It's been four years plus since I mustered up the courage to attend my very first local Shoreline SCBWI group meeting. Petrified? Me? Uh, yeah. I remember what I wore (turquoise blue top with white tank, black pants), I remember what the meeting leader said (oh that color is wonderful, my favorite color of blue), and I remember searching the room like the new kid in the school cafeteria. There was a woman walking the room with her adorable newborn baby (that was Faith Elizabeth Hough), but she wouldn't be sitting and had her hands full so . . .
And there was Betsy. She looked nice (see her picture, doesn't she look nice). Well, she is and continued to be helpful to this newbie writer who still had a ton to learn. Since then I've met a many of the other super nice writers in the group, but Betsy was the first.
So without further, er, stuff....heeeere's Betsy.
1. What manuscript do you have out on submission now?
Currently on submission is one of my middle grade novels with the working title SAVANNAH'S MOUNTAIN. The word count of this contemporary, character-driven story is 60,000. Professionals in the field who have read portions of the novels say it has a classic feel to it, and have called it a literary timeless piece.
2. Give us the three to four sentence pitch.
Savannah Lucille Mays faces her largest mountain ever: her mother’s rapidly declining early-onset Alzheimer’s. While spending the summer in Richmond, VA with unfamiliar relatives, the eleven-year-old continues to reach out to Momma while saving her memories.
Gradually, with courage and conviction, Savannah learns to face her own fears and Challenges of the Day in a story of hope, wish stones, memories, paper cranes, keeping promises, and learning how to let go.
I've had the honor of reading earlier drafts of Savannah's story and it tugs at the heart, big time.
3.Would you care to share the opening line or paragraph?
I said goodbye to Momma on a Tuesday in June. The day was so humid sweat dripped off Aunt Ruth’s forehead and made her white hair stick up. Momma never told me how old her sister was, but once you start seeing white hair, you’re on your last hill. Aunt Ruth looked to be halfway down the slope already. She was standing by the living room window, fanning herself with a rolled up TV Guide.
Goodbye, blue chair, I whispered to the last of Momma’s favorite belongings that wouldn’t fit in the bottom of my suitcase.
“Savannah . . . what exactly are you staring at?” Aunt Ruth said.
“Nothing.” I glanced away, picked at a patch of worn carpet.
“Never mind all your nothings and finish packing.”
Grabbing a pair of jeans from the pile on the floor, I eyed Aunt Ruth again. At least she could reach the bottom of the hill on her own. Momma didn’t have a clue how to get anywhere, even though her hair showed only a little white.
“Roll those pants tighter,” Aunt Ruth said. “Here, let me help.”
I didn’t want her help with rolling and shoving and packing. I wanted to take that old suitcase back to the attic. Leave it in the dust. I wanted Aunt Ruth to change her mind and let me stay in South Carolina for the summer.
I wanted to fix Momma.
Beautiful opening, Betsy. We can really feel Savannah's heart breaking and her desire to fix her momma.
4. How would your main character describe you? If you entered into a scene in your manuscript, how would you be introduced, how would the MC perceive you? Give us a short scene but keep it under 250 words : )
I chose Betsy to tell my story to because she listened. Four years ago, I whispered the first line while she was in Idaho. At first, she ignored me. I tried, again and again, repeating the line “I said goodbye to Momma on a Tuesday in June,” until she stopped cutting pieces of fabric and asked, “Who are you? What do you want from me?”
“I need to tell someone my story.” Then, bit by bit, I whispered scenes to her; told her about Maggie and Momma and Aunt Ruth. And when she was overworked and didn’t have time for me, I waited. Just like I waited for Momma to get better. Betsy never gave up on my story. When she had the facts wrong, I’d reach her through her dreams. In the morning as soon as she woke up, Betsy would roll out of bed, and sit for hours at her computer.
Today the story is as much hers as it is mine.
For an exercise we did together (suggested by her father), go to this post on Betsy’s blog.
Betsy is lucky like that, her characters really do talk to her. She's not making it up. They even tell her their shoe size : )
5. What are you working on while you wait?
First, I don’t consider myself as waiting. Waiting implies lingering around, and for me, that is a waste of time and precious energy. I am writing. Always. I continue to hone my picture books while also working on several middle grade novels. Two of the novels I would consider younger middle grade. They are an absolute delight to work on. I rise early, eager to spend the morning with characters that always surprise me with their antics and keep me laughing. In addition, I am working on a young adult novel, the kind of story one has to write because you feel it in your core. Until I get the words down, the deep ache will not subside.
Because I am writing more than one novel, discipline is essential to stay on track. While I may want to follow another character at this time, I am committed to finishing E. B. Louise and the Elephants first. I write by a schedule, which I keep posted on the calendar beside my computer. I do have a long queue of manuscripts waiting for my attention.
My mind isn't that flexible to write two first drafts at the same time. Revisions and a drafts, sure. Random scenes, yeah. It must be all your dancing experience.
6. What book have you read in the past six mo that’s inspired you and why?
There are a number of books that have inspired me in the past six months, one of which is PENNY FROM HEAVEN, by Jennifer L. Holm. I mention this novel, which is set in the 50’s, because it surprised me. It starts out as a sweet story and then something happens that I never saw coming. When the event occurs, you are so invested in the main character by that time, it grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. This is good writing.
When reading novels, I keep notes on what worked well, and what jumped out at me. And why. In my reading log, I also record the first line of the book.
What a great idea, Betsy!!! I'll have to get going on that one myself.
7. When you were a child or if you still are a child at heart (like me), which story or world would you like to live in and why? Who would you want as your BFF?
The character I would have loved to hang out with as a kid would be Ruby Lavender. (There are actually lots of characters from children's literature that I would have loved to hang out with--so hard to choose just one.)
I chose Ruby because of her spunk and determination; her love for her grandmother, Miss Eula, and how she protects and cares for the stolen chickens. Yes, it came down to the chickens. I would have done exactly what Ruby did, which is why I love her so much, as I do all of Deborah Wiles novels.
Good one, Betsy. So how do you all like the substitute question? No more lit-crush question, well, unless you want to tell us about who you'd crush on were you a kid or a teen reader.
8. Any random fun-facts you’d like to share about yourself?
When not writing or working at the toy store, I love taking pictures. I find photography quite relaxing, as well as being an extension of my creative side. Favorite foods are rice pudding (no raisins), key-lime pie, and loaded baked potatoes. Oh, and mangoes. True joy for me is spending time with my family and pets, laughing, listening to children tell me their stories at the toy store, and writing. Gardening is also a passion.
Fun facts: I studied acting with Nancy Marchand who played Tony Soprano’s mother on The Sopranos. I was a photographer’s assistant on a shoot for Campbell’s Soup labels. My job was to make the soup and line the ingredients up with tweezers for the picture. Everything had to be perfect.
Wow, that's cool, Betsy. One thing she left out is that she has a pet gorilla. Visit Betsy's blog if you'd like to meet Norman. Don't worry, he's friendly, I've met him.
Thanks so much Betsy for sharing your work, yourself, and your journey. And BIG congrats again on winning the Tassy Walden Award, which you can read more about in yesterday's post. Best of luck finding the perfect home for SAVANNAH'S MOUNTAIN.