By Dawn Aerts
Iron County Today
CEDAR CITY–Elaine Vickers is not your typical writer.
A collection of children’s books fills the library of her home in Cedar City. Those books she enjoyed as a child, family favorites, and those she has shared with her own three children. “I always had an interest in creative writing and actually wrote for the high school newspaper,” says Vickers, “but most of my work was kept mostly in a drawer.”
In 2001, Vickers earned a degree in chemistry at Southern Utah University, and went on to complete a Ph.D program in organic chemistry at the University of Utah, before settling back in her hometown to marry and raise a family.
She says it never occurred to her that a long ago interest in writing would one day emerge.
“I would say there were many things that I wanted to be growing up,” said Vickers of a high school chemistry teacher who led her to pursue science. But she readily admits that when she wasn’t studying scientific journals in the grad school library, she found herself wandering into the young-reader’s section to immerse herself in literature.
It wasn’t until she joined a small writer’s group in 2009, that she opened the door once more, to writing.
“So I was invited by a close friend (Rosalyn Eves) to be part of this group,” said Vickers, “And three or four of us would meet to share our writing. Sometimes that meant writing or sharing only a few pages at a time, but over time, it motivated me to continue the work.”
Like the themes in her two, recently published novels (Like Magic, 2016 and Paper Chains, 2017) Vickers said the power of friendship, belonging, and the magic of “shared” discovery emerged at the core of her writing.
It was after a reading a news article about a NYC library who allowed students to check out an American Girl Doll that first tweaked her concept for a book. “So my first work focused on the story of three girls who come together at a library where they discover a mysterious box and then, how they begin to fill it with their own unique treasures – from artwork and poetry, to music.”
It was that one idea that Vickers wove into a ‘magical’ story with universal themes about longing for friendship, diverse backgrounds, and the unique challenges of childhood. “It really was one idea evolving and connecting with others,” said Vickers of her first published work, Like Magic, (HarperCollins).
Still, it never occurred to her that she would one day be the author of not one, but two middle-school novels, most recently — Paper Chains, (published by HarperCollins, 2017).
Vickers says it still surprises the writing group to have two with ‘book deals’ and a third with a literary agent. “Up until that time, I had a few drafts, which I put in a drawer and forgot about it – but I knew that I wanted to give writing a try.” While the children’s book market has evolved to be more inclusive of family backgrounds, gender-identity and age boundaries, her core readers have generally been geared to girls, ages 8 to 12.
“What we know is that kids find the books that they love to read: that might be, kids who love art, those who may feel lonely, the need for friendships, diverse families…So those themes can and do cross all genders and ages,” said Vickers. “And I’ve come to know kids (of all ages, backgrounds) and a 98-year-old reader who enjoyed these two books.”
Vickers idea for the second companion novel (Paper Chains) came about with universal themes of acceptance and belonging.
“This particular story takes place over a holiday season, but it focuses on the diversity of family and that sense of belonging.” She is particularly proud of the design and illustration cover work by Italy-based artist, Sara Not.
Over the past year, Vickers has spent time visiting schools and meeting young students. “As a writer, I want to help foster a sense of wonder, a sense of belonging among readers, whatever age they might be and to help them feel positive, whatever they may be going through.”
While Vickers admits she isn’t inclined towards fantasy, but focuses her talent in writing on historic or contemporary issues. “For me, it’s important to convey the ‘authentic’ story, to be heartfelt in the real world.” Her two books have been described as companion novels, but a current project is rooted in her personal experience with her family and young son.
“You’ll notice that the characters in the first book are slightly woven into parts of the second,” says Vickers with a smile. “Sometimes that happens through the line of a small poem which reads, ‘Remember this truth, that you are not alone.’
Caption: Elaine Vickers first middle-school novel, Like Magic, (published HarperCollins) was named one of Barnes and Noble’s Ten Notable Middle Grade Novels of 2016.