The Story Behind The Wish Stealers: How a book idea was born…
When I first moved to Los Angeles in my early 20’s filled with vague dreams of a fulfilling creative career, I slammed head first into something awful—WISH STEALERS–strangers, acquaintances, even friends who were thrilled to spout out how many people fail at creative careers. They stated what the odds are for failure, why back up plans should come first, and how being realistic was more important than dreaming.
I scrawled on a Post-it note, after one particularly negative conversation: “Mr. Wunderkiller! Wish Stealer!” I underlined the words three times and threw the Post-it in a drawer. I then reminded myself not to share my dreams with this person unless I wanted a heaping spoonful of doubt, self-pity, and misgivings.
The idea of physically stealing wishes out of a fountain, and the larger metaphor of people who shoot down a dream fascinated me. The idea for THE WISH STEAELRS was born. In my story the protagonist Griffin Penshine asks her grandma if she thinks Wish Stealers exist in the world.
Her grandma replies, “Yes. Wish Stealers are the worst kind of people in the world. They are the first people to spit on a dream. Wish Stealers make people ashamed for trying, eat up people’s courage, and stomp on their enthusiasm. Do you know why? Because they’re afraid. Jealous they can’t do it themselves. Wish Stealers are afraid to dream.”
The book’s villain, the ancient Mariah Weatherby Schmidt, a Wish Stealer, pilfers people’s wishes from a fountain. Wicked wrinkles gouge in her skin, and a grid of purple veins like a grotesque spider web covers her face. I wanted a character to represent how ugly it is to stomp on a human being’s dream.
I am not an advocate for false praise, insincere enthusiasm, or doing the work for someone else. No important wish ever came true that meant something to a person without hard work, adversity, and steady commitment. It takes time to fulfill a wish. Constructive criticism and tough feedback can help bring a wish to fruition. But Wish Stealers never let a dreamer get that far. They are the first to smother the dewdrop of inspiration. Griffin’s grandma reminds her about the power and delicacy of a wish. She says: “Wishes are a bit like snowflakes: powerful and fragile at the same time. They can melt at any minute but are magnificent just the same. They are filled with nature’s most fierce and wild power. That’s what’s in a wish: a fierce and wild power.”
Before I began writing the book I researched wishing all over the world. I found that in almost every culture people make wishes; each culture in some way honors and ritualizes the call to hope which finds form in a wish. In South Africa, the Zula tribe believes if a tribal member spots a striped weasel, he or she should wish immediately, as the weasel has the stamina and commitment to carry the wish until it comes true. In Japan, a holiday is dedicated to wishing. The Star Festival or Tanabata takes place on the seventh day of the seventh month every year. Children write their wishes on strips of papers, which are then tied to branches. Peacock feathers are wished upon in India and hidden in diaries until the wish comes true.
Dreamers show up first at the gates of change, innovation, and invention. Encouraging a child to wish is a soul service; stealing a wish or stomping on a dream is a soul crime. Mark Twain didn’t use the word Wish Stealer, but he could have when he said, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” One of the best stories I’ve heard about honoring a wish came from a famous author. I attended her speech at a writers’ conference. As a child the author approached her father in his reading chair and said, “Dad, I think I want to be a writer when I grow up.”
He looked up at her slowly and said, “Well, somebody’s got to be a famous author. Why not you?”
The Wish Stealers appeals to parents who want to instill courage and hope in their children; it also serves as a gentle nudge to adults about their own secret wishes snoozing under a pile of bills. The Wish Stealers delights readers with ancient alchemy, a visit from Macbeth’s witches, and the courageous Griffin Penshine. She shows kids how to navigate away from the Wish Stealers of the world, keep company with the hearty Wish Givers they encounter, and to pursue, protect, and believe in their wishes.