We recently reviewed the wonderfully quirky mystery Nooks and Crannies and are excited to have the author with us today. Please welcome Jessica Lawson.
Middle Grade Mafia: Can you tell us how you decided to become a writer and what your path to published author was like?
Jessica Lawson: Back in 2009, I’d just had my first child and since she was a great sleeper and I had stopped working to be a stay-at-home-mom, I found myself with some free time and took up writing, something I’d enjoyed now and again, but never really thought of as a career. I soon realized how much I loved the querying process (“People in New York City are reading my query letter and pages! Sure, they’re rejecting my stuff, but they’re reading it! How cool is that???”) I became engrossed in learning about writing craft and trying my best to improve. I queried 8 manuscripts (Yes, 8! 1 adult, 5 MG, and 2 YA) over three years before landing an agent with my 9th manuscript, The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher.
MGM: What kind of books did you like as a child and what does that say about you?
JL: I loved Bill Peet’s and Steven Kellogg’s picture books as a child. They were full of wonder and silliness and heart and adventure and mostly happy endings. As a middle grade reader, Roald Dahl books were always my favorite, and I also had a soft spot for survival stories like Hatchet and My Side of the Mountain. I grew up to be a pretty silly adult and I still love the outdoors (I even got my Masters in Outdoor Recreation), so maybe those early loves were indicative of some life-long characteristics.
MGM: All of your books are so unique. Your first book is a spin on Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Can you tell us what inspired it? Will there be a series?
JL: One day, while I was pretending to do a thorough dusting job on my bookshelves, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer caught my eye. I hadn’t read it in years and found myself thinking about Tom and Huck and all the adventures they had together. And I thought about Becky Thatcher, the nicely dressed, finely-coiffed young girl who represented all that was good and pure to Tom—a girl who was distraught at discovering that Tom had been “engaged” to someone else. At Becky’s age, I was more likely to start a game of let’s swipe cookies from the cabinet and make a secret hideaway under the porch than to wear dresses and play at being engaged. Being a tree-climbing, mischief-making, cops-and-robbers-playing kind of girl, I always related more to Tom and Huck than to Becky. On that fateful day of dusting, my rag and spray can of Pledge froze in the air while I thought about Becky Thatcher and how she deserved to have a little fun. Thus, a story idea was born. I decided that my version of Becky would be an adventurous young girl in overalls, with a smart mouth and a big heart. I decided that she would face the trials and tribulations of growing up, spit plenty of cherry pits, and be able to appreciate a fine piece of bacon. There are no plans to make it a series, but never say never!
MGM: Your newest book Waiting for Augusta will release May 10th. What can you tell us about it and what you hope readers will get from it?
JL: Here’s a summary: A month ago, Ben Putter’s dad died, and (crazy idea or not) Ben’s certain the lump in his throat is actually a golf ball. The lump won’t go away and it turns out Dad’s not quite gone either. Still warm in his urn, Ben’s father suddenly speaks up to ask why he’s in Alabama instead of sprinkled on Augusta National Golf Club’s 18th hole, as he wanted. Partnering with a runaway named Noni, Ben sets off for Georgia. When they finally arrive, the Masters tournament is in full swing.
Between Dad nagging to be put to rest, Noni keeping suspiciously tight-lipped about her past, security patrolling at all hours, and the lump in his throat staying put, creeping onto Augusta may not be as easy as Ben originally thought. Letting go of a Dad who’s finally listening is going to be even harder.
I hope readers will walk away from the book with a sense that it’s never too late to make a connection with someone you care about, that the world is flawed but still full of possibility, that miracles sometimes show up when you most need them, and that they can find the courage to act on their beliefs.
MGM: What advice can you give aspiring writers?
JL: Read heavily, particularly in the genres you write! Don’t give up! Take yourself seriously, but not too seriously—by that, I mean try not to let your writing rejections and writing successes define you as a person. I always tell people that I approached writing and querying agents the same way my husband approaches golf~ as something meaningful that I wanted to get better at, a quest of sorts. I knew I’d have bad days and good days, but any day where I at least “got on the course to give it a try” was better than giving up because of frustration. I still feel that way.
AUTHOR BIO: Jessica Lawson is the author of The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher, a book that Publishers Weekly called “a delightfully clever debut” in a starred review, and Nooks & Crannies, a Junior Library Guild Selection and recipient of three starred reviews. Her latest middle grade novel is Waiting for Augusta. which Kirkus Reviews calls (other trade reviews are forthcoming) “A whimsical, heartwarming, multilayered story about finding grace enough to accept the flaws in those we love and courage enough to act from our most deeply held beliefs.”
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