Claire Swinarski is the author of multiple books, including What Happens Next (coming in 2020 from HarperCollins) and Girl, Arise: A Catholic Feminist’s Invitation to Live Boldly, Love Your Faith, and Change the World. She’s also the founder of the Catholic Feminist Podcast, a top-ranked spirituality podcast with half a million downloads that discusses the intersection between faith and women’s issues. She has degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Seventeen, Milwaukee Magazine, and many other publications. She lives just outside of Milwaukee, WI with her husband and two kids.
In Claire’s middle grade debut What Happens Next, astronomy-obsessed Abby McCourt should be thrilled about the solar eclipse her small town of Moose Junction is about to witness, but she’s not. After her older sister Blair was sent away for an eating disorder, Abby has been in a funk. Desperate to dull the pain her sister’s absence has left, she teams up with a visiting astronomer to help track down his long-lost telescope. Though this is supposed to take Abby’s mind off the distance between her and Blair, what she finds may bring her closer to her sister than she ever thought possible.
Adrianna Cuevas: Claire, why did you decide to write a book for middle grade readers that addresses the topic of eating disorders?
Claire Swinarski: Anorexia is a disease that’s often talked about but still very, very misunderstood. Even after a plethora of research and a hundred and one memoirs/books/documentaries, people still seem to believe that anorexia is a “choice” or even something to aspire to. It was important for me to highlight the way an eating disorder can not only shatter a person, but their entire family and social support system. Writing from the point of view of an anorexia sufferer’s sister allowed me to explore the disease but in a way that’s accessible for younger readers.
AC: What do you hope readers gain from your story?
CS: I hope readers walk away from What Happens Next knowing that people are more than the worst decisions they’ve made or the people they’ve hurt. That people are complex: they can’t be put into a box of “good” or “bad”, even when it’d be nice to put them there!
AC: What was the journey to publication like for you?
CS: Bumpy! Like most authors, I didn’t decide to write a book and then sign a contract the next day. In fact, the first book my agent sent out on submission for me never sold. While it was hard to take at the time, What Happens Next would never have been written without that major bump in the road.
AC: What is your writing process like? Any favorite habits?
CS: I love to write in coffee shops–there’s something about a hot latte and cozy Ed Sheeran acoustics playing! I don’t write every single day, believe it or not. Instead, I have “writing days” and “admin work days” where I do things like send e-mails or craft social media posts.
AC: Alright, Claire, brace yourself for the SPEED ROUND! What books made you want to be a writer?
CS: Oh, gosh! Hard question! I read so many books as a kid, but I’ve always had a particular soft spot for the American Girl series, as well as anything by Sharon Creech or Gail Carson Levine.
AC: What was your favorite subject in school?
CS: English and History! Math was always my least favorite part of the day.
AC: What is your favorite line from your book?
CS: The very first one: “The night I saw Dr. Leo Lacamoire, I was looking at the stars.”
AC: How is your main character different from you?
CS: Abby struggles with forgiving people for the decisions they’ve made. I’d like to think that after 28 years, I’ve learned to extend people a bit more grace.
Congrats on the release of your debut middle grade novel, Claire! You can visit Claire’s website to learn more and follow her on Twitter and Instagram, as well as order WHAT HAPPENS NEXT on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound. And don’t forget to add it on Goodreads!