Middle Grade Author on What Inspired Her Book
Please welcome Danette Haworth, author of Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightening, The Summer of Moonlight Secrets, and soon to be released Me & Jack. I fell in love with Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightening when I read it last year. The book really stuck with me and when I posted a list of Boy Characters You’d Let Your Daughter Date, I frankly could not forget Eddie from Violet Raines. Danette was kind enough to leave a comment and that lead to an email exchange and then this interview.
I confess that I was slow to come up with questions because a different author at KidLitCon 2010 had complained about when an interviewer did not do her research and asks questions that were clearly stated at the author’s website! I didn’t want to be one of those people!
This is only my second author interview (author Karen Day was my first but the mother of my daughter’s soccer teammate). It’s always fascinating to me how authors birth their books because I know that I could never-in-a-million-years do that. If you have questions for Danette, please leave a comment and maybe she’ll stop by to answer them.
p.s. Here are some related posts. Top 10: Best Summer Coming of Age Books for Girls (I built this list around Violet Raines, I loved the book so much). Top 100: Boys in Children’s Lit That You’d Let Your Daughter Date (first 10) (Eddie is #2)
Was there a particular person who inspired the character for Violet Raines in your real life? What about for Eddie?
The amazing thing about Violet is that she came to me as a whole character, complete with her name, her friends, her southern accent, and the woods behind her. I’d been brainstorming ideas for a couple of weeks–I had no notes, no character sketches, nothing, and then Violet walked in and delivered the first paragraph of the book. I was taken by her. She had this voice, you know, and such a distinct personality that whenever something happened, I knew just how she’d react. It was like she was writing herself. A lot of her dialogue took me by surprise, and I’d have to sit back and laugh at some of the things she said and did.
I once knew a boy named Scott who was the fastest runner in fourth, fifth, and sixth grade. He had a graciousness that made him popular with everyone. I had a secret crush on him and found out years later my best friend had had a crush on him, too. He had dark hair and twinkly blue eyes, and, yes, he was my inspiration for Eddie!
Violet’s friendship conflicts really resonated with me as being both realistic and very typical for middle school girls. Did you ever have these types of coming of age friendship issues as a child yourself?
Oh, my gosh, yes! And the friendship issues were heightened because my dad was an Air Force recruiter and we moved to a new state every couple of years. I was always the new kid trying to break in. Look, there I am, watching the other kids, studying the new society I’d been dropped into. Who are the top dogs, what are the rules here–the ones no one talks about but everyone knows? By the time I learned them all, I’d be back in the station wagon, moving again.
I dreaded the move between sixth grade to seventh. We’d been living in a small Pennsylvania mountain town where fifth and sixth grade were housed together in one school. As a sixth grader, I knew we were still considered kids. But I’d heard about junior high–showers after gym class and boys and girls kissing! I wanted no part of it! Count me out! I didn’t like the changes I was already dealing with and the ones I was anticipating. Then I found out we were moving again!
Trying to break into friendships that started in diapers and are now in braces is hard. For the people who already live there, accepting a new link can throw off the balance of the entire circle, changing the dynamics. On top of that are the transitions between elementary to middle school, and again from middle to high school; friendships migrate and reconnect in different ways. The groups are always evolving, changing, depending upon boy/girl factors, coolness quotient, and other unwritten standards. It’s a hard world to navigate!
How long did it take you to write Violet Raines? How many times did you rewrite this book? From start to finish, how long did it take to get published?
I completed the first draft for Violet Raines in about four months, putting it down for a couple of weeks during the Christmas break. This first draft was narrated in alternating viewpoints by Violet and Lottie. As much as I loved Lottie, when I picked up the manuscript again, I found I wanted to see more of Violet–that the whole story belonged to her. So I took out every other chapter and rebuilt the book. I’m not sure how long this part took; by this time I was rewriting and revising at the same time.
In the spring, I heard the SCBWI conference was coming to Orlando and that ten page critiques were available for a fee. I wanted that feedback. Though I didn’t consider the whole manuscript ready, I felt that whatever my critiquer pointed out in the first ten pages would probably be global.
Violet’s first ten pages were buffed, polished, tightened, reviewed by other writers, and then inserted into a large envelope by tremulous hands. I wanted professional feedback and got more than I could have hoped for–Stacy Cantor from Walker was assigned to my pages, and when she said, “This is excellent,” I knew this was going to be different from any experience I’d ever had. As Stacy made comments and talked to me about the character, the title, and the plot, I was amazed at how much she knew about the book from the first ten pages.
That conference took place in June. After a few revisions, Walker acquired the book in October. The following year, Stacy acquired The Summer of Moonlight Secrets (2010) and Me and Jack (2011).
Before meeting Stacy, I thought it didn’t matter who your editor was, just that if they saw merit in your writing, that would be good enough. Now I know differently. The editor has to be passionate about the story, as passionate as if she’d written it herself. When Stacy marked up my hard copy or commented by email, her thoughts would hit me as if they were my own. I knew exactly what she meant and I felt she knew what I meant, too. She sometimes shocks me with her insight and I have no idea how she does it.
Would you write a sequel to Violet Raines? What is your philosophy about creating a series?
I get a lot of emails asking me what happens to Violet in middle school. I know some things that have happened to Violet since the end of the book, but I’m not sure if I’ll write a sequel. Leaving her on the cusp is very satisfying to me. I like thinking of Violet and Eddie in the woods with all that charged-up possibility between them.
Regarding a series, I admire authors who can sustain their characters and come up with fresh stories over a course of books. That’s a real challenge, I think, because each book must have its own story arc and character growth, and the characters must also evolve over the course of the bigger picture of the series in ways that seem natural while still contributing to the individual volumes.
Do your kids give you input on your books as you write them?
I write better when I hold the story close to myself. Ideally, I finish the rough draft and a couple of revisions before anyone sees it. My children don’t see my books till the manuscript is complete, sometimes not reading them until I receive the ARCs.
At what age did you start writing daily?
I started writing every day in 2007. I set up a schedule and deadlines for myself and I stuck to them, even though I had no one but myself to answer to.
What did you do professionally, if anything, before you became a writer?
Throughout my school and college career, I took every kind of writing class I could. I graduated with degree in English, focusing on technical writing, and worked then as a technical writer and later as a travel writer.
During my free time, I wrote short stories, articles, and even sold story leads–I thought I might eventually be a journalist. After I got married and we started a family, I worked from home, writing and occasionally selling short stories and articles.
One day I realized it was time to pursue my true dream–I wanted to write novels. I’d never studied creative writing–nor had I written anything of such length–so I began a kind of self-education crash course, reading books on writing books.
How long did it take for your first book to get published?
Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning was acquired four months after my editor read the first ten pages.
Are you a plotter or a plunger in terms of writing books?
Outlines provide structure and a daily plan for writing. That said, I’ve constructed outlines that detailed each chapter; all I had to do then was add flesh to the skeleton. Sometimes my outlines contain only the high points; with this kind of outline, I know where I have to go; I just don’t have a street level map.
Do you think authors are born or made or both?
I think good writing, like any talent, is a gift that can only be made better with education.
What is the best writing advice that you’ve ever received?
The best advice I ever received was from one of my professors at college for whom I’d written a human interest piece. He took me aside one day and said, “I think you should submit this.”
What writing advice would you give to someone who wants to be an author?
Get qualified feedback on your writing. Attend conferences, speak up, submit pages for critique, pay an established author/editor for feedback, and improve your craft. Learn about what you’re doing. Expose your work. Write. Revise. Submit. Do not be crushed by rejection.
Can you spill the beans about Me and Jack, your new book coming out in June 2011? What inspired this book?
I’m very excited about Me & Jack!
Here’s the Tweet: ME & JACK: New kid has problems: he’s an outsider; no one likes his dog; and his dad’s a recruiter for Vietnam. Done talking—time to fight.
Pennsylvania was my favorite place to live as a kid. We lived on the side of a mountain and we kids would be exploring for hours–our parents didn’t know where we were and they didn’t worry, either. We climbed trees, built forts, played in the creek; sometimes we rode our bikes to the drugstore and sat outside eating candy. Such independence!
A few years ago, I caught a short article in the newspaper about a lady who lost her dog; this whole idea about a boy, his dog, and the mountain shot through my head. I set the story in Pennsylvania, banged out the synopsis, and started writing.
I love this story and I hope my readers do, too. The first chapter is available on my website!
What are you working on now?
I’m working on two super secret proposals! One is for middle-grade; the other is for YA.
Do you do Skype Author visits? If so, would you do them for children’s book clubs (i.e. for my kids’ book clubs)?
Yes! I’m happy to visit books clubs, classrooms, and libraries via Skype. Twenty minute Q&A sessions are free! (See my website for more information.)
Thanks so much!
I’m glad you enjoyed Violet Raines so much! Thank you for having me.