The Fairy Godmother of Writing

I found her, my fairy godmother.

She’s short and spry and feisty. She wears a giant sombrero and spurred boots. She says things like “sugarfoot” and “Let’s get crackin'” and doesn’t think twice about firing that golden pistol of hers into the air. She appears out of nowhere, just in time.

“What’s the matter with you, honey?” she asks.

I tell her I’m trying to write a novel. I explain about all the planning and the bulletin board in the basement, about the first-draft jitters, about the laundry that keeps getting in the way and the dishes in the sink. I say I need more time. A maid. I need to read more books on writing novels first. I’m afraid, I say, that I won’t get this right. I wait for her advice, for her to weave some sort of magic.

But while I’m talking to her, she’s not directly talking to me. She lives in the pages of a children’s book by Susan Lowell, Cindy Ellen, A Wild Western Cinderella.

When she asks, “What’s the matter with you, honey?” she is eyeing up the young cowgirl, Cindy Ellen, who longs to go to a rodeo, ride the bronco, and win the heart of a young handsome son of a cattle king.

Whether you love or hate the Cinderella tale, there’s plenty of reason to appreciate Susan Lowell’s book. Lowell adds a fun twist to a familiar tale, making the story completely her own with her characters and language. It’s terribly fun to read out loud to your kids, especially when you’re a Texan who’s rooted in Wisconsin. I get to revive my Texas twang, say words like “gumption” and “Western fandango” and “you’ll be sorr-ee!”

Mostly though, I love the fairy godmother. She’s all sass, endearing as much as she is intimidating. Not all fluff and fancy. She calls it like she sees it.

“Magic is plumb worthless without gumption. What you need first, gal, is some gravel in your gizzard. Grit! Guts! Stop that tomfool blubbering, and let’s get busy. Time’s a wastin’.”

Words of wisdom fit for any writer.

There’s magic in crafting a novel. I still believe that. Characters appear out of nowhere. Dialogue sounds off in your head as if you’re remembering a conversation recently overheard. Words fumble and fail and then suddenly fall into line, “like little soldiers,” as Victoria Flynn said in a great post (which I want to link to but cannot find at this late hour!).


But, none of it happens without gumption.


“‘Hit the trail, honey!’ the old lady said.”

(She’s talking to you.)


About Christi

Christi Craig is a native Texan living in Wisconsin, working by day as a sign language interpreter and moonlighting as a writer, teacher, and editor. Her stories and essays have appeared online and in print, and she received an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train's Family Matters Contest, 2010. You can send comments or questions via her contact page.
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16 Responses to The Fairy Godmother of Writing

  1. I think I could use this fairy godmother over at my place — might need to borrow that book. Keep going, missy.

  2. That ‘gravel in your gizzard’ passage is the best writing inspiration I’ve heard in a long while. Thanks for sharing your new writing fairy godmother, Christi!

  3. Christi, that is hilarious but how am I going to get the image of that feisty old broad out of my head? Heck, guts and gizzards … who would want her out of their head?

    In the department of “godmothers” … fairies have not yet appeared. What I did find was a real life angel, a godmother with an attitude who tells me … “You looking for sympathy? You can find it in the dictionary between shit and syphilis.” Then she tells me to get my butt in chair and work it. Became my best reader, a life coach and a great friend … yeah and she’s got grits, guts and gumption 🙂

    • Christi Christi says:

      I’ve been giggling over your comment all day, Florence. She may not have wings or a golden pistol, but what a great friend & mentor!

  4. Yuvi says:

    This is fabulous, Christi! I just need to make sure that this fairy godmother stays in my head and doesn’t leak into the dialogue of my Polish Jewish immigrant main character 🙂

  5. Beth Lowe says:

    Wonderful, Christi. I laughed out loud, especially about your “Texas twang.” Totally sympathized as well. I think I need to get a copy of Cindy Ellen for my own self. In the meantime, I think I’ll copy down some of those quotes.

    • Christi Christi says:

      Oh yes, get a copy. The illustrations are as much fun as the story. In fact, I’m thinking of framing a picture of the old lady and pinning her to my bulletin board 🙂

  6. Love it! Thanks, Christi. 🙂

  7. Perfect timing Christi!

  8. Jan O'Hara says:

    My grandmother served this role. She wore shorts into her seventies, too-tight t-shirts, and painted her eyebrows askew, but she demanded gumption of those around her. Man I miss her.

    The book sounds wonderful, Christi. Why do I suspect it’s one of your kids’ favorites?

    • Christi Christi says:

      Jan, I hope when I’m a grandmother, I have just as much verve. She sounds like a great woman!

      And, yes. This book is a favorite, one I don’t mind reading again and again!

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