The Craft of Kid Lit: Author Interviews
In this series of posts, I aim to shed light on the creative process of KidLit by asking a wide variety of authors the same set of ten questions. Every other week, check this space to gain insight and perspective on the craft of writing for kids.
Author of The Prophet Calls and The Inside Battle
1. What initially inspired you to write for kids, and what motivates you to continue writing for that audience?
I choose to write for kids because I think it’s the most important work an author can do—shaping thinkers who question and wonder and reflect on the stories they read. Too often, adults underestimate what young readers can handle. But I believe in being real with them and my hope is that after reading one of my stories, they feel both respected and enriched.
2. Give us a peek into your brain before you've settled on a project. How do ideas come to you, and how do you begin once you’ve got a great one?
So many ways! An idea can come from seeing a story on the news, a topic that I’ve found interesting and picking up a book about it, or with a voice, as one of my current stories did with a character waking me up in my sleep. Honestly, I don’t necessarily know if an idea is “great,” but I will keep going if it seems to have legs (can be developed into a full novel), while still holding my interest.
3. How much is your chosen idea for a story influenced by what is "marketable"?
Not at all, primarily because whatever I’m working on—first and foremost—must be interesting to me. If it’s not something that excites me, I can’t imagine dedicating the time it takes to write a novel on a subject just because it’s marketable. Besides, I don’t believe in writing “for the market,” because what is marketable today will be overdone tomorrow.
4. How detailed does your outline get? Do you leave space for changes, or are plot points etched in stone?
I don’t use an outline per se. Instead, I use the notecard function in Scrivener and organize scene ideas into a working order, figuring out which plot points I absolutely must hit in each scene. And I definitely leave space for changes—that’s where some of the greatest joys of writing can take place!
5. What's your personal technique for connecting to the younger person inside you and writing from that place?
What a great question—I wish I knew! When it comes to writing fiction, there’s an honesty to it that allows me to slide into my younger self and write with that scope in mind. Playlists can be helpful, and I’ve been known to use one type of scented candle while I’m writing a book to help me get back into that character more easily, but I don’t have a precise method that I use each time.
6. What are three or four books you would tell any writer to read who wanted to write upper middle grade? Why?
Oh, gosh, it’s not so much exact books I would recommend for stories that bridge the gap between MG and YA, but authors. Anything by Barbara Dee, Torrey Maldonado, Paula Chase, Laurie Morrison, Beth Vrabel and you, Brigit, would be a great place to start if someone wants to learn how to write Upper MG.
7. How do you involve outside readers in your process? Do you keep your work to yourself? Do you share it with any kids to get their take?
This has changed over the years. I have been in critique groups and received feedback there, but now that I’m getting my MFA, I don’t really have time for a group. For now, I have access to wonderful advisors who read my work and give essential feedback. I’ve also been fortunate to have an in-house reader in my daughter.
8. Do you start with character or plot, or do you see them as indistinguishable? Why?
For me, a story usually begins with a character in a situation, so character and plot grow simultaneously. As I progress, plot tends to come together faster, as I don’t fully know my character until the end of the first draft. Then starts the revision process, which is my FAVORITE!
9. What about writing KidLit frustrates you? To put it another way... What are some of the roadblocks you encounter that are specific to writing for kids?
I touched on this earlier, but a big roadblock I face is quiet censorship from the gatekeepers that are present in KidLit. Not the kind that makes the news, but the whispers from librarians and teachers who have been told by administrators and/or parents that my books aren’t appropriate for young readers. These gatekeepers can be incredibly frustrating, because there’s no safer space to touch on a “tough” topic than in a book and then giving those readers an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with their peers and/or a caring teacher or parent who fosters healthy discussions.
10. What are you working on now? If you’re at a point where you feel comfortable sharing the information, what inspired the project?
I am in the process of working toward my MFA through Hamline University’s Writing for Children and Young Adults’ program (which I highly recommend!), so I am working on many things from picture book through YA!