Today, I’m pleased to be joined by my fellow Swanky Seventeens member, Wendy McLeod MacKnight, whose debut, It’s a Mystery, Pig Face, is scheduled to come out February 2017 from SkyPony Press
Hi, Wendy and thanks for joining us today!
JR: Before we begin, can you tell us a little bit about It’s a Mystery, Pig Face and the impetus behind writing it? Fun title by the way.
Love the cover!
WMM: Actually, I wrote the very first draft of the novel a LONG time ago (like in the Jurassic Period!) when I was living on the opposite end of Canada from where I grew up. One of the things that has been an absolute in my life is my firm belief that I grew up in the best neighbourhood ever. I wanted to try and translate that into a story. The lead character, Tracy, is like me, but times a hundred! She wants to live a big life, and she sort of feels like that big life is waiting for her, just around the corner, if only she can sneak up on it. She’s kind of eccentric, and so is her bestie, Ralph, who is obsessed with cooking and wants to be a chef when he grows up. They’re infamous in their school for thinking there are mysteries where there aren’t. Actually, they’re dismal mystery hunters. So when they find a paper bag full of money, their imagination runs amok. The mystery would be enough for Tracy to deal with, but a boy from New York City (which is the center of Tracy’s universe despite never having been there in her life) moves in next door for the summer, her arch-nemesis Jasmine is always showing up like a rock in her shoe, and worst of all, Tracy and Ralph have to work with her little brother, Lester AKA Pig Face. At its heart, the story is about the meaning of friendship.
JR: I read on your site, www.wendymcleodmacknight.com that you grew up in the small town of St. Stephen. I went to the link and it looks beautiful. Has growing up in a small town as opposed to a larger city influenced the things you write about?
WMM: YES! So I grew up in a small town in one of the smallest provinces in Canada. And I love being from a place that most people have never heard of, where people spending the first five minutes upon meeting you to try to figure out if they know your mother or father. In a small town, everything is about relationships. People know your strengths and your weaknesses and they just kind of accept them, and in a lot of ways, celebrate them, because you’re all in it together. So I’m pretty obsessed with that in It’s a Mystery, Pig Face!
I could definitely spend some time in a place like this!
JR: Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey getting to this point?
WMM: Ack! Settle in with a cup of coffee and a piece of pie. I wrote the first draft of Pig Face in 1986. I’ll wait while you pick yourself up off the floor. Yes, I was two years old and a child genius. I sent it to exactly one publisher, who sent me the nicest rejection letter, and then promptly put it in a drawer. But I kept writing here and there and I kept wishing I was a children’s writer. I had this whole other career where I did pretty well – when I left Government, I was the head of the Department of Education in New Brunswick, but all I wanted to do was write. About a month before I turned 50 my last parent died and I said to myself “What do you have to lose?” I left my job. A lot of people thought I was brave, and a lot of people thought I was foolish. Thank heavens I had no idea what I was getting myself into. For example, I had to relearn how to write fiction. Since I already had the old manuscript, that’s where I started. I took courses, read books on writing, and then wrote and wrote and wrote. I began querying agents WAY too early, but some of them were complimentary despite the shape of my manuscript and I kept revising. I knew I had finally gotten the book in good shape by early September 2014; all of a sudden I was getting a lot of requests for full manuscripts and the week that I signed with my fantastic agent Lauren Galit at LKG Agency, I was offered representation by two other agents. But there were 48 other agents before Lauren. I’m always unsure as to whether to be proud of that number, or embarrassed, so I always choose pride! Anyway, Lauren had more changes for me and then we began the submission process in early 2015. Alison Weiss was interested early on and we went back and forth and then Sky Pony eventually bought the book in June of 2015. So while I started it 30 years before, the reality is that I went from beginning to write the book (because trust me it was a complete rewrite) in June 2013 to a deal in June 2015, which I know sounds crazy short to most of your readers, but which seemed really slow to me!
JR: What’s your writing process like?
WMM: Honestly, the most torturous thing for me now is finding a really good concept and refining it into something write-able. Initially, I was a pantser, but more and more I am becoming a hard-core plotter. I do sheets about all of my characters, I figure out the story ARC, and then I plot every scene. When I’m writing I usually pound out 2,000-3,000 words a day, but I don’t really write like that until I am ready to sit down and write the book. I managed to 100,000 words in six weeks for the first draft of my second book. And then I put it in a drawer for at least two weeks, at which point I take it out and marvel at the mess. And then I go for long walks and harangue my daughter into talking about it with me. Then I redo the plot on paper, figure out what new scenes are required, what darlings I must kill, and start again.
JR: What’s your favorite book and who’s your favorite author?
WMM: This is like a Sophie’s Choice question for me! My favourite childhood book was Anne of Green Gables and I would say that if I could only read one author for the rest of my life it would likely be Lucy Maud Montgomery or Charles Dickens. BUT can I say how much I love knowing that I live in the same world where Neil Gaiman and Susannah Clarke live and breathe? Because I really do. As far as I am concerned he is a modern Charles Dickens and she is modern George Eliot – pure genius.
JR: What’s your favorite movie?
WMM: Jonathan, you seemed so nice before this question and the last one. Hands down, The Wizard of Oz, but if you allow me a double bill, I’ll add Casablanca and treat you to popcorn!
JR: I’ll allow it.
JR: Something people would be surprised to learn about you?
WMM: If I’d never gotten published, I was going to open a shoe store! I may have a shoe shopping problem.
JR: Do you do a lot of research when you write?
WMM: I did a ton of research for my second book, and I am currently doing a lot of research on two different topics for the next books I want to write. I am thinking of learning Scrivener, because I am not the world’s best organizer of all of my research. I read how Elizabeth Gilbert had this elaborate filing card system for her book The Signature of All Things, but I know that as much as I admire that kind of approach, I am wholly unable to replicate it!
JR: Here at the Tuesdays, a big part of our success and the purpose of this site, has been being involved in a critique group. Are you involved in one and if so, how has it helped you?
WMM: I am! I love my critique group because we write in all different genres and so we have a completely different perspective about each other’s work. They are so good at catching all of my flaws in logic and ill-constructed characters. I also have a critique partner who lives half a continent away in the U.S. – we meet by Skype regularly. What I’ve found in both cases is that it took us a while to get good at critiquing one another, but with patience and perseverance, we’ve gotten very good at it! I absolutely need them. And what I love best about them all is that they are very kind and generous. That means everything! You have to trust your critique partners!
JR: What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received and is there any advice you can give to writers looking to break in?
WMM: The best piece of advice I’ve ever read is to write the book you want to read. If you’re passionate about your story, that can’t help but some through! My advice: don’t query too early, but don’t work the book to death either. Listen to all advice and keep revising until you find the agent that’s willing to represent you or the publisher willing to publish you. I had decided to query Pig Face 78 times (don’t ask me where the number 78 came from, it escapes me now!) and then I was going to write another book and try again.
JR: What are you working on next?
WMM: I’ve written a fantasy MG novel that there will be some big news about soon! Right now I’m researching three possible MG novel ideas. I also have a half-dead YA fantasy novel that I hope to raise from the dead sometime in the future!
JR: Is there anything that else you want to share with our readers or perhaps tell them how they can follow you on social media?
WMM: Please – don’t give up. As a now professional dream chaser, I can’t stress again how worth it is to try! And I am all over social media and would love to hear from you:
wendymcleodmacknight.com – I blog once a week there and share news that gets sent out once a week to subscribers
JR: Before we go, I always like to ask, who’s your favorite member of The Tuesdays?
WMM: Despite my admiration for all of the Tuesdays, I’m going to have to pick Cathy Castelli, because, you know, middle grade.
BUT I love the title of your book Jonathan as much as I love my own title. I would buy a book with that title no matter what. It always makes me laugh!!!
Thanks again, Wendy!
…Okay, editorial note. See if we can edit out the part about Cathy being her favorite and really highlight the part where Wendy said she loved the title of my book. And please don’t forget this time, I always come off looking foolish when my comments are seen here at the end.