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My Next Big Thing (Which May Be Neither Next Nor Big)

I don’t usually do memes. The quiet rebel in me doesn’t like doing the same thing that everyone else is doing, answering the same questions and trying to be witty and original while doing it.

But then two writers who I like very much, Lilian Nattel and Brent Van Staalduinen, both asked whether they could tag me for the Next Big Thing meme. And since I’ve hardly blogged at all since our move to Vancouver, the least I can do is tell you a little about what I’m working on.

I can’t talk about the book I’m ghostwriting, and you’ve heard all about Pilgrimage of Desire (which has been delayed due to the move and the ghostwriting), so instead I will tell you about the middle grade novel I started aeons ago and am hoping to rewrite this year, the muse willing.

What is your working title of your book?
Things I’d Rather Do Than Go to School
Previous “non-working” titles include Elementary, Night School, Jump Before You Fall, and Schooled (which I discovered is the title of a Gordon Korman book).

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I was homeschooled for three years (Grades Six, Seven, and Eight, thank goodness) and back in 2001 I wanted to write about that experience and culture. At that point there weren’t many treatments of homeschooling in fiction, and they were mostly stereotypes and plot devices.

After I finished grad school and wrote a few short stories, I conceived of an epic book following four different homeschooling families, with multiple point-of-view characters (inspired by one of my favorite novels of all time, Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley). I did a bunch of literary and historical research, mapped out some plot lines, and started writing the story of Jerome, a ten-year-old boy who gets bullied at school. Before I got too far into it, I was diagnosed with depression and stopped writing for a while.

I came back to the story in 2004 and wrote a full draft for NaNoWriMo, alternating between Jerome and his mother as narrators. I was still thinking of the book as an adult literary novel, but at some point after I finished it (and started working on other books), I realized that I wanted to re-do it as a children’s book and add a fantasy element to it.

Note: Part of the reason that homeschooling is not a more common topic in fiction must surely be that it’s an inherently boring scenario with little built-in conflict. Books like Schooled by Gordon Korman, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, and Ida B. by Katherine Hannigan are about homeschooled kids going back into the school system, which is more interesting. The best true homeschool book I’ve read is Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen.

In 2009 I started over and wrote a new version of the book as a middle grade fantasy novel. That was the most fun I’ve ever had writing fiction. I did two edits in 2010 and submitted queries to a few agents, but the verdict seemed to be that the book wasn’t good enough yet ~ the writing was strong but I needed better structure. In 2011 I had the book edited by the fabulous Kelley Eskridge, and I look forward to rewriting it again once these other projects are off my plate.

What genre does your book fall under?
Children’s fantasy

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I could see a ten-year-old Henry Thomas playing Jerome (he was Elliot in E.T.). Or a young Nicholas Hoult ~ I loved him in About a Boy.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A homeschooled boy gets bullied in his nightmares.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I plan to look for an agent once the book is revised. I think traditional publishing is still the way to go for most children’s books, for now. This is the genre I’d like to build my writing career in.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Ha! I’m not sure what counts as the first draft. There were two alpha drafts, each written in about a month, and then the first draft of the manuscript’s current incarnation took me about six months. It’s around 40,000 words right now, but needs to be cut by a third or more.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I’ve mentioned other homeschooling books; as for fantasy, I’d probably compare my book to something like When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, i.e. mostly realism with a little fantasy thrown in. No dragons or magic!

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
This book was inspired by and will be dedicated to my brother, Ben.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The girl in this video reminds me so much of how I envision Jerome, who is also into extreme sports.

I’m not going to tag any other authors in this meme, but I will link to some of my current favourite blogs by writers:

Carrie Snyder of Obscure Can Lit Mama
Torre DeRoche of Fearful Adventurer
Oriah Mountain Dreamer of The Green Bough
Nova Ren Suma of Distraction No. 99
Justine Musk ~ Because you’re a creative badass
Glennon Melton of Momastery

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{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Kathleen O'Grady January 16, 2013, 3:53 pm

    I like the ski-run video. I didn’t realize that the camera would go along for the ride!

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