Being in middle school can be pretty rough. Everything about everyone is changing so fast. And there are so many things to worry about all at once: school, family, crushes, jobs, and last but definitely not least, friends.
Annie, Genna, and Zoe have been best friends forever. But with eighth grade ending, the girls are beginning to grow up and grow apart. When Annie takes a job at her grandmother's teashop, things begin to look up. In between whipping up chai lattes for customers, tasting new teas, and attempting to catch the attention of her barista boy crush, Annie is finally beginning to feel as sophisticated as her best friends. But an eviction notice spells trouble for the Steeping Leaf. Annie's ready with her multistep Save the Leaf Action Plan, but will it be enough? Can Annie rally her friends to save the Leaf before the teashop and the Teashop Girls are history?
Laura Schaefer, author of the middle grade novel The Teashop Girls (Paula Wiseman Books, 2008), is here with me today for some tea and conversation about her book. I am serving her favorite, English Breakfast with lots of milk and sugar. Welcome, Laura!
Why tea? Where did you get the idea for The Teashop Girls?
The concept occurred to me during the summer of 2005 when I was in an actual teashop called Sherlock's of Celebration. I wanted a place or an idea around which to center the lives of some unique and fun girls, similar to how babysitting formed the nexus of The Baby-sitter's Club books (which I adored when I was a tween). The more I thought about it, the better the idea seemed. A teashop is a community gathering place, which naturally lends itself to lots of stories. Though I didn't experience quality tea until after college, a whole new world opened up when I finally tried it! My best friend Aimee and I went to high tea at several places including teany in NYC. I realized then how special good tea could be.
I also adored The Baby-sitter's Club books as a tween!
What were the influences and inspirations (both literary and non-literary) you drew from while writing The Teashop Girls?
I loved Anne of Green Gables, The Baby-sitter's Club books, Harriet the Spy, books by Ellen Conford, and the Anastasia Krupnik books by Lois Lowry. I also liked reading some classics like The Secret Garden, Little Women, and Gone with the Wind. I read all the time when I was a tween. Also, I've worked for a local restaurant called Imperial Garden for nine years, so I have a good idea of how food service jobs work! I also found inspiration among my family and friends. For example, my best friend Aimee is into yoga, and my good friend Stefan is a Zen Buddhist monk.
What were the challenges you encountered while writing The Teashop Girls?
Finding the time to balance working on the manuscript while doing other types of writing assignments was challenging. I did countless revisions before the book was ready to be published, and at times it felt like the day of publication would never arrive. I'm sure many novelists feel this way!
What was the road to publication like for The Teashop Girls?
The road to publication was a long one. My agent Stephen connected me with my editor Alexandra Penfold, but her imprint didn't feel that TSG was ready for print right away. She and I went back and forth for almost six months making the writing and story stronger before I received the book deal. I was thrilled! And the whole time, I saw the book getting stronger.
Wow, Alexandra sounds like an awesome editor.
Where were you and what were you doing when you found out that your book was going to be published? What were your first thoughts and feelings after hearing the good news?
I was actually visiting my parents in Oshkosh when I got "the call." It was very exciting, but also somewhat expected, because I had been working with Alexandra on the manuscript for a long time.
Which books would you like your work to match or surpass (in terms of writing, impact, influence, popularity, sales, or awards)?
I'd love to see Teashop Girls take the same path as the Traveling Pants series in terms of popularity... I admire those books for their emotional depth and true characters. As for impact and influence, I think Teashop really has its own unique message. I want it to just be itself and hopefully resonate with readers.
If you could choose only one, which would you choose: for The Teashop Girls to be award-winning, or for The Teashop Girls to be bestselling? Why?
Interesting question. I've never thought about that. I guess award-winning, because I am at the beginning of my career and that would be such an amazing push to keep doing what I'm doing!
Can you tell us a bit about the promotional activities for your book? They look like so much fun!
The cool thing about The Teashop Girls is that it lends itself so well to a party... a tea party, of course. The activities are meant to inspire groups of girls to come together, talk books, drink tea, and maybe even bake something delicious. It might be sort of old-fashioned fun, but it's an awesome way to spend an afternoon with your friends.
What are some of your favorite experiences from promotional activities for your book?
I've met so many great local business owners here in Madison [Wisconsin] who have embraced the book and its message. I also had a GREAT time going on television recently to have a tea party with some local talk show hosts. Finally, I just really love meeting readers. Books are such a personal, and special, thing. I'm so happy to be part of this world.
What is your favorite “tea moment” from The Teashop Girls?
Probably when Annie is sharing tea with her young babysitting charge toward the end of the book. I think the thing about tea is it inspires people to share and pass on the joy.
What is your favorite “tea moment” from your own life?
Meeting my editor Alexandra over tea in New York City last summer. So exciting! (And yummy). For pictures of what we ate, check out www.flickr.com/photos/teashopgirls.
Thank you so much for sharing, Laura. It has been a real pleasure hosting you at Into the Wardrobe.
For more about Laura Schaefer and The Teashop Girls, visit the official Teashop Girls website and Laura's blog. And click here to read an excerpt from the book!