This week we have the stupendous Saundra Mitchell! A screenwriter and author, Saundra penned the screenplays for the Fresh Films and Girls in the Director’s Chair short film series. Her short story “Ready to Wear” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and her first feature film, Revenge Ends, debuted on the festival circuit in 2008. SHADOWED SUMMER, her debut novel, launches in February of 2009, and has been chosen as a Junior Library Guild Selection. In her free time, she enjoys ghost hunting, papermaking, and spending time with her husband and her two children in Indianapolis.
And here’s the scoop on her debut novel SHADOWED SUMMER…
Nothing ever happened in Ondine, Louisiana, not even the summer Elijah Landry disappeared. His mother knew he ascended to heaven, the police believed he ran away, and his girlfriend thought he was murdered. Decades later, certain she saw his ghost in the town cemetery, fourteen-year-old Iris Rhame is determined to find out the truth behind “The Incident with the Landry Boy.” Enlisting the help of her best friend Collette, and forced to endure the company of Collette’s latest crush, Ben, Iris spends a summer digging into the past and stirring old ghosts, in search of a boy she never knew. What she doesn’t realize is that in a town as small as Ondine, every secret is a family secret.
(Woah. Snoop just got chills)
Now let’s start the interview, Saundra. When you received your offer, what happened?
I cried; I called my best friend at work- she thought someone had died. Then I called my mother- she likewise thought someone had died. By the time someone got the message to my husband to call home, I had pulled myself together a bit, so I got to celebrate with him without stopping to explain there was nothing wrong!
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 so exciting! I love watching my book appear on Amazons all over the Internet- finding my book Amazon Japan and Amazon Saudi Arabia blew my mind!
Tell us a little bit about your path to publication.
Oh man, all right! Well, I wrote SHADOWED SUMMER about five years ago. I submitted it to the Delacorte Press prize, then miraculously got an agent while I was waiting to hear. I didn’t win the prize (I didn’t even place), so my agent and I revised. And revised. And revised, until my 75,000 word book had become a 45,000 word book. For serious! That agent and I eventually parted company, and I signed with Sara Crowe, who managed to sell SHADOWED SUMMER in the first six months of our relationship… to Delacorte Press!
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?
Tell us about one of your most heart-breaking rejections and about one of your best.
I have two bad rejection stories. The first, a terribly hip editor of a literary magazine rejected my story with a note that suggested I should break my fingers before I attempted to put words to paper again. His magazine folded, and I’m still going, so there’s a certain measure of smug vengeance in that. The second rejection story was getting this >< close to a production deal with HBO on a pilot cop show my partner and I had written, only to be dropped at the last minute when another crime writer pitched a show they liked better. That show? “The Wire.” It’s hard to stay mad when you get passed up for a show that amazing!
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 full-time job in the writing industry.
I’m a screenwriter- for 10 years, I was the sole screenwriter for Fresh Films, Girls in the Director’s Chair, and several other teen filmmaking programs. In 2008, we launched the Fresh Films Emerging Screenwriters program- now I instruct teen screenwriters, and teach them to ready their scripts for production by the Fresh Films teen film crews!
Now that you’ve sold some books, you plan to …
Not change a thing.
I write fan fiction for fun; I write screenplays for a living; I write books for love. I’m not changing a thing!
What are some of the new things you worry about now that you have a contract?
I worry about earning out my advance; I also worry about getting another contract! It would break my heart to get on the publication train, only to get dumped from it on the next stop!
Any advice for aspiring authors?
Read. Read, read, read. Also, read. I don’t think you can be the best writer you can be, if you don’t read voraciously.
Any inspiring quotes you live by?
My best friend Wendi says- “Everything will work out in the end. If things aren’t working out, it’s not the end.” While I can’t do blind optimism, this totally works for me.
What is one of the biggest myths in children’s book publishing that you wish aspiring writers would just forget about?
I loathe the myth that writing for teens means you’re required to preach- I think YA authors can talk about the big issues without whipping out a sermon in every text; I also think YA authors are allowed to simply entertain. Some fiction is aspirational, some fiction is inspirational- and some fiction is reflectional. That’s what I want when I write- to tell even one teen out there that they are not alone.
Aside from WRITING FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS<—shameless plug, are there any other books on craft you recommend?
I really enjoyed Stephen King’s On Writing and Rita Mae Brown’s Starting from Scratch. However, both books are useful in halves- King’s philosophy on writing is worthwhile, but his bizarre ideas about acceptable word count should be ignored entirely. Likewise for Brown- love her philosophy on writing, but no, y’all- seriously. You do not have to buy the 13-volume Oxford English Dictionary to be a real writer. Little things like that- required word counts, learning Greek and Latin- those are personal quirks that may make these authors better authors, but they’re not required. And I think a lot of time, these eccentricities presented as requirements, make novice writers self-conscious. Look, really- the only thing you need to be a writer is the ability to read, the desire to write, and the dedication to put your butt in the chair and actually write!
(Snoop says, AMEN! And by the way, if you read his book, you only requests that you send him virtual carrot tops afterward. Now there’s a great writer who knows what he’s doing!)
Finally, Snoop wants to know: what do you love best about becoming a published YA novelist?
Meeting other writers and getting to read their books before they come out. I think I’m addicted to ARCs now- what a rush!
This concludes our interview with our latest sensational author, Saundra Mitchell. We wish Saundra much success with her debut novel SHADOWED SUMMER.
To see what Saundra’s up to these days, visit her website at http://www.shadowedsummer.com or her blog at http://www.saundramitchell.com/blog.