Being a fairy godmother is a much harder job than it might seem. Sure, Cinderella’s fairy godmother made it look easy. She’s a pro. But when you end up being a substitute fairy godmother, the job is tough. Just ask Lacey, the star of a new series of books called OMG, which stands for Oh My Godmother, written by talented writers Barbara Brauner and James Iver Mattson.
Barbara and James have a knack for storytelling in a seamless and singularly engaging and funny voice. While collaborative writing is common in film and television, it’s not often that co-authors are able to craft such a well-told story as these two can. James likes to jokingly say that his publisher gained two writers, but one mind. “[That refrain] doesn’t always come across the way I want it to,” he says with a light-hearted laugh.
Both OMG books, The Glitter Trap and The Magic Mistake, are charming, funny, sweet, and very clever. Now is a perfect time to catch up on them before the third book in the series, The Spell Bind, comes out this October.
The authors took time out of the busy schedules to share their thoughts about the inspiration for their books, about how to encourage your children if they want to be writers, and about what books interest them.
The Glitter Trap is perhaps one of the best novels for children I have ever read, and I’ve read a lot. Who came up with the idea to name our heroine Lacey Unger-Ware?
J: We wanted her to have a cute name and an unfortunate last name. We thought we could have a hyphenated name that could turn bad. And that’s how “Unger-Ware” came about. And then Barb has a friend whose dog was named Lacey. It all just worked.
B: I’ll tell you a secret. Her middle name is “Hanes!”
The two of you obviously have great chemistry when it comes to writing. Can you talk about your process with respect to co-authoring a book together?
J: Because we started as screenwriters where collaboration is more common it made it easier to do. We’ve been writing together for about 15 years. We both look at the screen. I type and we kind of say every word out loud. We sort of read each other’s minds.
B: When we started we used to take turns. James would type while I would watch and then we’d switch. And then one day I said, “I hate typing!” And he said, “I hate sitting around!” And it’s worked out ever since.
J: We have a similar sense of humor and style. We rarely get upset about something being included or not included.
B: If we come across something that doesn’t feel right, we’ll just leave it in and see how it feels later on.
J: Later, we often don’t remember why we didn’t like it or why we were fighting so hard for it and it gets left in.
One of the things I loved about the books is that you are telling the fairy tale stories we grew up watching in Disney movies from the fairy point-of-view. What inspired you to go in that direction instead of the traditional recipients’ point-of-view?
B: I think what really amused us was this very, very ordinary girl thrown into a really extraordinary task. Plus, I think it would be much more fun to be the fairy godmother than Cinderella.
J: Cinderella is kind of passive.
Lacey is a strong, smart, athletic girl. She has a strong moral center. She wants to be a zoo intern and a basketball player. What inspired you to model her in this progressive, non-stereotypical way?
J: We wanted Lacey to be a positive character. Someone we would want to hang out with. Not real negative. Someone who is interested in life.
B: What drives me crazy in [many] books is that the girl characters become whiny and people you don’t want to hang around with. You really want Lacey to be your friend. That’s how we kind of designed her. She has a kind of “stick-to-it-tiveness” that’s appealing. I don’t know if that’s a word, but I think you’ll see it in the next book.
From your online bio, it seems like both of you have long been interested in writing. How did your early family life affect what you do now? Were your parents supportive of your writing careers?
J: I came from a really working class family. They were so excited because I was the first kid to go to college. I wanted to do a lot. I wanted to be a scientist, an artist, a writer. My family was just excited that I was interested in things.
B: What I desperately wanted to be was to be an actress. I was in the drama department and I was in some plays. It was a small college and they used everybody.
J: No, no. You were a good actress.
B: One day it just hit me, I would rather be saying other words. And then I knew. I wanted to be the one writing them.
My daughter loves reading and every once in a while will start writing down her ideas she has for books she wants to write. By the way, she says The Glitter Trap is her favorite book ever. What advice would you give parents whose children want to be writers?
J: Have them write.
B: Have them read it to YOU, which makes it seem legitimate to them.
J: That’s good. Reading it out loud can make you really hear the parts that are flowing well and that are not.
B: Give them diaries and things like that. If you’re taking a family vacation, have them write a little something about it. Always encourage that interest.
J: And read a lot.
B: Read to them a lot.
J: No matter what it is. It’s helpful to know what the good stuff is like and what the bad stuff is like. Actually, I have adults ask me about becoming a writer of children’s and young reader books and I always ask them what their favorite books are in the genre. A lot of times, they can’t really name anything. If they haven’t read anything they probably can’t write the book.
If you were to recommend a great book or series of books for a parent to buy for their children other than the OMG books, what would they be and why?
J: I just read Sunny Sweet Is So Not Sorry a middle grade book. The narrator is 10 and has a younger sister 6. It is so funny and so quirky. Sunny Sweet is literally a genius. What I like about the book is that it has these twists you don’t see coming. It’s both funny and good. I expected it to be a “rival sisters” story, but it has a smart almost “Simpsons-y” story. We refer to the Simpsons a lot when we’re writing. Sometimes we’ll say to each other, “What would the Simpsons do in this scene?”
B: For me, I would recommend The One and Only Ivan. I adored this book. It made me cry. Anything that touches you that much, you should read.
Fluffy (a feature comedy about a cat) was the first screenplay you wrote together and even though it hasn’t been made into a movie yet, is there a chance we’ll see a novelization of the Fluffy movie?
J: It’s not really on our list but we’ve got other ideas. We want to do a smart cat story. Not exactly the “Fluffy” story but definitely a smart cat story.
B: But we could do it as a YA! That’s genius!
J: The answer is yes!
B: We’ll dedicate it to you.
Author photo by Anthony Mongiello.