Photo by Brandon Lee
Congratulations to Heather Raglin who won the giveaway drawing for Lisa Kline’s book, SEASON OF CHANGE.
I’d like to welcome our featured guest today,Chris Woodworth, who will talk to us about her writing journey and leave a copy of her most recent book, IVY IN THE SHADOWS, for a giveaway. If you leave a comment you will automatically be entered in the drawing to be announced Monday, Nov. 4.
LP: Thanks for being with us today, Chris, and congratulations on the release of IVY IN THE SHADOWS in February, 2013. I’m always interested to find out what people, places, or events have shaped the course of your writing journey?
CW: I think the writing journey doesn’t happen until you fall in love with books. My mom tells me that my Dad used to read to me. I don’t remember that but I do remember hitting puberty and it seemed as if he didn’t quite know what to do with me. I wasn’t the same kid he had taken fishing and mushrooming. One day he held this book in his hands and told me that it was one he had just finished and thought I’d like. He read all the time and I felt special when he asked me to join him in reading adult books. We passed books back and forth for years.
My mom didn’t let me stray far from the house but she did let me ride my bike to the library by myself. I loved those trips along with the smell of the place and feeling grown up with this new freedom.
My first book, WHEN RATBOY LIVED NEXT DOOR was dedicated to my parents for these two reasons. Unfortunately my dad passed away right before its release but he was a huge help to me as I wrote it and was so proud and excited. One of my last gifts to him was the dedication.
LP: IVY IN THE SHADOWS deals with eavesdropping and honesty, two very relevant middle grade issues. Share with us how your idea for this book came about and how it evolved through the writing process.
CW: My mom and aunt, while sisters, were also best friends so they spent many days together. I had one brother and two boy cousins. When I got bored with guy activities, I’d wander into the house. Mom and my aunt knew I was there but they were so caught up in their stories they didn’t pay much attention to me. They said little things in front of me that seemed so juicy at the time. In reality, they weren’t anything special. But I quickly picked up on how different they were with each other as girlfriends than as a mother and aunt. That’s what launched the idea of Ivy and how, if you’re eavesdropping, you can’t really ask questions so your perception can really be off.
In our hometown, we had a family whose daughters traveled to Haiti to do mission work. They sent their journals back home and the local papers published them. They are such a nice family and when I approached them about including some of their stories in my book, they were very gracious. I wanted to write about a boy who told outrageous tales of this foreign place and what a bad example Ivy thought he was for her little brother and how upset she was that it didn’t seem to concern her mother at all. The Haiti mission stories fit perfectly.
LP: Tell us a little about the process of getting an agent and the pros and cons of having an agent at all.
CW: I started out writing picture books and, although I came close a couple of times, never sold one. In those days I didn’t have an agent and I was the type of person who couldn’t send something out and forget about it. I also spent a lot of time studying the market and who was publishing what type of books. It can be time consuming and I know nothing about contracts. I really felt I was the type who would benefit from having an agent to take care of those things.
When I finished my first novel, I acquired an agent and he sold it right away. So, while I’ve been represented by a couple of agents, I haven’t been without one for any length of time. For that reason, I think I’ve been out of the loop long enough that I’m not sure what the process is these days.
I know it’s important to be on the same page with an agent on what you feel your relationship should be. I heard a talk once where a writer compared it to online dating. He said that even though you ask the right questions, you often don’t know if you’re a good fit until you’re in the relationship. All you can really do is figure out what it is you want from the author/agent relationship and do your homework. Ask for references and be selective.
LP: The writing life is sometimes a wild ride. What highs and lows stand out in your memory?
CW: Selling a book never gets old and holding the finished product in your hand almost feels magical. That may sound a little over the top but, really, it’s such hard work and so much goes into it. How could it not be thrilling? Hometown book signings are a blast. People you love show up and share the excitement of a book launch. I have amazing family and friends in Indiana and sharing that moment with them is certainly a highlight.
As for lows, those are easy enough to list. Rejections, no matter how nicely put, are always difficult. We’ve all had disappointing book signings. You never know how they will turn out. No matter how much publicity a bookstore puts into them, some people are very uncomfortable coming up to your table and looking at your book.
LP: Can you name one or two of the most significant or helpful events or moments that have profoundly affected your writing?
CW: At my first SCBWI conference, I paid to have a critique. I’d never been to a conference, never taken a writing class, nor did I have any writer colleagues. I assumed that I’d be handed a packet with a few notes at the end of the day. When I found out I would sit down with an editor, I seriously thought I’d be sick. I had never met an editor but knew how tough the business was to break into. I couldn’t imagine this would go well, however, she was lovely. She really encouraged me and asked me to send her any future projects. I wrote and sent some really bad stuff but she always read and always commented. I never wrote anything she could use but I know that her feedback is what kept me going.
I’ve also been blessed to stay with the same publisher (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux) for all my books and have had two incredible, yet different, editors in Beverly Reingold and now the talented Joy Peskin. Both of these women are great at nurturing a writer and I can’t stress enough what a difference that makes.
Last, but by no means least, forming a critique group that has lasted since 1999 is one of the best moves I ever made. I would be lost without my writing partners. We are an online group and stay in touch by having weekly one-hour chats. I think those chats are what has made us successful because we aren’t just editing text. These stories are real to us, as well as the author, because we know the stories behind them.
LP: What are you working on now and what is the tentative time-frame?
CW: Last year I started a YA and abandoned it fifty pages later. Sometimes I think fifty pages are all it takes before you realize this isn’t a story you want to pursue. Now I have an idea that’s really in the embryonic stage and I’m a little too superstitious when it comes to my work to talk about it just yet. Hopefully I’ll be able to tell you more about it soon.
LP: Any advice for new/young writers?
CW: It’s the same advice we hear all the time but it’s still good. Never stop reading. Buy your own copy of Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market so you can read it, mark it up, and let it become your bible. Join SCBWI. Attend conferences. Most importantly, put way more thought and time into writing a really good story than into trying to get published.
LP: Thanks for being willing to share your wisdom, Chris. Readers, don’t miss this opportunity to leave a comment and get in on the giveaway for Chris’s most recent book, IVY IN THE SHADOWS.