writing life

Book News, Writer Interviews, Writing Tips

The Story Behind: Hello, Future Me (Part 2)


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HELLO, FUTURE ME tells the story of eleven-year-old June, a girl who tries to stop her parents’ divorce using her super planning skills, magic and a little help from her future self. Too bad magic has a way of going horribly, and hilariously, awry. June’s rollercoaster of emotions mirrors the turbulent path this story took from first draft to final product. In this edition of “The Story Behind,” I’ll focus on the writing journey that led to the publication of HELLO, FUTURE ME.


Sometimes, life stinks and there’s nothing we can do about it. But we keep going. And, hopefully, the stuff that seemed so terrible at first will start to feel a little less terrible over time..”

— June Day, from HELLO, FUTURE ME

This quote from June can definitely apply to writing. We all know the old saying: 90% of writing is revision. It’s true. We start with a crude sculpture and slowly mold it into something subtle, moving, magnificent. At least that’s the idea. But the revision process isn’t always that straightforward. Sometimes it’s not so much about whittling something crude down to a more refined form. It’s about building sculpture after sculpture until you finally realize the shape you’re trying to achieve, then starting from scratch with a fresh block of clay.

That’s what happened with HELLO, FUTURE ME. I wrote three complete versions of the story, each starting from a blank document, each informed and hopefully improved by the last. When I sat down for the third time, I had such a clear vision of what I wanted to write (the form I wanted the clay to take) that I wrote the draft in seven days. Now, I’m a fast writer, but that’s my fastest ever.

Why so many drafts? Why start from scratch when you could simply shave layers off your first attempt? Why would anyone put themselves through all that heartache?

Answer…they wouldn’t. Unless it just so happened to be their process, which they have learned to love and embrace over time, like me. Basically, I have no choice.

I can only truly understand a story when I experience it in narrative form, through writing it. Yes, I can create a beautiful outline with all the right beats and emotional touch-points. But when I sit down to write, it rarely stays the same. The characters veer off in new, more interesting directions, and I choose to follow them. I follow them because the paths I discover through prose are often more organic and emotionally honest than anything I could come up with in outlining mode. For me, the act of drafting gives me access to the wiser, more creative part of my brain, and so it pays to veer wildly off the path and see where it takes me.

That said, stories need shape and structure. That’s why my first one or two drafts (either partial or complete) often turn into narrative experiments. They allow me to feel the structure out using the most imaginative parts of my brain, but they don’t always lead to working stories. So I take what I’ve learned, all the wondrous discoveries, I open a fresh document and I put those discoveries into a brand new draft with both a clear vision and a working structure.

It makes sense to me. I’m not prescribing this method to anyone by any means. Even for me, every novel is different. Sometimes my wild first draft does end up largely staying the same through to the final version. But sometimes, like with HELLO, it’s a much more interesting and twisting ride.


Finding your voice.

One of the hardest parts of writing is finding your main character’s voice. In this case, it took three drafts before I found the real June Day, with her hopeful, determined, oh-so-totally enthusiastic outlook. In the end, she was the easiest character I’ve ever written, because she sounds exactly like me!

Well, she’s the voice in my head, mixed with some light Buffy-speak, plus about a zillion ounces of sugar and coffee. HELLO, FUTURE ME is also the only book I’ve published in first person, so it was especially important to find a funny, endearing, authentic voice. Wait…did I just call myself funny and endearing…um…technically, yes 🙂

It was especially fun writing three different versions of June: present, past and future. Future June was probably the most fun, because she’s so snarky and full of herself. Sigh. At times, it did feel like there were three versions of me, all chatting via IM, all getting super annoyed with each other.

What can I say? It’s the life of the writer.


If you have questions about the writing process, why not drop me a line in the comments? Or find me on social media and let’s chat!


Author photo

KIM VENTRELLA is the author of THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM (Fall 2020, HarperCollins), HELLO, FUTURE ME (Aug. 2020, Scholastic), BONE HOLLOW and SKELETON TREE. Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram.

Book News, Writer Interviews, Writing Tips

The Story Behind: Hello, Future Me


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Books serve readers in so many ways: by providing escape, by inspiring imagination and creativity, by offering a framework for processing our own real-life experiences. My parents got divorced when I was two weeks old, or two months old (my mom can’t remember). Growing up with an absent parent, one I knew in name only, made it especially difficult to process what had happened. As far as I was concerned, nothing had happened. I had never known my family to be any different, so what was the big deal? That’s where books come in. They help us process and understand our lives in ways that seem closed off to us. They give us vocabulary and narrative frameworks that we can apply to our own situation.

HELLO, FUTURE ME tells the story of eleven-year-old June, a girl who tries to stop her parents’ divorce using her super planning skills, magic and a little help from her future self. My challenge with this story was to conjure up all the raw honesty I had never processed regarding my own situation, while adding light, humor, fantasy and sparkly magic. Rather than mirroring my own experience, the story became a way for me to explore how a break-up could go, if you infused it with imagination, kindness, empathy and hope. I wanted to be aspirational, while at the same time staying real and facing issues head-on.


Sometimes, life stinks and there’s nothing we can do about it. But we keep going. And, hopefully, the stuff that seemed so terrible at first will start to feel a little less terrible over time..”

— June Day, from HELLO, FUTURE ME

The novel isn’t autobiographical, but it did allow me to explore a side of my past I had previously ignored. Writing, for me, is always a process of self-discovery. I want to uncover and develop my hidden wells of emotion, hurt, love and loss, but with added touches of magic.

Crafting a cast of characters.

One of the most intriguing parts of writing is creating a brand new world full of rich, fully-developed characters. Even the people we only see on the page a few times need to feel real and rounded, and it’s a fun challenge to select just the right details.

Some of my favorite moments in the book involve June’s dad, a rough and tough biker/handyman with ALL the emotions. I loved writing the scenes where he and June are working on Honey Pie, his bike, and having tearful, breathless heart-to-hearts. And the moments where he breaks down, despite trying so hard to keep it together, and June is there for him with patience and a kind word.

June’s best friend, Calvin, was also super fun to write. The novel is written in first person from June’s perspective, but the reader still gets clued in pretty early on to Calvin’s secret crush…on June…his best friend…and his hilariously awkward attempts to reveal all. There’s one scene in particular that I won’t spoil, but let’s just say that Calvin’s attempt at using magic to woo June does NOT go well.

Another favorite side character may be kind of surprising: It’s June herself! Past and Future June, that is. When June’s dad gets her a second-hand laptop for her birthday, she’s thrilled, until she starts getting IM’s claiming to be from her future self. Future June is snarky, rude and so totally annoying! She treats present-day June like a baby and warns her NOT to interfere with her parents’ relationship, no matter what. Things get even more surreal when June meets her past self, giving her the opportunity to reevaluate her nostalgic view of her parents’ love story and ask, Where did things go wrong?

Writing the different versions of June proved to be an especially fun challenge. It allowed me to explore how we change and grow, how the stories we tell ourselves don’t always line up with reality and how, sometimes, making mistakes is the only way to move forward.

Imagining a brand new world.

June lives in the imaginary town of Tanglewood Crossing, somewhere near the border between Arkansas and Oklahoma. Tanglewood claims to be the Bigfoot sighting capital of the world, and its quirky downtown features a hodgepodge of colorful shops, many with a Bigfoot theme. You can stop in The Friendly Bean for Merline’s famous scones, where you might see June and Calvin in the back booth plotting yet another elaborate scheme…with glitter…lots of glitter. If you’re feeling adventurous, join a group of tourists on one of the daily Bigfoot tours. The bright yellow bus features a giant foot on top, and you can buy hats or fanny packs to match!

In such an unexpected locale, it’s no real surprise when a new shop pops up, seemingly overnight.


This place looked like a magic shop and a fantasy unicorn tea party had gotten into a fight, and they’d both won.

–June from HELLO, FUTURE ME describing The Shop of Last Resort

Creating Tanglewood Crossing was definitely aspirational. I love exploring new places, especially tiny downtowns with old shops tucked away in dark corners. With Tanglewood, I was inspired by childhood trips to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, my love of colorful buildings and my desire to spend hours upon hours in coffee shops, the more unusual the better.

Don’t miss The Story Behind: Part 2!

In Part 2 of The Story Behind: Hello, Future Me, I’ll talk process. How did the story move from a proposal to the final draft? Hope you can join me!


Author photo

KIM VENTRELLA is the author of THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM (Fall 2020, HarperCollins), HELLO, FUTURE ME (Aug. 2020, Scholastic), BONE HOLLOW and SKELETON TREE. Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram.

Baby Author Me, Writer Interviews

Lessons for Baby Author Me — Meg Eden


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Today I’m thrilled to welcome Meg Eden to the hot seat! She is the author of the novel “Post-High School Reality Quest” (2017), and the forthcoming poetry collection “Drowning in the Floating World” (2020). Welcome, Meg!

I’ve asked Meg to look back and give her Baby Author Self some advice on the publishing and writing process. What does she wish she knew? What would she tell to authors who are just starting out? Over to you, Meg. Oh…and can you even handle how cute this childhood pic of Meg is? I can’t!

Book Promo and Writing After the “First Book”:

It’s easy to get tangled up in book promo, to excitedly send out queries and fall down the research rabbit hole of what kind of new events or activities might be possible. But remember to focus on what you can control, not what you can’t. So much of book promo is throwing yourself out there and hoping for the best. There is only so much you can really do. After you’ve done your part, all you can do is wait, and check in if you don’t hear back within a reasonable amount of time.  Instead of constantly refreshing your email or checking social media every five minutes, focus on the next draft. Restrict admin work like book promo to specific days. Set timers. Set writing goals, and write.

Social Media:

Social media is over-rated. Stop comparing your life to all your Instagram friends. You don’t know the story behind the photos. Just because so-and-so is a NYT bestseller doesn’t mean they didn’t go through years of struggle to get there. Everyone’s writing journey is different. Trying to say you’re “failing” at this writing gig compared to so-and-so is like comparing apples and oranges. You both have important stories to tell. Again, see the “writing after the first book” point. Don’t linger on what you can’t control. Focus on what you can, aka, writing.

Also, get your husband to set up social media locks. It’ll do wonders for your mental health.

Friends / Family:

Even though you have some awesome people supporting your work, they have lives outside of your book. Just because you don’t see them every time you do or post something doesn’t mean they don’t care. You have the hyper-focus and memory of a goldfish, and sometimes lose sight of all the support in the chaos of debuting. Do whatever you need to to remind yourself how many people have your back and have helped you get where you are today. Maybe start working on that acknowledgements page. Once you start writing out how everyone’s supported you, it can help get everything into perspective.

Announcements and Algorithms:

Social media algorithms mean people don’t always know what you’re doing. Don’t assume that just because people are following you that they hear about everything that you’re posting. Proof of this: your cousin just messaged me maybe a month ago, saying he had no idea your book was out and he was going to get it immediately. That’s 2 years after debuting. So don’t get mopey if only 20 of your Facebook friends like a thing or Aunt Leslie never likes any of your book posts. Stop caring about how many likes you get, anyway. It’s not going to make your book a better book.

If you want to make sure someone specific knows about a thing, do it the old fashioned way. Call them. Get tea with them. Send them a personalized email or message. Put a letter in their mailbox. Send a carrier pigeon. People are much more likely to respond—not to mention radiate positivity and encouragement—when you take the time to personally reach out.

Perspective:

Stop looking for worth in positive reinforcement from friends, family, readers, people in the industry, likes, sales, shares, what have you. Your worth is not reliant on the product you create. Your worth is not reliant on the feedback you receive from said product. You were fearfully and wonderfully made. You are a writer, and you have important stories to tell. Don’t let any of the book pub business make you lose sight of what really matters.

Book Sales and Money:

Remember that whole “what you can’t control” point? You can’t control book sales. Don’t go to an event expecting to sell x amount of books. Many events will end in zero sales. That does not mean you fail as a writer. Take what you experience from events and learn from it. Re-strategize.

Don’t expect money from any of this. What were you thinking, expecting money from this? Do it for the words. Do it because you couldn’t not do it. If you get money from this whole gig, great. But don’t put the pressure on your craft to demand money from it. It’s not fair to your stories or characters. You cannot guarantee money from this. Get your money from another avenue, so you can focus on the craft.

Agents:

Find someone who gets your work. Who’s willing to work with you to make the best possible book. Who makes time for you. Don’t rush into a relationship, because if they don’t love it (and if they don’t know what they’re doing) they’re not going to get books sold. Do your research. Be picky. You deserve to be picky. If it means you have to be in the query trenches, so be it.

Don’t be afraid to reach out. The worst they can do is say no. You might be surprised at the answer you get.

Keep writing in the trenches. Persist.

Bookstore Events: 

Barnes & Noble author signings are (largely) over-rated. They do not bring crowds of people in. Sorry, B&N, but it’s true. Do one B&N signing so you can get a picture that shows that your book is in B&N and fulfill your childhood dreams of being an Author with a capital A. But maybe leave it at that.

Do bookstore events to build relationships with bookstores and booksellers and the local community. Don’t do too many and instead focus on getting people in the door to those couple of events. Collaborate with other authors to host joint events. Be creative. Bookstores are counting on you bringing folks in, so if you schedule like, ten bookstore events, you’re going to have trouble bringing in enough people to justify the time and effort that goes into said events.

Reviews:

Don’t look at Goodreads.

Also, everyone’s a critic.

Pin your crappy reviews to a piñata and give it a good whack.

Then go back and write.

Writer Friends:

Hold to them dearly. There are some things your non-writer friends are just not going to get. That’s OK. Get to know your writing community. Serve other writers. Gush about their books. These folks will be some of your biggest advocates, and most encouraging friends during the rough writing and pub business times.

Revising:

So you know how you think you’re done with that current manuscript of yours? Ha! Guess what? It’s still on submission because it needed to be rewritten about ten more times. But guess what? It’s way better because of it (plus, I ended up finding about three more novels hidden inside of it!). Sure, it’s taken about three years of serious work, and it still may take more. Who knows. But don’t settle for a mediocre manuscript. Challenge it and dig deeper. Challenge and examine yourself. There is no shame in taking the time to make the best book you can.

Wowee, what amazing advice!!! Thanks so much for stopping by, Meg! If you found this advice helpful, why not let Meg know in the comments 🙂

Meg Eden‘s work is published or forthcoming in magazines including Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Crab Orchard Review, RHINO and CV2. She teaches creative writing at Anne Arundel Community College and the MA program at Southern New Hampshire University. She is the author of five poetry chapbooks, the novel “Post-High School Reality Quest” (2017), and the forthcoming poetry collection “Drowning in the Floating World” (2020). Find her online at www.megedenbooks.com or on Twitter at @ConfusedNarwhal.