Thirteen-year-old Celeste Harris is no string bean, but comfy sweatpants and a daily chocolate cookie suit her just fine. Her under-the-radar lifestyle could have continued too, if her aunt hadn’t entered her in the HuskyPeach Modeling Challenge. To get out of it, she’s forced to launch Operation Skinny Celeste—because, after all, a thin girl can’t be a fat model! What Celeste never imagined was that losing weight would help her gain a backbone . . . or that all she needed to shine was a spotlight.
Our next 2009 Debutante was inspired by events that occurred in seventh grade, when she wore a scary peach bridesmaid dress in her cousin’s wedding and threw up on her gym teacher’s shoes (not at the same event). Although humiliating at the time, these experiences are working for her now–he manuscript Models Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies was awarded the 2006 PEN/New England Children’s Book Caucus Susan P. Bloom Discovery Night Award, and the book will be as a 2009 Featured Title for Scholastic Book Fairs.
This week’s interview is with author Erin Dionne. I’m excited to share it with you partly because I’m so tickled by her blurb (HuskyPeach modeling!), but also because she has some great insights to share! So, without further delay…
Congrats on your debut novel, Models Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies. Can you give us a little statistical rundown on how long it took you to get to this point? How many books? How many rejections? How many days, months, or years?
Thank you! And thanks for hosting me.
MODELS is my second middle grade novel, but I worked on my first one for seven years…and hopefully it’ll never see the light of day! It took me about a year and a half to write and revise MODELS multiple times. After it was complete, I queried 37 agents, received 35 rejections, and was also rejected by two publishers before signing with my agent.
Good for you and so glad you made it! Which “Call” thrilled you more? The call in which you landed an agent or the call in which you landed your book deal? Can you describe to us what it felt like?
The call where my agent told me she’d sold the book, hands down. I was thrilled to sign with my agent, don’t get me wrong, but when I found out that my book was going to find an audience–become REAL–that was amazing. I went into total shock after I hung up from my agent (after giggling through the whole call and struggling to sound as professional as possible), and when I called my husband to tell him the news I couldn’t speak! All I could whisper was “aw-FUR! We got an aw-FUR!” It took him a minute or two to figure out what I was saying. : )
Haha! “aw-FUR”–Love it! Well, This is Fumbling with Fiction, so I have to ask, in your writing career have you ever had a big “Oops!” moment?
Oh, so many! How about not finishing a manuscript before sending a query letter? That happened with MODELS. Of course, the agent requested the first 50 pages, then asked for the rest of the manuscript 24 hours after that. I’d only written about 100 pages! I scrambled to write some more, then did a chapter-by-chapter synopsis for the rest of the book. Needless to say, I wasn’t offered representation. *hangs head in shame* But I like to think of that as a “teachable moment”–so learn from my mistake: FINISH YOUR BOOK BEFORE YOU QUERY!
Now that you are a soon-to-be-published author, seeing the view from the other side, what has been your favorite moment in the publishing process so far? What part of the process has most surprised you?
Working with my editor has been the best experience. I was very lucky in that I had a choice in where MODELS went, and what convinced me were the quality of revision suggestions that my now-editor, Alisha Niehaus, had asked me to do on the first chapter before she took it to Acquisitions. She really *got* my book and characters, and her suggestions make me a better writer. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to work with her.
As for the most surprising…I would have to say that my level of involvement with things like catalog copy, back cover and flap copy has been more than what I expected. My editor has run everything by me and encourages me to make tweaks and changes to follow the voice of the book. I thought I’d have zero input on anything outside of the text. So it’s been fun to be part of all aspects of the process.
Wow! So cool. I had no idea that authors got to do that much in the process. Tell us a little about receiving your first editorial letter. What was yours like? How did you feel when you received it?
It was good, actually! It was about 6 pages long, and focused mainly on expanding scenes and developing themes. I didn’t have to change any plot points in MODELS, so most of the editorial process was focused on augmenting things that were already there. I love revision (I revised MODELS 7 times on my own before it was sold), and was very excited to see what my editor thought and what areas she felt could be improved. Her insights were spot-on, and I agreed with 99.9% of what she said–so it made doing the work fun. I could see the book becoming stronger thanks to her guidance.
I understand your husband is a writer, too. What’s it like living with another writer? Helpful or does it drive you crazy?
He is! He’s a freelance copywriter and writes nonfiction articles. He used to write fiction, and I’m hoping he’ll go back to it someday.
It’s wonderful being married to another writer. Not only does he understand my weird neuroses or obsessions when it comes to revision, but he’s incredibly supportive. I wrote the majority of the first draft of MODELS at our dining room table, in 4 marathon writing sessions, and he never once complained about the number of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and pizza we ate during that time! He’s always encouraged me to put other things aside to write, and now that we have a baby he is really good about taking her and shooing me out the door to my critique group or to write in the library or a cafe. He told me that MODELS would sell…I dedicated the book to him for that reason.
Aww, that’s so sweet! But, 4 writing session!? Those MUST have been marathons.
Finally, if you could have written one book previously published by another author, which book would it be?
THE GIVER, by Lois Lowry. It’s one of my favorite books of all time. She confronts some major life and family issues in a direct, head-on way, and does so beautifully. Plus the setting is just horrifying to me (in a good way!). There’s so much in that book that I use it in my college English classes quite often!
Thanks so much, Chandler! This was fun!
Congratulations again, Erin. And best of luck on your big debut!!