Debut Author of the Month:
Kristin O'Donnell Tubb...
Author Kristin O'Donnell Tubb's debut book Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different was released just last week from Delacorte. Main character Autumn Winifred Oliver "has charmed a hive of bees, wrangled a flock of geese, and filched a stick of dynamite from the U.S. Government," says Kristin. "But it'll take a whole new kind of gumption to save her Cades Cove home."
Set in east Tennessee in 1934, the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park drives Autumn Winifred Oliver, pitting the title character against loggers, farmers, and volunteers from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park who all want her home for their own uses.
Here Kristin talks about getting The Call from her editor (in an unusual setting), her revision process, doing research for historical fiction, and more.
If you're in the Nashville area, you can attend Kristin's book release tonight at 6 p.m. at Davis-Kidd. (Judging from what a delightful interview this is, I'm sure it will be a fun event!)
Share the details of how you got your first book deal. How did you end up with Delacorte?
I met my editor at an SCBWI conference in September 2006, where she critiqued the first three chapters and requested the full manuscript. A few months later, I got The Call. But mind you, like Autumn, I sometimes do things different:
THE SCENE: Early February, 2007. A 212 area code pops up on my ringing cell phone. I am nine months pregnant. I am AT THE OB/GYN.
Wendy: "Hello, Kristin? It's Wendy Loggia from Random House."
Me: "Oh my gosh! It's so good to hear from you! I'm at my gynecologist's office right now."
Me: "Oh, um--I should say, I'm not in the office right now--I mean, I am, but I'm checking out. I'm done." Shut up Kristin. "I mean--I'm scheduling my induction for my new baby. I was newly pregnant when we met, remember?" Shut UP, Kristin. "Everything's great! Healthy baby! I'm scheduling his arrival right now. That's why I'm at...my...OB's office..."
Wendy: laughing "I think this is a first for me."
Me: unbelievably mortified "Uh, me too?"
Wendy: "So I wanted to talk to you more about this wonderful story you sent me..."
And that was that! There, in my OB/GYN's office, I was offered my first book deal. Two weeks later, my son was born. It was one heckuva month.
You revised your manuscript on your editor’s request before you got a contract then went through more revision after you signed. Tell us about your revision process. What did you learn?
Autumn was revised four times with my editor before it reached the state that hit shelves on October 14. The first revision was indeed prior to getting a contract, so whenever I hear a writer ask, “Should I really put more work into this without a contract?,” I’m the one shouting, “Yes! Absolutely! Do it!” (Sidebar: I later found out that many editors simply won’t offer a contract to a first-time author without requesting a round of revisions first. Editors need to know that: one, you can revise, and two, you’re willing.)
My revision process goes as follows:
- I receive an email from my editor, alerting me to the fact that my next round of revisions is headed my way. Feel a flutter of panic in stomach.
- I receive the packet, along with a three-page, single spaced letter alerting me to the massive changes my editor would like to see. “No way,” I think. “I cannot complete all of this by this deadline!” Full-on panic ensues. Much chocolate is consumed.
- A day or so passes. I review the letter again. “That’s no so bad,” I think. And, “Oh, right! That’ll work so much better! Why didn’t I think of it?”
- An outline of all changes is constructed, lumping like thoughts/characteristics together. Brainstorming begins.
- The old manuscript grows stronger as, item by item, each change is made.
- I mail the revised manuscript back to my amazingly brilliant editor, before deadline.
- I reward myself with chocolate.
Your book just released last week. Tell me about your promotional events?
First, I threw a virtual launch party both at my blog and at the Class of 2k8 blog. The day of my release, October 14th, I’ll was a guest speaker at an Educator’s Appreciation Event at Barnes & Noble in Franklin, TN. My launch party--a real, live one, with people and food and everything--is today, October 23rd, at 6 p.m. at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Nashville, TN. Throw in a couple of school visits, the Southern Festival of Books, and a guest room filled with my very happy parents, and you’ve pretty much got it!
One online reviewer said of your character Autumn: “Her problem seems to be convincing everyone else that it’s Okay for her to be different. That’s her internal struggle—one that’s familiar to almost all of us.” What drove you to create this spunky, free spirited character?
Until I wrote Autumn, I never quite understood those writers who talked about their characters like they were real people. I respected them, yes, but truly, I thought those authors were so eccentric: “I see. So your character told you she didn’t want to go hunting because she’s considering becoming a vegetarian. Hmm…”
But then I got the idea to write a story set in Cades Cove, TN, which is now a part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I did the research first, and found that the people who lived in the Cove and throughout the Smokies prided themselves on pulling the biggest prank, telling the tallest tale. This, mixed with a heaping dose of Southern religion. Autumn grew out of that research, and once she got rolling, she dragged me by my shirt collar through the story. I am now a convert.
Do you do things different?
I wish I could shout, “Absolutely! I’m as different as they come!” but truly, I’m not. We’re all a little bit different, but a lot the same. I think we sometimes forget how alike we all truly are.
You have a writers group, correct? You’re also in the Class of 2k8. Can a writer do it alone?
I don’t believe a writer can do it alone. Well, maybe if you’re Steinbeck or Frost or some other rare genius, then yes, you can walk this path solo. But a good writers group is far more than a collection of people who mark up your manuscript; they challenge you to make your ideas better. They cheer your highs and give you chocolate when you hit your lows. And the Class of 2k8 has been wonderful in that it’s been a support system for those of us going through publication for the first time. (And yes, there are as many highs and lows on this side of the contract as there are on the other side.) Then, too, is the simple idea that two (or in the case of my writer’s group, four) heads are better than one. More people watching the business, researching CWIM, and recommending good reads is always a plus. So even if you could do it alone, why would you?
Why do you love research so much? Do have any tips for researching historical fiction?
Ah, man, the research! (Can you hear the sigh?) Research is like panning for gold; you dig and search and sift until you stumble upon a little nugget that is just so lovely you know it must be a part of your story, and so you string it together with the other gorgeous little gems you’ve found. I love the dizzy feeling you get when the microfilm is whizzing toward an article that sounds promising. I love musty yellow books and photographs that can only be handled while wearing gloves. I love that a newspaper article written in 1910 sounds nothing like a newspaper article written in 1971. Even if what you find isn’t true (“Pall Malls are good for you!”), it was true to the people who first read it in 1934. It is life, preserved.
Three of my favorite tips for researching historical fiction (These of course don’t apply to those of you who write about the Iron Ages, but if 20th century Americana is your thing…):
- Find ads from the time period to get an idea of what the cars looked like, what kitchens looked like, what clothes looked like.
- Read the classified ads. These not only show the kinds of goods for sale, but were written by everyday folk (i.e., not reporters), so the vocabulary can be unforgettable.
- Ask your librarian for help on specific questions. My local librarian loves it when I walk up with a question like, “How much was rent for a two-room apartment in Chicago in May, 1910?” They live for that stuff. Really. That’s why they rule the world.
Writing for internationally known characters such as Scooby-Doo and Strawberry Shortcake is like getting a crash course in voice. Each character is so distinct and recognizable that you must do a lot of research before writing for them, so that you capture them accurately. And there are usually several gatekeepers that monitor each license--as there should be--to make certain that the text rings true. It sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but it’s a blast, too! Another benefit is learning to work under extremely tight deadlines. Because of all those aforementioned gatekeepers, each person needs to review the text a few days before the next person does, which makes some turn-around times quite tight--like, a week or so to write 64 pages.
The saying, “right place, right time,” could be a writer’s mantra, and certainly applies to how I first started working with Dalmatian Press. Dalmatian holds the rights to many well-known licensed characters for coloring and activity books. I met my editor at a conference and began writing for them shortly thereafter. Yet another example of getting yourself and your work in front of people! The good news is that once you’ve proven yourself in this arena, it’s not difficult to find new gigs. Publishers are always looking for people who can pen licensed characters.
What else are you working on?
I have two works-in-progress at the moment. The first is Selling Hope (Or, Gaining Glorious Asylum from Mr. Halley’s Fiery Beast). In May 1910, Halley’s Comet passed by Earth; it passed so close, in fact, that Earth actually passed through the tail of the comet. Mass hysteria ensued, much like the panic of Y2K. It was considered the first case of global paranoia, because it was the first time that the media (i.e., newspapers) reached enough people to feed the fear. Hope, an entrepreneurial vaudevillian, sees an opportunity to cash in on this fear by selling anti-comet pills. (And yes, that really happened. Another gem found!)
The other story I’m working on will, I hope, be attractive as a series. Haunted Melody: A Stop the Presses! Mystery stars Eleanor Roosevelt Pitt, a socially awkward but lovable girl who is obsessed with investigate reporters. She’s so entranced, in fact, that she starts a school newspaper, and manages not only to solve the mystery of the ghost in the music room, but get her fellow students enamored with journalistic truth as well.
And oh, I’m always working on school lunches and dirty diapers! (Not at the same time…)
Any advice to those seeking publications, particularly middle grade writers?
Aside from the Top Two Biggies (Read middle grade and write, write, write--in that order), I’d recommend attending conferences. Except for magazine articles, every writing gig I’ve ever landed has been the result of attending a conference. Research conferences in the CWIM, and take advantage of those manuscript critiques! (Yes, they cost extra, but this is your dream, right?!) When you find out which editors will be at a conference you’re attending, go back to your CWIM to see what kinds of books their houses publish. Google the editors. Read the books they have edited. If you have something similar in your files, submit it for critique. Get out of your office and market yourself--editors want to know that you’ll work hard to promote your book, and the best way to show them you will is to work hard to promote yourself.