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  • Agent Spotlights & Interviews have been updated through the letter "K" as of 3/28/2024 and many have been reviewed by the agents. Look for more information as I find the time to update more agent spotlights.

Sally J. Pla Interview and The Someday Birds Giveaway

Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Sally J. Pla here to share about her MG contemporary, THE SOMEDAY BIRDS. It is a Junior Library Guild Selection for Winter 2017 and has gotten great reviews as a mixture of humor, adventure, mystery, and tragedy.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

Charlie wishes his life could be as predictable and simple as chicken nuggets.

And it usually is. He has his clean room, his carefully organized bird books and art supplies, his favorite foods, and comfortable routines.

But life has been unraveling since his war journalist father was injured in Afghanistan. And when Dad gets sent across country for medical treatment, Charlie must reluctantly travel to meet him. With his boy-crazy sister, unruly twin brothers, and a mysterious new family friend at the wheel, the journey looks anything but smooth.

So Charlie decides to try and spot all the birds that he and his dad had been hoping to see together in the wild. If he can complete the Someday Birds list for Dad, then maybe, just maybe, things will turn out okay...

Equal parts madcap road trip, coming-of-age story for an unusual boy, and portrait of a family overcoming a crisis.

Hi Sally! Thanks so much for joining us.

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

I’ve always written -- my brain’s hard-wired to think in stories. As a young adult, however, I had too much self-doubt to give myself permission to write fiction. Instead, I became a business journalist – a very practical and grown-up decision. It was only after I had kids and started volunteering at my sons’ school -- I just fell in love with all of it, the kids, the teachers -- and the school library! I wanted to live in the school library! It was then I knew. I couldn’t write business articles any more. I wanted to write for young people. I had stuff to tell them. Stories waiting. It became a deep longing, a clear goal.

2. Awesome that you knew the type of writing you wanted to write and took the plunge to write stories. Where did you get the idea for THE SOMEDAY BIRDS?

We took our sons on lots of family road trips of the “educational vacation” variety when they were young. (Yes! I know! How awful!). They weren’t always easy, either on my autistic middle son, or on me – I have autistic/sensory issues as well. It got me thinking about how the stinky minivan/camper/RV is such a perfect crucible in which to heighten family drama. And I knew I wanted to write a story that was, in a way, a roadmap to resilience. About learning to be more at ease in the world.

Also, when my middle son was four or five, he was fixated on birds. He drew hundreds of beautiful bird sketches. It was a lovely expression of his nature, and I wanted to honor it somehow. So I knew my main character Charlie would love birds.

3. Charlie, the main character, is autistic, but the story’s focus is not about autism. Share how you balanced the autism as being a part of Charlie without making the plot revolve around this?

Thank you so much for asking this question! From the very start, I knew I wanted to leave the word
‘autism’ out of this book. I wanted to write a story that takes the autism in stride, just as a matter of fact -- and moves on from there.

I wanted readers to experience the story through the lens of Charlie’s unique self –not filtered through any label. While labels are certainly helpful in many situations, this story is not one of them. If it said on my book cover, “You are about to read a story about a boy with autism,” then I fear Charlie would be ‘othered’ before you even got to page one. Honestly, it would be hard to view him the same. I wanted his voice to be unfettered by potential preconceptions.

4. I think your approach is a great way to deal with a disability because the kids (or adults) do not want to be labelled. It's just one of many challenges people have to go through in life. It sounds like your story has a lot of humor in it as well as tragedy. Humor is hard for many writers to get right (I’m one of them). How did you make this funny and what tips do you have for other authors?

Again, this is all Charlie. He views things in unexpected ways, and he’s blunt, so a lot of the humor comes from having this character who isn’t afraid to speak ‘truth to power,’ so to speak. A lot of humor is daring to say the unexpected, the audacious. Charlie doesn’t have to dare. He just calmly observes the unexpected and audacious, and oftentimes it’s funny.

I know I’m talking about him like he’s real – is that weird? He does seem real to me. My fourth child!

5. I think most authors think of their characters and books like that. From reading reviews, it sounds like you’ve done a great job making readers love Charlie and developing the others characters as unique and endearing as well. What was your process of character development of some of your main characters like? Did you have any challenges with this that you learned from?

I wanted Charlie’s 15-year-old sister Davis to have her own arc of self-discovery, and to stop basing her self-worth on having boyfriends. It was interesting to view Davis through Charlie’s eyes... The twins, well, my life has abounded with “annoying” brothers -- my own, my sons, my nephews – so the twins? No problem there! The hardest character for me to develop was Ludmila, who is a Bosnian refugee. Ludmila was my key to discussing war and social justice in the book. I met a Bosnian lady at a cocktail party, once, long ago, and we chatted for five minutes. That was enough for me to be captivated with wonder, heartbreak and empathy at what her childhood must have been like… That was the seed of Ludmila.

6. What research did you do for the road trip Charlie and his family took? How did you plot out that part of the story?

I had visited every spot in the story, either with my family or on my own. I did further research, too, of course. My big silly joke while I was writing was: ‘Hey! All you need to plot a road-trip novel is Google Maps!’ Er, not quite. (But it was great for checking driving distances.)

7. Your agent is Taylor Martindale Kean. Share how you got your agent and what your submission process was like.

I belong to SCBWI-San Diego. (I cannot praise SCBWI enough as a resource for aspiring children’s writers!) I had just finished the manuscript -- which was then called CHICKEN NUGGETS ACROSS AMERICA -- and had only begun to query. I’d received a few rejections. (One rejection came back within fifteen minutes of my hitting ‘send’ on the query! Ouch!)

There was to be an SCBWI Agent’s Day, and Taylor, who is with the wonderful Full Circle Literary, was going to be speaking. I read her bio and wish list in advance, and it was as if she was describing my book. So I queried her, about a week before the event. When the day came, I was impressed with her wit and intelligence as a speaker. I nervously went up to introduce myself, wondering if she’d even had a chance to read… and she jumped up from her chair, nearly knocking it over, to gave me a hug. Apparently yes, she had read it! The rest is history!

8. What an awesome agent story! Your book was selected as a Junior Library Guild Selection for Winter 2017. How has this helped spread the word about your book?

I’m so grateful and proud to know that the book will have a home in so many library collections across the country. This is such a big honor. It’s just wonderful! As someone whose dreams of being a writer were hatched while being a school-volunteer book-shelver? Absolutely.

9. Your book released January 24th. What has it been like to actually debut and market your book? Has anything surprised you about the process?

Just like Charlie, I’m a bit of a homebody introvert. Marketing and publicity? Not my natural milieu. But I do absolutely love to connect, meaningfully, with other humans. And keeping that fact front and center is helping me through some of the social anxiety around the travel and the crowds. So I’d say the surprising thing is that my story-arc as a writer is following Charlie’s story-arc as a character. I’m learning to overcome my fears, to stretch and grow. Just like Charlie, through THE SOMEDAY BIRDS, I’m learning to have a bit more resilience, to be a bit more at ease in the world.

10. I think a lot of us share similar anxieties about marketing and public speaking. Glad you're learning how to grow out of your experience. What are you working on now?

A second middle-grade novel, JOHN LOCKDOWN IS IN THE BUILDING, pubs January 2018 with HarperCollins. It’s about a 12-year-old comics-trivia fanatic, Stanley Fortinbras, who tries to win back his best friend by nervously entering this huge comics-trivia treasure hunt. Also, he copes with his school’s over-the-top scary safety drills by inventing a superhero/alter-ego named ‘John Lockdown.’

A picture book – which also does not mention autism -- is in the works with Lee & Low.
And a new novel’s just started, fantasy/magic realism this time, about a teenage girl who sews herself crazy costumes, and longs to patch up all the sorrowful holes in the world…

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Sally. You can find Sally at www.sallyjpla.com, www.facebook.com/sally.pla, and www.twitter.com/sallyjpla.

Sally has generously offered THE SOMEDAY BIRDS for a book 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 April 8th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, you must leave it in the comments to enter either contest.

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 years old or older to enter. This giveaway is U.S. and Canada .
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was started by Shannon Messenger. You can find the participating blogs on her blog.

Here's what's coming up:

Monday, April 3rd I have an interview with debut author Patricia Bailey and a giveaway of her MG historical fiction THE TRAGICALLY TRUE ADVENTURE OF KIT DONOVAN

Wednesday, April 5th I have an IWSG post and a guest post by Christina Farley and giveaway of her new MG fantasy THE PRINCESS & THE PAGE

Monday, April 10th I have a guest post by debut author Lindsey Becker and her agent Natalie Lakosil with an ARC giveaway of Lindsey's MG fantasy THE STAR THIEF and a query critique giveaway by Natalie

Friday, April 14th I'll be participating in the Happy Easter Giveaway Hop

Monday, April 17th I have an agent spotlight interview with Tracy Marchini and a query critique giveaway

Hope to see you on Monday!


L. Diane Wolfe said...

Having a son that's autistic and visiting those spots in real life obviously added a lot of realism to the story.

Bish Denham said...

I love that Sally has written a book about autism without every using the word! How she found her agent is almost like a fairy tale. Congratulations. I've tweeted about the giveaway.

Stephanie Faris said...

Congrats to Sally! There's nothing like that first book release. SO exciting! I love that she worked autism in. That's something so many children/parents/teachers are dealing with today that you don't see reflected in fiction very often.

jpetroroy said...

I love this interview. Congrats!

Christine Rains said...

Congratulations to Sally! I love hearing how she approached the book.

cleemckenzie said...

From the title to the description this had my attention. Congrats, Sally. I think you have a winner of a book.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Now that is a great story about finding an agent! Congratulations, Sally.

M Pax said...

Congrats, Sally! Road trips always make great stories.

Jenni said...

Congrats, Sally! This sounds like a wonderful book. I like how you chose not to label the autism and I'm fascinated by what you said about the Bosnian character. Can't wait to read this!

abnormalalien said...

Like Bish said that agent acquisition sounds like a dream! But the story sounds fantastic and well-worth the excitement.

Jessica Lawson said...

Wow, not only do I want to read THE SOMEDAY BIRDS, I want to read JOHN LOCKDOWN IS IN THE BUILDING as well (and the crazy costume book)! Great interview, ladies!

Jemi Fraser said...

You are brave!!! Coping with and enjoying a road trip when you have sensory issues is not an easy feat - well done! The book sounds great!

Unknown said...

Great interview! I've mentioned this contest on Twitter. monicachess26(@)gmail(.)com

Greg Pattridge said...

The plot and characters are very appealing. Sally must really have the voice of Charlie down if he seems like another child in her family. Congrats. I can't wait to read your story. The interview was inspiring.

Suzi Guina said...

This sounds wonderful. I'd love to be considered. My email is bonecabela(@)yahoo(.)com

Stephen Tremp said...

It's great to meet Sally. I love watching the birds around my house. And good luck with your next MG novel!

Danielle H. said...

I know I'm going to love this book. With all of the books coming out lately where the character has a disability stated right in the synopsis, I love that Charlie has no labels so readers can decide about him themselves without any preconceived notions. Thank you for the awesome interview! I shared on my tumblr: http://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/158941443372/sally-j-pla-interview-and-the-someday-birds

Unknown said...

Yay! Thanks for the chance!

Natasha said...

This one sounds like a great read!!
Thanks for the chance to win!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

peggkatt said...

I'm eager to see how this turns out.Great interview!
Peggkatt at gmail dot com

Donna K. Weaver said...

Fun interview. Love the premise of the story. Sounds like mom's not in the picture.

Ruth Schiffmann said...

Love the blurb! It's loaded with personality and made me want to read the story before I had even read the interview.

jean602 said...

Sounds like a great book Congratulations!

jean602 said...


jean602 said...


Chrys Fey said...

I just participated in an anthology for autism, so I think this book is wonderful!

Nick Wilford said...

Great interview! I think it's a good idea to leave the labels out. They can lead to preconceptions.

Unknown said...

I love Sally's premise for this novel! It sounds so unusual-but-plausible to me that I didn't even realize Charlie was supposed to be autistic. Wishing Sally huge success!

Tamara Narayan said...

Sounds like an excellent book. My dad loved birds and when I graduated from college I went to work in the birdhouse of a zoo. I'd love to win a copy: tamara (dot) narayan (at) gmail (dot) com

A is for Apollo 11 moon landing: Was it real?

Anonymous said...

This sounds good. Thank you for the giveaway!

DMS said...

I really like the cover and the description of this book. Sounds like a fabulous read. I love birds- so I am intrigued by Charlie's love for them. It was great to learn more about the author and the parts of her life that were sprinkled into the book. Thanks for sharing!

Beth said...

What a charming book - and a great back story! Congratulations to Sally!

Laurie Zaleski said...

Congratulations! Thank you for the giveaway!

Arf2-D2 said...

tweeted https://twitter.com/Arf2D2/status/849738485938487296