I’m thrilled to have one of my favorite authors on my blog today, the gracious Linda Urban, continuing the conversation we shared through email several weeks ago. I recently read her newest middle grade novel The Center of Everything and fell madly in love with both the story and the main character Ruby Pepperdine.
Ruby is mourning the loss of Gigi, her beloved grandmother who was both warm and wise. Ruby believes she wronged Gigi on the day she died and is desperately trying to find a way to make it right. Readers join Ruby for the annual Bunning Day Parade, where she is destined to read her winning Bunning Day essay to the townsfolk. If she gets it just right, and if her twelfth birthday wish comes true, all will be well. But Ruby is afraid she’ll make a misstep and mess everything up…again—just as she has with her best friend Lucy and new friend Nero DiNero. Ruby is sweet, superstitious, and sensitive—traits that made me love her all the more. Aside from Ruby, I was especially fond of Nero, an inquisitive guy with personality and smarts to spare. If you haven’t, do read this book. You won’t be disappointed.
If you’d like to read the beginning of our conversation, head over to Linda’s blog.
Me: You mentioned a year's worth of reading middle grade novels in preparation for writing one. I remember taking a trip to my local library after I’d officially given up on picture books and leaving with a stack of middle grade novels. The first book I read was Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. By the time I’d reached the end, I was thinking, Yes. I want to do this. I want to write books like this. Was there any particular moment or book that served as a sign or strong inspiration for you to tackle writing A Crooked Kind of Perfect?
Linda: Picture book writer Lisa Wheeler recommended I read Donuthead by Sue Stauffacher as a model. I read Donuthead and I loved it – but it didn’t change the fact that I thought writing a novel was beyond me. What it did do was inspire me to read more middle grade. After all, a lot of great books had been written since I was last caught up in Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Among the books I read were those by Jerry Spinelli, Patricia MacLachlan, Louis Sachar, and Sharon Creech. Each of those writers was a teacher for me; each of their books, a model.
Me: Oh, I love Lisa Wheeler! She gave a picture book boot camp in Nashville, TN before I began writing middle grade. I made the trip from Birmingham to Nashville to attend. It was fantastic. She wore army fatigues and everything. She’s a great teacher and a true master of rhyme.
Linda: I agree. Lisa is great. And she made a great recommendation.
Me: And in regard to each author you named, that is precisely the way I feel. Their books gave me something to aspire to. They still do.
Linda: I know! I mean, look how in Granny Torrelli Makes Soup we know who Rosie is on the very first page – we know she’s angry, we know she’s sort of embarrassed by her anger, we can hear her Italian roots in her cadence, and we know she cares a lot about Bailey. That Bailey. Most important to me at the time was this: That first page, that first few lines? That was the whole chapter! It was like Sharon Creech had given me personal permission to write in short bits – many no longer than a picture book – and let them add up to a novel.
Have you seen this article? In it is this quote: “Beauty breeds beauty, truth triggers truth. The cure for writer’s block is therefore to read.” Do you read when you’re writing? Kids books? Grown-up books? Fiction?
Me: What a lovely quote. I do read when I’m writing. My editor is the perfect editor for me because she actively encourages me to do so. I know many writers choose not to read when writing because they fear unwittingly plagiarizing another author. I don’t. When I stop reading, my creative well dries up. I glean inspiration from reading. And as you said earlier, experienced authors are my teachers and their works are my textbooks. I learn so much about craft from reading.
The books I typically read while writing are children's books and books on craft—the former for inspiration, the latter for when I inevitably get stuck. My favorites are The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children by Nancy Lamb, Second Sight by Cheryl Klein, and because I’m currently obsessed with plot, ThePlot Whisperer by Martha Alderson. I also adore Martha’s YouTube series. It's wonderful if you want to take a stab at pre-plotting.
And that’ll do it for now. Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to visit Linda’s blog where she has posted Part Three of our chat: why we write middle grade, how that has changed us, and our first-drafting states of mind.