Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Charlotte Sullivan Wild, author of Love, Violet (illustrated by Charlene Chua)! Love, Violet is a touching picture book about friendship, love, and the courage it takes to share your heart—even when it’s pounding!
Watch this delightful video to find out more about the book:
Hi Charlotte, it’s a pleasure to have you on my blog! Love, Violet, is a beautiful story of the love that one young girl, Violet, feels for Mira, another girl in her class, and of her struggle to overcome a fear of rejection in order to reveal her love. Can you tell us what inspired you to write it?
When it finally (finally!) dawned on me in my early thirties that I was gay (while married and a faculty member at a religious college, by the way), my next question was… how did I not know?! Because when I looked back, all the evidence was there, right back to baby crushes on girls when I was little. But I didn’t understand it because I had never seen stories that showed me this kind of love—or person—could exist! True or false, our stories frame our sense of reality. I wanted to create a book to let kids see themselves and each other, to say love IS possible. YOU are possible.
My other “gay agenda” (haha!) is to support kids whose road is thornier than mine. My family always loved and cared for me. I also had protection as a feminine female, as white and middle class, and until recently, as able and well. Plus, I came out as an adult, so when my income vanished, when relationships rocked, I had agency and safety nets, and other supportive community. This just isn’t true for many queer kids. Too many of my friends and students and the young LGBTQIAP2+ people seeking shelter at Thrive Youth Center have stories that would chill your blood. I especially wrote Love, Violet for them. For all the kids who aren’t loved no matter what, and who aren’t safe. If this story can show one soul, I SEE you, YOU are loveable, if it can inspire one non-queer kid to kindness and acceptance… that would be everything.
I can’t think of more important reasons than those! Which mentor texts (if any) did you use to help you write this story?
Well, the dates of these books reveal just how long ago I started Love, Violet!I studied A Giant Crush by Gennifer Choldenko (2011) and Pierre in Love by Sara Pennypacker (2008). But Peter McCarty’s Henry in Love (2010) became my lodestar. I wanted to focus on child(like) characters as he does. And I loved that sweeping, romantic feeling of his spare work. I didn’t just read it, I inhaled it. Charted it. (I always need plot help.) I learned many things from it. Henry and Chloe express their love through the display of talents and sharing snacks with the beloved, which is perfect for this age! And in the penultimate moment, their teacher Mrs. Devine (O Destiny!) steps in to push Henry and Chloe’s seats together. What a delightful play on classic love story tropes! I absorbed these lessons and hoped to add an emotional layer to explore those precarious, rollercoaster feelings of sharing your heart—especially when it’s pounding!
But there was one other aspect of the book that pushed me to really think. In some ways, the book emphasizes that Chloe is fast and able, like Henry, a nod I think to gender equality. Yet in other ways, Henry and Chloe’s genders are subtly emphasized in traditional ways throughout the story. Henry is called “little man” and feels he must prove himself, and Chloe’s looks (being watched) are emphasized. The plot follows a traditional “guy pursues girl” archetype, quite literally in fact, when a game of tag breaks out: “The chase was on! / ‘You will never catch me!’ said Chloe.” It’s so clever! And while this plays on her speed, it also feels… constricting. At least to me as someone who doesn’t fit into these boxes. (And maybe a girl shown as “playing hard to get” sits differently these days, as it should.) This aspect of the story reminded me of why I often have an uneasy relationship with romantic comedies. They’re usually so gendered, and the characters (until very recently) so unequal. I wanted to channel McCarty’s whimsical romantic style, that respect he shows for children’s emotions and behaviour. But I wanted to portray love as equal and free from traditional, inevitably hierarchical roles. Because that’s how I experience love. And it’s so freeing! Queer or not, I wish that kind of love for everyone!
It’s clear that a lot of thought and inspiration went into the writing of Love, Violet! What were the biggest challenges that you faced during the creation, submission, and/or publication process? Did the story come to you fully formed, or did it require many revisions?
[She laughs hysterically.
My first book, The Amazing Idea of You (illus. Lundquist, Bloomsbury 2019) did come quickly. Three months after writing that first line “Hidden in this apple is the idea of a tree,” I had a book offer! But Love, Violet developed more like true love: A SPARK! Then, something built slowly, with error and care across the years. A decade, actually.
I was a newer writer, which slows things, but the subject itself created additional obstacles. Some peer reviewers didn’t recognize the crush. They couldn’t “see” it, like I hadn’t seen myself. So, I added Valentine’s Day. Then the crush jumped out. It was too romantic. But was it the writing? Or was it like a heterosexual couple can hold hands and no one cares, but if my wife and I do—it’s LOUD? I doubted myself. I over-revised. And I worried that maybe I wasn’t being accurate about love at this age, even though nearly every aspect of the story is inspired by actual childhood experiences of others and myself. I felt lost.
During this season, I was chosen for a Beyond the Pure Fellowship, sponsored by the Jerome Foundation and hosted by Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis, MN. This was such a gift. As I listened to my BIPOC, immigrant, and working class peers, I discovered that this added layer of confusion and reader resistance is a major barrier for artists of any minority identity—something I don’t think majority folks always fully grasp. I sure hadn’t faced it like this, not even as a woman, until I wrote about queer characters. How do you separate craft advice from bias? What if you’re a newer writer? How do you stay true to your vision? How do you publish if editors can’t identify with your story or if they find it (maybe you) threatening?
The most common guidance from those with power is to erase yourself, your culture, your experiences to please and comfort the majority culture.
Even when your story is the one the culture needs most.
So, for a while I ruined Love, Violet trying to make it “acceptable” to editors. Finally my agent Minju Chang and I decided to set it aside and to wait for the culture to change. It was the right choice. In 2018, I returned to the first version we’d sent out, with only minor changes, and two editors immediately bid on Love, Violet! I’m so thankful to have worked with Trisha de Guzman at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, who never asked me to erase Violet or Mira, or to silence my own pounding heart. And now Love, Violet appears to be the first picture book to portray young girls in love!
I’m so glad you and your agent made that decision – the world needs Love, Violet! What do you hope that child (and adult) readers will take away from it?
It’s scary to be vulnerable at any age, to share ourselves like Violet does. For all her anxiety, her galloping heart, Violet discovers that she is lovable exactly as she is. I hope every reader—no matter who they are or what they’ve faced—feels that message, like a valentine, just for them!
Also: I hope queer kids see themselves!
Extra also: I hope ALL kids root for Mira and Violet AND for each other!
I hope so too!! Can you tell us about anything you’re working on at the moment, or any other books scheduled for release?
In 2019, just days before The Amazing Idea of You launched, I became chronically ill with myalgic encephalomyelitis /chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). This changed everything. ME/CFS means my cells can’t process energy correctly. I can no longer socialize or leave home without extreme measures or consequences. Brain fog and memory issues are frequent. I couldn’t write at all for a while. About a year ago, after slowly learning to refrain from most activity (that’s harder than it sounds), I gradually regained the ability to write most days. I now write differently, with new limits and more planning (brain fog is real!), but writing is happening!
So it feels wonderful to have two new picture books on or near submission. Perfect for Halloween, one is a spooky and spirited tale (somewhat inspired by my experience of becoming disabled) of monster-loving Zoe and her new puppy discovering that not even the most frightful mishap is a match for monster love. The other picture book portrays a child from a beautiful queer family learning to cope and stay connected while one parent is far away. I wish I knew less about this topic, too! But I guess we turn our greatest pain into art, right? I hope these books make it into the world and to the hearts that need them.
I’ll look forward to reading those when they come out! Thank you so much for taking the time to appear on my blog and answer these questions!
Thank you so much for inviting me to share about Love, Violet! It’s been a pleasure!
Charlotte Sullivan Wild was first struck speechless by a crush in preschool. In grade school she may have cut and pasted a special Valentine for someone and been too shy to sign it. But she’s not shy about love anymore! She has loved teaching, selling books, creating kidlit events, and talking about books on the radio. Her first picture book is The Amazing Idea of You, illustrated by Mary Lundquist. Originally from snowy Minnesota, she now lives wherever her wife is stationed, recently Texas and now Italy, to see what they might find—together! She is represented by Minju Chang at BookStop Literary Agency. Learn more: www.charlotteswild.com
Love, Violet will be published on 4th January 2022 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr). You can pre-order a copy by clicking one of the links below: