Charlie Barshaw coordinates our quarterly Writer Spotlight feature and interviews writers of SCBWI-MI. In this piece, meet Sarah Prusoff LoCascio. If her name seems familiar, it's because she hosts Hugs and Hurrahs. But there's much more to her story...
How does Sarah's Literary Garden Grow? From Connecticut to the Asian Journal to the Viola da Gamba, a Twisty Tale of Discovery
You grew up in Connecticut. Aside from learning how to spell a difficult state name, how did your childhood prepare you for the Writer’s Life?
That’s a tricky question (and it was definitely difficult to spell)! I’m not sure if there’s anything about any particular state that prepares you more than any other state. I’m sure my childhood prepared me, but I can’t think of reasons that would only be true about Connecticut. I will say that both my family and my elementary school were very supportive of story telling and writing. Our big writing projects in first and second grade were writing stories. I always had dolls that I used as the characters in my stories. In addition, an author would visit my elementary school every year, which really planted the idea that being an author (and a children’s author) was something that was possible and worth trying to do.
Who were some of the people who influenced your love of reading and writing? What were some of your favorite books and authors growing up?
My parents always read to me. I also often visited the public library with baby sitters or nannies. As I mentioned before, my elementary school had author visits every year. The first time I considered being an author was when Marc Brown visited my elementary school when I was in kindergarten.
The Baby Sitter’s Little Sister books by Ann M. Martin were the cool thing to read when I was in first and second grade. Having reading be the “cool” thing to do certainly couldn’t have hurt my love for reading. The first book to make me cry was A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett when I was in fourth grade, which gave it a place as my favorite book for a long time.
You earned your bachelor’s degree at Bard College. Was the name of the college prescient? What did you study? Did you do any writing?
My bachelor’s degree is actually from Bard College at Simon’s Rock, which was called Simon’s Rock College of Bard when I attended. The special thing about Simon’s Rock is that almost none of their students have graduated from high school; they just felt ready for college before the traditional time. My “concentrations” (they don’t say major) were Music and European Studies and my undergraduate thesis was titled “‘The Instrument Our Nation Glories In:’ The Role of the Viol in English Society from the 16th Century through the 18th Century.” Students at Simon’s Rock do a lot of writing in general. Even the one math class I took required a fair amount of writing. But as far as creative writing, I was very lucky to be able to take a fiction writing workshop my sophomore year taught by Okey Ndibe. He’s an amazing storyteller.
You earned your Master’s at Indiana University. What brought you to the Midwest? How did your time there affect your future?
Going into my final year at Simon’s Rock, I thought I might need to make a plan for the future. I didn’t really feel ready to start working, and so applying to graduate school seemed like the thing to do. Having accidentally studied music (I hadn’t intended to make it one of my concentrations initially, but one of my professors argued that I might as well since I had fulfilled all the requirements), applying in music seemed like the best option.
Indiana University is consistently rated as one of the best schools of music in the country, especially for early music (like my instrument, viola da gamba). Going to Indiana University (as opposed to a smaller conservatory) also allowed me to take classes outside the school of music including a fiction writing class with Tim Westmoreland.
The effects on the rest of my life are pretty substantial, but not closely related to what I was studying: First, I met my wife there. Second, I began working as an English tutor for international students or professors visiting Indiana University on sabbatical, and that led to the rest of my career.
You’re now married, living in Michigan, with a busy young family. How do you find time to work on The Mitten and, you know, write?
I have never been able to balance everything and do everything at the same time. I can usually pick a maximum of two things to do well enough in a given week: mom, work (editing and tutoring), creative (writing or music; I almost never do them both on the same day), or housekeeping (which is the one that I drop most easily).
At the same time, having young children while working on picture book manuscripts has its advantages. They are always an inspiration, sometimes from what I observe in their play and sometimes for what their interests are. They are also always happy to listen to a new manuscript and let me know what they think. I’m not sure I would have even started writing picture books without my kids.
I am also really grateful for my critique group for keeping me accountable. Knowing I’m going to be meeting them every month helps to keep me motivated. It also helps to have some time set aside. I usually try to do some “writing work” Saturday morning, either working on my own writing, critiquing something for a critique partner, or working on submitting to agents. Of course, my family knows that quarterly, based on the publication schedule for the journal I work for, the house is going to get exceptionally messy and I’m going to feel a little bit irritable.
You’re the managing editor of the Asian Journal for Public Opinion Research. How did you come to work there?
When I was at IU, I realized I was not going to have a career as a musician or an academic and began looking around for other ideas. ESL tutor felt like something I could do and so I answered a couple of ads on a message board from people looking for tutors. My very first student, a professor at a university in South Korea who was visiting IU for some time, continued to work closely with me and had me proofread some of his work. In 2012, he was elected the first president of the Asian Network for Public Opinion Research (ANPOR) and so when they decided to launch an English language journal in 2013, they asked me if I could help with some of the correspondence between authors, reviewers, etc. and proofreading papers before publication, and eventually I became the managing editor.
One of the journal articles you’re most famous for on Google is titled: “The Effects of Attitudes Toward Breastfeeding in Public on Breastfeeding Rates and Duration: Results From South Korea.” Is this indicative of the type of reporting you do for them?
I wouldn’t say I do reporting since they are academic papers rather than articles that you might find in a newspaper. I have been listed as a co-author on seven papers published in AJPOR between 2016 and 2021. Most of them, including this one, are related to results from a survey regularly conducted in South Korea. The one you mentioned is the only one for which I’m the first author and that I’m most proud of. It’s the one that was most interesting to me personally and that was more my personal project, in that I suggested the survey questions and so was involved in the process from the beginning.
You say on Sarah Prusoff LoCascio.com that you’re “enough of a writer to need this website.” What was the tipping point for you?
I would guess after hearing that it’s a good idea to make a website several times at various shop talks and an SCBWI-MI conference, I finally decided that I better make one, if for no other reason than to make sure no one else could take my name as their domain name.
The picture book that I’m currently most excited about right now is titled The Dragon-Knight Book Club, which I started working on after my middle child asked me for a “two-part, not true story about a dragon.” Ooglyboo the Dragon and Nicky the Knight both love to read and hate to listen. Nicky is eaten by Ooglyboo and discovers a library of books in the dragon’s belly.
I think I have about seven picture book manuscripts that are pretty much “ready,” including a rhyming one about a toddler at a parade who wants to go “Up” until she sees a cat and finally wants “Down.” And The Broken Story, which is about a child revising a story using a building metaphor.
My novel has taken many forms over the years and is basically about a girl not writing a novel about pirates. In some of its forms, it’s a memoir. In others, I tried making a fictional protagonist who just had some experiences that were similar to mine. It’s currently on hold in favor of my picture book writing, but I may go back to it at any time.
You confess your love of planting gardens, but not so much maintaining them. How grows your garden this year?
|Cecilia and raspberries|
It is a mess, but even so, the raspberries were delicious. The raspberries in my garden are probably my favorite, because from planting a single raspberry plant maybe eight years ago, it spread and always produces fruit, pretty much in spite of me. We had a few sunflowers this year that have finally bloomed. I also always plant tomatoes and marigolds, because they’re the first things I planted with my mom when I was really little
You mention playing viola da gamba. For those of us unfamiliar with the instrument, what does it sound like, and how do you feel when you play it?
It’s a bowed, stringed instrument, and so kind of looks and sounds a little like a cello, but maybe a little sweeter and softer. You hold it between your legs, and so it feels to me more of an extension of myself than I feel with some other instruments. I would say I generally feel happy on days that I play it, partly from the unique experience of expressing emotions through music and also because I still feel guilty if I go too long without playing.
Follow Sarah here:
On Facebook, I’m facebook.com/sarah.prusoff
On Twitter, I’m @SarahLoCascio
On Instagram I’m sprusoff