Coleen Murtagh Paratore first introduced Willa Havisham in The Wedding Planner’s Daughter, released by Simon & Schuster back in 2005. Readers took a shining to this plucky, journal-writing, book-loving, 12-year-old heroine from Cape Cod: this and subsequent novels starring Willa have sold (by conservative estimate) more than 600,000 copies.
These include two follow-up Wedding Planner’s Daughter novels from S&S, The Cupid Chronicles (2006) and Willa by Heart (2008); and three titles in the From the Life of Willa Havisham series from Scholastic Press: Forget Me Not (2009), Wish I Might (2010), and From Willa, with Love (2011). Now Willa is moving to a new hometown—Troy, N.Y. – and a new publishing house. Roar Like a Girl, due this month from Little Pickle Press, launches the Always Willa series and chronicles the now 14-year-old’s adjustment to a very different life, school, friends, and (maybe?) a boyfriend.
A conversation that Paratore had during a walk on a beach in Martha’s Vineyard – just across Nantucket Sound from Willa’s original Cape Cod turf – sparked the idea of continuing Willa’s story in a new series arc. The author was chatting with Rana DiOrio, founder and CEO of Little Pickle Press, which published Paratore’s picture book, BIG (illustrated by Clare Fennell) in 2012, and Fireflies: A Writer’s Notebook in 2014. “We were on the Vineyard for some bookstore events for BIG, and Rana asked me what I really wanted to write next,” the author recalled. “I immediately said, ‘I want to write more Willa.’ ”
And so she did, with DiOrio’s blessing. The publisher said she was happy to continue Willa’s story. “I identified with the 14-year-old Willa Havisham – a bright, bookish, beach-loving romantic who wants to make the world a better place,” DiOrio said. “I knew it was time to bring her back. Coleen also lived on Cape Cod and currently lives in Troy, and she channels Willa, so the character’s voice and setting are natural to her. It is our hope that Willa fans of all ages will be empowered through the character’s activism and be inspired to read and write as a means to discover themselves, and harness their ‘girl power.’ ”
Paratore had no difficulty revisiting Willa’s life, from which she has never wandered far. “For more than a decade, Willa has been a huge part of my life – and a part of my family,” she said. “It is really so nice – whenever I sit down with the intention of writing more Willa, her voice comes to me immediately, and I always hear it as if she’s speaking to me in the first person.”
And the author, who signed a three-book deal with Little Pickle, reported she anticipates no problems conjuring up additional adventures for Willa. “Whenever I see, hear, or notice something, I wonder, ‘What would Willa think or say about that?’ ” she said. “So, as a result, I have a pile of Willa notes and clippings in my writing studio that is probably three feet high!”
Since her character’s debut 11 years ago, Paratore has accumulated what she calls a “large and loyal Willa fan base,” and receives copious notes from readers, some of whom are now in college. “It is so gratifying to hear readers say that Willa, who mentions in each novel what she’s currently reading, has inspired them not only to read, but to write as well,” she said. “My hope is, with Roar Like a Girl, Willa will reach old fans and find new ones. I would say that, of all the characters I’ve created [her young readers’ novels featuring other protagonists include Sunny Holiday and Dreamsleeves (both Scholastic Press) and Mack McGinn’s Big Win (S&S)], Willa probably has the most of me in her.”
Always Willa: Roar Like a Girl by Coleen Murtagh Paratore. Little Pickle, $9.95 (paper) Aug. ISBN 978-1-939775-07-8