The Writer’s Block: An Interview with Shelley Tougas

Last year, I posted a review of Shelley Tougas’ book, The Graham Cracker Plot. I really loved it and was excited to see how she would follow it up. I am happy to say that I was not disappointed! Finders Keepers is a terrific read – an exciting, imaginative story with lots of heart. Obviously, I’m not the only one who thinks so as its received wonderful reviews including the one below:

A charming story of family history and personal connections (both lost and found) that is reminiscent of Blue Balliett and the Penderwicks’ adventures. (Booklist, starred review)

finderskeepers

 

Shelley was kind enough to sit down for a few questions from the Mafia.

Middle Grade Mafia: I was a big fan of The Graham Cracker Plot, and enjoyed Finders Keepers just as much. How was writing Finders Keepers different?

Shelley Tougas: When I wrote The Graham Cracker Plot, I essentially had the book mapped out before I wrote it. For Finders Keepers, I sort of meandered through the story, drifting from one plot point to the next, watching the characters evolve as though they were in charge instead of me. It took me three times longer to write Finders Keepers than The Graham Cracker Plot, and the revision process was much more extensive and painful. I’ll never write a book that way again. I need to start with a strong outline and change it along the way if the story or characters take me in a different direction. No more drifting!

Middle Grade Mafia: Al Capone must have made for fascinating research. What was the most interesting thing you learned?

Shelley Tougas: I knew about Al Capone because I toured his hideout near Hayward many years ago. What I didn’t know was how many gangsters vacationed in that part of Wisconsin and did business there. We think about Chicago as the country’s bootlegging hub, but Wisconsin was the bootleggers’ vacation paradise. Al Capone’s brother Ralph made northern Wisconsin his home. After serving time in prison, he moved to Mercer, which is about two hours from Hayward. He ran a hotel and tavern in town and lived in the area until his death in 1974. Rumor has it he ran an illegal gambling operation in that hotel. I plan on visiting Mercer soon.

Middle Grade Mafia: Stephen King recently released a book with the same title. You seem to handle it with great humor. Has having his name on another Finders Keepers helped, hurt, or made no difference to yours?

shelley_tougasShelley Tougas: My guess is it ultimately will hurt sales. If parents hear about Finders Keepers and search online for it, they the first image they’ll come across is a book cover dripping with blood. Trust me, Google favors Stephen King over Shelley Tougas. The funny thing is that Finders Keepers’ original title was Loot. However, the summer before my release date, author Jude Watson released a middle-grade novel called “Loot.” You can’t copyright a title, so I could have kept Loot. However, it didn’t make sense to have two middle-grade adventure books with the same title come out within a year of each other. To avoid marketplace confusion, we changed the title to Finders Keepers. And then came Stephen King.

Even more bizarre? There’s a new documentary called Finders Keepers about a man’s lawsuit to recover his amputated foot, which was accidentally sold at a garage sale. The film is winning awards at festivals across the country. I can’t wait to see it.

Middle Grade Mafia: What would you like kids to take away from this book?

Shelley Tougas: I’d love it if kids put down their electronics and rediscovered outdoor play and dramatic play. As a kid, I was constantly dreaming up adventure stories for my friends and me. I think it helped make me a writer.

Middle Grade Mafia: What are you working on now?

Shelley Tougas: I’m doing revisions for my third novel, A Patron Saint for Junior Bridesmaids. It’s about a Catholic girl navigating her role in a cousin’s wedding as well as her first crush. I’m also drafting my fourth novel, Laura Ingalls is Ruining My Life.

Middle Grade Mafia: Finally, a lot of pre-published authors read this blog. What is the best piece of advice you ever received about writing?

Shelley Tougas: My friend S.A. Bodeen reminds me that the only part of the publishing process I can control is the actual writing. I need to focus on the next book instead of sweating out sales, reviews, and all the other frustrating aspects of publishing, like sharing a title with Stephen King. That’s not to say I don’t have a role in marketing, because I do, but keeping my fingers on the keyboard is my main job.

Middle Grade Mafia: Awesome advice for us all! Thanks so much, Shelley.

You can buy Finders Keepers HERE.

For more, visit Shelley’s WEBSITE or follow her on TWITTER.


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