Authors on the Verge: Meet Emily Ecton, middle-grade novelist

BinkyThis week, we have Emily Ecton, middle-grade novelist and writer and producer for Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, the NPR news quiz. She has also been a playwright, a chinchilla wrangler, an ice cream scooper and a costume character. While Emily doesn’t have a groovy rabbit like Snoop, she does live in Chicago with her dog, Binky. And we here at Writing for Children and Teens love Chicago and all of our furry friends. (Just don’t eat Snoop, Binky!)

First, here’s a little bit about Emily’s debut books coming out this fall with Aladdin (a Simon & Schuster imprint)!

Emily Ecton Boots and PiecesBoots and Pieces -Members of the prom committee are disappearing down at Lake Heather, and the town sheriff seems to be covering things up. With Mr. Boots, the family dog, along for the ride, Arlie and her best friend Ty set out to solve the mystery at the lake and save their classmates from a terrible fate.

The Curse of Cuddles McGee -Arlie, Ty and Mr. Boots accidentally disturb a cursed gravesite and unleash the creature buried there to wreak havoc on their town.

Night of the Living Lawn Ornaments -Arlie and Ty find a broken antique pendant and realize too late that their discovery is awakening a new threat to the town.

Now let’s start the interview. Emily, when you received your offer, you …

…freaked out and called my family to celebrate. Then I hung up the phone and was hit with the fear that I’d been fooled by one of those really realistic dreams and had just told everyone about an imaginary book deal. (Which would have been pretty embarrassing.) Once I’d collected enough evidence to prove to myself that it was really happening, I lunged for the phone again.

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?

I don’t think I’ll feel official until I see my book on the shelves! It hasn’t sunk in at all yet – I keep waiting to wake up.

Tell us a little bit about your path to publication.

I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember, but in grad school I switched to playwriting. Writing full length plays is good training for writing novels, so I switched to that next. (Thank goodness!) August seems to be my lucky month — I queried my agent in August, got the offer for the series the next August, and the first book is coming out this August.

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

I woke up with a scene in my head that I thought would make a really cool ten minute play. But no matter how I fiddled with it or changed things around, it wasn’t working. Then finally it hit me — this doesn’t have to be a play, it can be a scene in a book! And now it is – it’s the end of chapter six of Boots and Pieces.

Here’s a multiple-choice question for you. How many rejections did you receive IN GENERAL (not just for this book) 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 your best and most heart-breaking rejections!

I heard back from a really awesome agent – she liked my story, had detailed suggestions on how to improve it, and asked me to send in future books. It seemed really promising. Then she died.

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.

Right now I work for the NPR comedy news quiz, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! It’s a pretty cool job-we spend the week reading and writing about the weird and funny things that happen in the world.

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

not change a thing.

Everything’s staying the same for now. It can be pretty hard to work full time and then come home and immediately get into writing mode, though. So ultimately, I’m hoping to be able to write full time.

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

Colons, for one thing. And semi-colons. I never realized I had such strong opinions about them until an invading army of colons turned up in the copyedits for one of my books. Now I see them everywhere.

Any advice for aspiring authors?

Read as much as you can, ignore people who are wet blankets and try to bring you down, remember that naps and daydreams are your friends, and write the things that you want to read and make you happy.

Any inspiring quotes you live by?

I like this one from Michael Caine:
Be like a duck, my mother used to tell me. Remain calm on the surface and paddle like hell underneath.

Okay, last question. Snoop has to know: Is Mr. Boots, the dog in your books, based on your own dog, Binky?

No, Binky wouldn’t put up with half the things Mr. Boots does-she doesn’t even like to wear a coat, let alone gold lamé evening wear. Although she does tend to do some of the same pervy exhibitionist sunbathing that Mr. Boots does.

***

That concludes this week’s interview with the lovely Emily Ecton. We wish her and her exhibitionist dog Binky (and fictional Mr. Boots) much success!

Tune in next week to learn about our next Author on the Verge, young adult novelist Maggie Stiefvater.

If YOU are a debut children’s book author with a major trade publisher and would like to be featured on AOTV, please contact me.

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