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Chelsea Sedoti Talks with Roger

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Upon reaching the age of eighteen, each resident of Madison, Nevada, is taken to a cave to make a wish. That the wishes always come true, and that this has been going on for generations, are the two drivers of the circumstances that seventeen-year-old Eldon confronts as he prepares for his wish.

Roger Sutton: Do you think that this story would have occurred to you had you not lived in Nevada?

Chelsea Sedoti: Yes, actually. I first imagined this book as being set in a very stereotypical midwestern town. It was similarly isolated, but it didn’t have that Mojave Desert flavor. My first book [The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett] took place in Ohio, which is where my family is originally from. When I started writing As You Wish, it felt too much the same. Rural Nevada doesn’t appear very often in books, and I had an opportunity to write about it from experience, so I changed the story to be set in this area of the country.

RS: It seems like a completely appropriate place for such a town to exist.

CS: I like to think so. When people think of Nevada they think of Las Vegas, the Strip, casinos. There’s really so much more than that. It’s such a strange and fascinating place.

RS: As a resident, do you notice the strangeness of that desert landscape? Or do you take it for granted?

CS: I notice things the other way. I’ll go back to visit my family in Ohio, for instance, and we’ll be driving on the freeway, and at every exit there’s a town. In Nevada, once you leave Las Vegas, until you get farther north, there’s not a lot. It’s all government land where, if you take one of the exits, you’re going to very quickly be escorted off. It’s a lot of open space, with these odd little towns that are half ghost towns and half still functioning. But that’s just what the normal landscape is to me. When I go to other places, it’s very jarring to see how much life is everywhere.

RS: And so much of your book is possible because the characters are isolated.

CS: Right. It absolutely wouldn’t have worked out if they lived in a populated area.

RS: What came first for you with this story? Was it the concept? The main character?

CS: It was the concept. A few years ago, I worked a very boring tech job. A bunch of us were in a room doing mindless work, so we found ways to pass the time. One of my coworkers would always ask these “what if?” questions, and one time he asked: “What if wishing were real?” For the rest of the day, as I was doing my mindless work, I kept thinking about that. What if wishing were real? How would it work? Would you get multiple wishes? Would everyone in the world get a wish? By the end of the day I had fleshed out this concept of a strange town where everyone made a wish on a specific birthday.

RS: Did you know how dark the story would be? Because it gets pretty dark.

CS: In my original idea, the characters got wishes on their fifteenth birthdays. I started to write it, and something just wasn’t feeling right. I really had a lot of trouble getting started with this book. It was one of those situations where I had to step back and go, okay, something’s not working. I need to let go of everything that I thought I knew and just dive into it without trying. As I started to get to know the characters and the bleak setting, I realized there’s no way they’re making wishes on their fifteenth birthdays. They need to be older, because this story is taking a darker turn.

RS: And with eighteen, it’s the age of majority. You can vote. Used to be able to drink. There’s a clear demarcation at that point between childhood and adulthood.

CS: Oh, very much. It’s the age you’re “supposed” to figure your life out, and I don’t think that most people are ready to.

RS: As we see in your book. Some of the wishes fare better than others, but nothing seems to work out quite the way people want it to.

CS: No, I would say not. In life, things often don’t work out the way we want them to. That doesn’t mean they necessarily go horribly wrong. Lots of times things end up much better than anything that we expected, but it’s really hard to predict how any action we take is really going to impact us in the long term.

RS: Like in the book, there’s a character who wishes to be the prettiest girl in town, so she is, but then she realizes it’s only going to last until somebody else makes the same wish. It’s all very complicated.

CS: It was a lot of fun. I spent hours thinking, what kind of bizarre and sometimes stupid wishes would eighteen-year-olds come up with? Some of the wishes are very selfless. But with a group of eighteen-year-olds, for every good wish there’s going to be someone who wishes to be pretty.

RS: What do you think you might have done had you been an eighteen-year-old in this town?

CS: I’ve thought about what I would wish for now and what I would have wished for when I was eighteen, and I haven’t come up with a good answer for either. I have this fear that when I was eighteen I would have wished for something completely ridiculous, like for my curly hair to be straight.

RS: Because such things loom so large when you’re that age.

CS: They do. At least they did for me.

RS: Since reading As You Wish, I’ve tried to think what would I have wished for, but you do such a good job of showing how there is no wish without consequences.

CS: I don’t think it’s possible to alter your life in any way without there being some type of consequences. Again, it doesn’t mean that everything is all terrible and bleak. A lot of times the wishes come with a mixture of good and bad, because that’s how life is. You end up somewhere in the middle. But especially for the wishes that are very big, or might change something essential about yourself, it becomes really scary. For instance, I have pretty bad anxiety. And I hate it, of course. I don’t want to have anxiety. As I was writing, I thought, well, wish to get rid of anxiety. That would be amazing. That would change my life. And it would, but how much of me would it change in the process? Would I be the same person.

RS: Would you even write another book?

CS: You have no idea.

RS: We use art to work our way through these things, or at least make ourselves feel better for a moment. We all make wishes, but here you’re in a situation where, yes, you automatically get whatever it is you wished for, but you have the burden of knowing you made that choice. Whereas in real life, things happen to us. It’s a combination of surprise, serendipity, things we work for, things we get accidentally.

CS: That’s very true, and that’s why in writing this story I tried never to do a “Monkey’s Paw”–type thing, where you make a wish and then some greater force switches the wish around. Like you wish to be rich, so someone you love dies and you get an insurance policy. I didn’t want it to be like that. I wanted it to be that people actually got what they wished for. Their wishes came true, and it wasn’t some weird twist of fate. It wasn’t the universe messing with them.

RS: I thought that was a smart decision. It makes the book scarier in a way, because it feels so logical. You have just this one little thing about this town that’s different. Otherwise you have a completely realistic novel. It’s good old human nature at work.

CS: I’m glad that came across, because that was very important to me, to keep it grounded in reality. Of course there’s a magical element involved, but the book is just about people and the choices they make.

RS: Do you make wishes now? Has it made you feel more cautious?

CS: I try not to wish too much for things. Obviously everyone always hopes for things, but hoping for something feels different from saying, “I wish this.”

RS: When you find a penny, do you make a wish?

CS: I don’t think I have since writing the book, actually.

RS: Only face up. Do not wish on a penny that’s face down.

CS: Of course not!

RS: It made me think that if in this town they gave you your wishes at sixty, which is what I am, I would wish for something like a really good Christmas present. Try not to put too much weight on it.

CS: I do think that the simpler wishes tend to come out better.

RS: But even the wishes that they think are simple, like the kid who wishes he wasn’t gay — the ramifications of that are just heartbreaking.

CS: I love that character so very much. That was one of my favorite chapters to write. The book is told in first person, but there are chapters where you dive into someone else’s wish day. It gave me a chance to get into other people’s minds.

RS: And your main character is a boy. Was it difficult getting into the mindset of a boy?

CS: I thought it would be, and I was worried about it, but the character ended up flowing really well. I told my male beta readers, if this starts to sound like a girl, you need to tell me.

RS: Was there a reason that it was a boy instead of a girl?

CS: My first book was from a female point of view, and it felt right to me that my second book would have a male protagonist. I don’t want to write the same character over and over again. Because I started this book right after finishing my first book, I was still so much in the head of my first novel’s protagonist. I felt that if I wrote another female character, it would start to sound like her even if I didn’t intend that. I wanted to challenge myself and step as far away from that first character as possible to really make sure that they were distinct.

RS: Half a continent away and a different gender.

CS: Yes.

RS: So what’s up for number three?

CS: I’m working on it right now. It’s a book about a science nerd who tries to pull off a hoax in his town and causes mass hysteria.

RS: Sounds like a riot. Comedy? Serious? Tragedy? What’s it going to be?

CS: Definitely on the comedic side. I needed to write something a little bit lighter after all of the dark wishes.

RS:I like your idea of using each book to recover from the last.

CS: Of course there’s going to be some sameness to all of my books. Everything I write is a little bit weird, and every book is going to have characters that are flawed and make some bad choices at times, but other than that, I do think I like to step away and make sure I’m writing something new. If I was just doing the same thing every time, it wouldn’t be fun for me anymore.

RS: Nor for me, so I thank you for that.

Video Extra: Chelsea and Roger Talk at ALA 2017 in Chicago

Click here to watch.

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Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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