Author Interview: Ammi-Joan Paquette

Please welcome author AMMI-JOAN PAQUETTE, whose debut novel NOWHERE GIRL comes out September 13th, 2011!

Hello, Joan! Most people in children’s literature circles already know you as a fantastic agent with the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, so let’s just get that out of the way. You’re an agent! *applause*

But … you’re also an amazing writer, and today we are focusing on that. I am thrilled that NOWHERE GIRL is hitting the shelves this month, so let’s start there. This novel has been described by acclaimed author Mitali Perkins as “a lovely Cinderella tale” and by Publisher’s Weekly as a “memorable thriller about identity and belonging.”

Having read an early draft and other snippets, I couldn’t agree more. This novel has it all: beautiful writing, a unique setting, a character on a self-discovery quest facing a mounting set of obstacles. Everyone should run out and read it now! In the meantime, let’s tackle how you were able to pull all of those pieces together so well.

Q: Beautiful writing: There are some beautiful lines throughout NOWHERE GIRL, but I have a favorite line (a definite zinger!) from your manuscript back when I first read it—do you have a favorite line in the novel? Please share!

A: This is a tough one! I’m not sure that I can single out a specific line, but one of my favorite scenes comes early on in chapter 3, where Luchi thinks back to a time when she was very young and, in playing around among the prison bars, gets caught and trapped in them, unable to get loose. When this image fell into place for me, it seemed to do more than just describe an incident in Luchi’s past; it extended into a metaphor depicting her life as a whole. The larger-than-life feel of this image lingered with me long after its writing.

Q: Character: above all, NOWHERE GIRL is a very authentic story that rings very personal. Were you able to pull any experiences out of your own life to bring this authenticity to Luchi’s voice?

A: There wasn’t much in Luchi’s physical journey or life events that overlapped with mine, but I have definitely drawn from experience in her emotional progression. That feeling of sometimes not quite fitting in, of wanting to belong or being unsure exactly who you are while growing up—I think many people experience this to a certain extent, and with all my travel and assorted life paths, I’ve certainly had more than my fair share. If some of that early insecurity can translate into authenticity and a ring of truth for Luchi’s journey, then perhaps all of those years will have been well-spent after all!

Q: Plot: without any major spoilers, Luchi has to face a lot of obstacles from beginning to end of the novel. Did you, your agent, and/or editor make any major changes along the way?

A: The biggest changes that were made from the first draft was to go more in-depth with Luchi’s journey and the challenges she faces on her way. The basic plot and the story itself was pretty much unchanged from how I first envisioned it, but my editor encouraged me to build on the framework and flesh out certain areas to develop tension and to solidify the structure. The encounter with the pickup truck on the road to Sukhothai, for example, is one that I added in a later revision.

Q: Process: for all the other budding writers out there, could you provide a snapshot of the writing, revising, and editing process and how long it took for this manuscript?

A: Let’s see: I first thought of this story and wrote a very few opening paragraphs in the spring of 2005. After losing track of it for a few years, in 2008 I pulled the idea out again, dusted it off, and started getting serious with research and getting to know this character. The first draft was finished in late 2008; in late 2009 I received a detailed revision letter from Stacy Cantor at Walker, who loved the story but wanted me to do some further work on it before taking it to acquisitions. The final offer arrived in May 2010, and is being published in September 2011.

Q: Beyond NOWHERE GIRL, you also have several other books (picture books and another novel) in the works. Can you share a little bit about them?

A: My next book to be released will be THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO CHASING MERMAIDS, a companion book to THE TIPTOE GUDIE TO TRACKING FAIRIES (Tanglewood, 2009). This will be out in spring next year. I am also hard at work on a YA science fiction novel with Random House (title still being determined). This should be out in spring 2013, along with a picture book from Candlewick, GHOST IN THE HOUSE, in fall 2013.

Q: And finally the question everyone probably wants to know: how do you do it???? As a successful agent, wife, mom, critique partner, and writer, you manage to get everything done, and done well. Any strategies that are working for you that you could share?

A: This is a tough one to answer, but mostly I think a lot of it just comes from loving what I do. We all wear many different hats, and for every one thing you do there’s always something else that you end up not having time for. But I feel so lucky that I love my work, and I guess that gives me the incentive to squeeze little bits of it in anywhere I can. Which reminds me… I’d better get back to it!

Thank you so much, Joan, for giving us a window into your debut novel and life as a writer! So excited to see this in print!!

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