2020 will go down in the history books as a year full of the word “unprecedented”, won’t it? Well, in the year of an unprecedented global pandemic, I experienced unprecedented success in my journey as a writer. No, I didn’t get an agent or sign a book contract. What I did do is make a decision to take my writing seriously, complete two manuscripts, and get connected with other writers.
Right about the time I decided I’d maybe queried my contemporary manuscript to death I was reminded of Pitch Wars, and I figured, “What the heck, it can’t hurt to submit. Maybe a mentor will choose me and I’ll be able to fix whatever it is that’s stopping me from getting requests.” Spoiler alert: I wasn’t chosen. I didn’t even get a full request from any mentors. What I did get, however, was an amazing community of fellow writers. It started as a support group of middle grade writers to cheer each other on during Pitch Wars. Some people had gotten requests. Some hadn’t. Two ended up getting mentee spots. Since Pitch Wars the group has evolved into a more general writing group. We share resources, read each other’s work, share book recommendations, cheer each others’ successes (so far, three members have gotten agents since Pitch Wars ended and one has gotten an SCBWI mentorship!) and commiserate when we get rejections. The group features members from around the globe, and we’re able to be open and honest with each other and bounce ideas and questions off each other on topics that can be hard to address in the general writing world. We call ourselves the #MGwaves.
We’re doing a blog hop to get to know each other better. I’ll start with myself.
I’m Beth. I grew up in west Michigan, but have spent most of my adult life in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but only started taking my writing seriously about a year ago. I’ve since finished two middle grade novels - a contemporary and a contemporary fantasy. The second one is my true love and the one I’m querying now. I’m also honing in on ideas to take the setting and characters from my contemporary and drop them into a contemporary fantasy story. It turns out I'm better at writing contemporary fantasy than straight contemporary. Just for fun, here's an aesthetic for that hypothetical story.
I always aim to include characters who share the challenges I know intimately - type 1 diabetes (as the parent of a T1D), ADHD (as both an ADHDer and the parent of one), and dyslexia (and the wife and mother of dyslexics). The book I’m querying is THE MOUSECRACKER. It features a boy dancer with type 1 diabetes, two stuck up talking mice, and a version of the beloved Nutcracker story in which the hero is the villain. Here’s the pitch:
Prepare to rethink the Nutcracker. Twelve year old dance William is about to be schooled by a mouse, and traveling to the Kingdom of Sweets as a diabetic is just the beginning - throw in an evil prince, a kidnapped girl, and a possible war.
Here's an aesthetic for THE MOUSECRACKER.
Favorite Advice or Resource:
I’m a plantser, or, as I saw recently on Twitter, a discovery writer. Unlike a plotter, I don’t know exactly where a story is going to go when I start it, but, unlike a true pantser (someone who flies by the seat of their pants), I have a general framework for what will happen when I start. However, I always discover something new along the way. When I started THE MOUSECRACKER I thought William would only travel to the Kingdom of Sweets with one mouse. Then another mouse pushed her way into the story. I don’t really like following other peoples’ advice about how to write and structure a story, but I’ve found two resources that I don’t hate : Story Genius by Lisa Cron and Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody. These books can help me build a general framework and let me check the pace of my story without making me feel stifled.
When you’re ready to query your book, I recommend checking out the Query Shark Blog. This is a great resource for learning what does and what does not work in a query letter. If you want even more guidance, I also recommend Kathy Ver Eecke. She offers several different paid classes to help you find the perfect agent and write the perfect query, as well as an occasional free seminar on query writing as a tease to convince you to buy her other services (which I’ve never done, but which writers I know recommend).
Favorite MG Books:
This is super hard to narrow down, because I've been reading MG since the 1980's and I love so many books devotedly. I'll start with my favorite series that I discovered this year: The Love, Sugar, Magic series by Anna Meriano. Pictured below is the second of the (so far) three books in the series.
The series introduces Leonora (Leo) Logrono, a Mexican American girl from a small town in Texas who learns that the women in her family don't just run a bakery - they are, in fact, brujas concineras - witches of the kitchen would be a good way to say this in English. I love fun stories about witches (spooky stories not so much), Mexican culture (the two degrees I have and don't use are in Spanish), and baked goods (I mean, who doesn't), so this series is a perfect meld of all the things I love. I shared it with my nine year old, who attend a Spanish immersion school and shares my love for the Spanish speaking world, and I think she loved it even more than I did.
My second great discovery this year, actually over the last few years, is the books in the Rick Riordan Presents imprint. I never really thought about it as a kid, but, growing up, nearly all the characters in the books I read and loved looked like me. I mean, sometimes they were boys, and I was super jealous of Anne Shirley's red hair, but they were pretty much all white and most often middle class like me. I fell in love with Rick Riordan's takes on popular mythology and appreciated his introduction of diverse character as the books progressed, but I wanted to learn about stories from even more parts of the world - not just the ones that influence Western culture. My wish was granted when the Rick Riordan Presents imprint was started. I have loved every single book I've read from this imprint. I've introduced them to my daughter and she loves them too. I love that she's growing up reading books with characters who look not only like her, but like all sorts of kids from all sorts of cultures and places. A small selection of these books are pictured below. I'm particularly drawn to those featuring the many cultures of the Spanish speaking world, but they're all great. If you or your kids love magic and adventure you can't go wrong with any book from this imprint.
I could go on, but I'll spare you the many more pages. Sometime soon I'll post about my favorite books from my childhood.
Check out the other MGwaves’ posts to learn about them, what they write, and the awesome resources and books they recommend.