Today, I’m pleased to be joined by my fellow 2017 Debut Author, Kristin L. Gray, whose debut, Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge, just came out last week from Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books and by the way, I bought it and you should too!
JR: Hi, Kristin and thanks for joining us today.
KG: Thanks for having me! J
JR: Before we begin, can you tell us a little bit about Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge and the impetus behind writing it?
KG: Sure! Vilonia is a caring, spunky fourth grader whose Mama has been in one sad funk ever since their Nana died. That’s left Vilonia in charge of lots of things at home—laundry, cooking, and a super-secret project that’s 100% hush-hush. So when Vilonia sees a sign at the vet’s office saying pets can help people fight depression, she knows exactly what will help her Mama feel better: a dog.
Originally, I’d set out to write a story about a girl who’d been a preemie (like me) adopting a dog who was born preterm. And I think a kernel of that first story still shines through . . . but after talking with my vet tech, I decided I needed to go a different route. So one day while I was drafting, I realized Mama was sad. Then I had to figure out why and what that meant for Vilonia.
JR: I saw on your website, www.kristinlgray.com, that you have five kids and two dogs. How do you ever find time to write?
KG: I try to snatch pockets of time, though I’m not the best at it. When they were small, I wrote during naptimes or for the few hours they were at preschool. I managed several picture book drafts and one novel, which will stay in a drawer. And I always carry a notebook. (Fieldnotes are pocketsize and my personal favorite.) I’ve found I accomplish quite a bit of writing and brainstorming while waiting in the car for my kids to finish up their various activities. But in all honesty, I drafted VILONIA the year my youngest went to kindergarten. Having those mornings free helped. And the dogs! They are big kids! But a Kong filled with Peanut Butter can buy me a few moments of peace.
JR: Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey getting to this point?
KG: At first, I tried writing picture books, as that is what I was reading with the kids at home. For about three years I got critiques at conferences and sent out the occasional query. I received mostly positive feedback, but I couldn’t quite make anything stick. Then one day an editor wrote back and asked, “Have you thought of trying anything longer?” So that planted the seed that maybe I should try a middle-grade, and I did. Of course that one didn’t sell, but the next one did! I took early pages of VILONIA to Andrea Brown’s Big Sur Writing Conference and was lucky enough to be paired with Caryn Wiseman, who is now my agent. She got Vilonia’s voice and humor. I spent another year working on the manuscript before she sent it out to editors. I’m happy to say VILONIA sold relatively quickly (during a big NY blizzard).
JR: What’s your writing process like?
KG: Oy. Lots of false starts. Lots of looking at baked goods on Pinterest. Lots of brainstorming with friends as I draft, often via text. But there is nothing sweeter than when the puzzle pieces fall into place and the story comes together. Those moments are the best.
JR: What was your favorite childhood book and who’s your favorite author?
KG: I will forever buy anything Rebecca Stead writes. I adore her writing. Kate DiCamillo is up there, too. Even her Facebook posts are wonderful. And favorite childhood book? Nancy Drew. I flew through the classics as a kid, and then the Case Files started when I hit middle school, so I read those, too.
(I read them all also)
JR: What’s your favorite movie?
KG: I’m drawing a blank! I’ll go with The Goonies.
(Also among my faves!)
JR: Something people would be surprised to learn about you?
KG: I’m a twin.
JR: Do you do a lot of research when you write?
KG: It depends on what you call a lot! I actually love the research part, and I will often use it as an excuse to not start the real work, the writing!
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?
KG: I have a few friends who are always willing to brainstorm plot ideas, and they are so great to check in on my writing progress. And yes, we beta read for each other, too. I can’t imagine not having fellow writers in my life. They are more than my critique partners. They are my friends and support group.
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?
KG: Writing is rewriting. (Believe me, I know.)
And for writers looking to break in? Just keep swimming. Everyone’s path is different. And there’s only one you. Only you can tell your story. Also, cake helps.
(I wish I had known about that cake rule years ago!)
JR: What are you working on next?
KG: A mystery with an all-girls cast. I love the idea and hope I can pull it off!
JR: Is there anything else that you want to share with our readers or perhaps tell them how they can follow you on social media?
KG: If I could say one more thing it would be to just keep reading, writing, and talking about great books! And if you’re on social media, please say hello. I’m on twitter or Instagram @kristinlgray.
Thanks so much for having me on The Tuesdays!
JR: Before we go, I always like to ask, who’s your favorite member of The Tuesdays? You can say anyone you want, like for example, me. Or you can choose any of the others, but before you answer, did I ever tell you about the time when Faran saw Peter Pan, he refused to clap to help bring Tinkerbell back to life?
KG: Faran! We can fanboy/fangirl over Kelly Clarkson together
JR: I guess that’s a good choice, if you don’t mind fairy-killing writers. Whatever. Anyway, thanks again for joining us, Kristin, and good luck with Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge!