Interview: Kelly Jones (Murder, Magic, and What We Wore)

I’m sure many of you will recall that a few months ago I reviewed Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones. That was one of my favorite titles from 2017, so I’m very excited to have had the opportunity to interview Ms. Jones about her work. Check out our conversation below

1. I had been reading your blog and know that Murder, Magic and What We Wore had originally been written years earlier with a different title. Many writers think of their books as their children. Tell me how you developed that professional objectivity/attitude that allowed you to rewrite your novel. (By the way, the title is what caught my attention. I bought it without even reading the jacket!)

I taught myself to write novels with Glamour (the story that eventually became Murder, Magic, and What We Wore), alternating with a couple of other projects. I worked on it from around 2005 – 2008, spent a lot of time on sentence-level edits (choosing the perfect word here and there), and almost none on structural work (thinking about whether the plot made any sense or not.) I shelved it in 2009, when it didn’t find a fit with the agents I’d queried.

But, I still loved the characters, the world, and the ideas. So, my agent and I pitched it to my editor after my debut novel Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer was published, and she was interested in seeing a proposal.

Turns out, four years away from a project really helps with perspective! I’d worked on four more novels since I’d shelved Glamour, as well as critiquing many projects for other writers, and I’d learned so much from each project. Now, I could see issues that I hadn’t been focused on before, and I thought of ways to handle what critiquers had pointed out wasn’t working before. And, once I could see them, I really wanted to fix them. Perhaps my perspective is more that of a homeowner who looks up and notices the roof is leaking, than that of a parent?

The new version’s full title was originally How to Sew a Glamour, or, Murder, Magic, and What We Wore — a mouthful, to say the least! I’m glad the final version worked for you.

2. Can you tell us more about your revision process? Was there anything left of the original story when you finished? How did you know what to keep and what to discard? In your blog you mention that the process is not easier than writing a new book, but do you have a preference as to how you work?

I’d never attempted such a massive revision before, and I didn’t know if I could accomplish what I’d set out to do! Doubt is part of the process, for me, so I decided to try anyway. When I looked back at the most recent version, I could see right away that I wasn’t going to be able to change a little bit here and there to make it work. It needed a complete overhaul: first person point of view instead of third, a looser, less clipped historical voice, and a plot that made sense, for a start! I tried fixing a paragraph or two, and couldn’t squeeze a word in edge-wise. I couldn’t just change verbs to change the point of view, because the entire lens of what a character notices and what the reader sees changes when you look out from their eyes. And, working on all those other projects had grown and strengthened my writing (thank goodness!) My new writing didn’t match the old, and wasn’t going to slide into the old draft smoothly.

At that point, I made the best decision I could: I put that draft away, and rewrote the entire story again from scratch, the way I wanted to write it now, without looking at the previous one. I didn’t want to slip back into the same comfortable, familiar, structurally flawed flow. I’d done more than eighteen drafts, and I knew those characters, and what drove them forward. I didn’t need to look at the old words telling it, because they didn’t work with the way I wanted to tell it now.

So, as far as I know (I still haven’t looked back), there are no sentences that remain from the original version. But, most of the main characters came over unchanged. I feel like I finished telling the story I wanted to tell, even though all that wordsmithing on all those drafts never got used. (Well, aside from teaching me how to write — no small gift!)

It helped to know the story I was writing (in general, I don’t actually know what story I’m telling until I finish a first draft.) But, it wasn’t faster than writing a brand new first draft, and it still needed just as much revising. My editor had just as many suggestions. It was also harder in that I was trying to match this story to an idea I’d had long ago, and tried to capture. It always felt like chasing smoke, and I always wondered what I’d capture, in the end, and whether it would finally be what I’d wanted. My compass was the characters, what they wanted, what they struggled with. I wanted to stay true to them, even if everything else changed. I think I put far more pressure on this idea than I do on brand-new ones, because this was my chance to finally tell a story that had been important to me for years. What if I still couldn’t do it well enough? That constant wondering didn’t make anything go faster, or easier.

My preferred way to build a story, these days, is what I think of as a coral reef: I find and collect bits of ideas and characters and put them together in a place where they can grow a story for years, undisturbed. Once in a while I find something to throw in the tank with them, and they grow around it. Then, when I’m ready for a new project, I look in the tanks and see what I’ve grown, and what I want to do more with — what feels ready for more light, perhaps. Murder, Magic, and What We Wore was more of a sunken ship, but I love that it had the time to grow depths and reveal new aspects while it sat there in the dark. That coral reef process is my preference for the very early stage — after that, it’s writing and revision, over and over, regardless of how it started. But I find it hard to add new depths and organic growth in time for a deadline, so I try to build those in first.

3. Can we look forward to more magic, wildly wonderful garments and perhaps even a bit of romance? (I hope the answer is yes!)

Definitely more magic! I’m fascinated by “what if” stories, and magic is often a part of mine. I’m also fascinated by young people who feel a sense of responsibility, and are interested in the work they do, and who try to learn to do it better. I like stories about young people who aren’t very good at things yet, perhaps because I spent a lot of years not being very good at things, and trying to do them anyway.

The next couple of books I’ve been working on don’t have a fashion or romantic focus, though: the middle grade sequel to Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer will be out this fall, and although Are You Ready to Hatch an Unusual Chicken? follows a young woman determined to do the best she can with a difficult situation, it’s another novel about taking care of chickens with magical abilities, not sewing glamours. After that will be the tentatively-titled Sauerkraut, also a contemporary magical middle grade novel.

I do have a couple of coral reefs growing around more Regency magic, though, and I’d very much like to know what Millicent thinks of the adventures that come next, so perhaps one day? (I can assure you that Annis will not stop being concerned about what everyone is wearing anytime soon!) This is an area where readers have more power than writers: the sequel to Unusual Chickens happened because readers were interested in the characters, the world, and what came next. They read it, and talked about it, and shared it, and wondered. So, whenever you love a book and wish there were more, tell someone else about it!

While you wait, I hope your readers will try some of the books by other authors mentioned in my Author’s Note — as well as the Regency fantasy novels that come after!

April 2018 Introduction

April Introduction:

“… the sound of rain as soft as the whisper of moth wings.”

Jan Karon, from At Home in Mitford

Now that spring has officially arrived, it’s time to get ready for some changes. Goodbye snow; hello rain. Everyone feels the difference – flowers blooming, spring cleaning getting done. It’s time for some new reading material, too, and I have plenty of ideas to share.

April is poetry month and as such, this month’s posts will contain a variety of poetry forms. I’ll review some wonderfully chilling free verse in Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge. I will compare this selection to Hideous Love by Stephanie Hemphill.  Both books are poetic biographies of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. I’ll also share some concrete poetry in Wet Cement by Bob Raczka. There is even newly published material from the archives of Shel Silverstein.

There are a couple of other celebrations this month. April 22nd is Earth Day and there are so many ways we can celebrate! I will be reviewing Give Bees a Chance by Bethany Barton as one suggestion. And on Arbor Day, fans of Katherine Appliegate will want to read a review of Wishtree.

Happy reading!

March 2018 Round-Up

Easter Round-Up

Check out my reviews for the month of March! You can find links to all of these reviews in the Index!

Let me know in the comments below what books you want me to review next!

February 2018 Round-Up

Check out my reviews for the month of February! You can find links to all of these reviews in the Index!

Let me know in the comments below what books you want me to review next!

March 2018 Introduction

March Introduction:

The more you read

The more things you will learn,

The more that you learn,

The more places you will go.

– Dr. Seuss

This month we celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday (March 2) and as part of the Two BookWorms celebration, we are going to take his advice and really go places!

Where are we going, you ask? Well, we’ve got a lot of places to be, some near and some very far. We’ll be taking a visit to a blueberry patch, to Georgia, and then India. We will be visiting with the White House and going on an archeological dig. Some of our adventures will take place on land, and others will take place in the ocean and the sky. We will be traveling inside a computer. We will be going to space (more than once!) We will even be traveling in time.

So join us this month in reading our way to many new places and into many wonderful new adventures.

 

 

The Clues: Blind Date with a Book #3 (2018)

Here are this week’s Blind Date with a Book Clues! Leave your guesses in the comments below and don’t forget to check back tomorrow to see if you were right!

  1. The story takes place mainly at night
  2. The main character will be visited by three spirits
  3. The main character must find a way to halt a death curse

 

 

 

The Clues: Blind Date with a Book #2 (2018)

Help continue the Valentine’s Day celebrations with this week’s Blind Date with a Book! Check out the clues and leave your guesses in the comments below!

  1. This is a book about bridge.
  2. This is not a book about bridge.
  3. This is a story about a young man’s romance.
  4. This is a story about an old man’s romance.
  5. This is a story about the real meaning of winning and losing.

 

The Clues: Blind Date with a Book #1 (2018)

This year I will once again be offering you a blind date – with a book! To participate, check out the clues below and leave your guess in the comments. The answer will be revealed tomorrow. Best of luck!

  1. It is a gothic romance.
  2. It is set in an ancient castle in Romania.
  3. The story abounds with evil creatures like giant spiders, wolves, and bats – as well as a particularly malevolent murderer who impales or removes the blood of their victims.

 

 

Interview: Margaret Peterson Haddix

Children of Exile

Children of Exile by Margaret Peterson Haddix

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing two books by popular author Margaret Peterson Haddix. You can check out both of those reviews here and here. There are even discussion questions!

I also had the opportunity to conduct a brief interview, and I am very excited to share Ms. Haddix’s comments here.

1. You have had a wonderfully prolific career. What is the #1 piece of advice would you give to your readers if they, too, want to become writers?

For years, my basic advice to kids who want to become writers has been to 1) read a lot; 2) write a lot; and 3) think a lot, and I believe that all of those things are important (as well as kind of obvious). Lately, though, I’ve been coming down a lot harder on the third point. And sometimes I adjust it to say to kids, “Make sure you have time to think.” I know I sound like some cranky old person if I start complaining about kids constantly being glued to cellphones or tablets or video games—and always being entertained, instead of becoming acquainted with their own thoughts. That can sound like I’m going to follow it up with, “Back in my day, we had nothing to do but stare at a blank wall and think about nothing but our own miserable thoughts for eight hours a day—and we liked it!” Really, I think adults (including, um, me sometimes, too) can be every bit as bad as kids about over-entertaining themselves, and using every spare moment to obsess over social media or watch Netflix, etc., instead of reading and writing and thinking. And I don’t think that social media or Netflix (or cellphones or tablets or video games) are evil in and of themselves. It’s just that I think everyone (kids, adults, future writers, current writers, even people who hate to write…) needs to have some time every day just to daydream and imagine and puzzle out life, the universe, and everything—and just try to figure out what’s going on in their own head, and in their own life, and what they really think and believe, and how that fits with the rest of the world.

Everybody needs to make time to think.

2. Can you give us any hints as to what’s next for Edwy and Rosi?

Children of Refuge

Children of Refuge by Margaret Peterson Haddix

It’s always hard to give hints without giving too much away. But I’ll go with this: Things are going to get a lot harder for Edwy and Rosi before they manage to solve their problems.

3. What other books would you recommend to young readers? 

Oh, wow, that’s a tough question, because there are so many great books out there, and I always realize too late that I’ve left out something I really love.

If you want a recommendation of a book that I loved as a kid that I think still holds up really well, I’d go with FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER, by E.L. Konigsberg. Granted, everything would be different if the book were set in the modern day (Because: cellphones! Amber Alerts! Etc.) But I think kids can still relate. And A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L’Engle. And…

Maybe I’d better move on to newer books. Some I’ve read relatively recently that I really love include WHEN YOU REACH ME, by Rebecca Stead; and THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE, by Kimberly  Brubaker Bradley; and GHOST, by Jason Reynolds; and all five books of the Lockwood & Co. series, by Jonathan Stroud; and WONDER, by R.J. Palacio (Of course, hasn’t everyone already won WONDER?) and ONE CRAZY SUMMER, by Rita Williams-Garcia…

And there are probably five billion other books that I’m probably still leaving out, but that’s a start.

Thanks again to Margaret Peterson Haddix for taking the time to answer my questions. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to Edwy and Rosi in the next book!

 

 

February 2018 Update

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.

-Charles M. Schulz

I have a lot of exciting things planned for this month. First and foremost, I’d like to let readers know that tomorrow will feature an interview with author Margaret Peterson Haddix. I reviewed and posted discussion questions on her books Children of Exile and Children of Refuge about a month ago.

The blog will also be participating in our annual “Blind Date with a Book” posts. On Monday there will be a list of clues and the book will be revealed on Tuesday. A variety of genres have been chosen – mystery, romance, fantasy – just to make sure there is something for everyone.

As usual, there are several picture book reviews prepared. If you are not planning to give chocolate for Valentine’s Day (or maybe in addition to a little of the sweet stuff), I have some great options to consider as gifts.

Happy reading!