Interviews, Middle Grade, MMGM, Review

MMGM Interview & Giveaway: THE MULTIPLYING MYSTERIES OF MOUNT TEN by Krista Van Dolzer

Hi, friends! I’m on a giveaway spree! In case you’re curious about which two books I gave away from my 7th blogiversary giveaway last week, I ended up choosing two books with a connection to me. The first was THE GREAT SHELBY HOLMES by Elizabeth Eulberg, who is published by Bloomsbury, my publisher! And the second was MASCOT by Antony John, a fellow St. Louis author. But let me tell you, it was very hard to choose, especially since so many people who entered the giveaway just said any author would be great :).

Now on to this week. I’m thrilled to once again welcome my friend and critique partner Krista Van Dolzer to the blog with her latest release, THE MULTIPLYING MYSTERIES OF MOUNT TEN. And hey, it’s also published by Bloomsbury :). Here’s the amazing cover–which Krista’s going to talk about in answer to one of my questions–and description.

The Multiplying Mysteries of Mount Ten by Krista Van DolzerTwelve-year-old painter Esther can’t wait to attend Camp Vermeer, the most prestigious art camp around. But when her stepdad accidentally drives up the wrong mountain, she lands at Camp Archimedes–a math camp!

Determined to prove herself to the other campers, she tackles a brain-teaser that’s supposed to be impossible–and solves it in a single day. But not everyone is happy about it…someone wants her out of camp at any cost, and starts leaving cryptic, threatening notes all over the camp’s grounds. Esther doesn’t know who to trust–will she solve this riddle before it’s too late?

Featuring tricky logic puzzles readers can solve along with the characters and starring a unique, smart, and crafty young heroine, this story has just the right mix of mystery, humor, and wit.

Here are Krista’s answers to five questions about the things I loved most.

1. Readers who pick up this book may not realize Esther was a character in one of your previous books, DON’T VOTE FOR ME. What made you decide she needed her own story?

Esther was one of my very favorite characters in DON’T VOTE FOR ME, so the thought of writing her a book was certainly appealing. I think what really sealed the deal was that I’d been trying to come up with a math mystery for a while, and when I realized I could do it as a (very) loose retelling of the biblical story of Esther (just as DON’T VOTE FOR ME is a (very) loose retelling of the biblical story of David and Goliath), I jumped in with both feet.

2. It’s evident within the book how much you love math—and how much disdain Esther initially has for the subject, despite her affinity for it. What was your inspiration for setting this story at a math camp?

Because I knew I wanted to write a fun math mystery, the math camp just made sense, but your question made me realize that some of Esther’s feelings are autobiographical. I was always good at math, but I didn’t really fall in love until I studied it in college. That might have been because, for the first time in my life, math wasn’t easy-peasy. It was challenging and stretching, and I actually had to apply myself. Doing something hard is great for your self-confidence.

3. The cover for this book is amazing! I love all of the detail, and I think it would be great if you could tell us a little about the significance of some of those details.

The cover is amazing. I absolutely love Danielle Ceccolini’s design, and Iacopo Bruno couldn’t have done a better job executing her vision. One of the first details I noticed was the sneaky yellow balls scattered around the illustration. In addition to the weight in the bottom right corner, the yellow balls make an appearance in the first puzzle in the book. I also love the tube of paint and the palette in the background that ties everything together, both of which, of course, are nods to Esther’s artistic side. And the ruler! And the compass! And the abacus in the title treatment! So many little details make my mathematical heart sing. 😊

4. The mystery in the story—interlocked with a logic puzzle—is super fun. What tips do you have for writing a mystery, particularly for a middle grade audience?

First tip: don’t write a mystery that involves a logic puzzle. 😊 Every time I fiddled with one clue, I had to fiddle with the others. Thank goodness for great copy editors who spotted so many mistakes!

Second tip: don’t be afraid to let your imagination loose. Adults dismiss so many clues to so many would-be mysteries because they don’t want to take the time to try to figure them out, but kids always take the time. They want to find something extraordinary hidden in the ordinary, so let’s give them just that!

5. I love the group of math nerds. How did you go about developing the personalities of the kids who would be at the camp? Did you create them to complement Esther or develop them independently of her?

Getting to know the math nerds was one of the best parts of writing this story. Angeline and Brooklyn distinguished themselves right off the bat, and Munch, Graham, and Marshane came along easily, too. I loved how self-assured Munch was from the very start, and the friendly rivalry that developed between Graham and Marshane inspired me to make their back stories overlap. So I would say I let their personalities take shape as the plot grew and evolved. By far, the trickiest part was making sure they were distinct (and in fact, we downplayed some roles so this most important group would have a better chance to shine).

Thank you, Krista!

I love this book so much I want to pass along a copy to one of you, and Krista has also offered a signed bookmark as well. To enter, comment below or click on the Rafflecopter link for additional entries.

Blogging, Giveaways, Middle Grade

Happy 7th Blogiversary to Me! With a mystery signed book giveaway!

Today marks the seventh anniversary of my blog. I’ve made a lot of changes to the blog in the past seven years, starting out with a focus on middle grade, finding my writing voice in young adult, querying for many, many years and sharing that process. I foresee this blog changing again as I approach the publication of my debut novel in winter 2021. I don’t know what that will look like; I’m still thinking through it all. But for today, I’m going to stick with my tradition of pulling statistics from the last year and sharing them here on the blog–mostly because I just enjoy analyzing the blog for myself. Hopefully some of you will find it interesting, too :). But definitely read through to the end, because I will have a celebratory giveaway as usual. It seems appropriate that it has a middle grade theme in keeping with the blog’s beginnings :).

Top 10 Posts/Pages in the Past Year

10. FINDING AUDREY and a Couple of Other YA Books You Should Read – This 2015 post was in my top ten last year as well. It includes mini-reviews of FINDING AUDREY by Sophie Kinsella, THE APOTHECARY by Maile Meloy, and THERE WILL BE LIES by Nick Lake.

9. Your Life Has Been Delayed (YA Time Travel) – Hey, thanks for reading about my book! It will be out in winter 2021, and I will be sharing all sorts of news as it’s available. That’s one thing I know for sure about where the blog is headed :).

8. Happy Sixth Blogiversary to Me! With a $25 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway for You … – Maybe you guys do like my statistics. Or an Amazon gift card? 🙂

7. YA Series Recommendation: The Selection by Kiera Cass – Great books!

6. Remembering a Friend Lost Too Soon: Ashley Gammon – Three years ago this past January, my friend and former colleague Ashley passed away unexpectedly. I wrote this post as my own tribute to her, and I am glad people continue to read about her here and honor her memory.

5. What I’ve Learned in Seven Years of Querying – Ah, my other annual post–which I will no longer be writing. However, if you are still querying, I encourage you to check out this series because querying can be a long journey, and this particular post is all about perseverance. In my case, I ended up signing with my agent a few months after the seven-year mark.

4. YA Review: NOT IF I SAVE YOU FIRST by Ally Carter + Bonus Writing Tips – I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ally Carter twice, and she’s just lovely. This book is a fantastic page-turner, so definitely check it out, but she also gives some great tips for writers as well.

3. Subjectivity and Why You Should Get Multiple Opinions – I wrote this post in 2013, and people keep coming back to it. It’s a good reminder for all of us. We don’t write in a vacuum. It’s important to get feedback from others on your manuscripts.

2. I Have An Agent! – Well, hey, I was hoping–and sort of figured–this post would be high on the list. I searched for an agent for seven years before connecting with Elizabeth Bewley at Sterling Lord Literistic, but it was so worth the wait. She’s so fantastic to work with and my debut book is now forthcoming from Bloomsbury in winter 2021. Go team!

1. MG/YA Agents & Their Books – Even though I’m no longer researching agents myself, I continue to maintain this list for those who are. I think it’s super helpful to know what sort of books agents represent to get a feel for their tastes.

Top 10 Posts/Pages of All Time

Interestingly, most of these are different this year. However, there are several MG books, which is a reflection of their longevity on my blog. When I first started out, I wrote an MG review every week.

10. Subjectivity and Why You Should Get Multiple Opinions – There’s the subjectivity post again!

9. MMGM: ONCE UPON THE END by James Riley – Only one of my favorite MG writers ever.

8. MMGM: THE UNWANTEDS: ISLAND OF SILENCE – The second book in a popular middle grade series.

7. Series Recommendation: DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth – A popular series. I’m still baffled by those movies 🙂.

6. About – Hey, thanks for reading about me :).

5. MMGM: SAMMY KEYES AND THE HOTEL THIEF – In previous years, this book has been in the top 10 for the year as well. It’s the first in an eighteen-book middle grade mystery series. I haven’t made it through all of them yet as I’ve been spreading them out, but they are fantastic!

4. Before the Draft: Outlining in Scrivener – This post is listed on a Scrivener site somewhere and so continues to receive many visits.

3. A Glimpse at My Agent Spreadsheet: Middle Grade Books I’ve Read – The post that started my page listing middle grade and young adult books agents represent.

2. MG/YA Agents & Their Books

1. Remembering a Friend Lost Too Soon: Ashley Gammon

Top 5 Searches of the Past Year

Unfortunately there are more than 235 search terms WordPress is unable to identify for me, but here are the top five searches WordPress can tell me.

5. Agents who represent middle grade/young adult books & Searches about me – I was quite surprised to find there were an equal number of searches for agents as me leading to my blog this year. I must be moving up :).

4. Random questions – My favorite was: “advantages of making your own money 8th grade.” I probably had some review about an MG book with an eighth grader making their own money that led them here. I hope they found an answer!

3. Searches about Ashley – As I stated above, I hope friends of Ashley continue to find comfort in my post about her.

2. Writing-related searches – Several visitors ended up at my blog due to some variation on the question, “Should I get multiple opinions?” This definitely explains the popularity of the subjectivity post. But there was also someone who stopped by questioning whether they should quit after querying for two years. I hope they left with the answer of “Don’t give up!” Because as I’ve already stated, I queried for seven years, and I now have an agent and a book deal.

1. Books I’ve reviewed – By far the most searches that led people to my blog were for books I’d reviewed. It’s quite interesting to see the questions people ask, often about particular plot points or simply for a review. Either way, I’m happy to be a resource.

So what am I giving away this year? Well, if you happen to follow me on Twitter as well, you may have noticed I’m excited about a particular event happening this Saturday, the Oh Middle Grade BookFest. I mean, how often do twenty-four middle grade authors come to town? Since I will be there, I’d love to pick up two signed books for one of you. The giveaway will be open for the next week, but if you comment by end of day Friday, May 3, you can give input on which two authors I should choose :). Sound fun? Here is the list of authors: https://omgbookfest.org/omg-missouri

Oh, and if you are here in St. Louis, come check out the event and bring any other middle grade readers you know along.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below or click on the Rafflecopter link for additional entries.

 

UPDATE on May 6: Below is a picture of all the books we had signed at OMG BookFest. Many of these belong to my kids, but two are for the lucky winner of this giveaway. Which two? You’ll find out if you win :).

Character, Giveaways, Interviews, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Research, Review

MMGM Interview & Giveaway: THE TRUE HISTORY OF LYNDIE B. HAWKINS by Gail Shepherd

Last week I promised I would feature additional middle grade books by writer friends, and I’m so pleased to host Gail Shepherd here on my blog for MMGM. Gail and I met nine years ago through a critique partner match-up on a blog and swapped chapters on middle grade novels we were working on at the time. I can’t believe it was so long ago! As soon as I read THE TRUE HISTORY OF LYNDIE B. HAWKINS, I reached out to Gail to ask her for an interview, and she graciously answered my questions and has also offered up a signed ARC and some swag for one lucky winner. Details are at the bottom.

The True History of Lyndie B. Hawkins by Gail ShepherdLyndie B. Hawkins loves history, research, and getting to the truth no matter what. But when it comes to her family, her knowledge is full of holes. Like, what happened to her father in the Vietnam War? Where does he disappear to for days? And why exactly did they have to move in with her grandparents?

Determined to mold recalcitrant Lyndie into a nice Southern girl even if it kills her, Grandma Lady starts with lesson number one: Family=Loyalty=keeping quiet about family secrets. Especially when it comes to Lyndie’s daddy.

Then DB, a boy from the local juvenile detention center, comes to stay with Lyndie’s best friend, Dawn. He’s as friendly and open as a puppy. There to shape up his act, his optimism is infectious. But it goes against everything Grandma Lady insists upon.

And here are Gail’s answers to five questions about the book.

1. I loved how seamlessly you wove history into the story–through a school project, research about D.B., a visit to the history museum, etc. How did you decide which historical accounts to include and the best ways to do so?

There were two main thematic threads I wanted to tease out in Lyndie B’s story: The first was the idea of how countries and communities become divided by politics or ideology—I mean, obviously this is still a contemporary question. So there’s a natural fit with the Vietnam War and the American Civil War, where a country is at war with itself. And then the second thematic question was about how families get fractured, or heal themselves from fractures. So the research on D.B.’s family history fit well with that theme.

Those two themes intertwine and are related—in both the Vietnamese war and the American Civil War, particularly in Tennessee, families often split—some sided with the Confederacy and others with the Union. The idea of families split apart runs through the book, of course. D.B. was abandoned by his mom. He’s taken away from the foster family he loves. He’s lost touch with his uncle. And Lyndie’s family is coming apart at the seams in quite a different way—her father and mother are at odds, Lyndie is not getting along with her grandma. But also, other people in the community had fathers or brothers who were lost in the Vietnam War, like Lyndie’s nemesis, Pee Wee, and the homeless woman, Bernadette. Really, the entire community (a kind of family writ large) has been fractured by the war. So the research fell naturally along those thematic lines.

It’s a particularly interesting question to me, how we heal or bridge our differences in a family or community so that we can thrive.

2. The friendship storyline is so believable, particularly for Lyndie’s age, how she allows her grandmother’s attitude to influence her insecurities about her best friend. What made you decide to tap into that aspect of MG friendship?

Little kids bond without a lot of baggage. When you’re six or seven or eight, you just tend to like people unless they rub you the wrong way or they’re mean to you. But at eleven or twelve, like Lyndie, you’re just beginning to lose your innocence around friendship. You start to be influenced by social pressures. Lots of “best” friendships split up at this age (mine certainly did)—often because we’re aware of how others are seeing us.

Lyndie is coming of age, and part of her job in growing up is to figure out how much truth there is in what she’s being told—she’s struggling with it. She’s struggling with her own insecurities, too. She doesn’t see herself as a “good person” in the way her best friend Dawn is. She doesn’t always know what’s right. So she’s subject to a lot of self-doubt that can interfere with the purity of her friendships.

3. The family dynamics are also very believable and heart-wrenching, from private, organized Lady and gentle Grandpa to tormented Dad and broken-hearted Mom. How did you determine what characteristics to give each of these family members to make this family what it is?

Lyndie’s grandma, Lady, was always very real to me. She’s the one character who really didn’t change much in revision. Maybe because I come from a Southern family. Some of my relatives are very iron-willed, judgmental, upright, dignified, exacting, in this way, so she came to me naturally. As for Lady’s husband, Grandpa, I wanted him to be the one person that Lady could feel safe with, taken care of. He’s a hint that even Lady has vulnerabilities.

I made Lyndie’s father and mother political opposites (Daddy a war veteran with PTSD, Ma a former hippie peace protester) so we could see that it is possible to love across a political divide, even though it’s not always easy.

4. The story’s setting a decade after the Vietnam War brings to light the issues faced by soldiers who fought in the war and families who lost soldiers to the war—both immediately and due to trauma afterward. What made you decide to set a story at this time, and how did you research it?

I grew up with the Vietnam War in the background, running on the TV, in every newspaper. Families I knew had brothers and fathers going away. That war has shaped my world view in a very deep way. I became an adult in the 1980s, and my memory of the time is very sharp. So those two things together influenced the setting and time period. I did a ton of research—every book I could get my hands on—The Things They Carried, Dispatches, A Bright Shining Lie, and many others, plus books on PTSD and trauma—The Evil Hours was the one that really shook me. Not much of the research made its way directly into the book. But the background was necessary so I could understand Lyndie’s daddy.

5. I loved the feeling of hope at the end, for Lyndie’s family and friendships. What do you hope your readers leave the book feeling?

Oh, my. Well, that the truth is worth pursuing, even if it feels hard. I do entirely believe that. That families and friendships can be resilient, they can recover from great stresses. That our country and our communities, like the flag on the gate at Lyndie’s grandma’s house, are worth caring for, worth fighting for.

But there are lots of ways to care and lots of ways to fight—you don’t have to physically go to war, necessarily. History has taught us what a dead end that can be. Caring for your country can mean being honest about its history. Caring for your family can mean being honest with each other. I want readers to feel that we can get better. And that it’s worth trying.

Thank you so much, Gail!

As I mentioned, Gail has offered a signed ARC, plus swag (book plates, bookmarks, pins), for one lucky winner. To enter, leave a comment here or click on the Rafflecopter for extra entries.

Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: RUBY & OLIVIA by Rachel Hawkins

Get ready, friends, because I think I might be on a bit of a middle grade spree coming up. Two writer friends just had middle grade books come out, so I definitely plan to feature their books in the near future, but I also happened to pick up RUBY & OLIVIA by Rachel Hawkins, and I absolutely adored it. I’ve featured several of Ms. Hawkins’ young adult books here on the blog, but this is the first middle grade book of hers I’ve read. It’s equally delightful. Here’s the cover and description.

Ruby & Olivia by Rachel HawkinsRuby is bold and opinionated, while Olivia has always been respectful and well behaved. But Olivia’s good-girl image is tarnished when she takes the fall for her twin sister’s misdeed. And now Olivia is stuck with Ruby all summer—at a community service day camp for troublemakers.

To kick off the spirit of service, the campers are tasked with cataloging the contents of Live Oaks, a historic mansion in their town. Sorting through objects in an old house sounds boring, and working together is the last thing the girls want to do, but the stuff is actually kind of cool. There’s everything from mink stoles to golf clubs to antique dolls . . . and . . . wait . . . is that doll watching them?

It isn’t long until little tricks—like mysterious music playing, doors slamming, and shadows rising—start to spook the girls. They’d like to think the other campers are pranking them, but they soon realize that this empty mansion might not be uninhabited after all. To solve the mystery at Live Oaks, Ruby and Olivia will have to put their old grudges aside and figure out how to be a team.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The friendship – These two girls are so different, and their path to friendship is further complicated by the fact that they have history–Ruby used to be close friends with Olivia’s twin sister, Emma. This friendship is messy and prickly and the girls both get hurt along the way, but it’s honest and real. It’s very well done.

2. The families – The dynamics in both family relationships are excellent and unique. Ruby is dealing with the loss of her grandmother and is very close to her mom, while Olivia has a sticky relationship with her twin after taking the fall for something she perhaps shouldn’t have, leaving her alone with her parents for the summer for the first time ever.

3. The humor – Humor is a staple of Rachel Hawkins’ books, and this one is no exception. Ruby is the main source in this case, as humor is her default, although Olivia steps up sometimes too, once she feels comfortable with Ruby.

4. The mystery – A spooky house with creepy dolls, taxidermied animals, and doors that randomly close? Yes, please! I loved how the girls decided to investigate.

5. The resolution – I really enjoyed the final resolution to the mystery. It wasn’t one of those stories where you could figure it out entirely on your own. There were hints where it was headed, but you had to wait until the end with the characters to find out what was truly going on, and it was a great payoff.

I will definitely be looking for other middle grade books from Rachel Hawkins. I know she has one other. If you’ve read RUBY & OLIVIA, what did you think?

Blogging

10 Random Facts About Teen Me

Yesterday I came across a post with ideas to liven up your blog. And I figured: why not? It’s a fun change from reviews and writing updates. One of the prompts was to share ten random facts about yourself. Since I write young adult books, I’m going to tweak it a bit and give you ten random facts about teen Michelle.

1. I worked at McDonald’s on weekends and summers once I turned sixteen until I went to college, and I never got sick of the food. However, they rarely let me in the food prep area because I tended to burn myself. (I had a scar in the shape of the fry rack on my forearm for years.)

2. My junior year I was cast as the understudy for Kim in “Bye Bye Birdie,” but I didn’t bother learning the lines. Before any fellow thespians attack me, I’d better add that the show was already double-cast, so even listing anyone as an understudy was overkill. There were already two Kims!

3. Since prom has come up on Twitter so often this week … I didn’t go my junior year. Senior year, I got set up. My best friend was dating a guy at a private, all-boys school. He had a friend with no date. I had no date. So I talked to the guy on the phone and worked it all out. I went to his prom. He went to mine. It was nice. We never talked again after 😀.

4. I was Valedictorian of my high school, but only my friends and the people who were competing with me know about it. When they sent out the insert for the yearbook with all the graduation articles, they left it out. My brother said when he went to his reunion (he’s a year younger than me), he actually got into an argument with someone about it. My defender 😀.

5. I got head lice my senior year of high school from working at a children’s fair. I was sitting in English class and pulled a live louse out of my hair. So. Disgusting. The high school nurse was so unfamiliar with it, she sent me to the grade school across the street for confirmation. Imagine how embarrassing it is having to tell all your friends you have lice … Also, every time I read an MS with lice in it, my head starts itching. There have been two this year.

6. When I was bored in school, I would read romance novels under my desk. I was especially bad about this in junior high.

7. In eighth grade we went to Disney World and sat a full day in a taping of Mickey Mouse Club. My brother and I are in several audience shots during that season.

8. If that Mickey Mouse Club reference didn’t already date me, when I was sixteen, I went to the St. Louis Auto Show to meet Mario Lopez and Jonathan Brandis. Jonathan kissed the girl in front of me on the cheek, so when I got up there, I asked if he was handing out kisses. AND HE KISSED ME ON THE CHEEK. I didn’t wash that cheek until … well, that night. But if you have ever had a celebrity crush, you get it.

9. I played the violin all through my teen years, but even with private lessons, I was never higher than fifth chair in my high school orchestra. Strings are a serious business in St. Louis. Our concertmaster was an actual prodigy, and several others had started playing when they were three or four. Several kids in my high school orchestra were in the St. Louis Youth Symphony.

10. I liked high school. I’m not saying it was all rosy, all the time, but I had a great group of friends and a good experience in general. Not that I’d want to go back 😉.

Now that I have dredged all of these facts up from my memory, it occurs to me that a few of them could provide some interesting material … except not the lice thing. Because if I put that in a novel and had to read over it multiple times I’d go nuts.

Do we share any teen experiences? Want to post ten facts of your own? If you do, let me know and I’ll go read them!

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: THE DECEIVERS by Kristen Simmons

I love entering giveaways, and I love it even more when I win–especially when the book shows up in the mail and I didn’t know I’d won. Best surprise ever! That’s what happened with THE DECEIVERS by Kristen Simmons, and it arrived with a really cool swag pack (pictured below). I started reading this book on the last day of our cruise and had it almost finished by the time we got off the plane home. It’s a super fast-paced read. Well, let me give you the description first, and then I’ll get on to the review :).

Welcome to Vale Hall, the school for aspiring con artists.

When Brynn Hilder is recruited to Vale, it seems like the elite academy is her chance to start over, away from her mom’s loser boyfriend and her rundown neighborhood. But she soon learns that Vale chooses students not so much for their scholastic talent as for their extracurricular activities, such as her time spent conning rich North Shore kids out of their extravagant allowances.

At first, Brynn jumps at the chance to help the school in its mission to rid the city of corrupt officials—because what could be better than giving entitled jerks what they deserve? But that’s before she meets her mark—a senator’s son—and before she discovers the school’s headmaster has secrets he’ll stop at nothing to protect. As the lines between right and wrong blur, Brynn begins to realize she’s in way over head.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The premise – I’m always a sucker for secret schools where kids are developing special skills, even if they’re conning people. What’s interesting about this one is that Brynn has to consistently confront her own sense of right and wrong–which isn’t so clearly defined to start with–and decide what her limits are.

2. The pacing – I already mentioned it above, but this book was a really quick read. The stakes kept ratcheting up in each new chapter, plus …

3. The twists – They just kept coming! I loved how layered this book was. It almost felt like the author had started at the end and layered all the clues on top of each other toward the front. That’s how well all the pieces fit together. It’s very well done.

4. The romance – The initial attraction, the uncertainty, the ex still somewhat in the picture, the complication of having other people you’re conning thrown into the mix–quite a lot to add into a teen romance. And this one gets a bit steamy.

5. The ending – It’s the perfect ending to start off a series. I wanted more but didn’t feel like I was left on a total cliffhanger. I will definitely be picking up the next book when it comes out.

If anyone out there reading this has taken a liking to that swag pack, let me know! I’m going to keep the book, but if you’d like the patch or Vale Hall letter/syllabus, I’d be happy to mail it to someone. Just send me a note in the comments or email me. First person to ask gets it, but please North America.

Revising, Writing, Young Adult, Your Life Has Been Delayed

After the Book Deal: Next Steps

So, it’s been a couple of months since my book deal was announced, and invariably I get the same question from friends and family when I tell them my book will be coming out in winter 2021:

Why is it so far away???

Um, do you know how much goes into publishing a book? If you haven’t been through it, probably not. I’m learning as I go along, so I will share my experience, which won’t be the same as everyone’s.

What I can tell you are the steps so far.

First, there was a ton of celebrating because I HAD A BOOK DEAL!! There are times when this still doesn’t feel like a real thing. After querying agents for so many years, then signing quickly with Elizabeth and then Bloomsbury for this book, it was quite a crazy ride. However, I will never forget–and I don’t want anyone else to either–that there were seven years of learning and building up my skills that happened before that whirlwind. Sure, there are writers who get there with their first book, but it’s not the norm. Sorry if that seems like a downer, but even though I’m an optimist, I’m also a realist. Thus the feeling of unreality.

Next, there was the waiting for the announcement. Oh, did you think the deal got announced the day we agreed to it? Nope, that’s not how these things work. You have to keep it SECRET until things are all tied up and ready to be announced publicly. Let me tell you, it’s really hard not to hire a skywriter to fly around with a huge sign saying “I HAVE A BOOK DEAL.” But then, once the announcement is out, there’s a whole other round of celebrating with all of the writing friends you’ve made along the journey, and that’s a ton of fun.

Then, it’s time to get to work. Woohoo! I mean, you didn’t think revisions were over once a publisher buys your book? Personally, I love revising, and I’d talked to my editor before we signed about what she had in mind for the book, so I had an idea what to expect. There was just one teensy little glitch. My editorial letter arrived the same day as these:

Yep, I’m the cookie mom for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. Now, lest you think my editor is a horrible task master, I never told her this was happening at the same time–or that my daughter’s talent show also got rescheduled during this same window and I was running rehearsals for her act. Or planning friend and family birthday parties for my son. Um, yeah, February and March were absolutely CRAZY. And the weather didn’t help, as things kept getting canceled and rescheduled, including the cookie season getting extended an extra week so that I ended up having to finalize cookie sales the same day I turned in my edits. I was leaving for vacation the next day, and I was about to lose my mind. But, the thing is … I like deadlines. And I REALLY wanted to turn in my first-round revisions before I left for vacation. Because when I did leave on vacation and had nothing left hanging over me, it was AMAZING. It felt like a huge reward for everything I’d finished. I’m so glad I didn’t ask for an extension (which my editor totally would have given me because she’s awesome).

But anyway, back to the edits themselves. I’m sure you’re wondering what it’s like to revise with an editor. It’s fantastic but challenging–as it should be. When you get to this point, your book is going out into the world. It’d better be ready for that. My editor asked in-depth questions and told me this was just the beginning of what we’d be working on, so I know there will be more work to do. I read through her notes, and then we talked on the phone before I started revising. How did I tackle my revisions with all those other distractions going on?

First of all, I kept my online activities to a minimum during the five weeks I was revising. If you were here on my blog you saw reviews every week, but that was misleading, as I scheduled all of those before my edits and the cookies arrived on Feb. 13. I even took photos and drafted captions for Instagram posts in advance so I could just post them on the days the reviews went live. I was on Twitter some the first couple of weeks, but after that it was mainly just to lead people back to my reviews on the blog or give updates on my revision progress as I didn’t want to disappear completely. I actually turned my phone upside down so I wouldn’t see notifications.

Next, in case you’re new here or just need a reminder, I do EVERYTHING in Scrivener, so I imported the document from my editor into my Scrivener file. It included all of the questions from my editor, the notes I’d made in response, plus the notes from our phone conversation. Then, I made a revision checklist. This checklist was a compilation of both little items I could check off quickly and major things I needed to fix–like rewrite the ending :). What works best for me is to start with the biggest items first and work down to the smaller items for a couple of reasons. One: they will take the most time and then they are out of the way. Two: I will have the most distance from those items when I get to the bottom of the list and am reading back through everything to see if I nailed them or they still need more work.

So, as you perhaps guessed from what I stated above, I did not revise linearly, by reading straight through the manuscript and tackling items as they popped up. Instead, I addressed each big-picture item individually, which Scrivener makes so much easier to do than, say, Word. I’ve blogged about this before, but the way that I did this was by using the Collections feature. I had already created collections for various subplots in the book (the love interest, the best friend, the antagonist, etc.), so it was easy to click into those collections and revise just those sections. Sometimes notes on these areas overlapped and so when I went into another subplot I’d already tackled something, and that was just a bonus :). This worked really well because by the time I got to the read-through, I had some distance from those big-picture items and could ensure the continuity was working.

Another feature I made use of during revisions was the split-screen option, for several purposes. I could pull up my notes from my editor while working on a scene to compare what I was doing to what we’d discussed. Or sometimes I would pull up two different scenes to compare how I was foreshadowing a particular incident or if I wanted to move something how it impacted the other scene. Or just keep my checklist open while I was working through scenes. Super helpful!

Does this mean my book is ready to go? Ha ha ha! There’s the answer to that question: Why is it so far away???

Because next I will have another round of edits. If you were reading closely, you saw that my editor said this was just the first round of changes she wanted to address. As I was working on the edits, I could totally see that there were areas we weren’t touching yet, and maybe that was because they were fine, but maybe that was because they were for the next level of edits. Plus, once you make a round of changes, you always open yourself up to potential new issues. It’s the nature of the beast.

But I’m excited because I know this book is getting better and better. I’ll continue to update here as I go through the publishing process. I’m not sure if I will approach revisions any differently the next time around, but if I do, I’ll be sure to share. At least I shouldn’t have cookies to deal with. But you know what? There will probably be something else, and that’s okay because I actually thrive on that sort of pressure. Bring it on! The payoff is worth it.