Some days I pinch myself. Am I really about to be a published author? Did Stacy McAnulty really take me under her wing? When do I wake up? From helping me with my writing and holding my hand through my auction to dealing with publicity departments and how to prepare for a Kirkus smackdown, Stacy’s tutelage has been invaluable in countless ways. This is where it all began folks—with this amazing, generous author. Without Stacy, there wouldn’t be a Writing with the Stars. Her career is on fire and she deserves every bit of it! So, raise a glass to Stacy!
When you offered a free mentorship a few years ago, did you ever imagine your good deed would lead to this?
NO! I wanted to do something to help new writers, but I didn’t have the time or skills to start a big program. I basically wanted a pyramid scheme. I’d help someone, then he/she would help someone else. (That doesn’t exactly make a pyramid. More of a chain reaction.) But you blew it up! Now we are rewarding dozens of aspiring writers. And it doesn’t cost the writer anything. The kidlit community has been very generous.
You recently released your first nonfiction picture book, EARTH! MY FIRST 4.54 BILLION YEARS. Can you tell us how this was a different process from writing fiction picture books?
I didn’t mean too. I started writing a book about a pet rock, and it just wasn’t working. I realized I was trying to tell Earth’s history. So I switched to NF. All writing is scary and difficult. With nonfiction, you need sources and “proof” (and there’s a lot of contradiction in science and history). It’s also challenging to create a plot because you can’t manipulate a story to fit your writing goals. Yet somehow, I’ve fallen in love with NF and have five more coming out with Henry Holt.
Did you know from the pre-writing phase that the story would be from the Earth’s POV?
After I dumped the pet rock story, every draft of EARTH was from her POV. I subscribed to the Oscar Wilde saying, “If you want to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh or they’ll kill you.” (Which he may or may not have actually said.) I wanted to make kids laugh and Earth—imagined as 4.54-year-old child—was the perfect character to do that.
Your books, BEAUTIFUL and BRAVE are impactful to readers. What are some of the coolest responses you have received from kids about those books?
I love when I see these books used in schools. One teacher had the kids write “I’m beautiful because…” and the students could not use physical descriptions. They had answers like because I’m a good friend, because I work hard, because I love Jesus.
What about adults?
With BEAUTIFUL, I’ve signed and personalized the book for lots of kids but also for high school graduates, for grandmothers, for teachers, and for a teen finishing treatment for an eating disorder. Women are connecting with it in ways I hadn’t considered.
Your first middle grade novel comes out next year, THE MISCALCULATIONS OF LIGHTNING GIRL. Can you tell us a bit about it and where the idea came from?
MLG is about a 12-year-old who was struck by lightning and is now a math genius. After being homeschooled for 4 years, she’s technically ready for college, but her grandmother sends her to public middle school instead. She doesn’t exactly fit in. Which is how I felt—and probably most kids feel—in middle school. The idea for MLG came from reading books about acquired savant syndrome. It’s a real thing! Major head trauma can rewire our brains. This idea fascinated me. My character sprang from this.
You are extremely prolific. Currently published are 7 picture books and 6 chapter books and you have several more under contract, including 2 novels, 3 chapter books, and 9 picture books. How do you schedule your writing time?
I have three kids, and I work while they’re at school. That’s when I do most of my writing and editing. In the evenings and on weekends, I do most of my marketing. I estimate I put in 60 hours per week. (My husband thinks it’s closer to 80.) Unfortunately, writing is only half the job for an author. The other half is spent on website design and maintenance, social media, arranging school visits, doing school visits, running to the bank and post office, travel for festivals and conferences, taxes and other financial paperwork, mentoring, blogging, critique groups, creating presentations, emails, designing swag, emails, teaching, etc.
Have you ever messed up somebody’s book with a sharpie while signing it?
YES. Recently I spelled birthday wrong. I CANNOT chat while signing. I always mess up if I talk while writing.
What is something about the industry that still surprises you?
There’s always more to want. There’s always a next level. Of course, I was excited to land an agent. Of course, I was thrilled to get a book deal. But then you want the NEXT book deal. Then, when the book nears publication, you want good reviews. When it’s out, you want decent sales. Then you want… basically, the WANT LIST is never ending. You want it in B&N, Target, Costco, on the Indie Next List, reviewed in NYT, Entertainment Weekly, Wall Street Journal, added to best-of-year lists, considered for awards, on bestseller lists, etc. I’m thrilled to have the career I have, but I need to keep hustling (and writing) to get to those next milestones.
Tell us a bit about your newest funny picture book (April 10, 2018) MAX EXPLAINS EVERYTHING, illustrated by Deborah Hocking. Is he like your own son?
Max was inspired by all three of my kids. He’s a funny know-it-all with a big heart. In the books, he advises readers on subjects on which he’s an expert. The first book comes out in April and it’s about the grocery store. (Aren’t all kids experts on the grocery store? They probably have to go there a lot.) Book 2 is about soccer and book 3 is about caring for a puppy.
When you finish a book, who reads it first?
Either my online critique group—we’ve been together for almost 5 years—or my oldest daughter. She’s 16 and has been reading PB manuscripts for a decade. She’s well on her way to being a kick-butt editor.
What would you tell struggling writers on the verge of quitting? Your struggle is not unique. Most writers have felt this way at one time. I still threaten to quit almost weekly. (It’s basically a running joke in our family now.) It took me over ten years to get published. I used to say that I could have been a doctor or lawyer, if I’d gone back to school instead of spending those years churning out manuscripts. If you really want to quit, perhaps you could set a deadline before making this decision. I’d suggest this: 12* polished PB manuscripts** with 50 rejections on each***. If you still want to quit after this achievement, so be it. (But you KNOW number 13 was the one that would have gotten published.)
*12 is a good number because Aaron Rodgers wears it. Go, Pack, Go!
**by polished PB manuscripts, I mean you have at least 6 saved revisions on your PC and the final version has been mercilessly critiqued by another writer
***rejections can be from agents or editors, but 50 is the minimum
Thank you. Stacy. Please remember to support these mentor authors by buying these books, leaving online reviews and telling your librarians. For all the details on how to apply to Writing with the Stars click here: http://beckytarabooks.com/wwts-contest/