A dear friend of mine - Michelle Knudsen (of THE DRAGON OF TRELIAN, THE LIBRARY LION, etc...) has a new novel coming out called EVIL LIBRARIAN and it is a hoot! I'm thrilled she stopped by to talk to us about it today...
People often want to know the story behind a story — where the idea came from, what the process was from blank page to publication. The later stages are usually easy to talk about, but the beginning part is always hard for me. I try to pay attention, when I first start to get an idea, because I know people are going to ask me about it later ... but I’m usually just so excited to feel an idea coming together that I don’t want to think too much about where it came from and risk messing it up. Ideas can be fragile things when they first begin to materialize. And then of course once it feels solid enough to hold up to more intense scrutiny, often I’ve forgotten what the initial moment of inspiration actually was.
Here is what I do remember about the very beginning of Evil Librarian: I wrote the first draft of the first chapter in late March/early April 2009. I was in my second semester at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, working toward my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, and needed a break from the heavier fantasy novel I was focusing on as my main project. I seem to remember starting it while on a plane, but I may be making that up. It was only the second time I’d attempted a novel in first person (the first being my other VCFA novel-in-progress, started a few months before). I’d been purposely choosing first person at school because it was hard for me; close third person was my go-to POV, and I wanted to push myself to try different and more challenging things. It had been a real challenge with the first novel, slow and sometimes painful, but Cyn’s voice in Evil Librarian came so quickly and naturally to me that writing her story was a pleasure. I had no idea what the story was going to be about when I began. I just started writing. And then I liked it, and I kept going.
I kept working on Evil Librarian throughout my MFA program (along with my other novel, various picture book drafts, critical essays, etc.), and by the time I graduated I had about 80 pages. I sent those to my editor, who liked them (yay!) and then worked on a synopsis to show her I could figure out where the story was going to go. And then I wrote another, longer synopsis, and then a chapter-by-chapter outline (another first for me) and then eventually I had the whole novel, which went through another couple of revisions under my editor’s guidance and then a lot of last-minute tweaks and fixes until they finally made me stop touching it and it was done.
One of the hardest things about this book, other than eventually trying to figure out what was actually going to happen in the story, was getting past my fears of trying to be funny. At the beginning, I could see that at least some of the initial pages I’d written were funny; my advisors at school thought they were, and when I read little parts out loud at occasional writerly gatherings, the people listening laughed in all the right places. That was nice. When you read something serious to an audience, even if it’s great, the most reaction you get in the moment is sort of a hushed “hmmmm” sound. But when you’re funny, people laugh. Sometimes a lot. And it feels like very honest feedback — there they are, in the moment, reacting with pleasure to your work. It was amazing. But then I realized I had to keep being funny. On purpose. How could I manage to be funny for an entire novel? What if I couldn’t? What if only the beginning was funny, and then everyone kept waiting for the next funny part and it never came?
One of my MFA advisors wisely advised me to stop worrying about it. I had enough other stuff to worry about; the plot, for example, since in the beginning I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. And I had Cyn’s voice, and Cyn was funny. So if I just kept going, it stood to reason that more of her humor would come across, and I could trust her to keep my readers engaged and laughing. So that is what I tried to do. And of course there was a lot of other stuff to focus on: not just the plot, but what I wanted the book to ultimately be about, the themes underneath the story, the relationships among the characters, the pacing and the (hopefully) exciting or scary parts and the integration of all the musical theater elements that Cyn and I both loved so much. It ended up being a story about a lot of things, I think, and also brought back a lot of my own high school memories, which were wonderful to re-experience. My high school friends are still some of my best and closest friends today, and although none of them actually make a specific appearance in the book, all of them influenced my take on this story and my vision for what Cyn’s high school experience was like.
BLOG BOOK TOUR!
Visit other blogs on Mikki's tour for EVIL LIBRARIAN:
WhoRuBlog, http://www.whorublog.com/ - 9/9/2014
Elizabeth O. Dulemba, http://dulemba.com - 9/13/2014
Random Chalk Talk, http://randomchalktalk.blogspot.com/ - 9/10/2014
Books 4 Your Kids, http://www.books4yourkids.com/ - 9/11/2014
Green Bean Teen Queen, http://www.greenbeanteenqueen.com/ - 9/12/2014
Katie's Book Blog, http://katiesbookblog.com/ - 9/15/2014
Word Spelunking, http://www.wordspelunking.blogspot.com/ - 9/16/2-14
Book Chic Club, http://www.bookchicclub.blogspot.com/ - 9/17/2014
Candlewick has kindly agreed to give away one free copy of EVIL LIBRARIAN to one of my lucky followers. Must live in the US to win - enter below.