Fiona G. Reviews The Real McCoys

Apparently, various children are reading The Real McCoys, and apparently, at least a few of them like it. We have just (and by “just,” I mean several months ago) received a piece of incisive critical commentary from reader Fiona G, who has granted us permission to share it with you.

As follows:

The Real McCoys was really great! I loved it! Moxie and Milton McCoy attend Tiddlywhump Elementry where the beloved mascot, Eddie the Owl, has gone missing! I really liked Moxie’s sense of humor. She is really funny. I really liked reading it because I can relate to both Moxie and Milton. I liked all of the characters. There is a reasonable amount. The story is written in a way that makes you feel like Moxie is talking to you. You feel like you’re part of the story. It is a pretty realistic book. I could see myself doing all the things Moxie does. It makes a great read-aloud! I think readers ages 6 to10 would love it. Moxie is funny, smart, “really humble”. Milton is smart. I think everyone who reads this will love it!

-Fiona G., age 10, Middlebury, VT

Thank you, Fiona, for your stirring endorsement and for putting your good name on the line in support of our book.

Anyone else who would like to weigh in with opinions (however vitriolic) of The Real McCoys may send them to us via The Real McCoys Facebook page, and we will then post them here.

A Mighty Book

We are thrilled (and a little bit shocked) to find The Real McCoys featured on the soaringly popular A Mighty Girl Blog on the occasion of National Siblings Day.

Not only was our book included in a list of “50 Mighty Girl Books about Sisters & Brothers,” but it was one of three books chosen to appear in the lineup of covers at the top of the post, along with books by the soaringly popular Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Raina Telgemeier.

The list also includes such timeless classics as Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary, The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, Sisters (also by Raina Telgemeier), and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg.

Which is to say, we feel like we got a surprise invitation to a really great party (and very much hope that we don’t spill guacamole on the front of our blazer).

Thank you, thank you, good people of A Mighty Girl, for making us feel great and for sharing our book with your Mighty readership.

Barn Edition Giveaway!

We’ve been told that today is National Siblings Day!

So… Happy National Siblings Day!
To celebrate, Macmillan is giving away ten free copies of The Real McCoys, which we have signed and stamped with our shiny schmantzy Barn Edition seal, like so:

Barn Edition Giveaway

Look how shiny that seal is! And how schmanzy!!! How could you possibly resist, especially when it’s free, and when it is celebrating those few people of your own generation who share your DNA?!

So go on and enter the giveaway and get yourself a little Moxie!

Advice to a Young Writer

Not long ago, I received an email from a young woman (the daughter of a high school friend), asking me for insight on the writing process. She wanted to know about the “soft skills” it takes to be a writer. In other words, beyond being good at writing, what other attributes must one have to be able to actually do it as a profession.

It was fun (and instructive) question to try and dissect this thing that I usually do without much thought. I had a few important insights and thought I might as well share them with other young (or not so young) writers who might be out there wondering how to get started.

Without further ado, here are the “soft skills” required for me to do my job as a writer.

persistence (and patience) – Writing is something that you learn how to do little by little, over an extremely long period of time. Although you can certainly improve by taking writing classes or read books about writing, the best way to get better as a writer is to write. And write and write and write. Everyone starts out as a terrible writer (just think what awful writers babies are), but anyone who sticks with it gets better. And those who stick with it through frustration and failure are the ones who get a lot better. Robbi and I are always saying how glad we are that we chose professions that we can keep doing and continuing to get better at throughout our entire lives. If we were professional basketball players, we would already be retired because our knees would no longer work properly. Instead, if feels as if we’re just getting started. The bottom line here is that learning to write well takes a really long time. But the more you write, the faster the learning process will be. Without patience and persistence, it’s pretty much impossible to be a great writer. Because it’s one of those things that just doesn’t happen without a lot of hard work.

observation – Whether your story is about the Roman Empire or a family of green bunnies, it won’t be interesting unless it’s actually about real things that happen to actual people. Their hopes and fears and struggles and joys. And the only way to write things that people will care about reading is to pay close attention to what people actually say and do, how they feel and react in a given situation. So much of what happens to people happens below the surface and is only visible in barely perceptible ways. So you have to look and listen carefully to figure out how people work. Which is to say, writers must be good observers and good listeners.

empathy – Beyond figuring out how people work by studying them closely, writers have to do a little extra magic, taking that knowledge and understanding and using it to see and live the world through their characters’ eyes. Empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” If you can’t, at some level, identify with your characters, it’s hard to tell their stories in interesting and authentic ways. Which means that you have to crawl inside the hearts of your villains as well as those of your heroes. You have to open yourself up to a broad range of human experience. You have to be willing to acknowledge the complexity inside yourself. Which many people are not willing to do.

curiosity – The thing that makes one willing do be persistent and observant is an innate curiosity about the world and how it works. You have to be really interested in people and what they think and what they do and WHY they think what they think and do what they do or you probably won’t do the hard work it takes to learn how to write about these things in believable, compelling ways. One of the best ways to sate your curiosity is to read. Not only will you be exposed to people and situations and ideas and happenings that you couldn’t possibly experience in person, but you will learn how great writers perform their craft. Want to be a writer? Read and read and read. Write and write and write.

willingness to accept criticism – I wish there were a single word for this, but if there is, I can’t think of it. The bottom line is, writers don’t work alone. They collaborate with editors (professional or otherwise) to take their ideas and drafts and make them better. No writer EVER sat down and wrote something perfect in one try. That is not how it works. Writers write something, and it is riddled with mistakes (not just spelling and grammatical errors but other kinds of problems, whether with the story or the logic or the characters). Editors read the draft and give feedback, pointing out places where the story isn’t working or where the dialogue is not believable or where the writer has missed an opportunity to add emotional depth to a given exchange. The process of revision proceeds as a conversation between the writer and the editor and it often takes just as much work and time (if not more work and time) than creating the first draft did. Writers have to be willing to accept that they cannot create the best version of their book or blog post or magazine article on their own. And the better they are at listening to constructive criticism without taking it personally, the better their final work will be. I think of my editor as a true partner in the process of writing my books. She always makes them so much better than they would have been had I been working on my own.

And there you have it. I’d welcome any thoughts you have on this list. Especially if you can think of any I forgot.

Path Less Traveled

I wrote my first book when I was 12. It was terrible, but I was 12. I spent the next six years writing horrible poetry. When I was 18, someone politely suggested I might try a different genre. So I wrote stories. Weirdo stories that made people laugh and left them confused. But I kept writing because that’s what one does.

When I was 30, I felt ready to write a book, a big fat novel full of importance and truth. So I applied to six of the finest MFA programs in fiction—and got rejected by seven of them (I received rejection letters from the University of Minnesota on consecutive Mondays).

As plan B, Robbi and I decided to create our own books with my words and her pictures. I’d never had so much fun. We did this for a decade, constructing them by hand on our dining room table, learning and inventing and making connections that led to opportunities.

Today, at 42, I’m getting the chance to publish my big fat novel. It isn’t the book I dreamed of writing twelve years ago. It’s so much better than that one would have been. It’s about an impetuous ten-year old girl in search of a new best friend and a missing owl, and it is full of truth. It is important. This book, illustrated by Robbi, is exactly what I’m supposed to be writing. And it is a perfect example of a success that could not have been built without a foundation of failure.

Thank you, University of Minnesota, for sending me on this path less traveled. And thanks to the people who have been my teachers and guides: Jim Shepard, Erin Stein, Robbi Behr, Meredith Kaffel Simonoff, Robin Rice, Clifford Lull, Bernice Thieblot, Matthew Westbrook—and so many others along the way. Because one learns writing by living each day in the company of good books and interesting people.

Happy book birthday, The Real McCoys. Thanks for all the adventures you’ve shown me so far. I can’t wait to watch you grow.