My friend Paula Freedman, author of the wonderful MG novel My Basmati Bat Mitzvah, invited me to participate in this blog tour about the writing process. Every author on the tour answers some questions about his or her own writing process, and then tags two other authors to answer next. I'm excited to be part of it, both because it's making me post something after way too long away from this blog, and also because I'm always fascinated by other writers' processes. You can read Paula's responses here; mine are below!
What am I currently working on?
I am almost always in the midst of multiple projects at once. I just finished final-final-final changes on my young adult novel EVIL LIBRARIAN (coming 9-9-14!), but I'm also waiting for my editor's notes on the first draft of the third book in my middle grade fantasy trilogy, working on a revision of a new picture book, and planning out the synopsis for a follow-up to EVIL LIBRARIAN. My next picture book, MARILYN'S MONSTER, comes out next spring, and my part of the work is mostly done on that one—it is being illustrated (as we speak!) by the super amazing Matt Phelan.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
This is a hard question. I know some of my picture books are different because they're longer than a lot of picture books out there ... but I hope that's not the only thing that makes them different! Obviously every author's work is going to be unique because of his or her individual voice, and I think that applies to my work as well. I also seem to come back to some of the same themes over and over in my books. I write a lot about friendship in various forms, and love in various forms, and also creatures (lions, dragons, demons) showing up in unexpected places.
Why do I write what I write?
I guess I write the kinds of stories that I'd want to read. Fantasy novels were the stories that first really grabbed me as a young reader and turned me into one of those kids who carried a book around with her everywhere. Picture books appeal to me for some of the same reasons—they're stories in which anything can happen, where the rules of everyday regular life don't necessarily have to apply. In all of my books, I'm always interested in the relationships among the characters ... who they are, why they do what they do, how they feel about one another, etc. I remember growing up and wishing I could know the characters from my favorite books in real life. I try to write those kinds of characters in my own books—if I care about them and want to spend time with them, hopefully my readers will, too!
How does my individual writing process work?
My process can vary a lot from book to book. For picture books, a story usually starts with one image or idea or feeling. I might carry that image/idea/feeling around in my head for a while before I know anything more about the story ... I'll check in on it every so often, take it out, look at it, and think about it, but sometimes I have to wait a long time before the rest of the story starts to take shape around it. Once I feel like I have enough of a sense of where the story is going (not all of it, just enough to start) I'll begin writing it down and see what happens. Often I'll make little notes in my notebook (or on whatever paper is handy at the time) as more pieces of the story start to take shape, so I won't forget.
For novels, the process could begin the same way, with an image or a feeling. For The Dragon of Trelian, I saw an image in my mind of two characters at a window in a castle. I knew they were looking out at something exciting, and that they probably weren't supposed to be there, but not much else. I started asking myself questions about them—who they were, why they were at the window, etc. The story started to take shape from there.
EVIL LIBRARIAN started with the voice of the main character. I was working on a different novel at the time, a darker, more serious fantasy (which I'm still working on, but it's been temporarily put on the back burner while I'm focusing on the other books) and Cyn's voice was funny and smart and engaging and made me want to hear more of what she had to say. I wrote the first page and a half (which mostly stayed put as the opening of the final version) and then kept coming back to it as often as I could. When I had about 70 or 80 pages, I realized I had to stop and figure out what the heck was going to happen in the rest of the book. I wrote a synopsis, and then expanded that into a longer synopsis, and eventually created a chapter-by-chapter outline of the rest of the story. That was really the first time I've ever written with an outline, and I have to say it made writing the rest of the book a lot easier! But I don't think I could start with the outline right at the beginning. I need to write a big enough piece to know the characters and the feel of the book before I can think more analytically about the structure and pacing and all the rest.
Once I have the first draft, it goes to my agent and editor. For picture books this might be the first time they see or hear of it; for novels, they've almost certainly seen some pieces of the story already. I take a breather (which sometimes just means switching over to the next project, but I do try to take at least a little bit of a break when I can!) and wait for notes from my editor. Then I start the revision process, based on her feedback and my own thoughts/notes of what I think needs reshaping (or rewriting or expanding or deleting). When the second draft is done, I might share it with one or two trusted readers, who also give me their thoughts. I usually end up doing at least three full drafts with novels. Sometimes four. And then I'm always still tweaking the text during copyediting and galleys, until my publisher makes me stop. :) Some picture books only take a couple of drafts, not including additional edits after we lay the book out into pages and I see how it starts to work together with the artwork, which often calls for at least some small changes to be made to the text. Others I end up revising over and over, twenty times, maybe more, before they really come together. And sometimes they never do, but I still have some that I haven't given up on, despite many years and drafts since I first started them. Sometimes I think it's just not the right time for a particular story, but if it's one that really speaks to me, I have to trust that I'll find the right time/approach/idea to make it work eventually!
Next up on the blog tour:
I met Rachel Wilson at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, where we were both getting our MFAs in writing for children and young adults. Her debut novel, DON'T TOUCH, comes out from HarperTeen this September. When she's not writing, she makes theater in Chicago, so it's not surprising that DON'T TOUCH is full of theater (although, she says, she's not a "serious actress" like her main character). She also has a horror novelette, "The Game of Boys and Monsters," coming out as an ebook for HarperImpulse in October.
FA Michaels writes about real-world teens in not-so-real-world situations. Coming soon is a time travel tale that's part sci-fi, part mystery and part star-crossed-lovers romance. Follow Mic on Twitter @FAMichaels and read more at FAMichaels.com.
Look for their responses on their own blogs on Monday, April 21!