Authors on the Verge: Meet Meg Medina, middle-grade and picture book author

This week, we have Meg Medina, a Cuban American writer who works in picture books, middle grade fiction and young adult fiction. Her work blends traditions of Latin American literature with modern concerns of growing up. (Snoop says, WOAH!) She lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband and three children.

Milagros: Girl from AwayFirst, here’s a little bit about the books we look forward to from the lovely Meg!

I have two books in the works. The first is MILAGROS: GIRL FROM AWAY (Holt, October 2008), which is the adventure story of 12-year-old Milagros de la Torre, daughter of a ruthless pirate and a magical farmer. When her island home is attacked, she is forced to abandon everything she has ever known with only her wits, a dinghy, and manta rays to guide her.

My second book is TIA ISA WANTS A CAR (forthcoming from Candlewick Press). In this picture book, a girl and her favorite tía scheme to buy the first family automobile.

Now let’s start the interview, Meg. What happened when you received your offer?

I stared at the computer screen in silence for a long time. I suddenly felt as though I had walked through the magic mirror to the place where I could say “I am a writer” and be taken seriously. Then I called my husband and children over to the screen, and we all screamed and cried together.

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?

The big news is that it’s an awful lot like being an unpublished writer. I AM thrilled that my family and friends are excited and that early reports about MILAGROS are positive. But in the end, I am always creating work. I still have to sit in the chair and face a blank page. I still wonder if I have what it takes to do it again. I still crack my knuckles and overeat when it’s going badly. Maybe that changes after the sixth or tenth book? I hope so!

(Snoop says, I know what you mean about the overeating. When things go wrong for me, every vegetable in the country should shake with fear!)

Tell us a little bit about your path to publication.

I had been writing freelance nonfiction for about 10 years and working as a development director at a school for youth with learning disabilities. I spent many years working in jobs that had a bit to do with writing, but were not exactly what I wanted to be doing: writing novels. When I turned 40, I decided to dare. So, I quit my job (frightening my husband in the process) and wrote for about a year. It took six months to find an agent and about a month to sell the manuscript. I hone my craft by reading voraciously, sharing work with a few trusted friends, and by attending workshops when I can afford to.

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

  • 0-10
  • 11-25
  • 26-50
  • 51-100
  • 100+
  • I didn’t keep track because it was too depressing.
  • I didn’t keep track because I am not that organized.
  • They don’t make a number that big.
  • I plead the fifth.

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

The hardest rejection was my first, actually. I had completed MILAGROS. The agent worked for a very reputable agency in New York, and I had added hope because this person was the cousin of a very close friend. When he passed, I felt especially embarrassed. My rejections from publishers were actually tolerable. Almost all gave thoughtful letters and reasons. In fact, I kept some of their worries in mind later when I revised my manuscript.

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

  • 0-3 months
  • 3-6 months
  • 6 months to 1 year
  • 1 year – 2 years
  • 2 years – 3 years
  • 3 years+
  • The manuscript has been around longer than I have.

Prior to selling your books, you were …

Working a part-time job unrelated to writing.

I was miserable working at jobs that were somehow more responsible-sounding than “I write fiction.” What a waste of many happy writing years!

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

Quit to become a full-time writer.

Here’s my disclaimer. I write full-time, if you don’t count raising three teenagers and cleaning my own mess. Warning to everyone: This was possible only by the extreme generosity of my husband, whose thankless work keeps us fed. Almost every writer I know works another job to stay afloat. Yes, even the published ones.

Tell us about a typical day in your writing life.

I’m at my computer by 10 am, and I write until about 2 pm every day. I edit in hard copy, a few chapters at a time. When I’m halfway through, I give the manuscript to a trusted friend. That’s when I make sure I’ve got the right hook, tone, and plot line. I do the same when I reach the end.

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

Well, worrying has changed as I’ve moved through the production process. In the beginning, I worried a lot about how to make a strong relationship with my editor so that I would have the courage to continue to make new work. But now, near the publication date, I worry about marketing things. How will I make friends with book sellers? How will I reach readers in a way that matters? How can I sell my books nationwide from my porch in Virginia?

If you’ve already begun or have finished the editorial process, tell us what that’s been like.

Each editor works differently. With one, I work almost exclusively through email and letters. With the other, we work on the phone with the manuscript open on the table. Neither (thank GOD) is fond of line edits. Rather, they give me big picture feedback and made broad suggestions. They give me room to think and problem solve. Usually, I get about a month to do edits. Sometimes, there is another round of edits. Later, copyedits have to be turned around more quickly… about a week. The biggest surprise for me was the lapse of time between the contract and the actually start of editing. With my novel, it was almost a year between the time I was signed to the day that I actually received my first editorial letter. In any case, I am always amazed at the magic that happens to my work in the hands of a good editor. The real book appears as we work on it together.

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

I have learned that aggressive editing is not a sign of failure, but a sign of trust in your skill to imagine new solutions to problems in your manuscript. I’m working on a manuscript now that I basically rewrote from the middle on. I have no idea whether I’ll sell it, but it’s definitely a better manuscript now than it was six months ago.

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

That there are hard and fast “shoulds” in writing. A good book can bend rules we think are sacred; a great book breaks the mold entirely. I think it’s important to be fearless (but not delusional). To me, the only non-negotiable point is that the writing respects the reader and is engaging from one chapter to the next.

Aside from WRITING FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS: A CRASH COURSE (shameless plug!), what other writing books would you recommend?

Nancy Lambs, Crafting Stories for Children. Very helpful when you feel lost and need practical advice.

Finally, got any last words of advice for aspiring authors?

Show up for work. There is no way around the fact that you have to sit in a chair every day and write. Don’t give in to the temptation to fit writing around all other things. You have to make time to write.

This concludes our interview with the magnificent Meg Medina. If you’d like to learn more about Meg, do visit her website at http://www.megmedina.com.

Tune in next week to learn about our next Author on the Verge, picture book author Gayle C. Krause.

One thought on “Authors on the Verge: Meet Meg Medina, middle-grade and picture book author

  1. congratulations to you, meg!
    your leap of faith and bravery has
    landed you your contract. i love
    the cover of your milagros book
    (and i also love her name) as well
    as the multicultural aspect of your
    books.

    here’s to a wonderful debut and lots
    of sales. i’ll be looking out for milagros,
    sounds like a lot of fun and a little
    different, too. love that!

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