I didn't have a problem and solution at first. I just had a very simple idea: A young girl meets [blank]. I can't tell you who blank is because that would be a spoiler. I'll just tell you that Miss E. is an important person in American history. I got very excited about the idea and started thinking of questions. How does she meet her? Where does she meet her? What would it be like to meet her? The problem and solution at first was just that this girl discovers who Miss E. really is, but the more I thought about it, I realized I didn't want the girl's story to just be about meeting this important person. I wanted her to have her own story. When I started figuring out what time period Miss E. would be alive and how old she would be, the setting for the story ended up being 1967. That's how I decided that Bets, the main character, would end up dealing with her father being away in Vietnam in the war while people at home start protesting the war. Bets has to figure out how she feels about the war, and that became the problem.
Did you know what theme/lesson you wanted in your story and then create the plot?
Theme and lesson were always difficult concepts for me when I was in school and even when I was teaching. I didn't really plan my story around them - the plot came first, but Miss E. does have some important themes. My favorite is the idea of standing up for what you think is right. There's also a reoccuring theme that has to do with being in the spotlight. Bets is the new kid in town so she is a bit shy and doesn't want to attact attention to herself. But she eventually realizes that being in the spotlight and having people pay attention to her is a good way to stand up for what she believes in and convince other people to agree with her.
Did you start with the exposition and a strong character and then just imagine what might happen to him/her?
I really did start with characters. Because Miss E. is based on a real person, I researched her and learned a lot about her until I felt like I knew how she would talk and act and think and could create her as a character. And I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted Bets to be like. So I had two very strong characters. As I wrote more and more of their story, they really did feel like real people. When it came to imagining what would happen to them, I had three parts of the story that were very clear in my mind - two in the middle and the very end. I had thought about those parts so much and could see them like a movie. I went to sleep some nights writing those sentences in my mind. Those chapters were very easy to write. But a lot of the parts in between I wasn't sure of at all. Some parts of the story got written because I was working my way toward one of those chapters that I'd already planned out. Other parts just made sense as I was writing. There's a part where Bets and Miss E. spend most of a chapter sitting at a kitchen table and talking. Miss E. is telling Bets her story. Two chapters later I wanted it to be Bets' turn to share her story and to have her talk about some of the feelings she keeps hidden inside. But it would have been pretty boring to have two whole chapters with characters just sitting and talking. So I needed them to do something, and I decided Miss E. would convince Bets to go flying with her. It made for a fun and exciting chapter, and Bets still got to do some talking. When I started writing, I had no idea Bets would end up in an airplane!
Describe the revision process. After your first draft, were you really done? What types of things did you have to change to make your story better?
When I write I just get all of my ideas out. I would usually write a whole chapter in one sitting, and then go back the next day and reread. I would always find little things to fix. So even before I finished the whole book, there had already been a lot of revisions. Once I was finished, I read the whole book again and again. At first I was looking for consistency. Did the character seem the same the whole way through? Bets is the narrator so it was important that her voice was the same through the whole book. I found parts where she seemed different and I fixed those. I was also reading to make sure the story in my mind was really what was on the pages. Were my descriptions clear, would the words I used really make a reader feel the way I wanted them to feel. That was difficult because by that time I knew my story so well. It was hard to think about someone reading it for the first time and how they might react.
What made revising easier/more fun?
I eventually gave the story to some other people to read. Some of the people were teachers, and they were really great readers. They were able to answer questions like "How do you feel about this character?" and "Do you understand why she did that?" They gave me some great feedback, and I did change some parts of the story because of what they said. Revising with their help was definitely easier because they were reading the story for the first time. It also made it a lot of fun, because I was finding out their reactions to some surprising parts. It was interesting to hear the part of the story where they figured out who Miss E. really is. Also knowing that my story was getting better made the revision process easier.
How did you know when it was “finished?”
I eventually had to force myself to say that it was finished. I kept rereading and rereading. I kept finding little things to change. When I started feeling unsure of the changes, when I couldn't decide which word was better and I started changing things and then changing them back, that helped me realize I was finished and I couldn't really make my story any better. Other readers helped me decide too. The first readers I gave the story to came back with lots of comments and corrections. But the last few people that read it, just told me how much they enjoyed the story and didn't suggest any changes. That helped me decide that it was finished.
What was hard about revising?
One really hard part of revising was letting go of some parts that I really liked. I didn't cut any big parts, but even some sentences were hard to let go. I'd written them and really liked what I'd said. And I'd read them so many times that it seemed like it was the only way to say what I wanted to say. And then someone who was helping me edit would cross out sentences or rearrange things, and I would think, "No, that's not right. What I wrote was better!" But I reread it and realized I was wrong. The new version was better.
What do you love about your book?
I love the characters! After all the time I spent writing Miss E. I have really gotten to know the characters as real people. They are like good friends. I really hope when people read my book they feel the same way toward Bets and Miss E. and the other characters. I also love the cover. I found an illustrator that I really liked. He talked with me about the story and I pointed out some of his artwork that I really liked. A week later he gave me an amazing cover that really captures how I feel about the book. If I were in a bookstore and I saw that cover I'd want to know what the story was about. I'd definately be curious about that plane!
What are you most proud of?
I'm most proud of actually writing a book. This is my first book, so right now I feel like that's a pretty big deal. It was a lot of work, and it took a lot of time. Even after I was done writing, it took a lot of work and time to get the book ready to publish and share with readers. So I'm proud of doing all that, not getting tired of working on it or getting bored with it, but finding a way to turn my idea into a whole book and putting in the work to see it through to the end.
What advice do you have for our aspiring writers?
Have fun when you are writing. Find an idea or a topic that excites you. If you're excited about it and have fun while you're writing it, that will come through in your writing. Readers will have fun with your writing and they'll feel the same excitement your felt.