It’s such an honor to host Nikki Loftin on my blog today, especially with all the buzz about her new book, Wish Girl (lovely review here in the New York Times!). I ADORED her book, The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy which is why I got bold enough to ask her to be my friend even if we’ve never officially met. I can’t wait for you to “meet” Nikki, too, so I’ll be quiet now.
My writing desk is littered with what other people might call junk: oddly-shaped rocks, feathers, a fallen bird’s nest, two Weeble-Wobble toys from the early ‘70s, shells, fossils, an empty walnut with a brass catch that I dreamed of when I was eight, and found in a store in Paris years later.
Junk? Maybe. But they are also tangible memories. Each one was an object I gathered at a certain time in my life to help me remember the most important moments I’ve lived. They tell my story. They remind me not to forget what really matters.
While writing my new book, Wish Girl, I realized halfway through I had done the very same thing with this novel as I have done with my desk. To create Wish Girl, I gathered up my most treasured moments, and some of the most difficult, and made a story with them.
To begin with, I set Wish Girl in the place where I felt safest and most free when I was little: a valley in the hill country of Texas, in the middle of nowhere. When I was young, there were no other houses to see from my valley, no airplanes, no manmade sounds. Just peace and calm and the rush of wind on the leaves at my feet, the sun on my face. While writing, I combined beautiful moments – a field of rain lilies, a soft-shelled baby armadillo, a pool covered in damselflies — with darker ones. A dead turkey vulture brought down with a pellet rifle by two bored kids, just for fun. The terror in the face of my mom’s best friend when her daughter was diagnosed with leukemia at two years old. A friend who told me that even though she’d survived her own cancer and the treatment, “she remembered being smart” and wished she could have stayed who she was. That girl, my student, asked me why God had allowed her life to be shaped this way. I didn’t have an answer then.
Wish Girl was my attempt to bring her to the valley – to bring all of the readers who need a safe, magical, accepting place as much as I did back then – there, and let them find answers to thorny, dark questions in a way that brings hope and light into the process. From bits and pieces of children I have known and loved deeply, I created Annie, and her friend Peter, and filled their frightening world with magic, art, laughter, sorrow, and friendship. Wish Girl is a collection, made from my memories and my deep thoughts. I hope the readers who find it will understand the valley’s quiet magic and look for a place like that in their own worlds. Maybe they will find it, and pick up a small stone, or a feather, or a fossil, and in that way store that memory in their own collection of treasures (not junk, never junk) for the rest of their lives. I hope so.
Nikki Loftin lives and writes just outside Austin, Texas, surrounded by dogs, goats, chickens, and rambunctious boys. She is the author of Wish Girl, the multiply starred-reviewed Nightingale’s Nest and The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy, which Publisher’s Weekly called “mesmerizing” and Kirkus called “irresistible.” Nikki loves ice cream, books with magic in them, and talking to kids about writing.