I am utterly delighted to welcome to my blog today my friend, fellow Texas Sweetheart, and debut Middle Grade author, Christina Soontornvat. I had the great pleasure of reading her novel, The Changelings, long before the incredibly clever folks at Sourcebooks snapped it up. I love this book so much, I blurbed it!
“The Changelings is charming! Perfect for readers who love stories full of magic, adventure, mystery and fairies, topped off with a satisfying and very happy ending. Soontornvat’s debut sparkles and delights!” –Nikki Loftin, author of The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy
Here’s a quick description of Christina’s amazing debut:
All Izzy wants is for something interesting to happen in her sleepy little town. But her wish becomes all too real when an enchanting song floats through the woods and lures her little sister Hen into the forest…where she vanishes.
A frantic search leads to a strange hole in the ground that Izzy enters. But on the other side she discovers that the hole was not a hole, this place is not Earth, and Hen is not lost. She’s been stolen away to the land of Faerie, and it’s up to Izzy to bring her home.
But inside Faerie, trouble is brewing—and Izzy is in way over her head. A ragtag group of outlaw Changelings offers to help, and she must decide whether a boulder that comes to life, a girl that’s not quite solid, and a boy who is also a stag can help her save Hen before it’s too late.
You and every kid you know is going to want this book. But it’s not on sale until September 6! Fortunately for you, Dear Readers, I have a signed copy of an ARC ready to mail out to one of you. So read on, leave a comment with your email address, and in two weeks, on August 28, at midnight CST, a fairy will appear in my computer to choose a randomly selected winner… whose reading life will be Changed forever.
It’s such a thrill to be guest posting on this blog. Nikki Loftin has been my publishing sensei, my own Mr. Miyagi (if Mr. Miyagi was an adorable brunette with a wicked dry sense of humor). Nikki asked me if I’d like to write about my process, or my publishing journey, or craft. And so I’m going to mash it all together and tell you how I go about writing first drafts.
When I first started writing down the words that would eventually become THE CHANGELINGS, I didn’t imagine that I would ever publish a novel. I was an engineer. I worked at a science museum. I loved to read, but I had never studied literature beyond what was mandatory in school. I loved to tell stories, but I had never written any of them down.
But then I became an aunt. Aunties are special. They play fun games. They give candy on the sly. And they tell good bedtime stories.
THE CHANGELINGS started as a story for my two nieces. The first time I told it to them, they were 5 and 3 years old. I remember that they were both sitting on my lap near the Christmas tree, when I began: “Once upon a time, there were two sisters who loved each other very much. One day, the little sister disappeared into the woods and no one could find her…” My youngest niece cried. Her big sister told her to go to bed, and begged me to keep telling the story.
Sadly, we live across the country from each other, so in order to keep the story going, I had to write it down and send it in the mail. They were little, so I didn’t send them too much at one time – 8 pages, maybe 10. And because they were so little, I didn’t want to make them wait too long between letters. So I tried to send them a little bit more of the story each week. It wasn’t until months later, when I had sent my last letter, that I realized what I’d done.
I had drafted a novel.
I would never have done anything with it if I hadn’t happened to be in a work meeting, talking to a Chemist named Brian Anderson, who also happened to be an Austin kidlit author. Brian told me to come to an SCBWI meeting. I pretty much owe everything to Brian. My publishing journey is pretty average: 8 years of rewriting, revising, workshopping, querying, revising, rejections, acceptance, revising, submissions, rejections, revising, submissions, book deal. Piece. Of. Cake.
We sold THE CHANGELINGS as a 2-book deal, with the second book a sequel to the first. When I signed my contract, I already had an outline for a sequel, so I wasn’t worried about writing the next book. But when I sat down to draft, I got nowhere. Writer’s block, sophomore slump, burnout, whatever. I was totally stuck.
I tried my first approach: writing a bit of the story in a letter for my nieces. But I didn’t even have enough material to send them. I did NanoWriMo, but a cruddy manuscript doesn’t get less cruddy just because you type it out faster.
This rut went on for a month. By this time, I had children of my own. One morning on the way to school, my 5 year old said, “Mommy, tell me the story you’re writing.” And so in fits and starts, one scene at a time, I started telling her what happens in Book 2.
I learned that something amazing happens when I tell a story out loud. My brain creates details, characters, plot points right there, on the spot. They come out of nowhere. The less I worry about which words are coming out of my mouth, the faster they come. Something that’s impossible to achieve when it’s just me and my laptop alone in a room, becomes easier when someone else is listening.
Getting the first draft down on paper is the hardest part of the writing process for me. There are endless ways a story can go – or go wrong. Every few pages I want to give up because that first draft is so god-awful that it’s difficult to see how it could ever be molded into something worthwhile. But every time I’ve told a story to my nieces, or my daughter, or her friends, they don’t notice the flaws. They want me to keep going. They whine when I stop. “Just tell us what happens next. Please?”
I used this same storytelling technique to draft another middle grade novel, separate from THE CHANGELINGS series. And I’m now working on a fourth, telling both my daughters the story on the way to and from summer camp. I don’t just tell my own stories, either. I tell fairytales and myths. I retell books (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and kids’ movies (The Goonies). I’ve learned so much about pacing and suspense from telling children classic tales and watching their reactions.
We’ve all heard editors and agents say: “Don’t tell me you tried this book out on your kids (or any kids, for that matter), and they loved it”. I know what they mean. Children can’t and shouldn’t serve as your critique partners. And this drafting method of mine doesn’t mean I get to skip the agonizing hours of butt-in-chair time, writing and rewriting. But at least it gives me something to start with.
And on my really low days – which all writers have, lucky us – sometimes the only thing that keeps me going is the image of my daughter or my nieces, eyes wide, listening, waiting to learn what happens next.
Isn’t she lovely? To win a signed ARC of The Changelings and “find you what happens next,” leave a blog comment below (with a valid email address), and wait for the Blog Giveaway Fairy to contact you!
*North American residents only, please.