Happy book birthday to Laurie Morrison and Cordelia Jensen on their middle grade novel, Every Shiny Thing. Their book, written from two perspectives, half in verse and half in prose, has already received wonderful reviews. We asked them about their writing journey.
Middle Grade Mafia: Where did you find inspiration for Every Shiny Thing?
We both drew inspiration from our work with kids. After working as a counselor for many years, Cordelia was inspired by kids’ fierce loyalty. She wanted to write about a girl who has been a caretaker for her addict mother and is placed in a new, safer home away from her mom but remains loyal to her mom and transfers some of her caretaking behavior to a friendship. After working as a teacher for many years, Laurie wanted to write about a character who, like many of her students, has a passion for social justice and a desire to do something meaningful to change things that seem unfair. These characters became Sierra and Lauren, and when they came together as friends, a story was born.
MGM: The idea of playing Robin Hood to help underprivileged kids sounds like a good idea, but clearly doesn’t work. What is the message you want kids to take away from the story?
Lauren comes up with the Robin Hood idea and really drives the scheme despite Sierra’s concerns and, on the one hand, we both admire her commitment to justice and hope her passion inspires readers to want to create change in the world. However, her increasingly intense commitment to this well-intentioned but problematic plan also shows readers that good intentions can still lead people into bad situations. She gets more and more in over her head as the plan progresses, but she only opens up to Sierra, not the adults in her life. That puts Sierra in a very overwhelming position, but Sierra tries to handle it on her own. We hope kids will root for the girls to reach out to adults for help and understand that, if they are in trouble or feeling overwhelmed in a friendship in their own lives, it’s okay to ask for help. Sierra also grapples with how to support people who have addictions, and we hope her storyline will help readers see that, if they have a person in their life who has an addiction, they might not be able to help or change that person by themselves,
MGM: What is your writing process and why did you decide to write the book half in prose and half in verse?
We decided to write half in prose and half in verse in part because of our strengths as writers. Cordelia was already a verse novelist, and Laurie has only ever written in prose. We wanted to collaborate and thought writing a book half in prose and half in verse would make the characters easily distinguishable and the story unique. Also, Sierra is going through a really emotionally trying time, and verse can be a great way to gently guide a reader through a character’s intense feelings, so her voice came out naturally in verse. Meanwhile, prose felt like the right choice for Lauren, whose sections carry a lot of the plot and whose motivations and rationalizations are pretty complicated, so they came across better with more words to play with.
In terms of our process, we brainstormed our characters and the story’s midpoint and ending ahead of time, and then we drafted the book in a Google doc, taking turns writing chapters, editing based on each other’s feedback, and bouncing ideas off each other for what should happen next.
MGM: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received regarding writing?
Cordelia: The best piece of writing advice I ever received was from one of my advisors at Vermont College of Fine Arts, Julie Larios. She told me in every poem there should be an image, idea, and music.
Laurie: E. Lockhart wrote a guest blog post about where fiction comes from that helped me realize I could do my best writing if I started with an emotion I was feeling. She wrote, “These things we carry around in our chests, whatever they might be — they are the starting points for fictions,” and I couldn’t agree more.
MGM: How long from when you started writing until it was published.
We started writing the book on June 25, 2015 and the book comes out April 17, 2018.
MGM: Can you share a fun photo?
Sure! We met at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where we both earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. This photo was taken during our final residency and we’re both proudly sporting t-shirts that say “The Secret Gardeners” because classes at VCFA choose names, and that was our class’s name.