In writing a middle grade book, I'm also widening my reading palate to include more middle grade titles. One of the fall titles from Month9Books, THE WICKED TREE, offers just the right amount of "spooky" for middle grade readers:
After Tav’s first trip into the woods, he begins to have strange dreams about a supernatural tree. The dreams start out pleasant, but soon grow dark and menacing. On a dare, Tav ventures further into the woods with his new friend Harper, and they meet a mysterious, mute boy named Edward who lives in a decrepit cabin there. Though he’s unable to communicate where he came from or why he lives alone, in clear distress he scrawls two words: Bad Tree.
Tav knows what it’s like to be afraid. If he’d been brave enough to act four years ago, he could have saved his dad from the fire that took their home. But he wasn’t, and he’s been trying to redeem himself since. Now Tav is determined to help Edward. He enlists Harper, and together they search the estate for clues to Edward’s identity and how to help him.
While searching, Tav and Harper find antique photo albums, ancient diaries, and a secret laboratory. They piece together the Kreet family history, and discover a curse that’s been waiting generations for an heir. Tav’s dreams grow more ominous, and he realizes time is running short. To save himself and his friends, Tav must go to the heart of the woods, find the Bad Tree, and confront an evil magic before it consumes him completely.
In what ways, if any, did your experience as an elementary school teacher inform your writing?
I loved the five years I spent teaching 5th and 6th grade. Tweens are my favorite; they’re sophisticated enough to examine and question their world, yet still in a phase where anything—including magic! —feels possible.
While in the classroom, I met one-on-one with my students multiple times a week for reading conferences. We’d talk about the book they were reading, whether they liked it, why/why not, what they would change about the story if they could, etc. I chose books for read aloud based on these conversations and bought books for my classroom library that I thought would entice my more reluctant readers. I’d give recommendations to my students, and they’d recommend books to me too. I loved connecting with my students over books—it was always my favorite part of the school day.
At that time, I wasn’t actively thinking about writing books myself, but when I left teaching to focus on raising my kids and writing, I found those reading conference conversations popping up in my mind often. The insight they gave me into the reading lives of middle graders was invaluable as I started tossing plot ideas around. There was never any question in my mind about which age demographic I would write for, and I think that’s due to the enjoyable years I spent teaching, and the wonderful students I had.
What a great path you've been on! And I love the characters in THE WICKED TREE, especially Edward. How did the characters in this book come to you, and how do their journeys intertwine?
Thanks so much! Edward has an extra special place in my heart too. I don’t want to talk about him too much for fear of giving things away, but I love that he made an impression on you!
The two main characters, Tav and Harper, came to me in succession. Everything started with Tav. I had the idea for a story about a boy who would be plagued by a familial curse and I looked up lists of names that meant sadness or misfortune and the name Tavorian jumped out at me the moment I saw it. As Tav began to take shape into his introverted, worrying self, I realized that while I wanted him to have a bravery arc in the story, he wasn’t going to take those first few steps on his own. He needed someone plucky to help push him along. That’s when Harper started taking shape in my mind. She’s sure of herself, knows what she wants, and goes after it. Plopping the two of them into a spooky mystery together worked well. Tav recognizes dangers and overthinks all the possibilities, and Harper has the bravery and quick thinking under pressure to get them safely through.
Also, a fun fact, Mosley the cat is exactly modeled after my sister’s cat. The only difference is my sister’s Mosley is only five.
I love that Harper came about as a way to solve Tav's character flaws! What, in your opinion, is the most difficult part of the writing process?
For me, drafting is the hardest part, hands down. I know many authors who say drafting is their favorite part, that they love the excitement of seeing the story come to life, but that’s not the case with me. I really struggle with self-doubt during the drafting phase. I worry that the words and scenes I’m stringing together won’t amount to an actual story in the end. To try and combat this, I always outline before I begin writing. That way, when the anxiety sets in, I can look at the outline and remind myself that there IS a full story and it IS going somewhere. This helps, but I still can’t make myself really and truly believe my story works it until I’ve typed the words ‘the end’. Once those words are down, I feel my spirits lift and I’m ready to settle into my very favorite part of the writing process: polishing a (complete!) story until it’s something I’m proud of.
Indeed. What are some of your current projects?
I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say because the ink’s not quite dry, if you know what I mean, but readers who enjoy The Wicked Tree and wonder what happens to Tav next won’t be disappointed. 😉
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