Cat person. I was afraid of dogs for a very long time — I just recently got over that, so I’m definitely a cat person. I don’t (have any pets). I would love to have a cat eventually, I just haven’t been in the right place for it, and my family aren’t really pet people.
I’ve been reading a lot of old books; like, re-reading old Judy Blume books. That’s one of my go-to middle grade authors. I did just finish The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas — that book’s really popular right now. I really enjoyed that book. I would definitely recommend it.
I write mostly in my bed. I mean, I wish I was more of a desk person, but I usually end up gravitating toward my bed and being comfortable there, so it’s kind of my go-to.
A joke I always go back to is, ‘What did the scientist say when he found bones on the moon?’ … ‘The cow didn’t make it.’ It’s kind of a darker joke but I remember it from my childhood.
I do not drink milk. Can’t do it.
I always have a snack and a water bottle in my purse.
Working as a camp counselor. That was my first job ever, through the parks & rec department.
Now for some more in-depth questions:
How does it feel to be a 25-year-old with a publishing deal? That isn’t too common.
I’m honestly just so grateful. I feel like people put 25 on this pedestal — ‘I need to accomplish this by 25’ — and for me, I did want to have a book deal by 25, that was my main dream, so I’m super thankful and amazed, really.
What can you tell us about If This Were a Story that isn’t in the summary?
I think something that the summaries and descriptions that have been released haven’t mentioned is that there’s a bit of a magical realism aspect to it. The problems that she’s dealing with, she finds help with them through different objects that talk with her. So, there’s a stuffed animal, a luck penny, and other objects trying to help her through her situation.
Describe ITWAS in one word.
Hmm… I’m trying to think of a better word than ‘unique.’ Maybe ’emotional’?
Was any part of ITWAS inspired by real life?
I think the personality of my main character, in that she has a hard time talking about her feelings… I think I drew upon that from my 10-year-old self, evidently. That’s where she came from.
Where is ITWAS in the revision process?
I am on the second round of revisions from my editor. The first (round of edits) was… well, the story didn’t change, but there was a lot of development and restructuring. The second round is more of deepening little things, and we should be close to final after that.
How long did it take you to write ITWAS?
I probably shouldn’t admit this, but it took me a month to write this book. I sort of immediately started sending it out after I finished writing it, because I was so excited about it.
How long were you querying agents with this story?
I was querying for about three or four weeks, and then I got my agent. Probably a month later, I had the deal with Simon & Schuster. I’m still kind of blown away that it was that fast.
Did you have any other manuscripts that you queried before this book deal?
I did, I had the thesis that I graduated from my MFA with. I was so sure that was going to be the book, but I think I had to learn a lot more about querying first, and I had to learn about rejection. So, I queried that book from October to January and decided I wanted to try something new, which was when I wrote this book and queried it, and it happened to be the right one.
What are some important things you’ve learned about querying?
It can be painful because so many people have these dreams. When I found the writing community on Twitter, I was blown away by how many people are querying and how many people do have this dream. Everyone’s kind of putting themselves out there, and it can be terrible to hear ‘no.’ But I would just say that it’s really important to not give up. Also, be open to changing things. If it’s not working, try to revise and listen to advice. It can be hard to change the thing you worked on for so long and that you’re so proud of, but just be open to advice and keep moving forward.
Were there other publishers interested in ITWAS?
There was one other publisher interested that had made an offer, and it was a hard decision because the other publisher was one I was familiar with, and I like that editor’s vision, too, and a lot of my favorite books came from that publisher… but it just sort of came down to the feeling that I had when I was talking to Krista, my editor from Simon $ Schuster. I just really felt like she understood the story and that we connected on a lot of things. Sort of an instant good feeling from her, which is why I went with Simon & Schuster.
I know this was a two-book deal — is the other book going to be a sequel, or a companion?
It’s actually a complete standalone. So totally different, yeah.
Have you started book two at all?
I’ve started a book two. It’s an idea that I originally wanted to be YA, but now that I’ve gone through this shift I’m changing it to a middle grade. I haven’t brought it up to my agent or my editor yet, we haven’t talked about book two at all, we just know it’s part of the deal and it’s going to happen eventually. It’s definitely in the works, and I’m actually really excited to get back to working on it when I’m done with the revisions for this book.
Are you planning any promotional events or signings?
I haven’t been thinking about promotional stuff much yet, because it comes out in fall 2018, so we’ve got some time. But right now, I’m going to be doing a reading through my MFA program in August. That will be the first time I’ve read from this book in public. I’m hoping I’ll do a lot of promotion with my MFA program, because they’ve been so supportive.
What led you to writing middle grade books?
I really believed I was going to be a YA writer. For a long time, that was all I read, and I knew I wanted to write YA. I wanted to write for teens. And then I read the book The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, which was nominated for the National Book Award. It was middle grade, but I thought it was just so deep and emotional, and I was like, ‘Oh, you can do this in middle grade!’ I remembered when I was that age — that’s when I loved reading the most, when I would just read and read and read all the time. (After reading The Thing About Jellyfish), that’s when I decided to try out that voice, and once I was writing it I decided, ‘This just feels right.’
Have you been privy to any stigma around being a middle grade writer?
I definitely think that people underestimate the idea of writing for children, and (think) that it’s easier. That’s my understanding, at least. Whatever you’re doing, it’s hard to write a good story, I think. And that’s what’s most important.
Are planning on becoming a career author or a part-time author?
I would love to be a career author. I would love to continue writing books. I haven’t quit my day job, I know it will take some build-up. I’ve also been teaching, so the jobs I’ve been doing have complemented my writing and given me the time to write — like being an adjunct and working at a university. So, I could definitely see myself being a writer and also maintaining that career. But if I could make it work where I just write, I’d definitely take that path.
Where did the idea for this story come from?
It really came from the personality of the main character. I knew I wanted it to be a main character who had a really hard time speaking up about their feelings — just a particularly introspective kind of 11-year-old who is maybe a little too aware of their thoughts and maybe got into their own head a little too much. So I thought, if there was a person — an 11-year-old — who felt this way, what might happen to her? The plot was really built around her, and the little magical realism things sort of just happened. It really came from the personality of the character.
How long have you wanted to be an author?
Since I was five. Maybe this is a weird thing to do, but… (Editor’s Note: Beth reached over her desk at this point and grabbed a large framed page covered in a child’s large, messy handwriting)
For Christmas, my parents framed the first book I ever wrote, so this is it. It’s called The Cat Who Made Friends With the Dog. That’s the first thing I ever wrote. I just can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write books and be an author.
Keep an eye out for Beth Turley’s debut book, If This Were a Story!