This week, we have Amy Brecount White. Amy teaches high school kids how to read (poetry and novels) and write for seven years. When she got pregnant with her own, she started writing articles for newspapers and magazines about kids and traveling and gardening. She had her mid-life crisis early — Eek! this is her life? — and started writing this novel almost eight years ago. It was a long and laborious gestation period.
Here’s a little bit about FORGET HER NOTS, Greenwillow/ HarperCollins, February, 2010.
Laurel has faced some hard knocks, and her brilliant idea to start her life over at the all-girls boarding school her mom attended seems like a bust. That is, until Spring arrives and the first flowers release their perfume. Strangely, every time Laurel inhales a flower scent, she feels dizzy and tingly with a potent energy that seems to be coming from the flowers. She soon discovers that there’s a whole flower language that her mom knew and that works. Rosemary makes her remember, and lilies of the valley bring happiness back. Laurel feels like she’s blooming, too. But when she tries to use her new-found flower powers for romance, prom dates, and higher test scores, things get complicated fast. It’s a story about finding friendship, love (not lust), and the real magic in our lives.
Now let’s start the interview. When you received your offer, what happened?
Bounced off the floor, off the walls, and hugged my kids and ran around yelling “Woo-Hoo!!! I sold my book. Woo-Hoo!!!” I called my husband, my mom, and my best writer buddy right away. I had told my kids my agent would call ONLY if he had good news, so it was pretty amazing when my son handed me the phone and said with a tentative smile that it was my agent. The call came at 4:30 pm on Friday night, after I’d given up hope for that week.
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?
My editors at Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins have been sooo complimentary, and it’s amazingly wonderful to be appreciated after struggling for so many years. I LOVE telling people that I’m a novelist! And I love to talk about my novel. The characters are like family.
Tell us a little bit about your path to publication.
This would best be titled — “A Series of Planetary Highs and Precipitous Falls.” My flower concept is highly original, so lots of editors and agents liked that, but it took me a long time to get a complicated, textured plot just so. I was a good girl and attended lots of SCBWI conferences, read books, etc. and had lots of advice — some helpful, some not so much. I had an 18-month detour off the path with another agent who promised the moon and left me in a ditch. (Metaphorically, of course.) In short, the path was not easy or direct.
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?
I didn’t keep track because I am not THAT organized.
Tell us about one of your most heart-breaking rejections and about one of your best.
Gulp. This is difficult to say, but I did learn something from almost every rejection I got. Usually, it took a month or so for the frustration and anger to die down. Then I could see the value of the criticism. I did two fairly major revisions for specific editors at two large houses who said they loved it, and my hopes soared kite-high. Ultimately, it wasn’t a good match for the houses. I crashed and it was pretty devastating at the time. My agent, Steven Chudney, was a spectacular cheerleader when I was down.
How long did it take to sell your books, from putting the first words on the page to receiving an offer?
Prior to selling your books, you were …
Now that you’ve sold some books, you plan to …
Not change a thing
What are some of the new things you worry about now that you have a contract?
The novel is literary and about flowers, so I worry a teeny bit about finding an audience for a book without vampires or major sex scenes. (Although I do have a pretty wild prom scene involving an orchid.) But I still love this book after living with it for eight years, so I know other people will, too. Most days, I’m just thrilled.
If you’ve already begun or have finished the editorial process with your publisher, let you us know what that’s been like.
For the first round, my editor gave me a six-page letter with both praise and suggestions. It was very respectful of me as a writer, but also showed me ways to improve the book and better connect with my audience. She also made a calendar of the book’s events which helped to clarify the plot and arc. NOTE TO SELF AND ALL: ALWAYS MAKE A CALENDAR OF YOUR NOVEL! Just found out, they loved the first revision, but I still have a little more to do …. Writing is revising!
Describe a typical day in your writing life.
If I’m on deadline — my own or someone else’s – I wake up at 5 am and write for 1.5 hours. Then I get my kids out the door, walk the dog (golden doodle), and let my subconscious play. I sit back down around 8:30 or 9 and continue writing or revising until 2 pm. Then the kids are almost home, and I switch back to carpool and snack diva. Sometimes I break or exercise or have coffee with a writer friend. Usually, I look at the manuscript again right before bedtime or jot down some thoughts.
What is one of the biggest myths in children’s book publishing that you wish aspiring writers would just forget about?
That success can be instant. Most writers have PILES of rejections, many close calls that fall through, and some “apprentice” novels in the bottoms of their closets. (Okay, mine’s in a drawer.) Fiction writing is a craft and you have to work on honing your skills. In the art world, no one expects to sell the first painting or sculpture they produce. Why should it be different with a book?
Any inspiring quotes you live by?
“Write the book that ONLY you can write” — Toni Morrison. That was really pivotal for me, because it made me define what I loved and cared about and wanted to share. Writing is revising. Someone said it. So true.
Any advice for aspiring authors?
I echo Toni Morrison: Write the book that ONLY YOU can write. What do you love? Care deeply about? Find fascinating? Make a list and see how they intersect and overlap and weave them together. Write what you love. Write what you care deeply about.
Aside from WRITING FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS<—shameless plug, are there any other books on craft you recommend?
I love John Gardner’s “The Art of Fiction” and Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird.” But, seriously, reading TONS of YA and older MG fiction was probably the most helpful thing I did.
Finally, Snoop wants to know: Do you grow magic flowers in your own garden?
Of course! Who doesn’t?! ALL flowers have their own magic. Their bright colors, sweet scents, and beauty catch our eyes and awaken our souls. They inspire love and gratitude and poetry. Surround yourself with flowers! My forsythia is wow-ing me today.
This concludes our interview with our latest author Amy Brecount White. We wish her much success with her debut novel FORGET HER NOTS.
To see what Amy is up to these days, visit her website at www.amybrecountwhite.com (in progress).