February 21st, 2010


Interview: Elissa Brent Weissman

Elissa Brent Weissman wrote her first novel when she was in sixth grade. Now all grown up, she has published two novels for the junior high crowd: Standing for Socks, the story of a girl who (accidentally) leads a individualist movement in her school and community, and The Trouble With Mark Hopper, which follows the chaos that ensues when two boys with the same name attend the same school.

During our interview, Elissa and I talked about activism, artistic abilities, and identity. Oh, and mismatched footwear.

You wrote the first draft of your first novel, Standing for Socks, for a creative writing class during your senior year at Johns Hopkins University. Had you already been working on the story, or did you initially create it for the assignment?

I hadn't already been working on it. I knew from my freshman year that I wanted to take the novel-writing class my senior year, but when I got there, I didn't have any ideas for a novel! The first time it was my turn to hand something in, I wrote something terrible that I knew I'd scrap even before my class confirmed that I should.

After that, I remembered that I'd once (during high school? junior high?) considered writing a story about characters who had problems with all sorts of small things, including one - Fara - who had a problem with socks. So I decided to try to tell Fara's story. But it was really when I started writing Jody (Fara's best friend) and got the two girls interacting with each other that the story started to take off.

What do you know now about the publishing industry or the writing life that you wish you'd known prior to writing that first draft?

Being an author takes A LOT of drive. Even though there's a rush of pride with every big accomplishment - completing a book, getting an agent, finding a publisher - each step also comes with frustrations and a new set of seemingly unattainable goals. There are no guarantees in this business, and you can never really sit back and say, "Now I've made it."

If I'd known all this before writing the first draft, would it have changed anything, though? Nah. I write because I love it.

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Visit Elissa's website.

Read my review of Standing for Socks.

Standing for Socks by Elissa Brent Weissman

From its very first page, Standing for Socks got my attention. Before school, a sock-clad fifth-grader named Fara gets the morning newspaper for her family and accidentally gets one of her socks wet in the process. As she switches it for a dry sock, she realizes she's running late and doesn't have time to switch the other sock, too. She quickly jams her feet into her sneakers and scurries off to school, where people point out her mismatched socks all day long. Some tease her for it, while others think it looks cool. Before she knows it, Fara's sockwear accident becomes a symbol of individuality and freedom of expression - and, for better or worse, it becomes her trademark, which follows her into middle school.

Fara would love to be sixth grade class president, but she'd also love to be known for more than her mismatched socks! She wants to show her classmates what she can do and tell them how she feels about things that are going on in her school and her town. She worries that if she goes back to wearing matching socks, she'll offend the people who are following in her steps by wearing crazy socks and sending letters to her and to the local paper. Fara wants to be taken seriously, and to be heard when she speaks from her heart, not from her feet.

Standing for Socks, Elissa Brent Weissman's debut novel, is witty and charming. It boasts cute chapter titles and various plays on word "sock" without overdoing it. The phrase "Mount Saint Failure" was also a personal favorite. While both the kids and the adults are intelligent and with-it, their actions and dialogue also (appropriately) reflect their ages and opinions. Fara's transition from elementary school to middle school isn't easy, nor is it so heavy that she is stooped over by its weight. She is surrounded by positive, fun characters, such as her parents, a young, ponytailed teacher and advisor named Mr. Z, and her friends - bouncy Jody, accident-prone Phillip, talkative Vicki who tends to speak for shy Caroline - as well as those who would want to bring her down, like snotty Melodee and her equally abrasive mother, who is head of the PTA. The conundrums and conflicts are presented in a realistic way, and lead to a memorable first Sockinental Congress.

Standing for Socks will inspire readers of all ages to become active in their schools and communities and encourage them to stand up for themselves, and to just be themselves, no matter what.

Favorite Quotes

One of my favorite early passages informs readers of the charitable and ecological efforts made regularly by Fara's family:

[Fara] wondered if her family did other things that were different. Did other kids go through their toys every birthday and pick ones to bring to the Goodwill store? And did other families spend Thanksgiving and Christmas cooking food and serving it to people at a homeless shelter? She didn't know why they wouldn't. But then again, she didn't know why they wouldn't always turn off the water when brushing their teeth, either.

The following comes from a letter written in response to Jody's article about Fara:

"Don't worry about what others think. You are you and they are not." - Page 87

Isn't that the truth?

Read my interview with Elissa Brent Weissman.

Read Chapter One of the book at Elissa's website.

Related Booklists:
Set in School + Transition Times
Middle School Must-Haves
Extra! Extra! Read All About It!
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