We celebrate the launch of Lindsay Eyre's debut novel today, a middle grade book published by Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic.
Sylvie Scruggs doesn't like Georgie Diaz. He always calls her Scruggs. He always beats her in baseball. He didn't invite her to his party. Plus, he's a boy. Now Georgie is trying to steal Sylvie's best friend, Miranda Tan. He's giving Miranda a super-special birthday present, so Sylvie will too -- only her present will be ten times better. With the help of her twin brothers, a ferret, a castle, and some glitter glue, Sylvie sets out to make Miranda remember who her REAL best friend is, and forget about Georgie forever.
Thanks for joining us today, Lindsey.
What was the spark that ignited this book?
I was extremely fortunate to hear Sylvie's voice early on in the drafting process. The book is written in first person, so having that voice in my head made everything easier. Plotting this novel was so difficult for me, so I needed the gift of hearing my narrator’s voice!
What was the most difficult element to cut or change during the revision process and why?
I had a scene where Sylvie and her twin brothers tried to capture a rogue rat. It was extremely funny (at least, it made me laugh!), and it was one of my favorite parts of the manuscript, but my agent gently pointed out that she wasn’t sure it actually helped the story (I think Margaret Bechard pointed this out as well in fourth semester...). When I stepped back and stopped thinking about being funny (and clever), I saw that I could remove that entire scene without really changing the novel. That has become my biggest red flag as I edit my books. If I can remove a scene or even a paragraph from the manuscript without having to seriously change everything that follows, it has to go. It is not intrinsic to the story and serves no purpose, no matter how brilliant I think it is! We tend to fall in love with so many parts of our manuscripts (or maybe we just fall in love with ourselves for a bit), and it is difficult to see clearly.
What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?
Someone somewhere along the way told me that every criticism has an element of truth, and if you can filter through whatever issues you or your critique-giver may have and get to the heart of the problem, you can find something fixable. For example, my mom is a terrible critique-giver. She always begins by saying, “Oh, I loved it! I thought it was really great. Well, I did for awhile. I did think this one part was a little bit weird. But still, it was wonderful. Except, I wondered about the setting, and I couldn’t buy the ending. I also thought the beginning was boring. And I really didn’t like this character.” And so on. Critiques like that used to leave me deflated, as if the whole thing was a sham, including my career as a writer. But I’ve learned now to ask good questions that get to the root of the problem. “When you say you didn’t buy the ending, was it because you wanted something else to happen instead? What would you have believed?” Things like that. We really do need thick skins as writers. We also need to believe that everything is fixable, however, I will add that I am beginning to encounter instances where this is not true. When someone really wants me to change something intrinsic about my story, part of the “spark” that ignited the flame, I’m learning to tread carefully. When those core pieces disappear, it is difficult to remember where the story was headed in the first place, and if I have no direction, the story is lost.
Tell us about your writing community. Are you in a critique group? Does your son or mom read your early drafts? Is Twitter your bastion of support?
My husband is my best critique partner, hands down. He is eager to help, and he knows that being kind is not helpful. Also, he is not a writer, so he doesn’t give me craft advice based on what he’s been pondering lately, he just tells me parts that really aren’t working for him. He’s learned I can fix most issues eventually so he gives me his questions in a very positive, you-can-do-this sort of way. Also, he’s not a reader, so he’s not comparing my book to other books he’s read. He’s simply telling me what he believed and what he didn’t. Simple, I’ve realized, is often the most helpful.
Who were your advisors at VCFA?
Leda Schubert, Tim Wynne-Jones, Shelley Tanaka, and Margaret Bechard. Every one of them saw some version of this book and can take lots of credit!
What is your favorite VCFA memory?
I had some classmates who were extremely nervous about giving their lectures. I remember feeling incredibly proud of them when they gave those lectures beautifully.
What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus?
To not begin the program with the goal to be published! Everyone should begin their program with the intention of learning all they can. I also wish I’d understood that everyone at VCFA (students, advisors, published writers) are first and foremost human beings! I wish I had listened to everyone’s advice, filtering out my pride as I responded, but never ignoring my own intuition. I can’t count the number of times I “started over” when I should have kept going. Most importantly, I wish I’d understood that writing is not a competition (even if it feels like one!). This is my favorite quote from Martha Graham: “… if you block it [your creative endeavor], it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. Keep the channel open.”
Thanks for joining us in the Launchpad today.