Friday, June 15, 2012

Forever Waiting Writers Series: Interview with Laura Golden

Today Laura Golden, the author of EVERY DAY AFTER which debuts the spring of 2013 by Delacorte Press/Random House books, is spending time with us on the Forever Waiting Writers Series

From the flap copy of EVERY DAY AFTER:
Trouble has rained down on Lizzie Hawkins. Her daddy has deserted the family, her mama is silent with sadness, and the bank is after their house.

Daddy always said Lizzie was born to succeed, but right now she can’t even hold on to her top grades or her best friend, Ben. Bratty newcomer Erin Sawyer has weaseled both away from Lizzie, yet Erin won’t be satisfied until Lizzie is out of her hair for good, packed off straight to the nearest orphanage.

But Lizzie refuses to lose what’s left of her family. With the bank deadline fast approaching, Erin causing strife at every turn, and Mama and Ben slipping away from her, Lizzie finds comfort writing in her journal and looking at Daddy’s face in the heirloom locket he left her. She’s keeping her head high and holding onto hope that Daddy returns on her twelfth birthday. Still, she can’t help wondering: Why did Daddy have to leave? And can I save us if he doesn’t come home?

Times may be tough in Bittersweet, Alabama, but the unsinkable Lizzie Hawkins will inspire readers with her resilience and determination.

I met Laura at the SCBWI Springmingle this past February. We started talking in between presentations and hit it off right away. Laura is incredibly sweet and encouraging towards other writers. I'm so excited she's willing to share her inspiring publishing journey with us.

Laura, you have such a unique publishing journey in that you submitted directly to an editor you met at a conference. Would you mind telling us a little more about that?

I’d be happy to! I began work on Every Day After (then By the Light of the Moon) late in 2009. It was fall of 2010 before I had a viable manuscript that I slowly began submitting to agents and a few editors.

By last spring, I’d accrued around thirty rejections. Sixty percent were form rejections, but the other forty percent were personal rejections containing lovely, encouraging comments with the dreaded “but” at the end. “Too quiet” was the typical criticism.

As a writer, I’d heard the oft-repeated advice about not giving up on a manuscript until you’d submitted it at least one-hundred times. Alas, I did not follow this advice. I shelved it, believing that the current publishing market was not in favor of my “too quiet” story, and I began work on a second story—darker and louder—that  straddled the fence between middle grade and YA. This new story blended past events with a near-future setting, so I threw myself into outlining and historical research. Still, the shelved manuscript kept nagging at me. Deep down I knew I’d given up too soon, but I was determined to wait for just the right time before submitting it again.

Several months later, the Midsouth region of the SCBWI announced the attending faculty for their 2011 Fall Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. My pulse quickened as I read the list of names: Linda Sue Park (Newbery-winning author!), Ruta Sepetys (author of the best-selling and beautiful Between Shades of Gray), Erin Murphy (beloved agent who only takes queries through referrals or conferences), Michelle Poploff (super-star editor of books such as Moon Over Manifest and Hattie Big Sky), and more. It was the conference line-up sent straight from heaven. I signed-up as soon as registration opened, but I decided against the one-on-one critiques and extra workshops. My new story was nowhere near ready, and I knew By the Light had been edited, revised, and critiqued to death. I wasn’t going to put the manuscript—or myself—through that. I wanted to go solely to learn.

Come September, I made the journey from Birmingham to Nashville, and poured over the schedule of sessions in my hotel room. During the conference, I listened intently, straining for any hint that one of the attending editors or agents might be interested in acquiring a manuscript like mine.

The first half of the day yielded just one possibility—Erin Murphy. She liked quiet books. She seemingly preferred them. She was placed on my submissions list. I went through the rest of the day with no further additions. I either felt they weren’t the right fit, or they were way out of my literary league (Michelle Poploff, anyone?).

Back at home, I resurrected the story that had been laid to rest and gave it one last scrub through. I had an inkling that the opening chapter wasn’t as strong as it could be, but filled with post-conference enthusiasm, I sent a query to the lone name on my list—Erin Murphy. I knew she was the one. I could feel it. I was elated when she requested the opening chapters of By the Light of the Moon, and…

I was totally devastated when she turned it down. Soon, the devastation warped into anger (not at Erin, but me) and determination. I reworked the opening, shifting chapter one to chapter four. I wrote a stronger opening paragraph, one I thought raised appropriate questions and hinted at the core issues and themes of the story. It was now two months post-conference, and my husband encouraged me to not sell myself short. At his prodding, I printed off the first three chapters and assembled a submissions package for Michelle Poploff. He knew I’d loved her session at the conference and the books she’d edited. She’s super-smart, and has a list of authors to die for. At least I’d know I tried, right? I said a quick prayer, dropped the manila envelope into the mail, then tried to forget about it.

On the Monday after Thanksgiving, at 8:30 in the morning, my cell phone rang. It was a 212 area code, but I assumed it was a random sales call and let the voicemail get it. I was day-dreaming about how nice it would be to get a call from a real, live editor when my voicemail alerted me to a new message. I was in the car with my husband at the time, and put the message on speaker. The female caller said, “Hello, this is Michelle Poploff calling from Random House Children’s Books. This message is for Laura Golden.” I grabbed my husband’s arm. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. She liked the opening chapters. She wanted to see the full manuscript. She’d tried to email me several days before, but I’d never received it. I’m so glad I didn’t. Receiving that voicemail was…I can’t even describe it.

“I knew it. I knew it,” my husband kept saying.

I tried to calm him down. “She hasn’t read the whole thing yet.”

But I guess he did know. Two weeks after I sent off the full, Michelle emailed me requesting a phone call. It was set for December 13th. I was a complete wreck, afraid I’d come off as a total idiot, and that she’d consequently change her mind about my manuscript. My fears were unnecessary. She was extremely gracious and warm, and I relaxed just a few minutes into the call. She wanted to see a round of revisions, and was sending a marked up copy of my manuscript back to me. I could look through it, think it all over, chew on it for a while, and decide if I wanted to tackle the revisions. Of course, I did!

I spent the next month going back and forth with Michelle, coming up with a defined plan for revision. I sent her a detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline on January 17, and by 2:00pm the next day, my phone was ringing. It was Michelle calling to make an offer on By the Light of the Moon—before I’d even completed the revisions. I was surprised, thrilled, euphoric, and any other term of supreme happiness you can think of. The story I’d shelved months back had finally made its way to the desk of the exact right person at the exact right time.

Since the offer, the manuscript been re-titled, it has grown from 34,000 words to over 50,000, and is currently going through copyedits. Not too far from now, on a lovely spring day in 2013, I’ll finally get to hold my very own book in my hands, and I’ll have to re-thank my husband for forcing me to muster up the courage to submit to the unattainable editor who ended up being the one.  


Prior to this conference that catapulted you into Authordom (yes, that's a word), what had your pre-published journey been like?


Like every other aspiring author’s—fraught with highs and lows. I’d always been a reader, and had tinkered around with writing on-and-off throughout my childhood, but I never dreamed I’d become a writer. Frankly, I began consistently writing only about six years ago because I felt I had no other talent. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. My eight-year-old paints better than I do. I’m not especially good at arts-and-crafts. I tried them all, but failed to stick with any of them.  

One day in 2006, I saw a print ad for the Institute of Children’s Literature. I registered, and I haven’t looked back. Like many other writers, I have days I feel like quitting or times I severely doubt my ability to put together a coherent sentence, but I’m always pulled back to writing.   

Prior to the acceptance of Every Day After, I’d only achieved publication once—a historical fiction piece about the rise of the Nazi party. It was published in the May/June 2008 issue of Learning Through History, a small educational magazine that had a circulation of about 10,000. It folded shortly thereafter.

But I did what we all, at one point or another, choose to do: keep pressing forward. And the rest, as they say, is history.


What advice can you give to those of us still trying to achieve our writing dreams?

Marry a husband like mine! Just kidding.

In all seriousness, if you haven’t already, I whole-heartedly recommend joining the SCBWI. It’s a great organization that grants us aspiring authors the opportunity to learn first-hand from the heaviest of heavy-weight editors, agents, and fellow authors. The resources they provide more than out-weigh the membership fee.
           
Next, get thee over to Verla Kay’s blue boards. It’s a supportive and caring community of children’s book writers (many published), agents, and even a few editors. Have a question? Ask and the answer shall be given to you. Need to vent anonymously? Go ahead, and more than a few members will rush to sympathize with you (or give you a good kick in the pants, if you need). Every one of us on the blue boards is eternally indebted to Verla Kay for maintaining such an awesome gathering place for the kidlit community.  
           
Next, we’ve all heard it, and we don’t want to hear it again, but it’s so important. Read. Lots. When I slack off on my reading, I can definitely see the quality of my writing decline. Reading published books is like a constant refresher course in what makes writing publishable. And don’t restrict your reading to the award-winners and critically-acclaimed. Read widely. If you can identify the different strengths and weaknesses of published books, you’ll soon begin spotting the strengths and weaknesses in your own work. 
 
Finally, and most importantly, write what you love, and never give up. Don’t do as I did. Don’t give up too soon and force yourself to try and keep pace with an ever-changing marketplace. If you write what you love, it will show in your story, and soon enough, someone else (the right someone else) will love your story, too. 

If you could have any super human ability, what would it be?

Oh, my. This is the hardest question ever. *Furrows brows, bites lip, and ponders this question for way too long* (No, I absolutely did NOT spend days on this question! Why would you think that?)

OK, I’d have to say the ability to become invisible. I am the world’s biggest dork. Seriously. I am the one who falls in front of fifty people. I am the one smiling ear-to-ear without realizing I have broccoli stuck in my front teeth. I am the one whose mind blanks when conversing with important people. So, it’d be nice to literally fade into the background any time I royally embarrass myself—which is often.

By the way, I wanted to come up with an ├╝ber-cool ability here, but my mind blanked. Again.

Yes, I can think of a couple instances where invisibility would have come in quite handy. Thank you for sharing your publishing journey with us Laura! 

If you'd like to spend more time with Laura or get further information about EVERY DAY AFTER check out her very cozy website.

2 comments:

  1. Such an inspiring story. Congrats!!!

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  2. Thanks you so much for having me, Anita! I truly appreciate it.

    And congrats to you, Liz, on your upcoming book. It sounds awesome!

    ReplyDelete