Tween Author Has Authenticity
t thirty, Laura Schaefer’s resume is already impressive. A fresh-out-of-college freelance writing career yielding clips from the test-prep company Princeton Review and e-dating giant Match.com—the latter leading to a book contract for Man with Farm Seeks Woman with Tractor: The Best and Worst Personal Ads of All Time.
Searching for a next book project, she learned the young adult market was hot and began thinking about a storyline. While at a teashop in Florida the idea came to Schaefer: a young girl’s first job as a barista in a teashop owned by her grandmother and late grandfather takes a turn for the worse when she finds out the business is going bankrupt. To exacerbate the problem, an uber-popular coffee shop chain down the street is siphoning new customers from the homey but dated tea emporium, so young Annie decides it’s up to her to save the shop she’s adored since as long as she and her best friends Genna and Zoe can remember.
Though the story is fiction, the plot is a familiar one for Schaefer. While in college at UW–Madison she began working at Middleton’s Imperial Garden restaurant and struck up a lifelong friendship with local owner Karen Meyer. When the chain competitor PF Changs opened its doors nearby, “that really made an impression on me,” Schaefer says. “I feel so [strongly] about this place and local businesses.”
Not surprisingly, Schaefer’s book about Annie’s plight to save the Steeping Leaf is set in Madison on a familiar street called Monroe that’s loosely based on the quaint and thriving retail district on the near west side. The Teashop Girls (Simon & Schuster, $6.99) is a wonderful, well-written, easy-to-digest story for young readers in the seven-to-fourteen age group. My ‘tween, as they’re called, read parts of it over my shoulder recently, and she and her best friend Annie (who is delighted to share the same name as the protagonist) are eager to get their hands on it as soon as I’m done blogging about it.
I have to sheepishly admit: I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Teashop Girls, too. I’m a nut about most any story with Madison ties, but Schaefer’s finely crafted narrative made for a relaxing and pleasant reading experience that I don’t always find—even in grownup literature. You know when you rent a sappy movie because you’re simply in the mood to be uplifted? That’s what The Teashop Girls feels like in its own adorable and honest way—with a little romance of its own in the form of a first (and very innocent) boy crush mixed in for fun. The clever sprinkling of recipes, famous quotes and historic advertisements of all things tea adds to the book’s—and its characters—charm.
I’m looking forward to the sequel that Schaefer is hard at work on at a Madison coffee shop near you. Barriques and Michelangelo’s are two of her favorite places to join what she calls the “laptop army” of virtual workers. Schaefer still works a few shifts at Imperial Gardens—sure she’s successful but the publishing business is cutthroat, and Oprah hasn’t called … yet. It’s where I caught up with her to chat about her life and career. Since The Teashop Girls audience is school-age kids, she often pays visits to schools to talk about her work. Her message is a mixture of career advice and inspiring kids to follow their dreams. She talks about her nurturing environment as a child, with parents who always supported and encouraged her and her younger brother, who found his own dream job designing theme park rides.
When I talk to writers I always ask about the craft of writing. I’m fascinated by their relationship to the process. Like any profession, it takes discipline and practice. In college Schaefer cut her teeth at The Daily Cardinal and since has been fortunate to work with smart and talented professionals, including editors at major publishing houses who know that a first draft of anything must be revised and re-revised to get as close to perfection as humanity will allow. It’s refreshing to hear Schaefer’s appreciation for the persistence and passion it takes to be successful, and how rewarding it is when the final result is, like Annie and the Teashop Girls, a job well done.
“It’s a craft,” she says. “And it takes a long time to work on it.”