by PJ McIlvaine
This is excerpted from an interview that appeared in the June 2018 issue of Children’s Book Insider. Click here to subscribe to Children’s Book Insider, or here to learn about the revolutionary WritingBlueprints step-by-step system to create, edit and publish books for children.
Erin Teagan (www.erinteagan.com) had it all planned out: she’d become a scientist first, then a writer. Combining her passions, Teagan’s debut middle grade novel, The Friendship Experiment (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2016) led to her being hired to pen the Luciana books for the American Girl: Girl of the Year 2018 series for Scholastic, Inc. Teagan lives in Pennsylvania with her two little self-described “mad scientists” and her extreme-sports obsessed husband.
PJ McIlvaine: With your first book, how long did it take from idea to first draft to actual publication?
Erin Teagan: The Friendship Experiment was my first ever NaNoWriMo project. That year, I spent most of October thinking about plot, working out challenges I might encounter while I fast-drafted. Going over characters and stories in my head. By the time November 1 rolled around, I was ready to get writing. I finished the first draft that month, but I revised for nearly two years before I found my agent. And then, my agent and I revised for another six months after that! The Friendship Experiment came out in November 2016, almost exactly five years from when I had the first glimmer of an idea.
PM: How easy, or difficult, was it for you to get an agent?
ET: Difficult. Finding an agent was a long road for me. I sent out my first submission to an agent in 2003, and I didn’t sign with an agent until 2013. During those ten years, I kept writing and producing new work and trying new things. I went to conferences and read books and joined a critique group. By the time I found an agent for The Friendship Experiment, I had seven full manuscripts in a drawer and about a million rejection letters.
PM: What do you like best about the writing process? Outlining? Research? Revising?
ET: Basically, I love every part of writing when it’s going well! I was never an outliner until I had to turn in outlines for Luciana, and by the third book, I started to really enjoy the outlining step in the process. It felt like brainstorming, and I loved that freedom. I think that’s why I like fast-drafting as well. When you’re outlining or working on a messy-first draft, anything goes, because you know the real work (revisions!) and the fine-tuning will come later.
For me, though, the worst part is that first time I read the messy-draft all the way through and have to face the reality of revisions. At first it feels paralyzing, like I can’t do it, like this will never grow into a polished manuscript, but as soon as I get my revision momentum going, things start looking up. That’s when I start enjoying the revision part of the process as well.
PM: The American Girl book series about “Luciana, 2018 Girl of the Year” — how did that come about? How many books are planned for the series?
ET: I feel so thankful for the opportunity of writing the Luciana books. It was an amazing experience, and a big surprise. American Girl was looking for an author that wrote for a middle grade audience and brought science into fiction. The Friendship Experiment had just come out and was on the SCBWI’s Winter Reading List, a list that any SCBWI member can volunteer their book for. The editor I worked with spotted my book on the list, read it, and thought my voice and background was a good match for the character and story they were creating. She reached out to my agent, and the rest is history!
PM: Your school presentations, as described on your website — how did you develop those? Do you tie the presentations in with your books/subject matter?
ET: I have a lot of fun developing the programs I offer. As a kid that didn’t connect with science until I was in middle school, I really looked forward to visiting schools and exposing students to a fun and/or weird part of science. All of my programs tie into my books. For example, in The Friendship Experiment, my main character likes to go around swabbing things (cleats in the lost-and-found, floors of the school bus, retainers…) to see what grows on petri dishes. I’ve visited a lot of schools and libraries and swabbed everything from tablets, door handles, trash cans and toilet seats to a favorite classroom book (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) with students. It’s fun and funny to see the results.
PM: Now that you’ve had several books published, do you find the process easier or harder?
ET: I’m not sure that publishing my books has made the process of writing easier, but each time I finish a manuscript, I’ve learned something that I can bring to the next project. And every time my writers group critiques something I’m working on, or an editor sends me notes, I learn even more. Because of this, sometimes I can read something I’ve written and figure out what’s not working. It can still take me two or five or ten revisions to fix it, but at least it’s a step in the right direction!Tags: Erin Teagan, middle grade