"I was fascinated by fairies when I was growing up, and I wanted to see one dreadfully," says Schlitz, the longtime Park School librarian, children's author and winner of the 2008 Newbery Award. "So I waited and waited for Peter's shadow to appear on my bedroom curtains. Since Wendy, stupid girl, decided to grow up, I thought I might take her place. I would fly with Peter to Neverland and meet Tinker Bell.
"But I worried that if he came when I was asleep, he'd think I didn't want to go with him. I taught myself to sleep in the position Mary Martin took when she flew across the stage so that when Peter saw me, he'd know I wanted to go with him. I still sleep that way. But now, I put a pillow over my knee, and I'm starting to lose faith in Peter."
Schlitz was granted her wish a year or so after her 50th birthday. Aided by a group of perceptive second-graders, she met a fairy named Flory and got to know her quite well. But like many long-deferred dreams, the experience didn't turn out exactly as she had imagined.
"Before I ever saw Flory, I heard her voice," says Schlitz, 54, "and the first words she spoke were, 'How stupid you are.' "
Flory is the title character of Schlitz's newest novel, "The Night Fairy," which is being released Tuesday. The book is about a young fairy who scrambles to survive after she loses her wings and is plunked down in a garden full of predators.
In 2007, a classroom of Park students, then 7 and 8 years old, became the novelist's editorial board.
"As an author, you think you know where the good parts and the bad parts are," Schlitz says. "And then you read to a group of children, and you learn when you're boring them, and you hurry through those sections to get to the parts where they're interested again. You start to get a sense of your story's rhythm and flow."
The kids also provided feedback that changed her story in very specific ways. Daniel Neiman, now 11, told Schlitz, "Flory knows all about magic, but she doesn't know how to make a friend" - an observation so apt it became the novel's theme.
"By the next draft, I had narrowed my focus," Schlitz says. "Flory is competent and resilient, but she doesn't have an ounce of social skills.
"People tend to associate fairies with princesses, but they couldn't be more different. Princesses have dynastic and domestic pressures, and they get parked on glass hills. Fairies don't have families. They don't clean or cook. They sip nectar from flowers and dance by the light of the moon."
All the students insisted that each chapter have its own title instead of just a number, but it was Rebecca Detling-Edsall who provided several, including the just-right "Daylight" to head Chapter 2.
Jack Sheehy convinced Schlitz that Flory's confrontation with a potentially lethal black and orange spider couldn't be just a discussion - it had to get physical. And Meg Piper was horrified at Schlitz's plan to make the loss of Flory's wings permanent.
"Flory needed her wings to get about," says the 11-year-old Meg. "Without them, she had to depend on the squirrel. But what would she do if he ran away?"
The ease with which the kids can recall and discuss details from the novel is startling. These youngsters were read Schlitz's manuscript exactly once, three years ago. Since then, they have not seen the book, listened to it, skimmed through it or been reminded of key plot points by their teachers.
And yet, Catherine Orman, called Cat, has no trouble quoting her favorite line verbatim: "A fairy godmother is an excellent thing, but a fairy mother is a disaster."
It would be easy to get the wrong idea about a woman like Schlitz, who talks seriously of the habits and character traits of imaginary beings. This is a woman whose personal reading taste runs to the novels of Trollope and Dickens, and her appearance is a gesture toward the Victorian era.
She has long white hair flowing in ringlets down her back, and gold Gothic-styled earrings centered by a blood red stone. Schlitz is 4 feet 11 inches, and has enormous eyes the color of bluebells and soft hands.
"Laura is like a kid, herself," Daniel says. "She has such a playful mind."
But nothing about the author is fey, and nothing is remotely sentimental. Schlitz is a gimlet-eyed realist, and her books don't sugarcoat life's ambiguities.
Flory is abrasive, manipulative and self-centered. She stings whatever an animal threatens to attack, sometimes without waiting to find out the beast's intentions. In "The Hero Schliemann," Schlitz's children's biography about the man who discovered Troy, the main character is simultaneously benefactor and villain.