New Voice: Megan Jean Sovern on The Meaning of Maggie

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Megan Jean Sovern is the first-time author of The Meaning of Maggie (Chronicle, 2014). From the promotional copy:

Eleven-year-old Maggie Mayfield can’t stop thinking about Oreos and this is just one of her many conundrums. 

She also has two older sisters with bods that don’t stop and she has to wait to campaign for president for almost an entire quarter century.

Then in one summer, her conundrums triple when her father takes a fall at work. What happened? The truth? It’s not what happened to him, it’s what’s happening to him.

The Meaning of Maggie is a novel set in a house too small for all the big problems plaguing a smart girl just trying to survive adolescence armed with after school snacks and deep thoughts.When her father’s legs permanently fall asleep, Maggie begins a search for meaning that she never expected.

And just like that, getting a B doesn’t seem like such a huge deal*.

*Okay getting a B is still a huge deal. But you get the idea.

How did you discover and get to know your protagonist? How about your secondary characters? Your antagonist?

Maggie’s story is inspired by my own. But she’s so different, cooler, more confident and more hotheaded than I ever was. I didn’t want her to have any of my meekness especially when it came to getting to know her dad and what was happening to him. I really shied away from ever wanting to know more about the progression of my own dad’s MS. But Maggie faces it head on. And I love that about her. I love that she goes all in. She pulls up her bootstraps. She’s always searching for more.

The secondary characters of Maggie’s mom, dad and sisters take turns leading her in and out of darkness. But I wanted the reader to always trust them. They really do always have Maggie’s best interest in mind even when that best interest drives her bananas.

And I really consider Maggie’s dad’s MS to be the main antagonist. It has a personality and purpose all its own. And it constantly challenges the family and how they relate to one another. It’s the villain that pulls them a part but eventually pushes them back together.

How did you go about connecting with your agent? What was your search process like?

Who did you decide to sign with? What about that person and/or agency seemed like the best fit for you? What advice do you have for other writers in seeking the right agent for them?

Fate and Google connected me with my super agent Marietta Zacker.

I really had no idea what I was doing. So I researched online how to put together a query letter and then I made a list of twelve agents who represented work that I really loved. I received a few notes of interest right away but they didn’t pan out for one reason or another. And then a month after I had queried Marietta, she called me.

And it was magic. I felt instantly connected and inspired by her. She’s funny and fiery and everything I needed. And she ruined my life and told me to start over completely and write Maggie from first person. And she was totally right. She encouraged me to give it all I had.

My initial manuscript was very timid. And she shook that out of me. So maybe she didn’t ruin my life. Maybe she made it 1000% better.

I took her advice and she disappeared. And then almost a year later, I sent her a completely revised and ready Maggie. She read it in one night and signed me the next day.

I cried buckets.