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Writing Routines, Agent Queries, and Rollercoaster POVs: Jake Maia Arlow on Her MG Debut ALMOST FLYING

By Sara Truuvert

Sweaty palms, shaking limbs, and the distinct possibility of puking. Am I describing riding a rollercoaster or having a crush in middle school? These two thrill rides collide in Jake Maia Arlow’s MG debut Almost Flying.

The novel follows thirteen-year-old Dalia, who has planned the perfect summer: finally ride a rollercoaster and make a new best friend. But when Dalia’s dad announces he is engaged and expects Dalia to bond with her soon-to-be stepsister, Alexa, Dalia thinks her summer plans are shot. Luckily, Alexa agrees to take Dalia and Rani, a new girl from Dalia’s swim team, on an amusement park road trip. What should be a smooth week takes a turn when Dalia realizes she might have more-than-friend feelings for Rani. Almost Flying launched on June 8th, 2021 with Dial Books and is widely available to order.

Jake Maia Arlow is a writer, podcast producer (listen to her work on shows like NPR’s Invisibilia), bagel connoisseur, and co-writer of a musical about a gay demon competing in a reality TV show. You can find out more about Jake on her websiteTwitter, and YouTube channel. Watch for her YA debut, How To Excavate A Heart launching from HarperTeen in 2022.

Q. A huge congratulations on your MG debut! Your protagonist Dalia is thirteen, which is such a weird, wild, sometimes(?) wonderful age. Did that time in your own life influence this story?

A. Thank you so much! That time in my own life absolutely influenced this story—mostly in that I was a complete weirdo in middle school. And while I wasn’t brave enough or self-aware enough to understand my own early queer feelings, I was so deeply idiosyncratic that I could write 1,000 middle grade novels and never touch on all of my bizarre behavior. For example: I wore mismatched toe socks to school every. Single. Day. 

Q. I love how unique Dalia is—for starters, she absolutely loves watching rollercoaster POVs (but would rather keep this hobby to herself!). Would you speak a bit about developing Dalia’s character?

A. Developing her character was one of the most exciting parts of the writing process, because it involved watching a ton of rollercoaster POV videos! Part of my process included taking notes on different POV videos in Dalia’s voice—some of those early free-writes even made it into the novel in various forms. It’s hard for me to start writing before I know a character’s voice, but Dalia’s came very naturally to me. She’s an anxious queer Jew from Long Island … just like me haha!

Q. Dalia has to navigate some complicated feelings she develops for her friend Rani. Did you map out the trajectory of their relationship before you began writing? Or was it more a matter of seeing where your writing took you?

A. I knew that Dalia had a crush on Rani from the very beginning, but it took me a few rounds of edits to realize that Rani also had a crush on Dalia from the start. Dalia overthinks everything, and even though Rani gives her some pretty clear signals, she doesn’t pick up on them. It was really more of a discovery writing process than I thought it would be!

Q. Do you have any writing routines or rituals that help you get into a good workflow?

A. Oooh, I love this question! I always have rain sounds playing in the background, regardless of whether or not it’s actually raining outside. Other than that, I do the pomodoro method (25 minutes of writing with a five minute break) and I try to have a friend around so I can bounce ideas off of them! 

Q. You have a helpful (and funny) post on your website about the process of getting your agent, which, understandably, involved a fair amount of nerves and panic. What would you say to an author who feels daunted by the idea of starting this process?

A. I’m thrilled that someone has read that! My advice is always to be over prepared. I am almost chronically over prepared because of my anxiety, but in this case it served me well. Listen to podcasts, read sample query letters, read the acknowledgements of your favorite books. There are so many incredible resources that you never have to go through this alone. 

Q. Do you have any advice for young writers?

A. YES! So many people like to say “read,” which is awesome advice, and you should absolutely do that, but my other piece of advice is to WRITE! Write in a journal, write your earth-shattering novel idea on a Google Doc and share it with friends, write recipes, write spells. Write anything and everything. At the very least, you’ll have something to look back on. 

Q. Finally, I understand that both you and Dalia are bagel connoisseurs. I must know, what separates a great bagel from a good bagel?

A. This is the greatest question I’ve ever been asked. First of all, if a bagel isn’t boiled, it’s not a real bagel— it’s just a piece of bread with a hole in the center. But other than that, a great bagel is freshly made, a little warm on the inside; it’s chewy on the outside and soft on the inside. And, most importantly, a great bagel is one that you eat with friends and family. 

Sara Truuvert completed her MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of St Andrews. She also holds a Certificate in Creative Writing from the Humber School for Writers and a BA in English, Drama, and the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Toronto. Her work has appeared in the Literary Review of Canada among other publications.