Lindsey Leavitt is the author of a number of books for children and young adults. She lives in Utah with her blended family.
Lindsey Leavitt is a former elementary school teacher and now writer and mom to a large blended family. She has written several books for children and teens, including the PRINCESS FOR HIRE series, SEAN GRISWOLD’S HEAD, GOING VINTAGE, CHAPEL WARS and, with Robin Mellom, THE PAGES BETWEEN US.
Her latest project is the chapter-book series COMMANDER IN CHEESE, published by Random House, which takes the reader into the world of the mice who live in the White House – putting a whole fresh spin on the ups and downs of American politics!
When and how did you start writing?
Like most writers, I really enjoyed writing as a kid and have a whole collection of journals and stories. But when I hit high school, I let doubt get in the way, figuring I wasn’t as good as the authors I read (yeah, I knew nothing about revision then). Also, I submitted something to the school literary journal and it got rejected because it was too ‘fun’ and not very ‘deep’. It was a short story, not a swimming pool, but whatever. I let it get to me so much that I didn’t sign up for the creative-writing classes I eyed every semester in college.
I always felt a pull, though, and so when my oldest daughter was born and turned out to be a champion napper, I took a huge leap and started writing again. I wrote all sorts of stuff at first — picturebooks, short stories, poetry, until I found my niche and voice in tween and teen novels. Once I got into that, I joined SCBWI and a critique group and read, read, read. It’s an old formula, but a proven one. Sometimes, when my desire to be published overshadowed my focus on craft, I would send stuff out too soon. But actually, it helped me finally face rejection and push through it. Now I get paid money to write ‘fun’ stuff. Take that, lit mag.
Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? Who were your childhood storytelling heroes?
RAMONA QUIMBY, AGE 8. She was me. Or I was her. Or whatever. I was blown away that there was a book about a REAL girl, who got mad and felt insecure and laughed at random things and fought with/loved her family.
Roald Dahl was my literary hero because he broke the rules. He talked about burping and nasty parents, and the kids in his books actually defied adults. But at the same time, there were good, tenacious, resilient characters. Sometimes, when I was reading his books, I would look around to make sure I wasn’t going to get in trouble for reading fiction so true and delicious.
Can you talk us through the writing of your first book? What were the key moments?
Well, my very first book was for practice and that nonsense has been burned. I don’t usually support book burnings, but trust me, this was for the best.
My first passable book, SEAN GRISWOLD’S HEAD (which actually will be my second published book), taught me that a story must have a plot. And characters. And scenes. All these revolutionary elements I somehow missed the first time around.
I wrote this book during a pregnancy, the baby haze, and during a major move. The more emotional scenes are mirrors of some of the emotions I went through during that time, and the humor was a welcome respite. I wrote one of my favorite scenes while sitting at a picnic table at the Highlights Foundation Chautauqua conference. It was the first time I’d left my two year old, and the first time I’d taken my writing seriously enough to dedicate a week to it. Taking that step allowed me to cut myself open and bleed on to the page, and from that week on I treated my writing as a career, even if I still hadn’t made any money from it.
Was it hard to get an agent? Can you talk us through the process?
I got my agent the old-fashioned way — cold query. And serendipitously enough, my agent wasn’t even agenting when I started querying, so I’m grateful for the process that led me to her. It took me six months from my very first query to my first offer, though I took some time off in between to nurse my wounds.
I queried in smaller batches — three or four carefully selected agents. Within those six months, I had some great feedback that led me to make some changes. I learned everything I could about the market climate. I had some close calls that had me raiding my children’s Halloween/Christmas/Easter candy stash. But the most important thing I did was work on another novel. Not only did it help me maintain my sanity level (however low that was at the time), but I also believe having some range made me more appealing as a client.
When I did receive offers, the agents were interested not just in my first novel, but in my WIP (which I mentioned in a one-line pitch at the end of the query). I was very lucky to sign with Sarah, who really got both strands of my writing.
Hard? Yes, but worth it.
Describe your writing day. Where do you write? How do you organize your time? Where do you look for inspiration?
Oh wow. Every day is different. I have young kids, so I squeeze in as much as I can during pre-school. Otherwise, I’m writing during the nights or on weekends, or on the floor of the playroom, or in the hallway during dance classes. Organization doesn’t happen much around here, it’s more of a calculated chaos.
Inspiration: I read like crazy in my genres. I also work with young teens in my church. But mostly, I go back to my own childhood and adolescence and really try to hone in on my joys and struggles (except I’ll, you know, throw in a traveling bubble or something).
Are there any tips you could give aspiring writers who are looking to get published?
Write your heart out. Write your face off. Write like whatever you wrote will win you a lifetime’s supply of candy.
I know the idea of being published is a sweet seductress and I know that ache of wanting your words out THERE is fierce but…
If you can’t write, it’s not going to happen. Close the submission files and finish the best book you possibly can, revise that book a million times (and I don’t mean spell check), THEN focus on the publishing side. Don’t let all the business stuff overtake the writing, especially that first book, which is such a raw and exhilarating experience.
Can you describe three aspects of writing craft that have been most important as you’ve developed as an author?
1. Be authentic
2. Show don’t tell
3. Get to conflict ASAP
Which favourite authors would you invite to a dinner party? What fictional character do you wish you’d invented?
Roald Dahl, again because I would like to see his manners, or lack thereof. Kurt Vonnegut, especially because Roald will be there and I suspect they’d hit it off. And Judy Blume, because maybe she would let me touch the hem of her garment.