Today I am thrilled to feature a fellow writer and long-time friend, Miriam Franklin, whose debut book (Extraordinary/Sky Pony Press) will enter the world on May 5th! Leave a comment to enter the drawing to win the last ARC of this truly extraordinary book, and if you become a follower of my blog I’ll enter you twice! Winner announced Saturday, May 9th!
Last spring, Pansy chickened out on going to spring break camp, even though she’d promised her best friend, Anna, she’d go. It was just like when they went to get their hair cut for Locks of Love; only one of them walked out with a new hairstyle, and it wasn’t Pansy. But Pansy never got the chance to make it up to Anna. While at camp, Anna contracted meningitis and a dangerously high fever, and she hasn’t been the same since. Now all Pansy wants is her best friend back—not the silent girl in the wheelchair who has to go to a special school and who can’t do all the things Pansy used to chicken out of doing. So when Pansy discovers that Anna is getting a surgery that might cure her, Pansy realizes this is her chance—she’ll become the friend she always should have been. She’ll become the best friend Anna’s ever had—even if it means taking risks, trying new things (like those scary roller skates), and running herself ragged in the process.
Pansy’s chasing extraordinary, hoping she reaches it in time for her friend’s triumphant return. But what lies at the end of Pansy’s journey might not be exactly what she had expected—or wanted.
Linda: I’m delighted to have you here today, Miriam, and I know you are excited to see your dream becoming a reality very soon. Tell us a little about the process and what inspired you to write this book.
Miriam: As a teacher, I’ve worked with children who persevere despite challenges, treat others with kindness, and are full of spirit and heart. Although they may not be the top students or the most talented in the typical ways that get noticed, they have extraordinary gifts that others may not recognize. I began writing about Pansy Smith, a girl who considered herself “hopelessly average” but woke up one day and decided it was time to become an extraordinary person. Although I was told the story was humorous and fun to read, I realized that Pansy didn’t have a strong enough motivation for change. Anna was a minor character, and after putting the book aside for a while, the solution came to me while I was working on another manuscript: Pansy’s and Anna’s stories needed to be linked. Although I had avoided focusing on Anna’s story because I didn’t want the story to be sad and depressing, I knew the answer came through the connection of the two characters.
Anna’s story came to me because a niece suffered a brain injury when she was two. A sudden high fever led to a stroke and a brain injury, which changed her life and her family’s life forever. I’ve always been amazed and inspired by the way her family accepted the challenges and focused on the joy that Anna brought to everyone. Even though their hopes and dreams for her had changed, they adjusted and learned that living with a child with severe special needs can be a gift that makes you view the world in a different way.
Linda: Did you set out to be a writer at a young age, or did it develop along the way? How did you juggle teaching and writing?
Miriam: I wrote my first book at age 5, a book about sisters who decide they’re ducks when they go out in the rain. The book ends with a triumphant “Quack, quack!” My dad, a chemical engineer who wrote plays in his spare time, called me an author and made copies of “my masterpiece” to show everyone. I continued to write through elementary school where I was encouraged by amazing teachers. I didn’t write again until I took a creative writing class my senior year of college, which led to my first unpublished young adult novel, and the university’s Creative Writing Award. I wrote a few more unsuccessful YAs before turning to middle grade, and probably completed 6 or 7 novels before signing a contract for Extraordinary.
I taught full time for 11 years which was all-consuming for me, and the only writing I accomplished was during summer vacations. After my first daughter was born, I went back to work part-time, which led to more writing time.
Linda: You’ve been a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) for many years, and they are an esteemed organization. Are there conferences, critique groups, or connections that you’ve made that have been particularly memorable and/or helpful?
Miriam: During my first SCBWI conference, I was lucky enough to be matched with Stephanie Greene for a critique. She was very encouraging, and offered to critique the rest of my manuscript. It meant a lot to me that she’d take the time to help a new writer, and I’ll always be grateful to her for that.
Because I’m an introvert, it’s easier for me to connect through e-mails than in person. I was in a supportive online critique group for a number of years, and though we no longer meet on a weekly basis, I still have a circle of critique partners that I count on for support and feedback.
Because writing is a such a solitary activity, it’s important to connect with others online and in person. Other writers are the only ones who truly know what it’s like to work so hard on a manuscript and receive a form rejection. They’re also the people who will truly understand what it means when an agent offer or publishing contract comes through, and they will want to celebrate with you. I don’t know what I’d do without my writer friends, including you, Linda!
Linda: You have an agent. Getting one is not an easy task. Did you find that to be the case and if so, can you elaborate on the process?
Miriam: Once I sent my revised manuscript out, I was able to find an agent pretty quickly. This was the only “quick” part about the entire process! I’d been sending out queries for various manuscripts and stockpiling rejections since the SASE days, but this time I received a request for the manuscript before I e-mailed a single agent. I had posted my query letter on the Verla Kay “blue boards” (now the SCBWI boards), and a newer agent contacted me saying she was interested. A week later she asked for an exclusive revision, which resulted in changing about one-third of the book. But I knew her idea would transform the story, and a day after I sent in my revision, we set up time for The Call!
Linda: And of course, the usual follow-up question is how long did it take your agent to find your publisher? Did you occupy yourself working on something else during the wait?
Miriam: Like I said, nothing else about the process was quick. The manuscript went through many more revisions, including editor R&Rs, and went to acquisitions with three different houses before I signed with Skypony Press. I know everyone advises working on a new manuscript while on submission, but there were days and weeks where I couldn’t write a single word! Being on submission can be a really stressful time.
Linda: What are you working on now?
Miriam: I have a couple of middle grade projects in various stages of revision. Hopefully I’ll have something ready to submit soon.
Linda: What nugget of wisdom would you like to pass along to beginning writers?
Miriam: Keep reading and writing and learning. Listen to good professional feedback that truly helps you improve your craft. If I’d quit after the first rejections (or the first hundred) I wouldn’t have a shiny new book on the shelf, ready to share with the world.
Linda: Thanks for sharing your thoughts today, Miriam, and I wish you and Extraordinary every success!