Interview: Holly Schindler and her MG novel, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY (Dial/Penguin)
I’m delighted to kick off the blog tour for Holly Schindler’s THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, which launches from Dial on February 6th.
Holly Schindler is a critically acclaimed YA author; her debut, A BLUE SO DARK, received a starred review in Booklist, was one of Booklist’s Top 10 First Novels for Youth, and won a silver medal in ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year and a gold medal in the IPPY Awards. THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY is her first MG. She can be found working on her next book in her hometown of Springfield, MO (or devouring a plate of Springfield-Style Cashew Chicken, the world’s best writing fuel).
Synopsis for THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY:
August “Auggie” Jones lives with her Grandpa Gus, a trash hauler, in a poor part of town. So when her wealthy classmate’s father starts the House Beautification Committee, it’s homes like Auggie’s that are deemed “in violation.” Auggie is determined to prove that she is not as run-down as the outside of her house might suggest. Using the kind of items Gus usually hauls to the scrap heap, a broken toaster becomes a flower; church windows turn into a rainbow walkway; and an old car gets new life as spinning whirligigs. What starts out as a home renovation project becomes much more as Auggie and her grandpa discover a talent they never knew they had—and redefine a whole town’s perception of beauty, one recycled sculpture at a time. Auggie’s talent for creating found art will remind readers that one girl’s trash really is another girl’s treasure.
Title: The Junction Of Sunshine And Lucky
Author: Holly Schindler
Publisher: Dial (Feb. 6, 2014)
Age Range: 8-12 yrs / Grade level: 3-7
Editor: Nancy Conescu, Executive Editor for Dial Books / Penguin
Holly’s agent: Deborah Warren of East/West Literary Agency
What’s your writing process / what was your writing process for THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY?
I’m really lucky—I’ve been a full-time writer since ’01. When I graduated with my master’s, my mom encouraged me to stay home, devote the entirety of my attention to my writing. It had been a lifelong dream, actually. (I was writing stories as a little girl at my bedroom desk!) In the beginning, of course, I thought it’d take a year or so to write a novel, it’d sell (I’d been lucky enough to place a few shorter pieces while in college, and was under the grand delusion that it’d be easy to sell a book), and I’d be off and running.
Oh, the naiveté. In reality, it took seven and a half years to get my first yes. That’s seven and a half years of full-time work. Seven days a week. I worked harder in my “unemployed” years than I ever had in my life.
The first book I sold was for a YA—A BLUE SO DARK. I sold it myself, to Flux, after more than 80 rejections.
THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY is my third published book—my first MG. The process was its own long journey…The book was initially drafted in ’05, and will be published February 6, 2014!
Most of my books actually start out with a scenario. A what-if. THE JUNCTION was different, in that it started with characters. The first person I saw was Gus. I swear, I saw him just as clearly as I’ve seen any person I’ve met in life. I felt like I was looking through Auggie’s eyes, straight at her Grandpa. It’s a completely different experience starting with a character and building a conflict and subplots around her. Through the whole thing, you kind of grab hold of this person and brave the world with her…You fall in love with her. When it’s all said and done, you can’t wait for the world to meet her, but you miss her, too—more than you do the characters in the books where you start with scenarios.
How did THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY get published?
It was wild, actually—after seven and a half years of full-time effort, I was beginning to feel like all I had to show for my work was a skull-shaped hole in my office where I’d been knocking my head against the wall. In January of ‘09, though, I accepted the deal for my YA with Flux…Not two hours later, I got a call from an agent who was wild about an MG I’d sent her the previous fall. I signed with Deborah Warren of East / West, and she shopped THE JUNCTION while A BLUE SO DARK was in development.
I think most people assume that getting an agent means the doors in the publishing world will automatically fly open, but it took a year and a half to sell THE JUNCTION. I also revised the book multiple times, in-between rounds of submission.
…And once it sold, it also went through still more rounds of revision. That was another real surprise to me, once I started landing deals: how much global revision actually occurs after acquisition. Even after THE JUNCTION was rewritten globally a couple of times, my editor (Nancy Conescu) still felt the themes were competing. We wound up talking over the phone—having a brainstorming session, hashing it out. The book was revised once more; this time, we tackled the book in thirds (the beginning, middle, end). At the end of it, my editor and I were both thrilled with the results.
What advice do you have for aspiring middle grade writers?
DON’T GIVE UP . I know in my own pursuit of publication, I hit a really bad time, right at about four years in. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my frustration was probably tied into the fact that I had this impossible-to-ignore marker that would ring like a gong every year: I started my full-time pursuit the day after I graduated with my master’s. Each graduation season, as caps and gowns paraded across the paper and local news, I’d think—There’s one year gone. Two. Three…I think part of the reason that four years bothered me so much was that it took four years to get through high school. Four years to get my undergrad degree. But at the four year mark during my pursuit of publication, I hadn’t really gotten many “good” rejections (in which editors offered advice). It was a real make-or-break moment.
Obviously, I decided to put my rear in the chair and get back to work. And the first thing I wrote after that decision was the first draft of THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY.
…Which brings me to my second bit of advice: DON’T BE BULL-HEADED. Accept the fact that you have a ton to learn. We all do, no matter what stage we’re in—published or not.
When I first wrote THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, it was a picture book. Gus was the artist (not Auggie). In that first version, Auggie’s character didn’t even have a name. We were just looking through her eyes as she told the story of her Grampa Gus, a folk artist.
I got some positive response to the writing in the beginning, but no takers. Editors all told me that the concept of folk art was too advanced for the picture book audience. I was encouraged to turn the book into a MG novel.
It wasn’t the easiest thing to do, to reinvent a 1,000-word story as a roughly 45,000-word novel. But those editors said were right—the concept was too advanced for a picture book. So I plunged in. Even after I’d made the switch, though, I still had to find my agent, and after I got my agent, I still had to revise multiple times.
You’ve got to be willing to listen. You’ve got to be willing to put in the work. And then start over again, even when you think you’ve got the book nailed.
But here’s the beauty of it: Every single book is revised once it’s acquired. If you get the revision part down pre-acquisition, you’ll have a much easier time receiving editorial letters when your first book is in development.
What are you working on now? Any other upcoming events or other info you’d like to share?
I’m working on my next MG, of course, but I’m also happy to announce that my next YA, FERAL, is in development with HarperCollins! I’ll be making announcements regarding that novel (including a cover reveal and release date info) on my blog soon: hollyschindler.blogspot.com.
…If you’re interested in getting in on blog tours, or if you’re a teacher or librarian and are interested in Skype visits, be sure to contact me at writehollyschindler (at) yahoo (dot) com.
Where to find out more about Holly and her work:
Author site: hollyschindler.com
Author blog: hollyschindler.blogspot.com
Holly is also the administrator of two group author blogs: Smack Dab in the Middle (smack-dab-in-the-middle.blogspot.com) for MG authors, and YA Outside the Lines ( yaoutsidethelines.blogspot.com) for YA authors.
For more insights from book creators, see my Inkygirl Interview Archives and Advice For Young Writers And Illustrators From Book Creators.