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JESSICA LAWSON INTERVIEW AND THE ACTUAL & TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER

Happy Wednesday! I have a few things to tell you before I get to our fantastic interview.

First, sorry there was no post on Monday but the author never got back  to me.

And sorry if you got a weird e-mail from me asking for money. One of my e-mail accounts got hacked. I fixed it. If you ever get hacked, be sure to check that a new e-mail hasn't been added to your account or that your e-mail is being forwarded somewhere else.

And so sorry that I'm not around as much. I'm in the midst of taking Rudy's name off my accounts and clearing out some of the stuff he accumulated that we don't need anymore. And swim mom duties are starting and I'm finishing up one last online Office 10 course. I'm guessing my layoff notice will come this September so I've got to get my resume together and get on LinkedIn too. So there is just a ton going on right now. But there is an end in site by the end of Fall on much of this. And if that's not enough, Blogger Dashboard has a bug where only one blog will load. They are supposed to be fixing it.

After today, I'm starting my summer blogging schedule. I'm leaving to visit Rudy's family so will be off until July 2nd and will be offline during my trip. I'm pretty committed to only blogging on Mondays except for my popular Blog Hop Book Giveaways. And it August, I'm taking off two weeks. I may do the same in October and November because it's heavy swim season. And I want to enjoy it with Anna Li. The best way to do that is not to get over committed.

FOLLOWER NEWS

Krysten Hager's book TRUE COLORS just released. Here's a blurb: TRUE COLORS is about Landry Albright, an 8th grader, who tries out for a modeling competition with her two best friends and gets "unfriended" when she moves on in the competition and they don't. Throw in a new boy, jealousy issues, and hair stylist insults—how’s a girl to deal? 
Here's some links:


Finally I have some winners to announce.

The winner of MY LAST KISS is Stephanie Garber!
The winner of KILLING RUBY ROSE is Nicole Zoltack!
The winner of the $20 Amazon Gift Card is Alex Cavenaugh!
And the winner of the Sarah Davies' query critique is Tammy Therlault!

Congrats to all the winners!

Today I’m jumping up and down thrilled to have debut author and follower Jessica Lawson here to share about her new MG historical fiction story THE ACTUAL & TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER that releases July  1, 2014. This was a really fun read for me and I totally loved Becky, the main character. She’s such a character and has a great voice.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

In 1860, eleven-year-old Becky Thatcher is the new girl in town, determined to have adventures like she promised her brother Jon before he died. With her Mama frozen in grief and her Daddy busy as town judge, Becky spends much of her time on her own, getting into mischief. Before long, she joins the boys at school in a bet to steal from the Widow Douglas, and Becky convinces her new best friend, Amy Lawrence, to join her.

Becky decides that she and Amy need a bag of dirt from a bad man’s grave as protection for entering the Widow's house, so they sneak out to the cemetery at midnight, where they witness the thieving Pritchard brothers digging up a coffin. Determined to keep her family safe (and to avoid getting in trouble), Becky makes Amy promise not to tell anyone what they saw.

When their silence inadvertently results in the Widow Douglas being accused of the graverobbery, Becky concocts a plan to clear the Widow’s name. If she pulls it off, she might just get her Mama to notice her again and fulfill her promise to Jon in a most unexpected way . . . if that tattle-tale Tom Sawyer will quit following her around.

Hi Jessica! Thanks so much for joining us.

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

First of all, I have to say what an honor it is to be interviewed on this blog. I’ve been reading it for years, used it extensively during my agent search, and think you and Casey are two of the coolest ladies in the kidlit blogging community.

I live in Colorado with my husband and children (I have two young ones and two teenage stepchildren). I started writing when my first child was six months old, but I think the signs were there even during my childhood—I kept snarky journals during vacation, made up silly songs (something I still do all the time with my kids), and actually looked forward to essay-based tests. Becoming a stay-at-home mom finally gave me the time to pursue a hidden passion that I might have otherwise overlooked.

2. Thanks for the sweet words. And I’m most thrilled when I get to interview my blogger friends as debut authors. Where did you get your idea for this story and what drew you to writing historical fiction?

One day when I was doing household chores, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer caught my eye on our bookshelf. It occurred to me that I’d always related more to Tom and Huck than Becky Thatcher. I wondered what it would be like if Becky was a pirate-playing, mischief-making kind of girl, and how that might change the story dynamic.

The idea sat for well over a year while I worked on other manuscripts. During that time, my brother-in-law passed away. My sister was left a widow with two very young daughters to raise. It was a loss that felt like (and still feels like) one of the world’s supreme acts of unfairness. I’d known him since I was 16 years old. I spent several weeks living with my sister and nieces. The grieving that went on during that time, and the strength and courage of my sister left a mark on me. When I returned, I decided to write the book I’d been thinking about. I finally knew what my Becky Thatcher’s backstory was—why she moved to St. Petersburg, why she wore overalls, and why she loved adventure. It was because of a beloved brother who Becky admired above all others—a brother who had died a year before the start of the novel. I named that character Jon, after my own brother-in-law who had left us far too soon.

Why historical fiction? I’ve tried writing stories with contemporary characters and settings, but I’m just not suited to it at this point. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a little old-fashioned and nostalgic at heart, or maybe I’m just avoiding the incorporation of modern technology and vocabulary.

3. A sad way to have to come up with the backstory but that’s cool that you named your character after Jon. What’s the best way you found to do research to be sure you get the historical facts and way of life right when writing historical fiction like THE ACTUAL &TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER?

I have a coffee mug featuring the following Mark Twain quote: “Get your facts first, then you can distort
‘em as much as you please.” And that’s pretty much how I try to go about it. My advice would be to read historical fiction based in the time period of your manuscript and biographies of historical figures as necessary, and use Google. I tend to research first to get a basic grounding in time and place, then dive into writing, leaving any necessary detail work and filling in for later. Otherwise there’s a tendency to try to incorporate every single cool fact you learn into the manuscript, which tends to crowd things and distract from the story you’re trying to tell.

As a side note, it’s funny how sometimes your “fiction” turns out to match up with fact. An example of something that might seem small is that, for whatever reason, my Becky Thatcher calls mosquitoes “skitters.” I knew very well when I wrote the story that most people would say “skeeter” as a Southern nickname for the insect, but goshdarnit, in my head, Becky pronounced it “skitter.” I was kind of surprised that nobody ever corrected me on it (especially because I’ve heard the term “skitters” refer to something else entirely…let’s just say that you don’t want to be at an outhouse with a bad case of the skitters.). But after using the miracle of the internet, I found out that there are areas near my setting where a mosquito has been called a “skitter” as well. So I guess the moral of that tidbit is that if you research hard enough, you just might find out that your fictional character knows more than you do

4. Sounds like a fun way to do research. And that’s a good idea not to get overwhelmed trying to add the little historical details in the first draft. I just totally fell in love with Becky and her voice. She’s such a character that makes me smile every time I think of her. Share about her and how you got her voice so perfectly right.

You are so sweet to say that! She was one of those lucky characters who just showed up fully formed and had a lot to say. The accent and vernacular I gave her probably came, at least partially, from the time I spent as a child in a very small southeastern Missouri town, visiting with my grandparents. My version of Becky T. was also influenced by my love for Twain, Junie B. Jones, Anne Shirley (from Anne of Green Gables), and Mattie Ross in the new version of the movie True Grit (such a great character!).

5. Now that you mention it, she does remind me a bit of Junie B. Jones. What was a challenge you faced craft-wise in writing this and what did you learn from the experience?

Initially, the manuscript was more episodic, in the vein of Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I’m lucky that my agent is very hands-on and that my editor has a wonderful sense of vision. We worked together to hone in on the external plot and cut away the extraneous material. That process helped me learn that addressing revision in layers and doing multiple passes is a good way for me to go about polishing. It can take more time than just making large cuts, but carving away at the story gradually was a great way for me to get to know my characters and their motivations more intimately.

6. I need to revise multiple times too. Your agent is Tina Wexler. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like?

Tina Wexler is an amazing agent, one that I’m incredibly thankful to have. My road to publication is a journey that started in the summer of 2009. I wrote lots of manuscripts over three years before writing Becky T., the stories ranging from women’s fiction to middle grade. I wrote quickly, kept my expectations low, and didn’t get emotionally attached to the manuscripts, which helped when dealing with rejections. For the first 4-5 manuscripts, I sacrificed the revision process in the name of chasing new ideas. It was only when I acquired critique partners that I really started to see an increase in requests and personalized rejections. Tina picked Becky T. out of the slush pile in July of 2012 and offered representation that September. We went on submission the following year and sold the book in March of 2013.

7. Awesome how you wrote and queried the old-fashioned way and it worked. How are you planning to market this? Since it ties into the Tom Sawyer stories and Mark Twain, is this giving you some niche opportunities to help promote your book?

With middle grade books, particularly a story like this one, I think there’s more of a focus on school and library sales. I’ve sent postcards to schools and libraries in key “Twain towns” like Hannibal, MO (his hometown) and Hartford, CT (where he wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and other major works), and I’ll be looking for schools that incorporate Tom Sawyer into their curriculum to see if my book might be a nice supplement for their learning units. Simon & Schuster has put together a wonderful teaching guide, which will help me on that front. I also get to go to the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford in late July to chat with some people about the book and attend their annual ice cream social.

8. Great idea to target the libraries and schools to contact. What are you working on now?

I just turned in line edits for NOOKS & CRANNIES, a middle grade novel set in a manor house in England’s Lake District in 1906. It’s about a young girl named Tabitha Crum, a mysterious invitation, a reclusive Countess, a bunch of children, a blizzard, and a secret that changes the lives of everyone in the book. Publication is set for Summer 2015.

Your new book sounds so good! Thanks for sharing all your advice, Jessica.

Thank YOU, Natalie!

You can find Jessica at:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jessica-Lawson-Childrens-Author/149125145284531

Jessica and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers have generously offered an ARC of THE ACTUAL &TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through July 12th. I’ll announce the winner on July 14th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 or older to enter. This is for US and Canada residents.

Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays was started by Shannon Messenger. Visit her blog to find all the other blogs participating.

Here’s what’s coming up:

I’ll be off until Wednesday, July 2nd when I have a guest post by Tara Dairman and giveaway of her MG contemporary novel ALL FOUR STARS. I'll hopefully be stopping by your blogs later in the day that day as the morning is filled with picking up my puppy at the kennel she'll be boarding, grocery shopping, and Anna Li's driving test and hopefully getting her license.

The next Monday, I’m participating in the Just Couldn’t Put It Down Blog Hop. I’ll have lots of great choices of books for you to choose from.

The following Monday I have an interview with debut author Livia Blackbourne and a giveaway of her YA fantasy MIDNIGHT THIEF.

The Monday after that I’m interviewing debut author Stephanie Diaz and giving away a copy of her YA sci-fi story EXTRACTION.

And don’t forget Casey’s Thursday Agent Spotlights.

Hope to see you on Wednesday, July 2nd!

38 comments:

  1. I couldn't be happier for Jess, one of my favourite bloggers and just a lovely person. And thanks for this interview, Natalie. It was great to read about her revision process, and how she got her inspirations. Congratulations, Jess!

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  2. Whew. Glad you weren't raelly in a crisis on vacation; didn't think so! I really would like to read Becky Thatcher even if it means I have the Hanna Barbera theme song stuck in my head. Like that Becky isn't blonde like on the tv show!

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  3. Am really looking forward to reading this one I must say. Loved the Mark Twain quote! And the new book? Oh my oh my...you had me at 1906 and Lake District!

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  4. Oh, I really want this one!!!! And I want to reach through the screen and give Jess a hug! There are so many things she said that I relate to: the pull toward historical fiction, revising in layers, and the eerie feeling when your fictional character pulls something like "skitters" out of thin air and then it turns out to be historically correct!

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  5. Thank you again for the interview! Congrats to Anna Li on getting her driving license soon~ my stepson is supposed to get his next Tuesday and while it can cause worries as a parent, it's mostly just a relief for all of us~ more freedom for him means the same for us in terms of time spent driving places.

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  6. Thanks for the heartfelt interview and generous giveaway.
    Jessica's book is one I'm really looking forward to.

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  7. A novel from Becky's point of view? I love stories like this. Retellings from another character's point of view are on the rise. Sign me up! :)

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  8. Congrats, Jessica! Your novel sounds so awesome! I do love it when other characters get to share their side of the story.

    Congrats to the winners! Good luck with everything, and I hope you have a nice blog vacation, Natalie!

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  9. Yay for all the winners, and my 13 year old is totally going to freak out about this book. He LOVES the Twain books.

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  10. Great interview, Jessica! I love your book's cover -- perfect for kids -- and love that you were inspired by Huck Finn. Wishing you much success!

    Natalie - Sorry to hear you're so busy. I hope all the responsibilities let up soon and you can enjoy your summer. :)

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  11. Your Becky is a fantastic character. Great book.

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  12. Jessica - I'm still giggling a bit about the dual meaning of "skitters" and I think it's cool how your research worked out with it. :) I'm so sorry to hear about your brother and I love that you were able to use that in a story. Thank you for making Becky a character I could relate to . . . I struggled with her a bit in Tom Sawyer. :)

    Natalie - Praying for you. Hoping that swim season is fun and wonderful for both you and your daughter, and hoping your visit with family is good.

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  13. I've been looking forward to reading this one, ever since I heard about it. I loved hearing about your research, Jessica, and serendipity of "skitter."
    Congratulations!
    Enjoy your time of rest, Natalie! You deserve it.

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  14. What a wonderful interview and he artful reasons for her inspiration. I love the way the girls hair is blown back in the wind and the house up on the hill adds just the right touch. It's nice that you have some vacation planned for the fourth, hope you have a lovely time!

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    1. It should say the heartfelt reasons...

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  15. Jess, It was great to "see" you here and read all about your book--the story and the inspiration behind it. And to think you've got a second book in the works. Wonderful! Enjoy your trip to Hartford. And Natalie, thanks for the great interview. I've followed Jess's blog for some time and really enjoyed stopping in here and reading all about her :-)

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  16. Jessica's book sounds great! Thanks for featuring me, too, Natalie! I appreciate it! Your blog has helped me so much!

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  17. I've been anticipating this book for like a year now i think and I loved getting to hear more about how it came to be! Of course I'd love to win the ARC.

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  18. Thanks for the interview. I love how you came up with your idea and can't wait to read this book. I've shared on Facebook. Must put this on my to-read-list.

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  19. yay for MG - this book sounds fantastic! made me think of Little House on the Prairie! and i love that you linked it with Twain-ish references! High expectations for you to do well!

    And Natalie, thanks for your sweet words for my broken branch falls blog tour!

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  20. This looks likes a delightful book! I can't wait to check it out!

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  21. Congrats to Jessica on your debut! Your next book sounds really interesting too. I still remember being a 4th grader and determined to read Mark Twain.

    And congrats to Krysten Hager on the publication of True Colors even though she's already heard from me!

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  22. I forgot to say to Natalie - so glad you're taking some time off this summer and being good to yourself!

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  23. I'm so sorry to hear that your email got hacked, that's awful! I love the cover of True Colors, congrats to Krysten. And I love that Jessica has a mug with that particular Mark Twain quote, too cute. Great interview!

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  24. I've heard so many wonderful things about Jessica's novel. Great interview.

    Enjoy your trip to visit Rudy's family, and recharge over the summer!

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  25. Congrats to the winners and to Jessica on her novel. Reading about Becky Thatcher's adventures is going to be great fun. About time she had her own book. :-)

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  26. Congratulations to Jessica Lawson! I look forward to reading about Becky Thatcher. What a great idea to focus on her as the main character!
    (lorinorman48@gmail.com)

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  27. I have been in a perpetual state of excitement for this book ever since I read an excerpt on WriteOnCon years ago. Can't believe the release is next week!!
    Congrats on the new book deal, Jess!!

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  28. Glad to know you are taking some time for yourself! Congratulations to Jessica on this book. It sounds terrific! I Tweeted about the giveaway: https://twitter.com/rosihollinbeck/status/482209071110434817 Thanks for the chance to win.

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  29. I've been excited for this book since 2012 when I read the query in a contest and wished I'd been the one to think of it. I'm so glad that this book is coming out and can't wait to add it to my collection. Great interview, as always!

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  30. Sorry you have so much going on, Natalie. Hope you get all the necessary paperwork done without too much hassle. I'm glad you're taking time off and hope you can relax. Good luck to Anna Li. Hope she passes her driving test with flying colors.

    I've been looking forward to this book since I first heard about it and found Jess's blog. It sounds like so much fun. Congrats to Jessica and thanks for the chance to win. I tweeted: https://twitter.com/JoanneRFritz/status/482231959813238784

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  31. I so enjoyed this interview. I remembered the name Becky Thatcher- so I was curious about the book right away. Finding out the background behind the story was sad, but also nice that Jessica was able to honor her brother in law in her book. I can't wait to read it- it sounds like such fun. Thanks also for the chance to win a copy. :)

    Natalie- Have a great week off and best of luck getting everything done!
    ~Jess

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  32. I loved this interview! And who wouldn't want to read about Becky's shenanigans? I'm in!

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  33. can't wait to get my hands on these. such amazing-ness! yes yes...it's a word - trust me! :D

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  34. What an excellent idea for a novel. Add a great cover, great reviews, and a great website, complete with links for overalls, and I'd say you got a winner.

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  35. I'm a sucker for a pretty cover and a catch title, so you know that this one had my attention from the git-go. This is on the to-buy list for my granddaughters. I love the idea that reading this might inspire children to explore some of Mark Twain's classics. I shared this on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.
    https://twitter.com/navywyfe/status/484347124667408384
    https://www.facebook.com/yvonne.jefferson1/posts/659508530797808
    http://www.pinterest.com/pin/114560384246700781/

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  36. This book just sounds so fun, I can't wait to read it. Thanks for the great interview. And I love that in your author photo you look like Becky Thatcher!

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  37. Awesome winnings. Congrats to the winners. I'm pleased to meet Jessica and her book sounds charming.

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