Big news from the magical land of publishing! Beloved Storybird author Wen Jane Baragrey—one half of the dynamic creative partner duo natalie_wen who wrote The Fake and The Wrong Side of the River—is publishing her first novel with Random House Children’s Books.
WHAT GOES UP will be hitting the shelves in a bookstore near you on October 30th. To celebrate, we sat down with Wen to ask her all about the book.
Storybird: Congratulations on publishing WHAT GOES UP! Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Wen: Well WHAT GOES UP is about Robyn Tinkerbell Goodfellow, who lives in a very unusual town in very unusual house where things tend to land on her roof, and it’s happened so often that her house is almost famous for it. It’s known as the “Magnet Roof” locally.
The news says that a satellite is falling to Earth, and she’s quite convinced it’s going to land on her house. So she decides she doesn’t want to want to get squashed and die, or at least she doesn’t want to get squashed while her name is Robyn Tinkerbell Goodfellow. Robyn wants to have a sensible name and the only person that can help her is her Dad. She’s never met him but she sets out trying to find him.
That’s wonderful. The idea of a magnetic roof sticks in your head so well. What inspired that idea?
I remembered the things that I was terrified of at that age. One of them was when the Skylab space station malfunctioned and was falling back to Earth. I can remember it very vividly because I used to sit beside my bed and pray every night and say “Please God, don’t let it hit my house. I know it’s going to, I’m sure it’s going to!” I just sort of built WHAT GOES UP from there, but I thought Robyn needed to have a better motivation than being just a bit anxious like I was.
But Robyn is a bit like that. She’s worried about crazy things like a space station falling on her house, but also about relatable things like having a dorky name. How do you write a character that’s so relatable and yet so out-of-this-world?
It’s a little bit like with visual art, where if you’re trying to portray something realistically but make it a little imaginative. Say you’re drawing a very clear image of a cat. So long as you get the shadow and the light perfect, you can actually color that cat however you want. You can make it rainbows and it will still look quite realistic even if you look at it and think “I’ve never seen a turquoise cat before.”
Characters are a little bit like that - so long as you’ve got the reality of things, which is usually the emotion, you can paint with all the bright colors you can think of and they will still come out as a relatable, real person.
What would you describe as the light and the shadow of Robyn’s character? What about her rainbow colors?
Oh I think the rainbow colors are when she really enjoys herself, and also her wacky ideas on how she’s going to solve her problems.
The way that she gets out there into the world to take control of her problems—those are the bright colors.
I think her darker parts are the worries that she has. That constant anxiety.
She’s such an interesting character, and she’s got an interesting name too. What made you go with ”Robyn Tinkerbell Goodfellow?”
Well I was thinking of Robyn’s mom’s fairy parties and how embarrassing that would be if you were a kid. The only thing worse than that would be having a fairy name. I thought Tinkerbell would be a good start, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream is my absolute favorite play of Shakespeare’s, so I just had to get Robyn Goodfellow in there too.
Robyn definitely doesn’t like her name, but would you say she has a cool name?
I totally think she has a cool name! I even called a dog of mine once many years ago “Puck,” which is Robyn Goodfellow’s nickname in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Do you think she has a cooler name than Katniss Everdeen?
Oh, obviously. Of course [laughs]. I think I have to say that. Although Katniss is pretty darn cool.
Stick around for Part II of our interview with Wen next week, and be sure to check out WHAT GOES UP when it comes out on October 30th!