I’m Tagged in a Blog Hop (Or, “You throw one kidney bean in one purse, and look what happens”)

As previously mentioned, I don’t blog regularly anymore. (Actually that implies I used to blog regularly, instead of at rather more frequent random intervals, but allow me the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia). HOWEVER. When the talented and hardworking Catherine Egan sent a runner on horseback, waving a banner with the royal colors of my house*, asking to be tagged in a blog hop, I said yes. After all, I owe her. Her purse was the recipient of a kidney bean that few from my overly-enthusiastic lunch gesticulation at the NESCBWI Conference last spring. Bonds forged of such moments are not easily broken.

*In honesty, she didn’t send a REAL horse and rider, but she did send an email that involved a vivid description of one, such that I felt like I owed the darn horse hay and a rubdown, as well as of course compensating the rider for riding so quickly. Which just goes to show you she is a VERY TALENTED WRITER.

Catherine writes emotionally complex, engrossing fantasy stories where vivid characters must fight for their lives and the lives of those they love. She has just released the third and final volume in one fantasy trilogy, called The Last Days of Tian Di, and is in the process of working on her NEXT fantasy trilogy, for Knopf, which will start to appear in 2016.

I, in contrast, write funny middle grade books about boys, smelly soccer cleats, and cat barf (among other things). I was obviously honored and delighted to be even tangentially, via-kidney-bean-ily, connected to Catherine’s writing. So I groped my way back to my blog, and here I am.

And without further ado, for all who want to know…drumroll please…MY WRITING PROCESS!! BEHOLD THE AWESOME!!!

 ———

What are you working on?

Several things, all simultaneously, and not particularly well. But specifically today, I am working on revisions for the sequel to The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, tentatively titled, A Fletcher Family Summer. The sequel follows the Fletcher family to their summer vacation on beloved Rock Island, an island thirty miles out to sea where everything stays the same. Except this year, all sorts of things are changing, and the boys need to figure out how to deal with the the changes both in themselves and in the place they love.

When I’m not working on that, I’m working on a few other projects, including another middle grade book set on a farm up in Maine, and two different young adult contemporary stories that are banging on the inside of my brain trying to get out.

How does your work differ from others in your genre?

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhahaha! Oh wait, you really want an answer? My mistake. Sorry. ERM… *clears throat*

Well, in many ways, it doesn’t. I mean, it’s a family story about a group of siblings in a loving home who have everyday highs and lows. There is no incredible premise that just breaks free of anything done before.

But on the other hand, what if you asked a baker, “what makes your cake different from everyone else’s cake?” I mean, the ingredients are mostly the same…there are variations of course, but whether you are going vanilla or chocolate or mocha buttercream frosting…hmmm, what was I saying? Oh right! No matter how you flavor it, you will be making something with eggs and butter and flour and so on. Every once in a while someone comes along and does something insane with bacon or molecular gastronomy or squid ink, and that’s really exciting and thought-provoking, but mostly we want our cakes to fall within a fairly predictable pattern.

The same is true with most stories. But with stories, and cakes, the difference is in the nuance and the execution. In my books, I wanted to create something like the books I grew up loving, books like All of a Kind Family and The Melendy Quartet. I wanted to match my genre, but at the same time, by making the Fletchers a more unusual family, I wanted to mix it up.

Mostly I wanted to take the evergreen family stories that I love and update them in a way that allows more kids and parents to find themselves in the pages.

Why do you write what you do?

I am not someone who struggles to come up with ideas. Indeed, I have a whole list of SNIs (Shiny New Ideas) that pop up when I’m writing and beg me to spend some time with them.

So what do I write? I write the stories I have to write. I write the ones that won’t leave me alone. I write the ones I want to read so badly that, since no one better will do it, I have to write them myself.

What does your writing process look like?

Trench warfare. Only cleaner and with better snacks.

Okay, that’s a lame answer. But it is ugly…I am not the most organized person* and juggling life, work projects, writing deadlines, new writing projects, and so on can utterly floor me. But I am a huge fan of outlines and  lists (OH HOW I LOVE TO CROSS THINGS OFF OF LISTS).

When starting a new project, I write an in-depth 20-30 page chapter-by-chapter outline that teases out the internal and external arcs of the characters and the plot. This allows me to be sure that the basic shape of the story works before I’m off and writing, and it means that if I wander off and write myself into a swamp**, I can check the outline and get back on track.

Then, when it’s time to revise, that’s when the lists come in. (LISTS! I LOVE YOU!) It is easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of revision, so I break it down into as many single listed items as possible, then, methodically work through, crossing them off as I go (YAY FOR CROSSING THINGS OFF OF LISTS)! I do this several times, moving uncrossed-off items from the old list to the new, until I think the draft is ready.

I also have extraordinary critique partners who read every draft, every painful revision, every dithering question and crazy tangent, and help keep me on track. Those people deserve serious cake.***

*This is an understatement.

**This is a metaphor. While there are some swampy bits not too far from my house, I don’t wander in while writing. Usually.

***I have no idea what the cake is all about. I think I’m hungry.

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So, now that I’ve gotten all THAT out of the way, I get to tag another writer! And I am choosing my fellow Nancy Gallt Literary Agency middle grade maestro, Isaiah Campbell, whose book The Troubles of Johnny Cannon just came out and is taunting me from my TBR pile.* For those of you who don’t have revisions due, I urge you to go grab this one…and to see what Isaiah might have to say about his writing process on his blog next week!

*Soon, my preshussssssssssss. SOOOOON.

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