways are good in the U.S. and Canada
Winners will be announced on Sunday, March 31. Good luck!