Write This Down
by Claudia Mills
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published September 27th 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (first published September 26th 2016)
Source of book: I was sent an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest thoughts.
When I received a copy of this ARC, I knew it was going to be a great match for me and for my students. I teach many kids who love to write, and they love to see themselves reflected in the books they read. I loved Autumn's passion for writing, and I loved that her best friend was a knitter. Making - with words or with yarn - is so much better than just consuming! I cared about their lives, and I was hooked and couldn't put the book down.
So when I was also asked to participate in the blog tour, I knew I wanted to get my passionate writers involved as well. I invited a little cluster of them into my classroom for a discussion of writing and writers, and we brainstormed a list of questions they would like to ask Claudia Mills. They immediately started passing my copy of the book around and chatting about it with one another. I was thrilled to see this, because I wondered if the things I connect with as an adult who was a kid like Autumn would also click for my 5th graders.
Writing a book that celebrates writing and creating is wonderful, but I'm also so thankful for authors who take the time to share their insights with young readers and writers. Thank you so much for your wonderful words and the gift of your time, Claudia! (I have to admit - I kinda want to know why her nickname in junior high was Tarzan now...)
Thanks for all these great questions, Maria, and for giving me the chance to answer them!
1) How did you get your first book published? How many had you submitted for publication before that one got published?
I have the most unusual “how I got published” story of anyone I know. My first “grownup” job was working at a big New York City children’s book publisher: Scholastic. I was an editorial secretary/assistant to three editors, back in the days when all correspondence was produced on an old-fashioned typewriter. I had started submitting manuscripts to other editors in New York City, and they all came back rejected. I don’t remember exactly how many rejections I had at that point – maybe a dozen? Then I hit upon the idea of sending one of my own stories to my own publisher, to Scholastic, using a pseudonym, a fake name, so they wouldn’t know it was me. The first story I sent to Scholastic was rejected – and I was the one who had to type the rejection letter! Ditto for my second story: I had to type another rejection letter to myself. But when I sent them my third story, they actually asked me to write an evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses, and I surprised myself by finding plenty of things that needed to be fixed. The editor mailed the author (me!) a copy of the report her assistant (me!) had written (to myself!) and invited me to revise it according to those suggestions and resubmit it for publication. That became my book At the Back of the Woods.
2) Are there any special ways you get your ideas? Do you keep ideas in a writer’s notebook? If so, can you show us a page from it?
|It's a sample page! How cool is that?|
3) Is there a special way you brainstorm? We love to use special color pens. Do you?
Oh, colored pens would be wonderful! Maybe I should get myself some! But I use the same pen always and my special way of brainstorming is just thinking aloud on the page. I write instructions to myself like “Something funny has to happen!” or “What is this book really ABOUT?” And then I just sit there writing replies to my own questions and comments.
4) We’ve written stick figure comics, stories about the children of fairy tales, ponies vs. vampires, and written a script of a talk show using our classmates. Our teacher liked to write stories about aliens and time travel in elementary school. What kind of stories did you write when you were little?
I want to read all of these! I can’t help but wonder what “ponies vs. vampires” is about! My sister and I spent much of our childhood making up – but not writing down – stories about princesses in the imaginary countries of Bladen (perfectly round), Maloone (shaped like a star), Socker (shaped like a sock), and Moo (shaped like – you guessed it – a cow). Now I so wish we had put them in writing. Most of what I did end up writing down were stories drawn from my own life, such as the collection of my 8th grade real-life misadventures, T Is for Tarzan (“Tarzan” was my junior high school nickname – don’t ask!).
5) Can you share something with us that you wrote when you were in elementary or middle school?
The stories from T Is for Tarzan are too long to share here, but here’s a poem I wrote in fifth grade about the fantasy world I created with my best friend, Susan Crystal.
Susan Crystal and I have reason to fear
That on some day in a faraway year
We’ll jump up and down and shout out loud
And take up residence on a pink cloud.
Susan Crystal and I have reason to think
That we’ll someday move to a cloud that’s pink.
With cats and dogs and chicks and pigs,
We’ll stay up all night and dance Irish jigs.
Susan Crystal and I have reason to do
An interesting project on a cloud that is blue.
We’ll build a labyrinth, never doubt,
That will just about make your eyes pop out.
Susan Crystal and I together will dwell
In a place much like Heaven and not much like Hell
And there we’ll show you how much we can do
On a cloud that is pink and a cloud that is blue.
6) What are some of the books you loved in elementary school?
Oh, so many! I loved Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, A Wrinkle in Time, and the “adventure” books of British author Enid Blyton (Castle of Adventure, Island of Adventure, Circus of Adventure, etc.). Most of all, I loved, and still love, the “Betsy-Tacy” series of Maud Hart Lovelace, based on her own childhood in Mankato, Minnesota, at the turn of the twentieth century. I have read them over and over again countless times. To this day, my favorite book in the whole world is Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown.
7) Which of your books have been the most popular? Which was your favorite to write?
It’s so hard for authors to guess which of our books will be the most popular, or to figure out why one book appeals to readers more than any other. My most popular book, by far, is 7 x 9 = Trouble!, about a third-grade boy struggling with the times tables. For many years, it sold more copies than all the rest of my books put together. I think my favorite to write was my recent middle-school novel Zero Tolerance, about a seventh-grade girl who is facing mandatory expulsion for bringing the wrong lunch to school by mistake (her mother’s lunch, which contained a knife to cut her mother’s apple). Usually when I write a book I have a pretty good idea of how the story is going to turn out, but when I wrote Zero Tolerance, I wasn’t sure until the very end of the book whether Sierra would get expelled or not, and whether she would even care at that point if she did. So I had to keep on writing to find out what was going to happen.
8) What do you like to read for inspiration?
My current favorite inspirational book on writing is the new book by Elizabeth Gilbert called Big Magic: Creative Living beyond Fear. If I had time, I’d read it over every single day! Other wonderfully encouraging books for writers are If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
There you have it - an amazing set of answers from an amazing author.
Visit the other stops on the blog tour for this great book!
Calling All Authors! Blog Tour for WRITE THIS DOWN
September 27: Ruth at ruth ayers writes
September 28: Cindy at Charting By the Stars
September 29: Melanie at Two Writing Teachers
September 30: Niki at Daydream Reader
October 1: Kathy at The Brain Lair
October 2: Maria at Maria's Mélange