Mon 10 Sep 2012
Today, I have the distinct pleasure of welcoming debut author Jeannie Mobley to this blog to talk about her middle-grade novel Katerina’s Wish (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2012).
Although the book is brand new, the kidlit world is already buzzing. The book has earned several starred reviews, including one from Kirkus. The sometimes hard-to-please publication called Katerina’s Wish “top notch” and said, in part:
“Thirteen-year-old Katerina and her little sisters want to believe in their dreams, but life in a Colorado coal camp threatens to turn them into pipe dreams. Take one maybe-magical carp and three sisters who believe in wishes, stir them together with an evil shopkeeper and add a dash of romance, and you have one dandy first novel.
“Katerina’s sisters wish for little hair ribbons and plum dumplings when they find a special fish, but big sister has appropriately bigger plans. She wishes that her family could leave the coal town and have the farm they hoped to own when they left Bohemia for America in the late 1800s. But dreams are tricky things, easily dashed when real life interferes.”
I also had the distinct pleasure of meeting Jeannie at a writing retreat earlier this year, and I can truthfully say she is as smart and as talented and as nice as you’d expect after reading her answers to my interview questions.
Take it away, Jeannie!
How did you first get the idea for Katerina’s Wish?
I had a dream, which was really different from the book it ultimately became. But I woke up from the dream and my first thought was, “That would make an interesting novel.” Of course, dreams have many things that wouldn’t really work well in a novel, so as I become more awake and rational, I began to filter through what was really interesting and what was just strange. I also began to figure out how I would change it to be a more complete story and a unique story.
What process did you follow to turn that idea into a fully completed novel? How long did it take?
After the dream, I spent a couple weeks thinking about it and determining a time, place, and main character that best fit the story. Once I had those ideas figured out, I took about a month to write the book, gave it a rest, then spent about a month revising it. I gave that version to my agent to send out on submission in the summer of 2006. Within a few months, we had pulled it because we got similar feedback from multiple editors that it felt incomplete.
The story sat in a drawer for about three years while I wrote other things, and went different directions. I couldn’t get interested in working on it again. However I was gently nagged by my agent and my critique partners to get it back out. When I finally did, in the fall of 2009, I hated it so much that I didn’t even re-read the old version, I just started rewriting from the beginning, changing the voice, the plot, the point of view. It was a drastic rewrite, filled with doubts on my part, because I wasn’t feeling very connected to the main character.
I kept sending it to my critique group saying, “Are you sure this isn’t boring?” It took me six weeks to rewrite it, giving it a more complex plot, and adding other things based on the editorial feedback. It went back out on submission in 2010, and fairly promptly sold to Margaret K. McElderry Books (an imprint of Simon and Schuster.)
So, actual writing time was about ten weeks, with another six to ten weeks of editing. Which translates to four years of actual time that passed from starting it to selling it.
What was your biggest learning along the way?
Wow, it’s hard to say. I grew so much in my writing at every step. After it was acquired, I learned a huge amount from my editor in the changes she made or requested and her explanation of why those changes needed to happen. I learned a lot about readers and expectations they bring to a book from her.
I also learned a lot about voice and plot in addressing the concerns that editors had after the first try with this manuscript. So, I have the editors who rejected it to thank, as well as the one who acquired it. I guess something else I learned is to accept the rejections and learn from them, rather than feeling destroyed by them. They can move you forward. (Even though they don’t feel that way at the time!)
How did the sale come about?
Erin sent it to Karen Wojtyla at McElderry right off, recognizing she was a good match for it. After the acquisition meeting, Karen asked if I would be willing to make the characters younger to set the novel firmly in the middle grade range (the characters had been about sixteen to eighteen and they were changed to thirteen to fifteen.) I agreed, and the deal proceeded. After it sold, I aged it down right away without any other notes or guidance from the editor. I sent that manuscript back in, and her subsequent editorial letter was based on that draft, rather than the one that originally sold.
Was this the first book you wrote? Or do you have previous “starter” novels that you did not sell?
Hahahahaha! My first book! You are funny, Pat. Let’s just say I am lucky to have a hard drive, so that I don’t actually have all those manuscripts literally in drawers.
Katerina’s Wish was the third novel that I sent out on submission. As for the ones that never went out on submission, because I recognized they weren’t ready? It’s in the single digits, but not by much. I love to write first drafts. It wasn’t until I had written quite a few that I got interested in actually revising them to turn them into something worthwhile.
What’s the most common question you’ve been asked since your book sale was announced?
“How is your book doing?” Followed by “When is it coming out?” Very few people in my life realize how long it takes a book to come out, so most of them think it has been on sale for years now. (It was acquired in the fall of 2010.) Two years is pretty normal for a book’s journey from acquisition to publication, but a lot of friends and family started assuming it was on the market within about two or three months of acquisition.
You are, I believe, an archeologist. Have you always been a writer, too? Do the two areas support each other, or are they totally different sides of your personality?
I decided to become an archaeologist in fourth grade. I wrote my first novel in sixth grade, so both have been part of my life for a long, long time. I think both professions stem from a fascination with and passion for, exploring the human condition. I love to imagine what other people’s lives are (or were) like, and how they were shaped by the constraints or opportunities that society offered. I do that both in my writing and in archaeology. However, the two use very different parts of my brain and require entirely different styles of writing, and in that sense, they compete for my time and attention more than I would like.
What are you working on now?
I have several more historical fiction manuscripts floating around. I seem to be working my way forward a decade at a time. Katerina’s Wish is set in 1901. I have stories in various stages of the submission/writing/revision process: one based on a Colorado legend set in 1917, a second about a boy on a Central Illinois Railroad train set in 1923, and a third that’s a middle-grade detective story set in 1933. Once I get those out into the world, I will only have to write seven or eight more before I will be doing contemporary fiction instead of historical.
Thanks, Jeannie! It was great having you and Katerina stop by.
If you’d like to learn more about Jeannie and Katerina’s Wish, you should:
- Visit her website.
- Read this Q and A interview.
- Read this interview with Jeannie’s agent, Erin Murphy.