What drew you to writing middle grade?
For as long as I live, I’ll remember the exhilaration of reading a handful of books as a boy: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Danny and the Champions of the World, Charlotte’s Web, The Chronicles of Narnia and others.
They truly come from a place of wonder. Since children are more in touch with that wonder, the books can resonant inside them, deep inside like tuning forks. Those stories changed me. They expanded my insides.
I want to write books for that 10-year-old version of myself. My hope is that one day one of them will resonate with some other child in the world, and that, perhaps, it’ll change the trajectory of his or her life (no matter how subtly).
Have you set parameters for your book within the specs of the genre?
Not much beyond the standard middle grade mandates: Definitely no sex. No hand-holding. No blushing kisses. Beyond that, I think anything goes so long as it’s fairly short (my current draft is 57,000 words long).
Talk a bit about your process. Do you blast out a draft/specific word count at each sitting? Self-edit as you go? What is your typical SOP?
Writing a book is such a long journey. We’re Frodos marching for Mount Doom. It’s easy to lose the path, to forget how far we’ve traveled. I try to write every day (on my lunch break and on Fridays when I have the day off), and I’ve gotten in the habit of compulsively tracking my writing stats in a spreadsheet.
I used to use daily word-count goals, but – since I’m editing more now – I’ve switched to an hours-based goal (shooting for 10 hours a week, usually getting in 7 or 8). When I’m discouraged, I turn my spreadsheet into a little chart that shows me how many pages I’ve edited over time. Then, I can extrapolate how many more days I have to go with every single draft. Seeing that upward-sloping line is a metaphor for how I want to live my life.
I love writing first drafts, but editing is the most important part of writing. It’s where we all try to cut corners. When I first shopped my manuscript to agents, it was way too early. I realized that because I wasn’t getting any requests to see it. Around that time, I went to one of Kristina McBride’s events, and she mentioned that she helps authors edit their books. I hemmed and hawed over hiring her because we weren’t exactly flush with cash. By that time, though, I’d burnt through about half of all the middle grade agents listed in Writer’s Market (I believe there were 40 or so). If I didn’t change something, I wasn’t going to get an agent.
So I hired Kristina, and it’s been one of the best investments of my life. Reading through her comments, I felt like a watchmaker’s apprentice, like she’d taken the spine off my book and showed me how to rearrange its guts, how to take out the pieces that didn’t work, how to grease the parts that did.
I spent months reworking my manuscript again. Then, I sent out more query letters and first chapters. I got an agent not long after that. Of course, my agent had more editorial feedback for me, and I’ve been working on new rewriters for more than a year now. I think the book’s getting better every day.
That wouldn’t be the case without insightful feedback. You editors really are the arm us blind writers clutch. You show us things we cannot see.
Fredrick Marion is writing a middle grade fantasy book tentatively titled “The Very Strange and Very Secret Trashcan Club.” He writes a weekly email newsletter for artists and writers that’s available at www.fredrickmarion.com.
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