But before I answer the tour questions, you should know that Melissa’s book, The Prairie Thief, would make a wonderful summer read for anyone who likes my books. (Melissa and I share a lot of the same literary loves). SLJ called it : “A charming, inventive tale that reads like a delightful mash-up of Little House on the Prairie and The Spiderwick Chronicles…Mystery and suspense keep the pages turning. [A] top-notch story.” Also, look how cute it is!
Okay, so, here are the questions, and my answers…
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON?
I always have a slew of open files on my laptop. So much so that it’s a little embarrassing. I also work on certain picture book manuscripts in hard copy, longhand– things I need to see laid out across the page. Currently I’m fiddling with a Choose-your-own-adventure book called Oh, Snap! as well as a followup book for Charlie and Mouse (2016, Chronicle), a little chapter book attempt called Tula Bloom Runs Away, (about a snarky fairy and an elderly unicorn named Bob), a collection of songs for neglected holidays, and some poems.
That said, I generally have one main project I’m focused on. This year it’s been a novel called The Orphan Island, which I just finished up a draft of. It’s a weird one. A story about 9 kids who live alone on a well-stocked (and slightly magical) island. Every year a boat arrives at the island, and carries away the oldest child, leaving a new toddler in his/her place…
HOW DOES YOUR WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS IN ITS GENRE?
Oh, wow. I don’t know. My books are all in dialogue with classics, I think. My books are all stand-alones. My books are all just a little bit magical. My books rarely have villains in them. I don’t believe in villains, I don’t think.
WHY DO YOU WRITE WHAT YOU DO?
I don’t know how to answer that question.
I write what interests me. I write until I make myself cry, or laugh, or until I get stuck and confused.
Maybe I try write the books my child-self would have wanted to read? I write books that help me learn things about human nature, that teach me something about the world, that let me think about and wrestle with questions I find worthwhile.
I write a lot of books that can never be published. I also write a lot of adult poems nobody will ever see.
In a lot of ways, I’m very selfish. I don’t want to please the largest number of kids possible. I don’t think about reluctant readers. I don’t think about sales or the market, really. At least not when I’m drafting. I think about language and ideas. Writing is a puzzle for me. When the result is a book, that’s great! When it isn’t, that’s also pretty great.
HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK?
I scribble. I write down ideas in a little notebook I carry with me, or a box of post-its I keep beside my bed. I often open up a blank document, type one sentence in it, and then forget I did that.
Eventually, if that scribble sticks in my brain enough that I remember it exists, I go back to it. I stare at it. I try to figure out if it might be worth keeping. Sometimes the scribble gets fit into a WIP, and sometimes the scribble becomes a first line or a title. Often with picture books, I sit down with the scribble, and the words tumble out, and in an hour I have a book. Usually, that book isn’t worth showing to anyone or revising. I have hundreds of “failed” projects like that.
With novels, I usually begin with a question. For Bread Box the question was, “What if a kid could wish for anything they wanted, but then they discovered they were stealing?” For Seven Stories Up, the question was, “Can one person ever really change another person?”
The hardest part with the novels, for me, is sitting down to start. Believing that the question I’m asking is worth spending a year on. I think about the question, develop the characters, sketch out an outline. And eventually there’s a day when I take a deep breath, and start typing. That’s the hardest part for me. The first paragraph can take weeks. And then, ALWAYS, I end up slicing the first page off the manuscript. After all that, it never sticks.
But I write. And I write. And eventually, I have a draft. I use an outline, but it always shifts and changes, as the book grows. As I write, I get to know the characters better, and I come to realize my outline was wrong. The characters are NOT people who can make the choices I wanted them to. The end is almost always entirely different from the end I had planned.
And then I rewrite the book 2 or 5 or 7 times. And then, maybe, if I’m lucky, it’s a book.
With my current manuscript, THE ORPHAN ISLAND, I actually did something new. I painted the island, and the characters. I found I was having trouble seeing the people and the place, and an artist friend suggested I try accessing the story in a visual way. It was amazing.
For this one I also began in longhand, on legal pads. I gave up after about 50 pages, because it hurt my hands (I have arthritis). But that was really important for me, I think. I felt like I was a kid again, scribbling, generating ideas, having fun thoughts. I needed to get away from the seriousness of writing as a job. I needed not to think about publishing.
I think that may be the most important part of my process. Remembering what it feels like to play. To be a kid alone with new ideas. To be excited by invention, engaged fully with my own imagination. To let the book be MINE.
Like I said, I’m selfish…
I feel totally uncomfortable tagging people for something like this. So I tag YOU! If you want to share your process, let me know, and I’ll post a bit about you and your books in the space below. How’s that?