Today I’m talking to Jenny Lundquist, the author of the wonderful middle grade novels SEEING CINDERALLA (Aladdin M!X 2012) and PLASTIC POLLY (Aladdin M!X March 19, 2013), which will be released next week!!!
Talk a little bit about your journey toward becoming an author. When did you decide you wanted to write for kids and teens?
I decided I wanted to write for kids and teens when my younger son was only a few weeks old. I found parenthood to be challenging and exhausting, and as much as I loved (LOVE!) my kids, I felt like I needed a creative outlet that didn’t involve diapers or dirty dishes. I’d written a short story (for adults) soon after my older son was born and a few years later, when I found myself a parent of two small boys, I pulled it out and started imagining the same characters—only in middle school. From there, I wrote my first middle grade novel, MIRANDA SHEPARD, SAVVY SIXTH GRADER. It was never published, but it will always have a special place in my heart. As soon as I finished that book, I started another, which eventually became SEEING CINDERELLA, my first published book.
Tell us about the Plastic Polly.
I love this story. (Is that bad to say about your own book?) It’s about a middle schooler named Polly Pierce, who’s the second most popular girl in her class. People call her Plastic Polly because they think she’s “fake.” Polly ends up coordinating a talent show competition between her middle school and their rival middle school and finds out that only the popular kids are being selected to participate, as opposed to the most talented. She has to decide what she’s going to do, as the popular kids are her friends. She also has to contend with backstabbing friends, pushy stage parents, grumpy school teachers, and an off-limits crush. And somewhere in all this, she’s hoping to prove to everyone (and most of all, herself) that there’s a lot more to her than everyone thinks.
How do your stories come to you? Do you begin a character? A concept? A plotline?
My stories never come to me in quite the same way. With SEEING CINDERELLA, I had the idea of a pair of glasses that could read people’s thoughts, and went from there. With PLASTIC POLLY, I was drawn to the idea of writing a book from the POV of the stereotypical snotty popular girl in middle school that no one ever liked. In middle school, I often heard the phrase “she’s so fake,” and wondered about it. Because what does that even mean, really? No one ever thinks they themselves are fake. We’re all authentically who we are; and we show or hide our true selves based upon how safe we feel with a person. I wanted to get inside that popular girl’s head and explore what it was like to be her and show that from her perspective, she’s just trying to figure out who she is, just like every other middle schooler. Because when it comes down to it, no one is a stereotype.
Also, I was drawn to the idea of a talent show competition, but instead of it just being between students from one school, of having a competition between two rival middle schools. Parts of this book remind me of (what I think) the backstage of a reality TV show might look like.
Do you work from an outline?
I wrote this book as an “option” with Aladdin M!X so I had to first submit a synopsis and three chapters. When I was given the green light for the project, I wrote “scene” index cards and posted them on a cork board, using my synopsis as a guide. In general, I don’t write outlines. Whenever I try, I can literally feel all the soul and passion being sucked out of the project. So I guess you could say I’m a mix of a pantser and a plotter.
How do you balance writing and family?
I write in the mornings, after I’ve dropped my kids off at school. I try to consider those my “office hours,” because as soon as they come home, I revert from being a writer to being “mom,” and have to oversee snacks, homework, dinner, reading, showers, bedtime, etc. (Just typing those sentences makes me tired!) I try to read, whether for pleasure or for studying the craft itself after my boys have gone to bed. This works well, because by that time I’m really not capable of doing anything more than collapsing into bed with a novel anyway.
Balance can be a difficult thing, especially when I’m staring down a deadline. Luckily, I have a really supportive husband who is always willing to give me space, or watch the kids on the weekends if I need to log extra writing hours. My boys contracted that nasty flu that was going around in January. I was a week away from my deadline, and honestly, I had to let Netflix babysit them while I typed away. Which, I guess wasn’t so bad, since they were too ill to do anything other than snuggle up on the couch anyway.
Still though, sometimes I battle “mother guilt” over how much time writing takes. In Plastic Polly, Polly’s own mother has a strained relationship with Mrs. Huff—one of the other girl’s mothers—because Mrs. Huff thinks Polly’s mom doesn’t do enough to help the school/volunteer. If I’m really honest, that part of the story probably came from me working through feeling like I’m somehow lacking because I’m not the mom who plans crafts or brings home-made cupcakes to class. (But I’m always willing to buy the best that Bel Air has to offer!)
I guess what I’m really trying to say is, when I actually figure out how to balance writing and family life, I’ll let you know. :0)
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
I’m not sure who said it first, but: Just Keep Writing. Whatever problem you’re facing with your manuscript can eventually be solved…as long as you keep writing. They’re simple words, and so true. Just Keep Writing and everything will eventually be okay.