author of Every Shiny Thing, out April 17, 2018
Author, I Never is a new segment in which I interview fellow authors about the writing process, breaking into the industry, and breaking rules. I ask some hopefully novel questions along with some of the old standards, and finish it up with a round of I Never to find out what cardinal writing rules we've broken.
Question the first: Laurie, when did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
I always loved reading and writing, but it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties, when I started teaching middle school English, that I realized I wanted to write novels. As I got to know my seventh and eighth grade students, I remembered my own middle school years in vivid detail, and I remembered the books that had comforted me, thrilled me, and shaped me at that age. The summer after my first year of teaching, I started to write a story about a seventh grade girl, and I was hooked!
Question the second: What has been your proudest or most exciting moment as an author so far?
I was so proud and excited when I saw the first-pass pages for my debut middle grade novel, Every Shiny Thing. It suddenly looked like a real book instead of a Word document, and there were so many thoughtful, beautiful details, particularly with the fonts and embellishments at the beginning of each chapter. When I opened that first-pass PDF, it hit me that a whole team of people cared about and believed in this book so much that they wanted to make every aspect of its production special.
Question the third: At what point did you think to yourself "I've made it" or at what point do you think you'll feel that way?
When I sold my first solo novel, which is currently titled Up for Air and is scheduled for publication in 2019, I had a definite “I’ve made it” moment…or at least an “I’ve made it to a place I wasn’t sure I’d reach” moment!
I could not be more thrilled about Every Shiny Thing, which I co-wrote with my talented friend Cordelia Jensen, but it was a long road toward selling a solo novel for me. I signed with my agent in 2013, and I had three novels go on submission that ultimately didn’t sell before Every Shiny Thing sold. Cordelia had already sold two fabulous YA verse novels, Skyscraping and The Way the Light Bends, and even though I was very proud of my work on Every Shiny Thing, a small part of me worried that maybe I was riding on her coattails a bit and couldn’t make it on my own. So it was very gratifying for me when our editor wanted to buy my new solo novel, a story I am extremely passionate about!
I can't wait to hear more about it! Question the fourth: Did any experienced authors or industry people mentor or give you helpful guidance on your journey to publication?
Jill Santopolo, who is the Editorial Director at Philomel Books as well as an incredibly prolific and successful author, was a very generous and helpful mentor to me when I started writing. Jill told me to celebrate every success in the writing and publication process, however small it seems, because there are so many hard moments and long waits, and I’ve tried to remember that advice and honor all of my happy milestones along the way. Jill also suggested that I enroll in the Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, which seriously changed my life. I worked with amazing faculty members, I grew immeasurably as a writer and as a writing teacher, and I connected with some of my closest friends, including my co-author Cordelia!
Question the fifth: Have you ever had a time when you've felt like giving up?
Yes, definitely. The closest I came to giving up was during the second time I had a book on submission, in 2014-2015. I had gotten a lot of really positive responses for my first book on sub, but ultimately most editors who liked it felt it didn’t have a big enough hook to stand out in the marketplace. I had genuinely believed that my second one did have a big hook…but then we got the same kind of feedback all over again, and I didn’t know what to do with it.
I was making a lot of sacrifices to carve out writing time and feeling really discouraged, and I started to wonder if it might not be worth it to keep giving up sleep, social time, and down time to pursue my dream of being a published author. But by that point, I had invested so much and had gotten so close to selling a book that giving up would have felt like a waste and a betrayal of myself. And anyway, it turns out that I’m a lot happier when I’m writing than when I’m not!
Question the sixth: What was the most inconvenient time or place you were struck by inspiration?
I am often struck by inspiration when I am attempting to take breaks from writing, especially when I’m reading for pleasure. Recently, on vacation, I was sitting with my husband, enjoying a lovely view and reading a really fun YA romantic comedy, Who’s That Girl by Blair Thornburgh. I just wanted to be immersed in the book, but I kept getting ideas for a YA rom-com I’ve been thinking about writing, and then I had to stop reading to write them down.
I never thought about that before! But I also often get ideas when I'm on vacation and trying to rest my brain. Question the seventh: Can you give us a hint to help us find an "easter egg" or hidden item to look for in one of your books? Maybe an obscure clue if there's a mystery thread, or a reference you threw in to a favorite book or song?
What a fun question! There are lots of references to real Philadelphia places that people who live in the area will recognize. The cookie place on 16th Street that gets a quick mention is Insomnia Cookies, a place some of my former students once convinced me to pick up treats for them. And there are other shops and landmarks in Center City and in Mt. Airy/Chestnut Hill, as well—an Anthropologie, a Starbucks, a consignment shop, the Wissahickon Creek, and more. Also, I took many details for the Halloween scenes from Halloween assemblies at the schools I’ve worked at. Many of my former students will recognize the toilet paper mummy contest, the costume prize categories, the chaos of everyone changing into their costumes at lunch…and even the homemade iPhone costume!
How fun! Okay, time for the...
I Never Round
The basic rules of I Never, the kid friendly version- I state a generally established writing rule (or at least a norm). If you've broken that rule, state your guilt for the record.
I never made up a word in my manuscript, and stood by it during copyediting.
I’m not sure I made up words, exactly, but I definitely fought to keep some words that weren’t technically correct, such as “loud” when it should have been “loudly,” to preserve my character’s voice. I think my former students, whose grammar I was always correcting, would have been amused by my resistance to being “corrected!”
I never had an amazing idea right before bed, and decided sleep was more important.
I’ve done this several times. I’m not a great sleeper, and if I rouse myself out of an almost-asleep state, I’m dooming myself to a night of struggling to settle back down. Sometimes I have to choose sleep!
I never started a story with a character waking up, looking in the mirror, or in a bathtub.
Ha! That first novel I wrote after my first year of teaching (which I think of as my practice book) started with a character waking up…and the current version of my 2019 novel starts with a character looking in a mirror, so apparently I haven’t learned my lesson!
No judgment! Breaking rules is encouraged here. I never worked on two manuscripts at once.
I do this a lot, as long as I’m revising one and drafting the other, but I can’t draft two books at once.
I never went several days or even weeks without writing.
All the time! Starting this fall, I’m taking some time off of teaching to focus on my writing and my family, but the only way I managed to balance teaching and writing for the last several years was to take several days off from writing when I had to grade big assignments and then dedicate big chunks of time to writing during every grading lull and every summer. Sometimes if I’m on a roll drafting, I commit to a small amount of daily writing even when I’m busy, but it often makes me too anxious to steal tiny bits of time that only make me regret that I can’t do more.
I never wrote "for a long moment."
Oh, I’m sure I have!
I never cheated during NaNoWriMo.
I haven’t cheated…but I’ve never attempted NaNoWriMo because I always break another drafting rule—I stop to re-read and edit from the beginning whenever I’m stuck rather than pushing through, so I know it wouldn’t work for me!
Thank you so much for appearing in Author, I Never! When and where can we look for, preorder, or buy your next or most recent book, and where can we follow you on social media?
Thanks for having me! Every Shiny Thing is available for preorder on Amazon, and it has a Goodreads page. I’m on Twitter and Instagram as @LaurieLMorrison, and my website is lauriemorrisonwrites.com. And my solo debut is on Goodreads as well!
Bonus question: If your book had a theme song, what would it be?
Every Shiny Thing is, at its heart, a friendship story, so I’m going to go with a song that always ended up playing at the end of middle school dances back when I was my characters’ ages: “That’s What Friends Are For.”
A true classic. DJ Spotify, is that a tear?