VIRGINIA BURTON STRINGER
is a critically acclaimed playwright and author of The Maagy Series. Ginny, as she is called by friends and family, grew up in Mathews, Virginia spending most of her childhood on her grandparent’s farm on the North River. Her days were filled with freedom to roam the acreage and interaction with the many animals including horses, cattle, chickens, and pigs (thus, the character Miss Trinny McBride!). Grandpa Kris and Grandma Polly are based on her grandparents, Robert S. Burton, Sr. and Bertha Miller Burton.
Ginny attended Virginia Commonwealth University majoring in dramatic art. She enjoyed a brief career as a professional actor then turned to directing and eventually teaching high school drama. In the interim, she moved to Pineville, NC where a failed marriage gave rise to another stint as a student. Ginny’s interest in science led her to a bachelor’s degree in biology from UNC Charlotte. Eventually, however, her career path turned back toward theatre.
The idea for a novel series about an impetuous princess came to Ginny when she found herself with an “empty nest”. Virginia and husband Bill have a son and two daughters, as well as a grandson and two granddaughters. Her inspiration for her fiery Princess Maagy came from watching her little girls grow up and face the many struggles of adolescence. At the same time, son David was coping with two fiery princesses of his own. She began to reflect on the journey of her daughters, as well as her own journey into womanhood in a way that she had not before, and thus, Princess Maagy was born. However, since her medium had always been theatre, it was intended originally as a fifty-minute children’s play! It soon became apparent that would not be the case. The Maagy Series portrays a stubborn and somewhat unruly child growing into a strong, self-reliant woman as have her daughters. Her granddaughters are on the same path.
“She looked into the full-length mirror and could hardly recognize the transformation. There was a soldier where a princess had always been.” (ENCHANTMENT Book 3 in the Maagy Series)
“The passage embodies what readers should take away from the books,” says Virginia. “Our little princesses do become warriors. I want young girls to feel empowered by the changes in their minds and bodies as those turbulent hormones rage and drive them toward a new awakening in adulthood. I want them to know it’s okay to make mistakes, to be stubborn and determined, to negotiate for better things, and to set firm boundaries of their choosing. All young women are warriors in their own right.”
I hadn’t really planned to write a book. My medium had always been youth theatre as a director, teacher and published playwright, so I began writing what I thought would be a fifty-minute play about an impetuous little princess. The main character Maagy is an amalgamation of my two daughters and my two granddaughters. I watched my son with his girls and remembered some of our difficulties raising his two sisters. The ideas seemed to flow like water. I knew it was no longer a children’s play, when there was more scenery description than conversation and it was 150 pages long! I had embarked upon a ten-year adventure of my own. There are now seven books in some form or another. Thank goodness I finally figured out how to end the series! Otherwise, I could be at this forever.
What are the central themes?
The entire series is really about the struggles girls face, when growing into womanhood. The story begins on Maagy’s thirteenth birthday at a time of hormonal changes, emotional roller coasters, and storm clouds on the horizon. To make matters worse, her widowed father has spoiled her. Maagy must learn to cope with her coming of age as well as her destiny. Her journey addresses fundamental social issues such as integrity, humility, empathy, and social responsibility (after all, she will become the queen in five years and she is woefully unprepared for it). Maagy is feisty and not afraid to stand up for what she believes. She is also not afraid to stand up to those who would try to intimidate or bully her. This is important in today’s adolescent climate.
How do we teach these things to kids?
First and foremost, start early! Even babies can begin to learn manners. Require “please” and “thank you”; teach them to use eating utensils instead of their fingers; teach them to pick up their toys and clothes and put them away. It may take a great deal of patience with some, but the reward for consistently requiring standards is worth the effort. These lessons are about far more than etiquette or tidying up. Second, but certainly not less important, always live the message being spoken. Words are fine, but nothing teaches integrity and humility like watching parents set good examples by always doing the right thing when the wrong thing would be so much easier. Finally, keep love in your heart even if anger is flying out of your mouth! Choices have consequences, but bad decisions do not make bad children. Discipline from a place of concern and wellbeing, not from a place of revenge or spitefulness. It’s always easy to “Monday Morning Quarterback”. I’ve raised my babies and see the rewards, but honestly, when I was in the thick of it, I’m not sure I could have been so philosophical!
What challenges did you overcome in writing this book?
What I had to overcome was my own myopic vision of my work. Truthfully, I had to get over myself! In the beginning in fall of 2004, I was writing a book about me. I was processing my sub-conscience even though I didn’t recognize it at the time. I was creating a cathartic adventure as lived through my little princess. But then, the well of creativity ran dry after a year or so. In about 2010, I rediscovered “Growing up Maagy”, the working title for the book and began anew. I was inexperienced at the skill and art of writing and developed a “style” I thought was oh-so-cute. It was pretentious. I was writing from a periscope’s viewpoint until an old friend from the past just happened to visit and I imposed upon him to read it and give me perspective. His carefully worded phrases of both critique and praise for what was good opened Maagy’s world to me. Over the next two years, I had the majority of three more books well underway. The next obstacle was deciding whether I was writing strictly for myself or if I wanted other people to read my words and glean something useful. I knew that with the latter I would need to be brutal with the cuts. There was so much of my own childhood that no one else could possibly find interesting. I made the right decision and the cutting and crying began. Once I had a product I was proud of, it was time to let other people read… oh boy! I’m a pretty tough old broad, but hearing comments which didn’t always mesh with my lofty opinions was sobering. However, I worked hard to jump that hurdle as well and forced myself to listen. I even took the suggestions on a number of occasions. Writing is like any other artistic endeavor. It is very personal and visceral. Critique goes to the gut like a knife. However, it is also a process which needs perspective if the goal is to share the art with the rest of world. It’s a battle I fight with myself, daily!
What do you find is rewarding about being a published author?
So far, it’s not the fame and fortune! Hopefully, that will come. Seriously, the best rewards are when I go to schools and talk about the process of writing and read excerpts from “Just Maagy”. I’m an actor at heart and give quite an animated rendition of some of the funnier moments, like the food fight at her birthday party. Then there are poignant moments between her father King Henry and Maagy, which the kids find touching. They love the hints of magic and Maagy’s spit-and-vinegar personality. After devoting my life to being a mother, a choice I wouldn’t change for the world, it feels good to be known for something that is uniquely me, even though my children are in one way or the other very present throughout the series of books. I feel as though I have something to share with readers, both children and adults, and I’ve accomplished it. That is very rewarding.
Any advice to a struggling writer?
KEEP WRITING!!! I’m always full of advice. Just ask my kids. Advice is totally free and you can take it or leave it, but if you are asking then I’m telling. KEEP WRITING!! You definitely will not get it right the first time. You will need to cut, rewrite, edit, go cold as ice… as dark as a moonless night… but keep at it if you only write two words at a time. Go back and re-read and edit. Sometimes, it gives you new perspective or triggers a thought. Never leave home without paper and pen or electronic device you can access in a moment’s notice. I’ve written some of my best scenes while driving between North Carolina and Florida. I can’t count the number of times I’ve stopped at a rest area or Cracker Barrel to drag out the Mac and write something that popped into my head. I’ve extended many a nine-hour drive to ten or eleven! Once you have what you like on the page, ask someone you trust to give you and honest opinion. Listen, even if you don’t change a word, at least listen to what they have to say. No one is pricklier about criticism than I am and I don’t always change it. I’m stubborn that way, but I do listen. The last bit of advice I’ll offer is to consider self-publishing, especially if you’re adamant about keeping the words pure and yours. It’s not cheap. However, if you look at it as your start-up cost to do business, it softens the blow and the expenses are tax-deductible. If one takes this route, it is extremely important to choose a reputable publisher, not just a fly by night organization from the Internet. Choose an online self-publishing company which is affiliated with a traditional publishing house, as Archway Publishing is a division of Simon and Schuster. This is important because self-published authors need a lot of support services like publicity, marketing materials, etc., which many online publishers don’t have. I hope these words of “wisdom” are helpful.