When Melissa Goodrich taught fourth graders, she often found herself jotting down their comments on the white board, just so she wouldn't forget.
Sometimes, kids say the most magical things.
The imaginations of children inspired much of the new short story collection Goodrich just published with Dana Diehl, a teacher at Basis Tucson Primary.
"The Classroom" is a collection of 12 magical school stories full of spies, girls who turn into rabbits and schools that float away from earth.
"A lot of our stories are inspired by rumors kids have about schools," Diehl, 29, says. "Schools are these mysterious places for kids, and they have all of these stories about these places where they're not allowed, like a secret classroom, or what's going on in the basement. So the first story was: What if that classroom was real?"
Goodrich and Diehl knew each other from their undergrad days at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. Both came to Arizona for an MFA in fiction and ended up in Tucson working as elementary school teachers together. Goodrich now works in marketing for Habitat for Humanity Tucson.
Both felt that the creative energy required for teaching had turned their attention away from writing.
"So we started giving each other these little prompts that we were supposed to respond to during the work day to get creative writing back into our day-to-day lives," Diehl says. "We gave each other school prompts, since we were already in a school."
The stories drew on elements of magical realism to heighten the emotions the characters — teachers, students or parents — felt.
Anxiety, for example, might manifest as a child turning into a white rabbit.
"I remember what it's like to be in a fourth-grader's shoes" Goodrich, 29, says. "Part of me has always been 10 years old and will always be 10 years old. ... At work, you have to be professional and do what you need to do, but you have a whole world of things going on inside of you that most people don't know about, and that's what our characters are grappling with. They're anxious or controlling or sad or stressed, and they're also having beautiful moments. I think that's my goal when people read this. I want them to kind of escape themselves and find themselves simultaneously."
Both women had published previous short story collections, but this is their first collaborative work. Those short prompts eventually transformed into a deeper partnership.
One person would start a story, write until they got stuck and then pass it to the next, always with the understanding that all changes were allowed.
"I would wait eagerly to see what Dana was going to do, and the story would change in ways I never would have changed it, but loved," Goodrich says.
Diehl adds that having someone to encourage her allowed her to stop self-editing so much and just write.
"Melissa loves my writing more than I love my writing, so she would get a half-finished draft and be texting me lines that she loves," Diehl says.
Over the course of about three years, they found themselves with almost a dozen completed stories. This could be a book, they realized. Gold Wake Press published it in January.