“Anatomy of a Middle Grade Manuscript”
Inspiration has a funny way of creeping up on you when you least expect it. If you’re a writer, you’ve probably experienced that moment when you’re involved is some unrelated task and your suddenly overwhelmed by an idea with nothing to write on! I was sitting in a movie theatre watching the opening credits of a film- where these playing cards filled the screen. I was hypnotized by the faces of the King and Queen of Hearts. I felt them calling me. The next morning, I opened my laptop and began writing a story about a boy who discovers an animated deck of cards in his father’s old desk.
Best Laid Plans
I hadn’t planned on writing a middle grade book. I started out writing what I thought was a picture book. I even worked on a number of illustrations. But once the first draft was completed, a dear friend, who was a librarian at a middle school read it and suggested I consider revising for a middle grade audience. I knew very little about the genre and was grateful for her guidance. She suggested I read what has become one of my all-time favorite books: THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE, by Kate DiCamillo.
Read, Read, Read!
I immediately began reading as many books in the genre as I could get my hands on—Kate DiCamillo, Neil Gaiman, Richard Peck, Jennifer L. Holm. I was moved by their heartfelt novels—each one so beautifully crafted. The more I read, the more I began to understand the age group. Their thirst for humor, adventure and authenticity, freed me to become more expressive in my own writing. And, so it began—I would craft a middle grade novel from my picture book draft.
When I began writing MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIAN’S SON, I knew right away certain aspects of my main character Alex would be similar to mine. He questions everything and can get lost in his own thoughts. We both lost a parent at a young age and both of us were bullied. I felt comfortable tapping into my own journey as an awkward 12-year-old to build his world. But Alex, who reluctantly follows in his father’s footsteps, is also a talented magician. On the subject of magic tricks, I knew very little, and needed to do some serious research.
While the internet offered helpful information, I felt strongly that I needed a one-on-one experience. Enter Joel, a young magician I spent quite a bit of time with. Pen in hand, I asked countless questions while he enthusiastically shuffled his cards, did flourishes and made them fly from one hand to the other. He described each maneuver while I scribbled notes and took plenty of photographs. I also shot video that I watched over and over which helped me translate the card tricks onto the written page.
As the novel progressed, I visited Joel on several occasions loaded with more and more questions. “Could Alex do this? What about a trick like this?” After a while, I realized what I was doing was basically asking permission. Joel helped me realize, when it came to magic, anything was possible! This was a huge turning point for me. I had permission to take the story where it wanted to go.
Pulling It All Together
I had just completed a writing workshop at Media Bistro in NYC when I discovered they also offered a YA/MG writing-critique workshop. I immediately signed up! Led by a remarkable agent/author Kate McKean, the group of eight was filled with talented writers, screenwriters, playwrights and me! This was the real deal and quite honestly, I was a bit intimidated. But they were all so supportive and the feedback was spot-on. I learned how to build tension, flesh out characters and move the story forward. It still remains one of the best experiences I’ve ever unknowingly put myself into!
Edit, Edit, Edit.
By the time the critique workshop had come to an end, I had received written feedback from each member of the group on my entire manuscript–chapter by chapter–which I organized in separate folders. With the understanding that I needed to get the word count up around 35,000-40,000, I began another draft.
I found this stage to be the most cathartic. Deleting blocks of text for a concise sentence. Elaborating on an emotional moment. Heightening suspense by using short quick sentences. I was molding and reshaping the story like clay on armature.
This is some of the best advice I can share. After a few months of focusing on another project, I came back and was able to review what I had written with a fresh perspective.
Edit some more!
After another round of edits, a few minor changes were made and I was ready for submission.
MISADVENTURES OF A MAGICIAN’S SON became a personal adventure from picture book to middle grade novel that will be released by Blue Whale Press on April 1st 2020.
About the Book: Misadventures of a Magician’s Son tells the story of 12-year-old Alexander Finn’s personal journey dealing with the death of his father, a celebrated magician, and the extraordinary gift he left behind. Uprooted from his childhood home for the seemingly hokey town of Orchard, Maine, Alex refuses to unpack and wants nothing to do with his new surroundings. But when he discovers an unusual deck of animated cards tucked in the back of his father’s old desk, things begin to unravel and Alex’s true adventure begins.
About the Author: Author/illustrator, Laurie Smollett Kutscera grew up in NYC’s Greenwich Village. She studied fine art and children’s book illustration at Queens College with Caldecott medalist Marvin Bileck. She is a published children’s book illustrator, an award-winning graphic designer and toy designer.
Her passion for writing began 14 years ago while cruising the eastern seaboard from Nantucket to the Virgin Islands. She is an active member of the SCBWI, 12×12 Picture Book Challenge and StoryStorm.
Laurie lives on the north shore of Long Island with her husband Nick and rescue doggie, Cody. She and her husband own and operate an 85ft classic yacht for charter in NYC and Long Island Sound.
Thank you, Laurie, for taking us through your process in the creation of your novel!