Writing can be very solitary; just a writer and their computer or notebook. But as writers of children’s books, we’re lucky to have a wonderful camaraderie between creators who support and help each other. The year my first novel, THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, came out, I found heaps of support and help through my debut group, the Electric Eighteens, and the Spooky Middle Grade authors. I love to see how other authors are navigating their writing, so I thought today I’d interview one of the authors who shared and supported me during my debut year in both of these wonderful groups, Victoria Piontek. Victoria is the author of THE SPIRIT OF CATTAIL COUNTY (Scholastic, 2018), which A SNICKER OF MAGIC author Natalie Lloyd described as, “Wrapped in prose as mysterious and lovely as a southern breeze lies a story about loss that haunts, and the ghosts that help us heal. This story is a treasure.”
Samantha: What do you love about writing books, and on the flip side is there anything you don’t like?
Victoria: What I love most about writing is working with words and revising them to say just the right thing in the right way. I also really love watching a project take shape through revision and the way it gets a little more whole with each pass. The thing I don’t like about writing is getting started again after a break. Blank pages and flashing cursors are terrifying!
Samantha: What made you want to be a writer?
Victoria: My sister and I discovered a battered set of C.S. Lewis’s CHRONICLES OF NARNIA in our family barn. We spent the summer reading the books, and by the time I finished the series, I knew that I wanted to be a writer.
Samantha: What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome in your journey so far?
Victoria: Self-doubt. Even though I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a writer, I believed I wouldn’t be able to become one because I’m dyslexic. As a kid, even though I loved school and learning, I didn’t perform well in an academic environment, and I thought that meant I couldn’t be an author. I had to work really hard (and still do) to overcome some of the technical aspects of writing and to believe in myself.
Samantha: What’s the biggest lesson you learned from your debut year?
Victoria: To enjoy and celebrate every milestone no matter how small because the debut year goes by surprisingly fast.
Samantha: Do you feel as though your debut year or your book has changed you in any way?
Victoria: THE SPIRIT OF CATTAIL COUNTY is, in many ways, a love letter to my family, especially my mom. It didn’t change me as much as reinforce how important family is to me and how grateful I am to have grown up in my family even though we were not picture perfect. As a family, we were a little messy and quirky, but my mom taught us to celebrate that difference, and I think that has helped me with my writing. I love writing characters who are good-hearted but imperfect.
Samantha: How has your writing process changed?
Victoria: My process has changed in two ways since I first started writing. I now outline before I start drafting. It’s a loose outline, but I’ve learned that if I don’t know what is supposed to come next, I get stuck and flounder. When I have a roadmap, I can work quicker. I also fast draft without editing or revising as I go. I’ve discovered it’s the best way to make progress because it allows me to get more words on the page and stops me from getting caught up in self-criticism. Nothing kills creativity like self-doubt.
Samantha: What draws you to middle-grade novels, and are there challenges or special considerations you have to think about when writing for this category?
Victoria: Middle grade is my favorite category to read and to write because it has all the qualities I love in a novel—heart, humor, and hope. I think when writing for this category, the most important thing to keep in mind is to not write down to readers. Kids are very discerning creatures. Adults have a tendency to forget that.
Samantha: What types of stories are you most interested in telling, and why?
Victoria: I love telling friendship and family stories because I feel like those connections are at the heart of who we are and why.
Samantha: What’s next for you?
Victoria: I’m working on a new novel about friendship and family.
Samantha: I look forward to reading it!
Find out more about Victoria Piontek on her website, VictoriaPiontek.com