Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Interview with Ellie Terry (and a GIVEAWAY!)

Today I am excited to share an interview with Ellie Terry, whose debut novel releases next month! Ellie is the author of FORGET ME NOT, soon to be published by Feiwel and Friends/Macmillan. In case you haven't heard of it yet, here is a blurb from the publisher:
It would be nice 
to stay in one place 
long enough to make a best friend . . .  
Astronomy-loving Calliope June has Tourette syndrome, so she sometimes makes faces or noises that she doesn’t mean to make. When she and her mother move yet again, she tries to hide her TS. But it isn’t long before the kids at her new school realize she’s different. Only Calli’s neighbor Jinsong, who is also the popular student body president, sees her as she truly is—an interesting person and a good friend. But is he brave enough to take their friendship public? As Calli navigates school, she must also face her mother’s new relationship and the fact that they might be moving—again—just as she starts to make friends and finally accept her differences.

Ellie is one of my oldest online writing friends. Long before either of us were published, we followed each other's blogs and critiqued each other's writing and generally cheered each other on. A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to read and critique an earlier draft of what is now her soon-to-be-published novel. It was a beautiful manuscript and I fell completely in love with it, so I was thrilled, but not at all surprised, when she announced that the manuscript had sold! 

Of course, I couldn't resist the opportunity to help her spread the word about her beautiful book. I hope you enjoy this interview and that it inspires you to read the book for yourselves. Be sure to read through to the end for information about the giveaway!

What was your inspiration for FORGET ME NOT? 

It was really several things.
1.) A story from my mother's childhood
2.) Discovering my daughter had Tourette syndrome
3.) Something my neurologist said when he diagnosed ME with Tourette syndrome 

Besides having Tourette Syndrome in common, what other ways are you and your main character, Calliope June, similar? 

Hmmmm. We both hate moving to new towns and starting over... we both love the moon and outer space... and we both love Cheetos. 

What are you hoping readers will take away from this story?

I hope they come away with a better understanding of what Tourette syndrome is.
I hope they have a renewed desire to see others in a positive light.
I hope they recognize and embrace what makes each of them different.

I can honestly say that all three of these were true for me when I read your manuscript way back when!

FORGET ME NOT is written in a combination of verse and prose, and from two different perspectives. Why did you choose to write it that way? 

The first draft was actually a friendship story between Beatriz (the bully) and Calli (the mc). Jinsong was just a random boy next-door. But it wasn't long before he started bothering me to give him a POV as well. I really wanted readers to be able to feel all sides of the story. During Pitch Wars 2014, mentor Joy McCullough gently pointed out to me that Beatriz's story was overpowering Calli's, and I agreed, so I ended up dropping her POV and keeping Jinsong's. 

As for the verse... I didn't purposely set out to write Calli's story in verse, it just came out that way. But I've been writing both rhyming and free verse poetry for a lot of years, so it felt very natural for me. Jinsong's POV was also originally written in verse, but his felt forced, so I changed it to prose. I really like the way it all turned out. 

What was the most challenging part of writing FORGET ME NOT? 

The most challenging part of writing FORGET ME NOT was also the easiest part of writing FORGET ME NOT. You see, the story itself flowed out of me pretty easily, easier than anything I had written, because writing about something so close and painful to my heart (Tourette's) was very therapeutic for me. BUT. Writing about Tourette's every day caused me to think about Tourette's every day, which made my Tourette symptoms worse every day. Even now, if I read a page that talks about Calli's tics... I tic. Some of them I don't mind, but the painful ones, like thrusting my jaw forward or swallowing air and forcing it back up, I could do without. Let's just say I'm glad I'm done revising this novel!

Share a little bit (or a lot) about this story's journey to publication. 

I started drafting it in August 2013. In August 2014 I entered it into a contest called Pitch Wars and was chosen to be mentored by Joy McCullough. As I mentioned before, I cut out an entire POV during that revision. In 2015, I revised the last 1/4 of the novel in an R&R for my agent, Steven Chudney, before he signed me. We were lucky that the novel sold quickly (2.5 weeks) on sub to Liz Szabla at Feiwel & Friends. With the guidance of both of my editors: Liz Szabla and Anna Roberto, the novel became tighter and better focused. Now it is almost ready to enter the world!

What is your favorite verse novel? 

Oh wow. Super hard question. It would be a toss up between LOVE THAT DOG and OUT OF THE DUST. 

Those are two of my favorite verse novels too!

Any other books on the publishing horizon? 

No new contracts yet, but I am currently working on two MG projects--both verse novels--and both boy main characters, so we'll see how that goes!

Good luck with your new projects. I look forward to hearing about your next sale!

FORGET ME NOT's release date is March 14, also known as Pi Day. Will you be celebrating with pie? 

Oh my goodness. YES! There is a lovely little pie shop twenty minutes from my house in a tiny town called Veyo, UT. They have quite possibly the best pies in the world. My kids will be out of school for spring break, so we are going to drive there to get some pie and celebrate the book birthday! And the day after is my daughter's birthday and then a few days later is the launch party. So basically the whole week will be one long celebration!

What perfect timing that your book will release during spring break (and on Pi Day) so that you can celebrate with your kids!

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers? 

Read. Join a critique group. Read. Never give up. Read. Write lots of stories. Read. Take yourself seriously and those around will follow suit. Read. Don't be afraid to try new things. Also... read. 

Great advice, Ellie! Thank you so much for sharing with us today. 

Be sure to order Ellie's book here or at your favorite retailer! 

About Ellie:

Ellie Terry writes heartfelt contemporary fiction for middle-grade readers. Her middle-grade debut, a verse novel titled FORGET ME NOT, will be published March 14, 2017 by Feiwel & Friends, an imprint of Macmillan. She lives in southern Utah with her husband, three kids, two zebra finches, and a Russian desert tortoise.


Would you like a chance to win some fun SWAG? Ellie is giving away a signed bookplate, bookmark, postcard and cute poppy headband to one reader. Click here for rules and to enter.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Five Little Things that Can Hurt Your Productivity as a Writer

Over the past several months I have been very busy as a writer. You might even say productive. I've gotten so much done: creating marketing plans, contacting dozens of schools about possible visits, nailing down a social media strategy, and so much more. But, when it actually came down to writing, my productivity often suffered.

It is for that reason that I chose focus as my word for 2017. I have decided to be more productive as a writer this year! In order to do that, it was important to nail down the things that were hurting my productivity. So I listed them here, hoping that it will help you be more productive this year too!

1. Distractions

My biggest distractions are text messages from my kids. Social media notifications can also draw my attention away from more important things. Other distractions can be things on my desk, books within arm's reach, etc. It's easy to get distracted when you're not in a writing groove. But you won't get into a writing groove if you let those electronic (or hardbound) sirens draw you away!

My advice: Leave electronic devices in another room. Only answer the phone for the most important people (spouse, children's school, etc). Clear your desk. Look away from those tempting tomes! And make sure the people and pets in your life give you the space you need (this may mean walking the dog before you start and writing during nap time--whatever works).

2. Lack of a routine

Sometimes I let household chores or writing business take over my writing time. Are you spending more time folding laundry, posting on social media, or checking your email than you are on writing? You may be be hurting your productivity when some little voice tells you that you have so many more urgent things to do, and you fall for it.

My advice: Carve out blocks of time for specific tasks. Check emails after meals. Schedule social media posts on the weekend. Browse social media (to like, comment, and retweet) during lunch. Fold laundry before bed. Even if you don't have a rigid schedule, blocking out your time will help you avoid letting your writing time get overrun by mismatched socks.

3. Caring too much

There are times when I get caught up in the quality (or lack thereof) in my writing when I should be focused on getting something down on the page. It's easy to obsess over details even when I'm writing a first draft! Are you getting so hung up on perfection in your early drafts that you're not getting your story written?

My advice: Ignore your inner critic. Remind yourself that first drafts are meant to be rough. That one line you're spending way too much time on will probably change anyway! If you're having trouble shutting up your inner critic, try this: set a timer for five minutes, then write non-stop until the timer goes off. You might be surprised at how much you can get written.

4. Not taking breaks

Sometimes I will feel so determined to reach a certain point in my story that I will stubbornly sit and stare at that spot on the page for far too long. Not only do I not get any writing done, but it's like my brain is stuck in the mud! Do you find yourself stubbornly refusing to quit until you figure something out? It's probably a big waste of time.

My advice: Take regular breaks. This goes beyond getting up to stretch now and then. When you reach the end of that passage, get up and go walk the dog. If you find yourself stuck or struggling with revising a chapter, go take a shower or run the vacuum. Get your mind away from the "problem" and loosen it up with a mundane task. Sometimes the best writing is done when you're not trying.

5. Other people's writing

Most often, when I read something that wows me, I'm inspired. But I admit that there are times when I read other people's work and I think to myself, "Who am I kidding? I'll never be this good!" Do you get caught up in the comparison game and let it crush your confidence? That may be the biggest productivity killer of all!

My advice: Be realistic. Your writing is your own. There will always be people, published and unpublished, of varying skill levels. You may never feel like the most brilliant writer ever, but I'm guessing that those you think ARE the most brilliant ever have had plenty of times when they haven't felt that way. So just be content in becoming the best writer that you can be.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Fun with Faces! A WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? Extension Activity

In What About Moose?, facial expressions are big part of the illustrations' part of the story. In the case of Moose himself, as he tromps about giving orders, his facial expressions range from smile to scowl and everything in between.

A reading of What About Moose? is the perfect time to talk about facial expressions and what emotions they convey with children. Here are some ways to explore this idea during story time:

  • Point to an image of Moose (or another character) that shows a clear emotion. Talk with kids about how that character is feeling, and why.
  • Make faces! Ask your kiddos to show various emotions on their faces. Make a game of it by changing your expression and having them guess which emotion you're conveying.
  • Have children tell about a time when they've made a sad or angry face.
  • Draw faces! If you like, use the above image as a guide and have kids draw their own versions of Moose's facial expressions on this printable template.

Do you know other books that feature expressive characters? These ideas will work with those books too!

Look for What About Moose? at your local library or purchase it here