An Author’s Life in a List: Eight Observations About Writing Two Middle Grade Novels

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1. When I wrote my first novel, Annie’s Life in Lists, I had no idea if anyone would ever read it besides my family. (I didn’t have an agent yet, and certainly not a publisher. I hadn’t even met most of my current writing group members.)

But by the time I wrote my second novel, The 47 People You’ll Meet in Middle School, I had a two-book deal and a squad of incredible early readers: an editor, an agent, and four priceless critique partners!

This was very exciting. (Yay! This time I know I’ll get feedback from brilliant real-life publishing whizzes!) It was also somewhat terrifying. (Yipes. Brilliant real-life publishing whizzes are definitely going to be reading this manuscript. They will surely ask for more edits than my husband does.)

2. My first novel was written entirely as a series of lists. Writing lists was challenging but fun, and as you can see, it’s a format I got used to. In fact, I even started writing many of my emails in list form, and so did my critique partners. The Kristin Listin, we call it.

With the second novel, I was somewhat relieved to discover that I can still write in regular prose (although the book is sort of like a long list since each chapter introduces a new character).

3. The main character in the first book, Annie, is a lot like me when I was in fifth grade. She’s usually quiet and respectful of her elders, and she remembers all kinds of tiny details about people that she keeps to herself.

Gus, the main character in my second book, is definitely a bit bolder. (She yells at her parents! She gambles! She steals her teacher’s breath-freshening spray!)

I loved writing both of them, but I may have had a little more fun being inside Gus’s head, just because her relative insouciance is something I’ve often aspired to. (Something else I’ve aspired to: casually using words like “insouciance.” Check!)

4. With Annie’s Life in Lists, I usually “pantsed” it (i.e., flew by the seat of my pants and worked with a good idea and a pile of notes but no real outline).

For The 47 People You’ll Meet in Middle School….I pantsed it again. Some things don’t change. Apparently I’m just a pantser.

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5. On a good day, pantsing is exciting, and writing feels almost like reading a great book as the adventure unfolds. (“Ha! That brother is hilarious!” or “Oh no; I can’t believe her mom said that!”)

On a bad day, pantsing it is not so fun. My thoughts on those days are more like “Ugh, why can’t this author make up her mind about the next plot point?” and “Oh wait; the author is me.” Those are the days I think often of the Dorothy Parker quote “I hate writing, I love having written.”

6. After the launch party for Annie’s Life in Lists, I saw Amy Sedaris in the bookstore. (This was a coincidence; she wasn’t there for my launch. But still, exciting. Even though my brother wouldn’t let me say hello to her. Or tell her that I’m a fellow North Carolinian. Or give her a copy of my book to pass along to her brother.)

I just felt like mentioning this; it really has nothing to do with writing my second book. Or does it? Now that I know anything is possible, maybe I’ll see a famous native of my current home state at my next book event. Paging Mr. Springsteen.

7. Every step of the process was a marvel to me both times. I couldn’t wait to see the covers, and I love them both. Annie was depicted beautifully by Rebecca Crane and Gus’s world is wonderfully captured by Hyesu Lee. I remain in awe of editors, illustrators, copy editors, and designers.

8. Hands down, my favorite thing about having Annie’s Life in Lists published has been hearing from readers. There’s nothing better than hearing that your book was the first novel a 9-year-old was able to get through, or that a fourth-grade book club is clamoring for a sequel. Those are definitely the comments that have me walking on air for the rest of the day. (And I get a giggle from readers’ probing questions like “Can I see the pencil-lead mark you got on your hand in third grade?”)

The jury is still out on Book Two, but I can’t wait to hear from readers once it’s published in August! Early buzz from the middle-graders in my house includes “This book was great, Mom!”, “Why aren’t there any characters named after me?” and “Do we have any good snacks?”

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Kristin Mahoney:
1. Grew up in North Carolina, where she always knew she wanted to be a writer
2. Now lives in New Jersey with her husband, two daughters, and a goofy dog
3. Can be found online at http://www.kristinmahoneybooks.com, @KMcMahoney on Twitter, and @kristinmahoneybooks on Instagram

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