Congratulations to mafia friend, Rebecca Petruck, on the launch of her new middle grade novel, Boy Bites Bug. There is no doubt Rebecca totally gets middle grade characters, voice and humor. We asked her about her writing journey.
Middle Grade Mafia: What was the inspiration for Boy Bites Bug?
National Geographic wrote an article about a United Nations report urging people to eat bugs, then suggested “8 popular bugs to try.” I’ve always liked insects (except for Palmetto bugs—eep!), so I was interested to learn more. A lot of what I write is just an excuse to geek out on a subject and be able to tell people it’s for work. 😊
MGM: What is your writing process? (Do you write every day? A certain number of pages, etc.)
The early stages are big-picture plotting, writing 10,000 – 25,000 words to get to know the characters better than more plotting and writing again. When I have a decent external arc and a good sense of the characters, I spend a lot of time free-writing on the MC’s internal issues. That usually means I need to adjust the plot again, too.
For the writing itself, I work in timed 30-minutes. I don’t sprint; I simply focus for 30 minutes and most of the time that means writing but sometimes that means pondering a scene’s purpose or what it might mean if I have a character do this instead of that, etc. I also work best at a desk, which I’ve learned is probably because posture can play a role in our feelings of confidence. Reading Presence by Amy Cuddy really encouraged me to stop writing while hunched into the couch or an armchair. (View Cuddy’s TED Talk here.)
MGM: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received regarding writing?
To not re-read my own words too frequently. Reading a sentence, paragraph, or chapter over and over creates a rut in our brains, making it difficult to imagine those words in a different order or erased completely. In early drafts, I write, read them the next day to remind myself what I’ve done, then move on. I really try not to re-read any more than I need to.
This also makes it easier when it comes time to begin the next draft because I’ve retained only the broad sense of what I’ve written, not every beat and word. It’s nice to find those happy surprises of sentences and scenes that I didn’t explicitly remember and find that they’re pretty good! 😊
MGM: How long from when you started writing the Boy Bites Bug until it was published?
Four years: three to write, one for Abrams’ part. There was a “finished” draft in 2015, but my editor suggested a significant change from the synopsis that BUG sold on. I agreed—I much prefer the new focus—but with the manuscript not “done” and no advance forthcoming, I had to make some decisions about my financial situation. I moved across the state which unsurprisingly caused some emotional turmoil and a change to my routines. It took a while not only to rethink BUG but also to get back my mojo.
MGM: Sometimes it’s hard for kids to make new friends but it can be even harder to get rid of a friendship that’s not healthy. What message would you like kids to take away from your story?
People outgrow each other. It doesn’t mean we stop caring or forget the good times, only that maybe we need different things from each than we used to. We can’t help changing any more than we can help growing. The important thing is to choose how we want to change, what kind of people we want to be.
MGM: Is there a fun picture you would like to share?
These wax worms, which are actually wax moth caterpillars, arrived alive. I froze them then had to sort them from thesawdust they were packed in. They are very tasty, like creamy nuts, and these particular wax worms were from San Diego Waxworms.
MGM: Thank you Rebecca and happy book birthday!
Rebecca Petruck is the author of BOY BITES BUG (May 2018) and STEERING TOWARD NORMAL (2014), both with ABRAMS/Amulet. BUG received a starred review from ABA Booklist, who said it’s “…funny, perceptive, and topical in more ways than one.” SLJ called it “a sure bet for reluctant readers.” STEERING TOWARD NORMAL was a BCCB Best Book of the Year, and an American Booksellers Association New Voices selection as well as a Kids Indie Next List title. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from UNC Wilmington, and is a mentor for Pitch Wars, Writing in the Margins, and SCBWI Carolinas. She is represented by Kate Testerman of kt literary. Visit Rebecca at http://rebeccapetruck.com and @RebeccaPetruck on Twitter.