We're thrilled that Mary E. Lambert's middle grade novel Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes is out now from Scholastic. She stopped by to give us the scoop!
Annabelle has a secret…a secret so big she won't allow friends within five miles of her home. Her mom collects things. Their house is overflowing with stuff. It gives Annabelle's sister nightmares, her brother spends as much time as he can at friends' houses, and her dad buries himself in his work.
So when a stack of newspapers falls on Annabelle's sister, it sparks a catastrophic fight between their parents—one that might tear them all apart—and Annabelle starts to think that things at home finally need to change.
Is it possible for her to clean up the family's mess? Or are they really, truly broken?
Welcome, Mary! Tell us about how you sold this book. What was it like when you found out? Do you have an agent?
After graduation, one of my VCFA classmates, Linda Camacho, became an agent. She read my creative thesis, which was a contemporary middle grade novel, and offered to represent me. Linda put my manuscript into the hands of an editor at Scholastic. A few weeks later, I was teaching an eighth grade class when my cell phone rang. Usually, I silence my phone, but when I saw it was my agent, I answered it. Linda was calling to let me know that my book had sold! I started dancing, and so, of course, I had to explain to my students what was going on. They burst into applause when they heard my news.
Love these pics of your launch party!
What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?
Finish a project.
Like many writers, I always have new ideas. New ideas are fresh and exciting and seem much better than whatever old idea I have in front of me. Other than attending VCFA, the best thing I ever did as a writer was forcing myself to complete a manuscript. I learned so much from the process of writing an entire novel from start to finish.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever Googled as research for your writing?
I wish I kept a record of this. I've Googled so many bizarre things for my writing. A few of the stranger things I've Googled include…
What color is spider blood?
What to do if a bear attacks you?
What does it feel like to get shot?
How to shoplift?
Tell us about your writing community. Are you in a critique group? Does a family member read your early drafts?
VCFA provided me with such a wonderful community of writers. It was the first time I felt I really had permission to take myself seriously as an author.
Since graduation, I have found a great group of middle grade and young adult writers in the Phoenix area. They have formed a truly supportive community of like-minded authors who promote and encourage one another.
I am also in a small critique group called The Charglings. We read one another's first drafts and give feedback. In addition to their valuable insight, meeting with The Charglings helps me stay productive. We meet every other week, which means I need to have fresh pages for them at least that often.
Who were your advisors at VCFA?
I had such a fantastic experience with every single one of my advisors! I worked with Tom Birdseye my first semester, and he taught me to look for humor in my writing. Next I was paired with Shelley Tanaka who helped me gain confidence as a writer and taught me the questions I should ask myself about a work-in-progress. Martine Leavitt was my third semester advisor, and she taught me to really explore my characters' inner-lives and emotional development. In my final semester, my advisor was Sarah Ellis. She showed me how to revise, which is something I really struggled with before working with her.
What is your favorite VCFA memory?
One of my favorite VCFA memories is when the Allies in Wonderland revealed our class name. My classmates turned our name reveal into a choreographed, interpretive dance, which corresponded to a video. We had elaborate costumes, and I had a ton of fun that day!
What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?
Attending VCFA is a huge commitment in terms of money, time, and emotion. For me, it was worth every bit of it. I loved the residencies, the lectures, the friendships, and the walks into town. My advisors were amazing. I learned and grew as a writer, and so much of my success is because of my decision to attend this school.
Thanks so much for stopping by! Welcome to the world, Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes!
When Mary E. Lambert was eight years old, her grandma told her that she should be a writer. Mary said, “No.” She thought she’d rather be a teacher. Mary started teaching middle school in 2006, but not long after that, she realized there was no avoiding one of her grandmother’s pronouncements. So she started writing novels. Mary lives in Tempe, Arizona where she spends her days explaining to students that five paragraph essays really do have five paragraphs. Most evenings she can be found writing in local coffee shops and consuming truly lamentable quantities of caffeine.