Authors on the Verge: Meet Nancy Viau, middle grade novelist

Nancy Viau
Nancy Viau

This week we have the notable Nancy Viau, but here’s the thing. Snoop and Cynthea have been away for the last several months, and you might have noticed AOTV had to go offline for a while. As a result, Nancy, our latest Author on the Verge, is now an Author in Print! (AIP!!!) Her debut novel Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head has just been released with Abrams/Amulet. Gooo, Nancy!

Here’s a bit more about this lovely lady.

She’s a former teacher, freelance writer, and mother who believes her kids have done an excellent job of raising her. Nancy’s stories, poems, and essays can be found in Highlights, Highlights High-Five, Writer’s Digest, the Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies, and many other publications.

Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in her Head
Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in her Head

And here’s the scoop on her debut novel …

Sam is a ten-year-old mad scientist, but she doesn’t blow up stuff or change kids into cats that bark. She just has a little trouble keeping a lid on her temper, and she “ab-so-lutely” loves science – especially rocks. But science isn’t all that helpful when it comes to the big questions like, why does she get into trouble, why is her sister so annoying, and why won’t anyone talk about her dad? When Sam’s mom announces a trip to the Grand Canyon, it’s a dream-come-true. But if Sam can’t get a grip on her emotions, she’s going to miss seeing her favorite rocks, and miss finding out the answers to some of her questions. Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head is a hilarious and touching debut that introduces middle graders to an exuberant new character who joyfully studies the world around her, and her own heart.

Now let’s start the interview, Nancy. When you received your offer, you …

… tried desperately to shift into second gear and answer the phone at the same time. I had just learned to drive a stick, and believe me, my technique wasn’t pretty. Any distraction made me lose my concentration, and seeing that 212 area code was a huge one! I parked (barely), ran into the local market, and got the good news from my agent–Abrams Books for Young Readers/Amulet Books had made an offer.

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?

It’s official? Really? I still have the feeling someone will wake me up, and I’ll find out it’s not real. I can hold the galley in my hand, sign it, talk about it at school visits, present at conferences with the Class of 2k8, etc., but until I see my book on an actual shelf in a bookstore, I’m not convinced. That being said, I can’t wait for it to be released, and I’m especially looking forward to waving it in front of my neighbor who last year asked me, “So, when you printin’ that book out.” Ha!

Tell us a little bit about your path to publication.

I started out writing short fiction and poetry in 1999. I spent a lot of time attending conferences, going to workshops, and soaking up everything I could about writing via my favorite instructor–Mr. Internet. A few acceptances drizzled in and I was hooked. A crit group friend suggested I try essay writing as a way to get more credits, and I went on to pen dozens of essays for the Philadelphia Inquirer and well-known magazines. But in 2005 (or was it 06?), I decided I needed to focus ONLY on writing for children if I wanted to be a children’s book author. (duh.) This was a big turning point for me. I found it difficult to give up the instant gratification of selling pieces to magazines and newspapers. I concentrated on picture books, but it wasn’t until I tried my hand at longer stories that things began buzzing. Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head was a chapter book at first, and Dan Lazar of Writers House saw it had potential to be more. A while after signing with Dan, he encouraged me to expand it, and that buzzing got louder!

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

Oooh, I DO have a heart-breaker! Before writing longer fiction, I was obsessed with picture books. (Still am.) I had queried an agent in my Top Five list, and received a lovely personal response, and an invite to revise. I revised. It happened again. Personal response, plus revision request. Friends who know this agent all agreed, “You’re in! He/she NEVER does this!” I revised two more times, and then got my final rejection. But the worst part was that the agent passed with a standard comment about the lack-luster picture book market. I’m guessing my revisions just weren’t up to par. I would have handled the truth better than a pat answer. To date (and after 9 years of writing for, and being rejected by, all kinds of publishers) this was the only rejection that brought me to tears.

My favorite rejection was short and simple. The editor simply wrote “Thanks, but no.” Of course, the real reason I like this one is because the manuscript wasn’t even mine. (And yes, I forwarded it to its rightful owner.)

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 …

a stay-at-home mom.

Being a mom was, and still is, my full-time job. I wrote during nap times, half-times, snack times, waiting-in-the-car times, before 7:00 AM and after midnight. Now that some of my kids are grown, and some are in school, it’s easier.

(Snoop says, it gets easier? Because I’m getting really sick of playing
“Pull the Ear on the Bunny” with Cynthea’s kid.)

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

… reintroduce myself to my family, then hopefully, sell another book.

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

Will I earn out my advance? Will I get another contract? Will I freeze if I have to give a speech? Will I meet my own high expectations of what I should do in the near future, and in the distant future? Will I ever stop worrying?

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

Revision is my favorite part, especially the final edits when I need to insert a comment here or there using my favorite colored pencil. I think I’ve always had a thing for colored pencils.

Any advice for aspiring authors?

Ask yourself every day how much this means to you. If time passes and you lose your passion, your chance of success gets slimmer. Do whatever it takes to stay motivated, but don’t beat yourself up if you need to take a break. And line up those cheerleaders–the people in your life that, no matter what, support your efforts, and tell you that someday your dream will come true.

Any inspiring quotes you live by?

Here are a few words to the song “Low” by Coldplay that get stuck in my head and keep me typing on tough days: you think you’ll never get it right, but you’re wrong, you might.

(What?! Snoop says. I’m always right, baby!)

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

A little Ah ha moment came the day I discovered the FIND key on Microsoft Word. Bye-bye crutch words like: all, that, just, and always. A bigger Ah ha moment came when I realized how freeing it was to write anything over 500 words. I’d been so conditioned to write within specific word counts that it was as if someone unleashed the dictionary in my head.

Finally, Snoop wants to know: do your characters talk to you? Hmmmm? Any bunnies maybe?

I hear this a lot–authors saying their characters talk to them, especially at night. I imagine whole chunks of dialogue spilling out from invisible kids who hover over my bed and think: How nice! MY characters don’t do this. (H E L L O, characters … are you listening?) Seriously, the best I can come up with is that my characters’ thoughts mesh with my own and all that whining, giggling, and questioning makes me a little crazy, and a little productive, day or night.

This concludes our interview with our latest author Nancy Viau. We wish Nancy much success with her novel Samantha Hansen has Rocks in Her Head which is in stores now!

To see what Nancy’s up to these days, visit her website at http://www.nancyviau.com or her blog at http://nancy-v.livejournal.com.

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