My heart is breaking, but I must be strong for Anna Li. And she is being strong too.
Besides keeping me in your thoughts, you can be my friend by stopping by and commenting on my posts to support the authors I'm featuring these next few weeks when I will be mostly off line as I deal with everything I need to take care of right now. I have cancelled some of the posts but didn't want to cancel them all. I appreciate your friendship and support through this difficult time.
And please support Maureen today. It is hard having to share my sad news with her post but I knew it was the best way I could let most of my followers and friends know what has happened.
In case you missed it, as part of a debut MG author Skilar Brown's guest post with her agent Tina Wexler on revisions on Wednesday, April 16th, Tina Wexler is offering a query contest. One winner will receive a query critique from her. So get your queries ready. So excited to offer this for you all.
I will hold off announcing any winners of contests until next week.
Carol Riggs sold her YA novel THE BODY INSTITUTE to Strange Chemistry. Publication is set for January 2015. Go HERE to congratulate her. So excited for Carol!
Today I’m excited to have Maureen McQuerry here to share about her new MG fantasy, BEYOND THE DOOR that released on March 22, 2014. This sounds like a fantastic story blending fantasy and mythology and it’s gotten great reviews on Goodreads. I’m hoping to get a chance to read it. Maureen is also the author of THE PECULIARS, a YA steampunk fantasy.
Here’s a blurb from Amazon:
Hi Maureen! Thanks so much for joining us.
1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.
I’m one of those people who always wanted to be a writer. I was an only child and many of my best friends were in books. In high school I fell in love with poetry and began reading a wide range of poets. In college I was an English writing major, but I went to grad school in education because I was worried about getting a “real” job. I kept writing and began submitting to literary journals which I did successfully for many years, but I never lost the dream of writing a novel. As my own children got older, I thought it’s now or never and I plunged into Beyond the Door.
So you can say I honed my writing skills through poetry. Poetry taught me about the importance of word choice, sound, evoking atmosphere, adding layers, but it didn’t prepare me for plot, tension and pacing. Beautiful sentences do not a story make. I still had much to learn when I started writing novels, and I consider myself lucky that I met people who could help me with that.
2. Books were my friends as a kid too, but I never considered writing. Wish I had. Where did you get the idea for your story and what made you decide to write a middle grade story?
The story began with the character of the Greenman. We had visited Oxford, England and I found myself in a very old church staring up into the face of a carving with leaves for hair and vines sprouting from his nose and mouth. Then I did what writers always do, I asked what if. What if I was turning into a tree? At that point I knew my story had entered the realm of myth.
I was working with middle school students at the time. I knew how much they loved fantasy and that so many of the really bright kids I worked with longed for a protagonist they could identify with. So Timothy became the first protagonist in the novel and then his sister Sarah appeared. Middle school can be a harsh place and kids often cloak their intelligence. Timothy and Jessica deal with that reality in different ways. She hides who she is while Timothy is an outcast because he doesn’t try or know how to fit in.
3. So awesome how your story clicked for you with that one image. I’ve read that this is a combination of fantasy and mythology. Share about the mythology of your story and any research you had to do for it.
After discovering the Greenman, I did quite a bit of research about the history of greenmen. As a reader,
4. I love that you can pull what you want from myths and create what you want with a fantasy. And I love those Celtic, Welsh, and British myths too. Getting the voice of a middle grade boy can be hard. How did you get the voice of Timothy, your main character, right and what tips do you have for the rest of us on getting our middle grade character’s voice right?
I taught middle school and high school for many years, so I was surrounded by the voices of MG readers. When I wrote the first draft of BTD, my son was in high school. We were the house where all the kids hung out. I listened. A lot. High school voices are different, but I was able to recall all of them in middle school, their quirky sense of humor, insecurities, dreams and surprising insights. I coordinated a program for gifted Middle School students for several years and am very aware of their particular struggles. They were my audience as I wrote.
I think voice keeps people reading. I am always learning more about voice by reading widely, practicing with different POVs and listening carefully to my very honest critique group. They tell me when I’m off.
5. Great tips. Even if we don’t have kids to listen to, reading MG stories widely can help us get the voice right. Share a struggle you had craft-wise—setting, character development, plot, etc.—in writing BEYONE THE DOOR and how you overcame it.
Beyond the Door involved taking two manuscripts, and fitting them together into one. That meant getting rid of some scenes and rewriting others. I could talk about so many things I learned in the process, but one important lesson was keeping tension in every scene. Every scene is a power struggle. Who has the power, who wants the power, does the power transfer by the end of the scene or not? This doesn’t always mean physical power. It can be very subtle, but it must be there. It may mean a character withholding information, asking all the questions or making the decisions. Even dialogue is a jockeying for power as well as a way to make connections. This struggle for power keeps a scene dynamic. It keeps characters off balance. The power struggle makes readers want to keep reading to see how it will be resolved. If a scene doesn’t live up to that standard, it has to be rewritten or eliminated.
6. That’s a powerful lesson about tension. I had to cut a number of scenes in my own first manuscript that didn’t live up to that standard. What was your road to publication like?
For Beyond the Door, the process was very long! I originally sold the manuscript to a small literary press, Idylls, before I even had an agent. This was in 2008, I think. Because the press was very small, they couldn’t do much in the way of distribution and marketing. At the same time I was working on a historical manuscript. These two things, having a novel published by a small press and another manuscript almost complete were enough to catch the eye of my agent, Sandra Bishop. She eventually helped me find a larger publisher for my work, Abrams/Amulet. Idylls graciously said they’d love me to have a bigger audience.
7. That’s great that your small press publisher was willing to let you go with a bigger publisher. How is your marketing different for BEYOND THE DOOR versus your YA story? What tips do you have for the rest of us?
I actually met with three groups of 6th, 7th and 8th graders at a local middle school and asked them how they decide what books they want to read. The number one answer was recommendations from friends, teachers and school librarians. Most MG readers are not on social media. This is very different than marketing to YA’s who have a large social media presence. Marketing to MG means marketing to the “gatekeepers” in their lives: parents, teachers, and librarians. It also means that school visits are a great way to reach MG readers. Free Skype visits offered to classes that read your books are another way to meet your readers. And of course writing a story they love enough to spread word of mouth.
8. So true that we have to reach the gatekeepers for middle grade readers. What are you working on now?
I have a YA SciFi romance/adventure, that is set in a near future Seattle being shopped and am finishing a historical novel set in 1919 NY, 1955 California. There are also excerpts from Hansel and Gretel in the story. I never stray too far from myth and fairytales.
Thanks for sharing all your advice, Maureen. You can find Maureen at:
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 only.
Marvelous Middle Grade Mondays was started by Shannon Messenger. You can find all the other blogs participating this week HERE.
Here’s what’s coming up:
Wednesday Louise Caiola will be here sharing a guest post on writing new adult fiction with a giveaway of THE MAKING OF NEBRASKA BROWN, a NA story about a girl who must reclaim her memory that has gotten fantastic reviews.
Next Monday I have an interview with debut author Katherine Ewell and a giveaway of DEAR KILLER, her contemporary story about a teenage girl who’s a serial killer. Katherine wrote this when she was 17 and it’s one of the most different books I’ve ever read that keeps you thinking.
And don’t forget Casey’s Agent Spotlights.
Hope to see you tomorrow!