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!!

Historical Fiction: Equal Parts Historical and Fiction?

When I first started my current WIP—a YA historical novel—I was hoping to use the facts exactly as they were and just fill in the holes with my fantastic story. *coughs* I wrote about 20K words using this plan.

Unfortunately, I hit a wrinkle.

When I started writing my detailed outline, I realized that my story would be soooo much better if I could change some of the facts.

And yet I waffled.

Some things I wanted to change probably wouldn’t be a big deal in regards to remaining true to history. I wanted to change the age and date of death of a rather obscure individual who most people don’t know. I think I’d be OK there. But I also wanted to push the dates that a hugely famous poet wrote a likewise hugely famous series of poems to four years earlier. Ouch.

Could I get around it? Probably. But it might be weird for other cryptic reasons. So I’m still waffling.

How close to history do you keep your historical fiction? Any rules or guidelines that you always follow? Any examples where you decided to break the rules?

Week Five Check-in

The last day of May has rolled in, so time to take stock of #wipmadness progress! How did everyone do? Are you happy with where you ended up against your goals? Congrats to every single one of you for sticking with it!

As I mentioned last week, the theme this week is finishing. My question for you all is when do you declare your manuscript done? Do you have a trusted critique partner who tells you to send it? Do you have a set round of revisions or a checklist  to pass your manuscript through? Do you reach a certain point when you know in your gut that it’s ready?

Because there’s that point, right? When you’re pretty sure you’ve done all the right things: multiple several rounds of revision, hiding the manuscript in the drawer, more critique, more revision, SEND!

And then, crap. Comments from someone else reveal the major work still needed.


So you do it all again, and again (and most probably, again). Desperately seeking perfection. I hope we all find it!

Book Review: Truth & Dare by Liz Miles

This compilation of daring stories by some of today’s hottest YA authors pulls off some of the greatest shockers I’ve read in stories for teens: rape, murder, armed robbery, and sexuality, to name a few.

The best part is that none of those felt gratuitous in any of the stories, and instead they resonated with authentic voices and believable situations.

A few highlights:
The humor of Sarah Rees Brennan and Luisa Plaja
The surprise twists of Matthue Roth and Sara Wilkinson
The raw emotion of Shelley Stoehr and Jennifer Knight

For me, this compilation of 20 stories was a success–both so that readers can get another taste of the work from authors they already know, as well as discover new favorites.

I hope there will be more books like this to come!

Week Four Check-in

Hello, #wipmadness writers, and welcome to week 4!

Is this month flying by for everyone, or is it just me? Are you on track to make your goals? Have your goals changed over the month? I’m still on track with mine (finishing my gazillionth revision before sending my manuscript off to beta readers), but it’s definitely taking a lot of hard work.

The theme this week is changing directions. I know some of you have made some bold moves this month, like tossing out thousands of words (Angelina) or deciding that your WIP is going to need a sequel (Erin). I wanted to applaud moves like that this week, because sometimes new directions and changed goals are just what the WIP needs.

So what’s the biggest direction-change you’ve done with a WIP? Were you happy with the results in the end? (unless it’s too early to tell!)

My biggest change was taking a kernel–a teeny-tiny kernel–from my very first WIP and turning it into a brand new, much shinier idea. It was scary because it meant the door to that WIP closed for me, and it was something I had hoped to work on again. But in the end, sometimes the darlings we kill have to be entire manuscripts, and I’m looking forward to getting back into the shiny new version once I finish my current WIP.

See you all back here next Monday for the last check-in of the month, where we’ll have another scary topic for discussion: finishing.

Happy writing!

Diversity in YA’s Boston Visit

We were lucky enough in Boston to be a stop on the Diversity in YA tour, which made its way from California to Chicago, and then from Boston to NewYork:

The tour was spearheaded by Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo, two great authors who are doing everything they can to promote more diversity in YA books. The fantastic event in Boston was held at the Cambridge Public Library, around the corner from both Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School and Harvard University, and included authors Holly Black, Sarah Rees Brennan, Deva Fagan, Fransisco X. Stork, along with Pon and Lo.

Moderated by Roger Sutton from the Horn Book, the panel discussed the need for diversity in YA books. As Sutton pointed out, all the authors on this particular panel except Stork write Science Fiction and Fantasy, but between them, they represent Asian, Latino, biracial, LGBT, and disabled characters in their books.

One of the things they spoke about was wanting to read about characters like them. Another of the discussion points was about cover images: will a white kid pick up a book that has a black or Asian kid on the cover? How do we get them out of their comfort zone? The panel–and audience–were divided on this. On the one side, some felt diversity could be sneaked in. If the book isn’t about race, then it’s not necessary to show. At the same time, some felt that YA readers haven’t been given enough of a chance to choose for themselves.

Stork’s take was that putting characters into universal situations makes a book less about race and more about characters that everyone can understand.  He wants readers to accept books that are different to what they’re used to and not just about race.

So why is diversity in YA important to me–a white, straight writer? Having lived in other countries and immersed myself in other languages and cultures, I know what it’s like to be an outsider. It’s difficult, but it’s also interesting. I personally am less interested in reading about “normal” characters, and prefer to be thrown out of my comfort zone entirely.

I was glad to see the panel members agreed. While everyone acknowledged that it’s important to reach beyond stereotypes and do your research when writing beyond your experience, they agreed that diverse characters–even from non-diverse writers–are welcome. In the words of Fagan, “Don’t let fear of making mistakes stop you. Embrace the potential to fail. Do your research and be aware.”

Week Three Check-in!

It’s Monday, and you know what that means in the #wipmadness world. How are you all doing on your goals for the month? Is anyone hitting a mid-month slump?

The theme today is time-panic. I’m sure you know what I mean, because there are so many variations on the time-panic theme in a writer’s life. Here are but a few:

  • Gaaah, so busy. How do I find the time to write?
  • Is that whole revising, letting the manuscript rest, revising again, etc. thing for real? Even though I wrote my draft in three months, it’ll be more like a year or two until I can submit, gaaaaaah!
  •  I don’t want to be old when I first get published. But with the snail’s pace of the publishing world, that means I have to add about 3 years to my finish date, which means, GAAAAH! I’ll be old when my book comes out.
  • So I saw on amazon today that a book with a similar theme to mine is coming out this summer. I haven’t worked on it fast enough! Am I screwed? GAAAAAAAAAH!
Do any of these sound familiar? All of them? What’s your biggest time-panic at the moment? What do you do to stave off the panic besides applying a liberal coating of butt-glue?
Wishing a great and productive week to all!

Week Two Check-in!

Welcome to the second #wipmadness check-in for May!

It was so great to see all the goals posted here last week, and to see all the progress rolling by. Feel free to add your goal here if you haven’t already–the more, the merrier. 🙂

This week’s topic is revision.  Because even if you’re drafting instead of revising now, we all end up in Revisionland eventually. Right? *blinks*

I’ve posted before about applying the principles of Agile (as in software development) to outlining:

But I’m pretty sure that Agile is just as useful an approach for revision in general.  As a quick recap, the principles of Agile are:

  • release often = find good critique partners and share often
  • hold daily scrums = work on WIP every day
  • respond to change = listen to feedback and use it not only to strengthen WIP but also to grow as a writer

How many revisions do you typically do on your WIP? ( not including requested agent and editor revisions) What are your favorite revision methods and processes? One last question for fun. What do you prefer: drafting or revising?

Best of luck in your #wipmadness goals this week, wherever you happen to be in your WIP!

Revising? Try Second Sight by Cheryl Klein

Truth: revision is difficult.

Truth: revision makes manuscripts stronger.

Truth: revision is necessary.

It’s sometimes hard to know where to begin when you sit down to revise. This is especially true when revising your first draft. What aspects of the manuscript need the most attention? Are there any easy fixes?

The good thing is that most writers have tools available: critique partners, books about craft, and writing classes. Critique partners will help you work through the problems specific to your manuscript, will help you brainstorm possible fixes, and will tell you both what you’re doing right and what areas need work. Books about craft often focus about a single aspect of a manuscript, such as plot or character, that you know you must strengthen. Writing classes can likewise focus on a single aspect or a more macro approach–entire manuscript, or novel-writing in general, with a teacher–a mentor–to guide you.

For me, reading SECOND SIGHT was like having all of these tools at my disposal at once. It was like having a great critique partner or teacher–and not just anyone, but the well-known editor Cheryl Klein–in the room with me as she walked me through examples by authors whose work I admire, showing me what I needed to look for in my own work. From the macro to the micro, this book spoke to me about where to focus my revision.

While not a workbook in the traditional sense–like Donald Maass’ WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK–this book contains real how-to information that writers can immediately apply to their own WIPs. I was personally only a few chapters into the book when I began to scribble my notes on the sides of the pages. My scribbles increased as I progressed. My notes weren’t about the text I was reading in the abstract, but about my own manuscript, for example:

What is the point? (Great question!) *scribble, scribble*

What are the main character’s flaws? *more scribbles*

What are the Escalating or Complicating Events? *scribbles running on to next page*

SECOND SIGHT might not be the best first book about craft to read. It does assume that its readers have some basic knowledge about the novel-writing process. Also, it’s probably most helpful to those who already have a completed draft, who are looking for techniques to revise and improve it. I’ve already found it to be a great help, and I’m sure I’ll be referring to it again and again for future writing!

It’s Monday! It’s May! It’s #Wipmadness!

Welcome to the spur-of-the-moment continuation of the fantastic writing challenge that Denise Jaden started in March!

Denise and her awesome writing buds Angelina Hansen, Shana Silver, Shari Green, and Craig Pirrall kept a bunch of us motivated with daily posts as we slogged through new drafts, revisions, or related writing and reading goals that we set at the beginning of the month. They also offered up some fantastic prizes at the end, and boy, was I thrilled to win mine (wheee!).

In April, Denise continued with Monday checkins on her blog, but it’s time to give her a break and pass the torch. I know it’s late in the day on Monday, but consider this the first checkin for May! What are your goals for #wipmadness this month?


See you all here next week! Happy Monday and good writing vibes to all!