Updated on November 22, 2015
I do write other things apart from THE SPECTACULAR.
Once upon a time, I created two characters for THE SPECTACULAR.
Wait, I thought this was going to be about not-THE SPECTACULAR?
IT IS. IT REALLY IS.
Anyway, I created two characters. Here you can see their first appearance, in a document listing THE WHOLE CIRCUS (it’s twenty one pages long) created on December 27, 2010:
I think the green highlight means they speak or are involved directly in the plot or something. I could not tell you now. I saved backups of backups each time I changed the personnel list, and there are currently about thirty versions.
But that’s neither here nor there.
The point is, the Jackson sisters were born. And, as anyone who writes can probably tell you, they soon became very appealing despite the fact that they were simply ancillary characters. Not even ancillary. Just… color. Flavor. Tone.
I came to meet them, as it were, in 1925, when they were in their very early twenties. I gave them a little backstory that made me chuckle, and surprisingly strong personalities right off the bat. I named Hermione for all the bohemian Londoners of the early 20th century. YES, ALL OF THEM. The fact that Hermione Granger, of Harry Potter world, is one of my favorite fictional characters ever actually had nothing to do with it. But yes, I have always been aware that this name, despite not being uncommon during the period when my Hermione was born, is more attributed to Harry Potter now. It’s a great name!!!
After I finished undergrad, still plugging away at THE SPECTACULAR, I conjured up an idea. I believe it came to me before I left for grad school in 2013. Inspired by my love of the Betsy-Tacy books, I wanted to great episodic stories from Hermea and Hermione’s rather left-of-center upbringing in New York City. I cultivated a list of events with no real tie to each other, but didn’t think much more on it during my first year in grad school.
My second year, because I liked them so much, I decided to make it my thesis.
I wrote the first draft in August, wanting it done before the school year began so I could concentrate on illustrations–the whole point of the program, after all.
My initial goal was to do a 10k chapter book, but it ended up being closer to 20k before I finished. Shocking, really. Actually, the big surprise was that I struggled immensely to actually get it done. And it is about as long as the first 5% of THE SPECTACULAR. Part of the reason the word count doubled was because I did not like what I was writing. The episodic idea was just not working. It was not hooking me.
And so was born the greatest issue of our time. Or well, of THE TRAGICAL HISTORY OF THE JACKSON SISTERS AND THE EXTRAORDINARY NOW (henceforth to be known as THE JACKSON SISTERS, but not those Jackson sisters).
A book without plot. A girl fighting to think of one.
Actually, I wasn’t going to polish this one up at all, really. It was all about the illustrations, and school, and only two people read it entirely through. My real love is, well, I don’t need to mention the title again. The behemoth that needs so much care and attention. That was what I meant to return to. I mean, I had revision notes to tackle. (I still do, of course.)
But then a miracle. An art director at a very reputable imprint of a very well known publishing house came in to critique our work and asked me to submit mine to her. And this made me change my thinking entirely. It also made me keenly aware that I needed to make a story I actually liked.
My determination has always been to have an agent before approaching publishers. This meant that I was now going to be querying. And querying with something I didn’t really stand behind (in terms of the story) was a pretty terrifying thought. Terror, however, is a good enough motivator.
THE JACKSON SISTERS gained another 15k as I fought to string all of the bits of plot that I liked into a coherent whole. I felt much better about it, and began to hone my old, dusty agent list and started sending the damn things out. Which is always terrifying, too.
Yet because I went from about zero to sixty in approximately one month, I felt far more like I could just abandon all reason and do it. And then I began, immediately, to receive positive feedback and full requests. You could have slapped me with a fish, if you had a fish and were enough to hit me.
Receiving positive feedback made me think that beginning with THE JACKSON SISTERS rather than, you know, that other one, might not be such a bad idea. In fact, it might be a smart idea. I still wasn’t totally 100% feeling the plot, but it felt like (feels like) the players were there for something fun.
Anyway, so brings us to the gift of revision notes and how the ones I received after submitting my fulls all dovetailed. And the agents who asked for them were willing to wait while I, well, moved, went on two vacations (including one wedding), adopted a kitten, and moved again.
When I began to properly reinvest myself in the edits (thanks in huge part to the unbelievably sharp editing and storycrafting skills of one Michael Lauritano), I can’t say I didn’t want to pull out my hair for the first few weeks. I knew what I needed to do, but at first it was a real pain in my brain to pull it all out and fasten the bits together.
I revised the outline. I revised it again. I threw out backstories and wove new ones. Most importantly, perhaps, I did a lot of middle grade reading before starting to write again, which gave me a feeling for what I liked, what I didn’t like, and what kind of tone I wanted to end up with.
As it stands today (the day my kitten turns seven months old), THE JACKSON SISTERS is now almost 55k and, I think, a horse of a rather different color than it was a year ago.
But I gotta say, it is a different kind of experience querying and polishing a project that you were intending to keep on the back burner. It took a lot more gear switching than I’m used to, and a lot more gritted teeth and flop sweat and bouts of hysteria, BUT I’M OKAY NOW. I believe in the story. I believe in the potential of the story. I have got my energy invested and I am properly excited to take it where it needs to go.