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Happy Monday Everyone! Today I’m excited to have debut author Tonja Drecker here to share about her MG magical realism MUSIC BOXES. It sounds like a book that deals with family issues that middle graders can relate to and also has creepy magical realism. I’m looking forward to reading this one.

Here’s a blurb from Goodreads:

“I only desire your talent...”

Twelve-year-old Lindsey McKay's biggest dream is to be a famous ballerina. But after moving to New York, she ends up at the Community Center with a teacher who’s a burly bear in tights.
When she meets Madame Destinée, the teacher of a top dance school who offers her classes for free, Lindsey can't believe her luck. In exchange, she must perform in the school’s exclusive midnight shows, ones sure to make her a star. But something’s not right...
One by one, the other dancers disappear. Each time they do, a music box with a figurine just like the missing ballerina joins Madame Destinée’s growing collection. If Lindsey doesn’t discover the truth about the dance school, she might end up a tiny figurine herself.

Hi Tonja! Thanks so much for joining us!

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

The idea of becoming a writer didn’t occur to me until years after I graduated from college. I accompanied my husband to Dublin for a several month project he was heading. Since my first two children were young and still took naps, I had extra time on my hands and flipped through the shelves of romance novels found in our rental house. I had an epiphany—authors are people, and writing is a job. (Amazing, I know!) I picked up my pen and started to write something not only intended to collect eternal dust in my drawer.

2. Fun way to get into writing.Where did you get the idea for MUSIC BOXES?

I have no clue. That’s a horrible answer, isn’t it? I was out weeding my garden—blackberries with nasty thorns—and the image of a ballet teacher staring at rows of music boxes on her office shelves settled into my mind. Since I drove my four kids back and forth from three different schools at the time, I used the image to build a story for our daily ‘car story time’. And that’s how Music Boxes was born.

3. Fun how random ideas turn into stories. I read in another interview that you wrote the first of this in about 30 days. I’m jealous. Is that normal for you? And what was your revision process like?

I wish it was normal! I’m a turtle-writer. While Music Boxes was typed in 30 days, I’d been telling the story for months beforehand.
Revisions are where the magic happens. After finishing the first draft, I put the story down for several weeks (I’d like to say a month, but I get impatient). I edit it several more times, send it off to my critique partners, edit it a few more times, and then send it to the beta readers. One round of edits is done on a completely printed out manuscript. For another, I read it out loud to my dog—he doesn’t whine and loves the attention.

4. I wish I could write as fast as you. Your book sounds like a real page turner. How did you plant the mysteries about Madame Destinée’s ballet school and keep the suspense high so that readers wanted to turn the page?

The story was simply fun to write. Adding a dibble here and a dabble there was like tapping into my secret dark side. I loved diving into Madame Destinée’s magical dance school and peeking around every sinister corner, wondering what I’d find next.

5. Share a challenge that you had in writing MUSIC BOXES either before you signed your publishing contract or when working with your editor. What did you learn from it?

Music Boxes flipped back and forth between first person and third person several times. It took a bit
of stepping back and shutting out other opinions to rediscover what my characters wanted—always listen to the characters. But I did learn that sometimes the switch from third person (my preferred voice) to first person and back again allows the characters to express their feelings more clearly and can help me gain a better understanding of their thoughts.

6. That's great that you were able to make such a major revision. What was your road to publication like and what has it been like to work with a small press?

It was a rough road. I landed my first agent quickly. We revised, but before hitting submissions, she moved into the marketing department, and the agent who took her place preferred other genres. Music Boxes was dropped.

My next agent came through a Twitter #MSWL shout-out. The first round of submissions held some extremely near, big misses (my chocolate consumption soared!) But then, as the round came to an end and we started to discuss smaller revisions before hitting round two, she changed her life’s direction. Again, the other agents weren’t a good fit, and Music Boxes was left on the curb. I queried a little but wasn’t excited about going the agent route anymore (nor did the ones I queried want a manuscript which had already been out on submission). I took a break, published some short stories, and then decided to try it on my own. It didn’t take long. Although they were seeking historical MG fiction, I gave Dancing Lemur Press a go because they had published spooky fiction in the past—I was aware I was walking a very fine line and committing a submission ‘no-no’.

Although small, Dancing Lemur Press has been the most energetic, amazing champions Music Boxes could ever have.  I can’t imagine a better publishing experience. While I’ve heard from other authors that their small publishers aren’t as active on the marketing end, mine is a gem. I can’t speak highly enough of them and wouldn’t change a thing.

7. How are you planning to market MUSIC BOXES? Why did you decide on your marketing plan?

Oh, the dreaded marketing! The early reviews started up months before release. I still try to contact 2-3 bloggers/reviewers each week, but the focus has now shifted to schools, libraries, bookstores and such. While my publisher does contact hundreds of them, it’s the personal phone call which counts. I need to work up my courage before each one. The publisher and I are constantly seeking and researching new ways to spread the world about Music Boxes.

8. This is not the first book that you published. Share a little bit about your career and what you’ve learned along the way about continuing to get your books published and marketing them.

Actually…Music Boxes is my first book in the traditional sense. I’ve published several short stories and love to use anthologies to stretch into new directions. It’s a great way to learn. With the various agents and revisions, Music Boxes ate up much of my writing time during the last years.  A Glowworm— a YA historical story about a lesser known event in Germany after World War II— was published as an audio/Ubook.
I’ve learned that patience and perseverance are key. Publishing isn’t fast paced, and long-term goals are as valuable as short ones. Plus, you need to push yourself. No one will come to your door, wave a wand and make things happen. On the same hand, people are willing to help if you ask them. The writing community is amazing.

9. That's great advice. What are you working on now?

I’ve got a couple of things I’m currently working on. The first is a joint project with another author, a young adult fantasy with darker tones. Many of the characters border on crazy, which makes it a joy to write! The second project heads in the middle grade mystery direction again, but instead of dark, it steers towards humor and concentrates on STEM.
We’ll see where these two stories go in the end.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Tonja. You can find Tonja at:

Buy links :
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41452109

Tonja has generously offered MUSIC BOXES 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 April 27th. 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. The book giveaway is U.S.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is hosted by Greg Pattridge. You can find the participating blogs on his blog.

Here's what's coming up:

Monday, April 22nd I'm off

Monday, April 29th I have an agent spotlight interview with Devin Ross and a query critique giveaway

Wednesday, May 1st I have a guest post with debut author Joan He and her agent John Cusik with a query critique and DESCENDANT OF THE CRANE giveaway and my IWSG post

Monday, May 6th I have a guest post with debut author Beth Anderson and her agent Stephanie Fretwell-Hill with a query critique and AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET giveaway

Hope to see you on Friday!


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Congratulations to Tonja! That's a cool way to start writing (with an epiphany about writers and the sudden confidence resulting).

Shuttling kids to different schools sounds oh-so familiar! I've graduated from that now, ha, but it's all really fresh in my mind still. :)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Those agents really missed out - and Dancing Lemur Press was very lucky. Appreciate the praise.

Janet, said...

Thanks so much for the interview. It was interesting reading about her path to publication. I have the book (and enjoyed reading it), so no need to put me in this drawing, let someone else have the chance.

Patricia T. said...

I have heard about this story. Interesting that Tonja was telling the story for months before she wrote it! First time I've heard that. Anyway, I loved ballerina music boxes as a child and always imagined being the dancer in the middle -- just like my mother who was a professional ballerina before I was born. Lovely interview.

Jemi Fraser said...

This one is on my wishlist! sounds like such a fun story.
Not surprised at all DLP picked it up :)

Sherry Ellis said...

Great interview! That's funny that Tonja read it to her dog. I've read it. (But not to my dog.) It's a cute story!

Greg Pattridge said...

Congrats to Tonja for pushing forth and getting this project published. The story is one kids and a few of us adults would enjoy. Thanks for another great interview.

Brenda said...

Wonderful interview Natalie. Sounds like a rocky road to publication but so nice that everything finally worked out. I'll pass on the giveaway, still have a demanding TBR pile. Have a lovely week.

Danielle H. said...

Excellent interview. I would dread the marketing too as an introvert myself. I shared on tumblr: http://yesreaderwriterpoetmusician.tumblr.com/post/184207469607/tonja-drecker-interview-and-music-boxes-giveaway

Tonja Drecker said...

Thanks so much for having me today!

Joanne R. Fritz said...

What a delightful premise! And she wrote the rough draft in 30 days??? That's fantastic.

Samantha Bryant said...

I love that this book began as car story told to her children. What a lovely origin story! @mirymom1 from
Balancing Act

Rosi said...

I have been hearing a lot about this book. It looks like a good one. Thanks for an interesting interview. I will pass on the giveaway. Buried in books here.

Natasha said...

Great interview!
Sounds like a great read!
natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

Emily M. Bailey said...

I can't wait to read this with my daughter! She is a 10-yr-old aspiring ballet dancer in NYC, so it's going to hit so many buttons! This was a great interview, thank you! emilym.bailey3@gmail.com, also - I tweeted!

Mirka Breen said...

I'm getting this one. Everything about it says it's what I want to read next.
Magical realism reigns where I am. (oddly, just finishing another draft of a realistic MG. But most I have written have a magical thread.)

Anonymous said...

This sounds lovely!

Angie Quantrell said...

Ohhhh, sounds spooky and lovely! Congratulations! Looking forward to reading this one! angelecolline at yahoo dot com

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Congrats to Tonja. Her book sounds amazing and exactly what I would have loved to read in the middle grade age.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Congratulations to Tonja! Her book is awesome! (I need to actually officially review it.)
Tonja - I loved hearing about the way you told the story to your children on car rides before you wrote it, and the viewpoint challenge you had with revision. Thank you for sharing your story!
And, thank you, Natalie for sharing Tonja's story, too. :)

Janet Frenck Sheets said...

Music Boxes sounds like a wonderfully creepy story! (Also, I admire your endurance through the agenting bumps.)

June McCrary Jacobs said...

I read this book a couple of months ago and really enjoyed it. The cover art is eye-catching, too. It was interesting to learn more about the author's journey to publication for this book. Thanks for sharing this post, Natalie.

Patsy said...

It took me a long time to realise that authors started off as regular people who had a go at writing, and that if I wanted to, I could give it a try myself.

Elephant's Child said...

Huge congratulations to Tonja. Teamed with thanks to her and ALL writers.

Victoria Marie Lees said...

Bravo, Tonja! The book does indeed sound fascinating. All the luck with this new release. Thanks so much, Natalie, for sharing such an informative interview with your followers. Tonja, you gave great advice. My favorite is: Revisions are where the magic happens. I truly believe in this. All best, ladies!

DMS said...

What a great interview! I have read Music Boxes and loved it. So interesting to learn even more about Tonja here. I wish I wrote as quickly as she does! Wishing her all the best. :)

Anonymous said...

Jonja is my favourite personality I remember each Quotes of her - Jobnmk from India

slehan said...

Always fun to learn about how an author came to be an author. Thanks for sharing your story.

Linda H. said...

I've never been graceful enough to be a ballerina and when I started reading this post I thought, "Oh, no. A ballerina story. Not my thing." But I kept reading and got to the twist. YES! This creepy slant is totally new and exciting. Sounds full of suspense. What an great story idea.

Congrats on your book. And thanks for all the writing advice.

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

I enjoyed Tonja's book. A good mystery that kept me wondering what would happen next.