We’re excited to announce that Game Over, Shrinkwithers by Sarah Ray Schwarcz will be available in October 2021. This is Sarah’s first book written for a middle grades audience. We love interviewing authors before their big launch and today we’re bringing you an exclusive interview with Sarah Ray Schwarcz.
About Sarah Ray Schwarcz:
Sarah Ray Schwarcz is releasing a new book in October 2021. Game Over, ShrinkWithers, is a magical realism Middle Grade adventure, which aims to entertain and inform children in grades four through eight about our stewardship of Earth and its resources. Set in the great outdoors—except when they are stuck in dangerous, dark, dreary places—this novel leaps from puzzle to puzzle, as the family reacts to their challenges. Let’s hope our Earth wins!
Sarah’s lifelong fascination with language and literature has been exercised in her professional career. She is now in retirement and gets to play in her favorite sandbox – writing in multiple genres.
In May of 2020, she published Pearls and Knots – Dancing on a String from the Mississippi to Lake Michigan (May 2020). Her poetry has been accepted in online journals, probably due to the humor threads running through them. Laughter is her nourishment—no calories and great exercise!
She has wonderful writing buddies and a fabulous critique group of ten experienced writers. Living in the Chicago area, she has been fortunate to have many opportunities to learn from outstanding authors and writing coaches over the past decade. She is a member of the longest running writing group in the country – Off Campus Writers Workshop (a weekly oasis that now numbers 450 writers) She has been published in both their anthologies: Overcoming (2013) and Turning Points (2021).
Please tell us a little about your new book.
Game Over, ShrinkWithers provides readers with fast-paced rollercoaster chapters and high suspense to keep us guessing and playing the game along with Jenny and Branch. With time on the side of climate disaster, the ruthless ShrinkWithers may win this battle. Can kids make a difference before it’s too late? Will their quest prove you don’t have to be an adult to be extremely clever? Family bonding and sharp wits glue the kids together, along with ingenuity and touches of magical powers. Both old-fashioned communication and new-fashioned devices prove necessary as they encounter strings of perilous events.
Middle graders will love solving the puzzles sprinkled throughout the novel. They will enjoy watching Branch and Jenny try to keep their cool when the going gets rough. The book makes a delightful read-aloud at home or in a classroom. Acting it out will be great fun. Lesson activities will be available to enhance the book.
From the helicopter Ninjas to the exploding canister in the boathouse basement, to the high-in-the-sky bubble with Jenny and Branch underwater in all ways, and on to the moving sand dunes—the family’s trust and perseverance are keys to their survival—if they survive…
Why did you write the Game Over, Shrinkwithers?
I started the book several years ago as a NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month – write 50,000 words in one month – each November) challenge. Encouraged by a fellow writing buddy and a critique group along the way, I stuck with a tiny initial idea involving a pre-teen girl trying to make a difference for our real world problems. Magical powers that don’t always work, quirky events, and a younger brother who literally wrote himself into the story by the third chapter (unplanned by me) worked to keep me excited to keep writing to find out how it would go!
Having loved teaching reading, language arts, and science to children in grades three to eight over 40+ years, I always knew I wanted to write a book that would keep kids turning pages, and combine reality with fantasy. As we approached these last two years, the impact of the mega-viruses and the depletion of earth’s resources became the greater life story affecting mankind. I was concerned about walking that narrow path between the thrill of a good story that teaches resilience, versus one that defeats our hope. Building awareness and self-confidence in our children’s talents to make a difference in the huge problems facing earth’s citizens became a challenging mission for both the characters and me. Then, when the world’s health and safety virus issues expanded, and every part of their schooling and lives changed, I knew the message of a book coming out in these times needed to be both positive and hopeful.
Who is this book for?
Game Over, ShrinkWithers! is for children in grades four through eight. Because it combines fantasy and reality, it grabs and holds their attention in fast-paced chapters. It makes an engaging read-aloud, and when there are four or more kids, it is perfect for acting out, with some narration. The dialogue fits today’s language patterns and even the harder vocabulary words can be decoded through good phonics application.
While these grade levels enclose a broad span of reading ability, the real topics, with a real family interacting in exciting events will motivate all levels to succeed and extend their comprehension, problem-solving, and writing skills.
The humorous moments between the sister and brother mimic the playful sarcasm that siblings ‘enjoy’ while interacting with each other.
What is YOUR favorite part of the book?
That’s tough to answer. Maybe I can narrow it to three areas. Setting the stage for the game challenge in the first chapter immediately engages the reader in a “what’s happening and why situation” that plunges Jenny and her family into danger. Next, the middle parts of the book, where each family member faces threatening events and characters and decisions that force their involvement without any obvious answers, only questions. And finally, I am very fond of the octopus! Not giving her name away here — read the book! (She may request a larger part in the next book, but she is great fun in her watery ways in this one!)
When did you start writing books?
I wrote mostly in academic areas throughout most of my life. In the past ten years, I have focused on personal essays and poetry. I published my memoir, Pearls and Knots – Dancing on a String from the Mississippi to Lake Michigan, in May of 2020. I started planning Game Over, ShrinkWithers! about seven years ago, working on both the memoir and this book at the same time. I don’t advise working on two books at a time, but it worked for me.
How is this book different from other books in your genre or niche?
Game Over is somewhat different in its pairing of magic with a serious, overwhelming issue in real life. It attempts to raise awareness of our need to pick up the pace to combat the effects of global warming and climate change. Combining our imaginative and scientific ‘powers’ with our respect and conservation of the environment will need great speedup if we are to succeed against the negative effects that have already occurred.
What challenges did you face writing your book during a pandemic?
Thanks for asking. My first issue based on the pandemic was that I felt I didn’t want to produce a book that was going to ‘heighten our disaster focus’. Children and families should not be stressed further than all the health and school and employment logistics they were already facing. This really stressed me out in the first year of the pandemic. What helped me continue was that I was working on getting my memoir out first in 2020, then the fantasy out in 2021. That turned out to be a blessing for my psyche, because the basic logistics of creating medical answers, the vaccination and timing of the shots, virtual schooling adaptations—all that had to be addressed in that first year. Publishing my memoir was not something I worried might negatively impact on children’s and parents’ welfare. It took me many months to decide that regardless of the seriousness of the topic of climate change, the children’s book needed to be published, because the seriousness is reality, and the solutions need to come faster. Keeping that uppermost will, in the long run, enhance life.
On a personal level, my life was changed severely, as were all of ours. Family and friend contact with others not in your immediate household ended. Social events ended. Travel ended. Fear crept into every corner of our lives. The political atmosphere became acidic. For those whose family and friends faced the worst of the health impact, that was foremost in every decision. The psychological isolation definitely was an issue, after I addressed safety.
However, the increased time of isolation allowed me to focus on two books in two years, and definitely was an upside. Plus, my writing buddy/editor lives not far, and while we didn’t socialize or eat out or continue to write at our library, we lived-on-and-in our phones and zoomed. My group of ten critique writers quickly adapted our in-person meetings to Zoom and that continued to provide the valuable critical component for my book’s sections.
And, in these past eighteen months, I am fortunate to have found an amazing resource – The Women in Publishing Summit and Write Publish Sell – led by Alexa Haddock Bigwarfe. The summit and company are an unending online virtual publishing and workshop venue for authors. If you can’t find state-of-the-art writing expertise here, it doesn’t exist. As doors closed, Alexa and her team opened every window to the world of writing, publishing, and networking.
Do you have any other books? Where can they be found?
My memoir, Pearls and Knots – Dancing on a String from the Mississippi to Lake Michigan, can be found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Ingram. The July 2020 Book Excellence Awards Review describes Pearls and Knots as “a truly uplifting memoir that showcases the power of the human spirit in its ability to persevere and thrive. From the very first page, the story draws you in and tugs at your heartstrings. Sarah writes in a way that is both deeply personal and universal, and her writing will make you feel as though you are living and breathing each moment with her.”