Authors on the Verge: Meet Kurtis Scaletta, middle grade novelist

This week we have the scintillating Kurtis Scaletta. Kurtis was born in Louisiana and grew up in New Mexico, North Dakota, England, Liberia, Brazil, and a few other places. He now lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his wife and several cats.

MUDVILLE
MUDVILLE

A little bit about Kurtis’s book MUDVILLE (Knopf, February 2009).

Welcome to Moundville, where it’s been raining for longer than Roy McGuire has been alive. Most people say the town is cursed-right in the middle of their big baseball game against rival town Sinister Bend, black clouds crept across the sky and it started to rain. That was 22 years ago . . . and it’s still pouring.

Baseball camp is over, and Roy knows he’s in for a dreary, soggy summer. But when he returns home, he finds a foster kid named Sturgis sprawled out on his couch. As if this isn’t weird enough, just a few days after Sturgis’s arrival, the sun comes out. No one can explain why the rain has finally stopped, but as far as Roy’s concerned, it’s time to play some baseball. It’s time to get a Moundville team together and finish what was started 22 years ago. It’s time for a rematch.

(Snoop says, Sweet! Baseball is one of my favorite sports, next to Japanese game shows, of course.)

Now let’s start the interview. When you received your offer, what happened?

I called my wife and told her (I was at work), then waited anxiously for two weeks to see if there would be other offers. There was one other offer, but I went with the first one.

So now that you have a contract, what’s it like to be on the other side-on the verge of publication? What does it feel like to be official?

Well, I had a while to get used to it. I sold the book nearly two years ago, so I’m ready to actually have a book in the bookstore! I frequently remind myself that whatever else happens, at least I made it this far.

Tell us a little bit about your path to publication.

I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but went through a long stretch when I wasn’t actually writing much. Then I turned 35 and decided that it was time to be what I wanted to be when I grew up. I always liked children’s books, always thought about writing them, and decided it really was my calling. I wrote a book about a circus elephant who lives on a dairy farm and shopped it around a bit with no success. Then I started the baseball book and finished a draft, stuck it in a drawer, and got busy with other things like a Master’s degree and getting married. My wife found it two years later, read it and told me it she thought it had a really good chance at getting published if I gave it another round of revisions. I did so and started shopping it around to agents. I’d been making games for a friend’s blog, who was a published author. She wrote a letter of introduction to her agent, and then I sent the manuscript, and got a very nice not-quite-a-rejection letter back with advice for the manuscript and invitation to resubmit if I made the changes. So I put in another round of revisions, and another, and then she officially became my agent. She sold the book within a few weeks of putting her own stamp of approval on it.

And here’s our favorite question. How many rejections did you receive IN GENERAL (not just for this book) before you landed your first major publishing contract?

  • 0-10 (I feel a little bit embarrassed by this because I did not line my walls with rejection slips. My failure came a lot sooner than that. I just didn’t submit stuff in the first place, and didn’t really get projects in shape for submitting them.)
  • 11-25
  • 26-50
  • 51-100
  • 100+

Tell us about one of your most heart-breaking rejections and about one of your best.

Well, my biggest disappointment was having my editor pass on the second manuscript I sent her. So you can have rejection after your first contract, and it can be very disappointing. I had really fallen in love with the main character of that book, and while I understood all of the issues my editor had with it, I was sorry to put it away (at least for the time being). The nicest rejection I’ve gotten was from Story magazine, when that was still around. It was a hand-written note from the publisher. She didn’t say much about the story, but I had worked at the company as an intern and she remembered me, so she thought a personal letter would be nice. It was.

How long did it take to sell your books, from putting the first words on the page to receiving an offer?

  • 0-3 months
  • 3-6 months
  • 6 months to 1 year
  • 1 year – 2 years
  • 2 years – 3 years // I started my book in 2004 and sold in 2007. It will get published in 2009. So patience is a necessary virtue for writers!
  • 3 years+
  • The manuscript has been around longer than I have.

Prior to selling your books, you were …

  • Working a full-time job in the writing industry
  • Working a part-time job in the writing industry
  • Working a full-time job unrelated to writing // and still am, like most of the published authors I know.
  • Working a part-time job unrelated to writing
  • A stay-at-home mom or dad
  • A freelancer
  • Retired
  • Other

Most new authors get what they call a “nice deal,” as in, “isn’t that nice? You got a book deal.” The money has done wonderful things for my wife when we add it to our regular salaries – we’ve gotten out of debt and made home repairs, even gone on a hot air balloon and bought a Wii, all thanks to Random House! However, it is not nearly enough to quit my day job, especially since it comes without benefits.

Now that you’ve sold some books, you plan to …

  • Not change a thing // See above.
  • Quit to become a full-time writer
  • Reduce the number of hours I’m working at my current occupation

I guess I should add that I have a fantastic day job, one which I really enjoy and find personally rewarding, and one where I’ve made a lot of good friends.

What are some of the new things you worry about now that you have a contract?

Bad reviews. Wait, I already got one and survived. Having my book bomb. Never getting another book deal. Getting heckled at a reading. The worries never stop, they just change color.

If you’ve already begun or have finished the editorial process with your publisher, let you us know what that’s been like.

I am through with the process. I thought it went pretty well. My editor is a good reader and had good advice, and we didn’t disagree on any major issues.

Kurtis Scaletta
Kurtis Scaletta

Describe a typical day in your writing life.

I’ll come home after my day job, have dinner, and then sit on the couch with the laptop and ignore a TV show while my trusty sidekick Torii (an out-sized housecat) paws at the computer because he’d rather be in my lap.

Describe an Ah-ha moment you might have had that influenced your writing in a positive way.

I think the biggest aha I’ve had is that professional writers are people who can hammer out a really good third draft.

What is one of the biggest myths in children’s book publishing that you wish aspiring writers would just forget about?

I generally dislike the writing rules everyone repeats: “don’t use adverbs,” “kids don’t read prologues,” etc. I’d say some of those have reached mythical status. Write what feels right, and let the editor decide if you use too many adverbs or you need to lose the prologue.

Aside from WRITING FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS<—shameless plug, are there any other books on craft you recommend?

Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White. I’d recommend it before Elements of Style, because he doesn’t always follow his own rules but he does it beautifully.

Finally, Snoop wants to know: Kurtis, do you have any other pets besides Torii? Maybe a bunny? Hmmm?

Glad you asked, Snoop. My wife and I have five cats: Torii, Bertie, Lucy, Pippi, and Charlotte. Charlotte is named after the heroine of the book I just mentioned.

(Snoop says, Five cats?! That’s a lot of fur! Woah.)

This concludes our interview with our latest author, Kurtis Scaletta. We wish him much success with his debut novel MUDVILLE. We hope MUDVILLE knocks one out of the ballpark!

To see what Kurtis is up to these days, visit his website at http://www.kurtisscaletta.com.

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