One thing writers struggle with is getting their work to measure up to publishing standards. I am pleased to introduce our Cynsations readers the debut authors Stacy Hackney, author of Forever Glimmer Creek (Simon & Schuster, 2020), and Lily LaMotte, author of Measuring Up, illustrated by Ann Xu (HarperAlley, 2020). Both Stacy and Lily share their writing paths and how they “leveled up” their craft in order to “measure up.”
What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?
Forever Glimmer Creek is set in the fictional town of Glimmer Creek, a place where a miracle happens every year. The town and story are based on my family’s visits to a charming town on the water in the Northern Neck of Virginia where the sunsets seem more brilliant, the fish more plentiful, and magic entirely possible.
What first inspired you to write for young readers?
My absolute favorite books are those for young readers. Not only are they often magical, whimsical, and exciting, for many, including me, middle grade literature will inspire a lifelong love of reading.
Reading has always been a place where I feel happy and secure and removed from all the problems around me. I’m grateful to all those early books for giving me that safe place—Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (L.C. Page & Co., 1908), The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (Greenwillow, 1984), Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (Roberts Brothers, 1868)—and I hope I can inspire some of those same feelings in young readers.
I also have four sons right in my book’s target age range and watching them discover a love of reading is a great source of joy to me!
Please describe your pre-publication craft apprenticeship. How did you take your writing from a beginner level to publishable?
By reading everything I could and engaging with the writing community! I started writing ten years ago. I had zero idea what I was doing but a strong desire to create something on the page. My first book was rambling, devoid of an interesting plot, and filled with unlikable and unrealistic characters. I knew there was something wrong, but I wasn’t sure how to fix it. I read craft books on writing and devoured tons of recently published middle grade books.
My writing improved gradually. I queried agents, but I wasn’t having a lot of luck. In retrospect, it was because my writing still wasn’t ready yet. I then entered the online contest called Pitch Wars with my third book. I was chosen as a mentee and was so excited! My mentor was incredible and showed me (in the kindest way possible) that I had no idea how to actually plot and edit a book.
Prior to Pitch Wars, I had simply reworked sentences after I finished the book. I hadn’t gone back, ripped apart the plot, considered themes, analyzed my characters and their motivations—basically, I hadn’t done the actual editing required to bring a book to a publishable level.
Pitch Wars showed me how to do all those things. I now spend months editing my book with the help of my agent and a couple of trusted readers before sending anything to my editor.
What were the best and worst moments of your publishing journey?
Oh my, the worst moment of my publishing journey had to be when I was on submission with my third book, which did not sell. Though I did get close with a few editors, they all ultimately passed. Accepting that the book wouldn’t be published was incredibly difficult. I felt like a complete failure, but I found a way to move onto my next story which became Forever Glimmer Creek. In the end, it all worked out for the best.
The best moment of my publishing journey is a tie between getting the call from my agent that we had an offer and seeing Forever Glimmer Creek in my local bookstore. I will never forget my agent calling me on my cell phone to tell me Simon & Schuster had made an offer on my book. I immediately started crying and called my husband and sister. The offer felt so unreal to me that I actually woke up at three o’clock in the morning and checked my cell phone to make sure I hadn’t dreamed my agent’s phone call the night before!
Equally wonderful was glimpsing Forever Glimmer Creek in a bookstore for the first time. Although my book was released in the early stages of the pandemic, I was fortunate enough to see it on the shelves of my local indie bookstore, bbgb books, here in Richmond on my publication date. The store was closed to the public, but I was able to come into the store off-hours, sign stock, and participate in an Instagram live interview and reading of my first chapter.
While it wasn’t how I imagined my launch event, in some ways it was even more special. It gave my friends and family the chance to virtually celebrate with me all over the country in a time when we needed a celebration!
What model books were most useful to you and how?
For Measuring Up, I read and re-read Scott McCloud’s books Making Comics (William Morrow, 2006) and Understanding Comics (William Morrow, 1994). These two books dive deep into the process of creating comics. What makes comics different from other mediums.
I particularly loved how Scott McCloud explained how to use the visual medium to show the passage of time. Next, I used Lisa Cron’s Story Genius (Ten Speed Press, 2016) to figure out my story and my characters. Her emphasis on not just having an idea about what caused my protagonist’s misbelief but also the details on a scene level.
I wrote many versions of Cici’s origin story before finding the right one.
Once I started writing pages and in revision, I used Donald Maass’s The Emotional Craft of Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books, 2016). One of the most important idea that I took away from his book is that the character’s emotion is not the same as the reader’s emotion.
Both Story Genius and The Emotional Craft of Fiction were turning points in my writing. That was a turning in my writing. This process worked so well for me that I did I used it again in writing my next middle graphic novel!
What is your relationship to the children’s-YA writing and illustration community? To the larger children’s-YA literature community?
I love the kidlit community. I was on the SCBWI Western WA advisory committee for several years in different roles. I was our conference coordinator, an interim assistant regional advisor, monthly programming coordinator, and Weekend on the Water Retreat coordinator. Sadly, we had to cancel our Weekend on the Water Retreat this spring.
The kidlit community is so giving, helping each other with time and expertise, rooting for each other to succeed.
As an MFA in Writing student/graduate, how did that experience impact your literary journey?
Going to Hamline’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults was the best thing I ever did to deepen my craft.
I had the privilege to work with Phyllis Root, Emily Jenkins, Gary Schmidt, and Jackie Briggs Martin during the program and with Gene Yang, Laurel Snyder, and Anne Ursu as my post-grad faculty. Each of them helped me to think critically about characters, setting, plot, theme, among other craft techniques. Measuring Up wouldn’t have been written if Gene hadn’t been kind and generous enough to take me on as an additional student to his regular ones.
I have so much gratitude to the faculty, the staff, the students, and alums. I love being a part of the Hamline MFAC community.
What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers?
I truly believe in deliberate practice. In his research, K Anders Ericsson found that mastering a subject requires not just any type of practice but feedback from a knowledgeable person. In my case, feedback from teachers, critique groups, beta readers steer my practice of writing so that I don’t end up spinning my wheels.
I know wheel spinning as I did it for eight years. I depend so heavily on my critique groups that I have three separate weekly critique groups! They are alums of my Hamline MFAC program or are just very knowledgeable writers from their own years of writing. I depend on them to tell me where things don’t work and to help me brainstorm fixes.
Aside from the workshops at SCBWI, I’m a member of 12×12 and Storyteller Academy. I’ve taken in-person classes through the Highlights Foundation and online classes through The Writing Barn. And, I received an MFA from Hamline’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. There are so many sources of learning available today. Take advantage of as many as you can.
Stacy Hackney grew up in Virginia where she spent her early years reading everything she could get her hands on and singing in the school choir. She graduated from Wake Forest University with a BA in English and received a JD from the University of Virginia School of Law. She currently lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her husband, four sons, and their rescue dog named Albert. Forever Glimmer Creek is her first novel. Learn more at StacyHackney.com.
Lily LaMotte is the debut author of Measuring Up, illustrated by Ann Xu, with HarperAlley (Fall 2020). When she isn’t writing picture books and middle grade graphic novels, she’s cooking up new recipes. Sometimes, when she sees the gray clouds outside her window in the Pacific Northwest, she loads up the campervan for a writing retreat camping trip with her husband and two dogs.
Lily LaMotte has an MFA from Hamline’s Writing for Children and Young Adults. She is passionate about supporting libraries and is a King County Library System Foundation Board member. She was also on the SCBWI Western WA advisory committee for many years in different roles. Visit her at Lily LaMotte.
Stephani Martinell Eaton holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts where she won the Candlewick Picture Book Award and the Marion Dane Bauer Award for middle grade fiction. She is represented by Lori Steel at Raven Quill Literary Agency.