Sasha is so excited for her school’s Winter Variety Show! She and her best friends, twins Karly and Kevin, have been working on a song and dance routine for it, with super cute candy cane costumes.
Sasha is sure they’ll be the best. And she’s even more confident that her secret plan — to tell Kevin about her crush on him — will go off without a hitch.
But Sasha is starting to realize that she’s overcommitted herself, between rehearsing for the show, regular dance class, after-school clubs and committees, and ever-increasing amounts of homework.
When nothing ends up going as planned, can Sasha still step up and make the most of her moment in the spotlight?
Please describe your pre-publication craft apprenticeship. How did you take your writing from a beginner level to publishable?
When I began writing seriously (with the goal of publishing), I thought I knew more than I did. I loved children’s literature. I’d been a classroom teacher of the age group I wanted to write for. I’d taken creative writing courses and I’d participated in poetry workshops. Plus, I had a bunch of half-baked stories already on my computer. How hard could it be? Uh…I didn’t know what I didn’t know!
I signed up for an intensive Lisa Yee’s taught on villains. (Side note: Millicent Min, Girl Genius (Scholastic, 2003) is one of my all time favorite middle grade novels.) By the end of the weekend, I realized this was going to be a lot harder than I’d thought. So I then moved into the phase where I will probably live forever: I know what I don’t know.
When I felt like I’d reached a plateau in my learning (and in an early manuscript), I attended the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop. There my fabulous faculty advisor, Tami Lewis Brown taught me how a character’s yearning can drive a story and how to raise questions for your reader.
Alan Gratz who was also on the faculty taught a session on structure and the hero’s journey that fundamentally changed the way I think about story. I buried (figuratively) a manuscript there but those days in Honesdale, PA were invaluable. I dream of returning!
|Cynthia and the 2014 Writing Mentorship finalists. Laney is on far right.
Photo by Sam Bond.
On every level, Cynthia helped me grow—from rethinking word choice to turning a stereotype on its head to slimming down an overwritten first draft. She was thoughtful and generous, and I will be forever grateful for the wisdom she shared.
Along the way, I’ve read numerous craft books and shared countless first drafts with my smart and supportive critique group. The learning never ends.
What were the best and worst moments of your publishing journey?
There are so many wonderful firsts: holding an ARC, walking into a book store and spotting your book face out on the shelf, having a reader say your story resonates with them.
|Scenes from Laney’s book party|
I’ve loved seeing the photos people have posted of Peppermint Cocoa Crushes on social media. Like all the Swirl novels, the cover is very photogenic especially with a cup of cocoa nearby!
But getting to those firsts was definitely filled with highs and lows. When I signed with a wonderful agent in 2015, I thought I’d made it. I assumed my manuscript would sell within a matter of months.
If this one didn’t sell, the next story would. But then my agent moved back to the publishing side of the business and that meant I no longer had an agent. My partner was gone. I had a manuscript that had never sold and a second one that needed a lot of work. It felt like I was back at square one!
It was a great lesson. Okay, it did not feel like a great lesson at the time! But it taught me to focus on what I can control (my ideas, the quality of my writing) because the rest of it? I can’t control.
Fast forward a year (or so) and my former agent turned editor, approached me about writing a novel for Sky Pony’s new line for tween readers. Yay! And that was the start of Peppermint Cocoa Crushes.
What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers?
- Immerse yourself in stories.
- Spend time developing your ideas.
- Write! Write! Write!
- Be open to feedback.
If you are able to go to a conference, sign up for a critique session with an agent, editor or published writer. Listen and learn. These are industry professionals who know what works and what sells. And along the way, your skin will grow thicker. I promise.
When I received the editorial letter for Peppermint Cocoa Crushes, I felt like I’d made it onto the playing field. This was what I’d been training for!
- Remember the why
A Booklist review called Peppermint Cocoa Crushes “full of humor and silly mishaps…A good choice for libraries looking to add some gentle romance to their middle-grade collection.”
Laney Nielson is a former classroom teacher with a master’s degree in education.
Registration is currently open for the 2018 Austin SCBWI Writers & Illustrators Working Conference, set for April 28 and April 29.