The author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is Mandy Davis.
The Challenge: Things In Common
What are your favorite three books? Do they all have something in common? Are they all by the same author? Do they all start with the same letter? Is the main color of the cover art your favorite color? What other similarities do they have?
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An Interview with author Mandy Davis
1. What are your top 3 favorite books?
A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban
The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo
The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling (Is it cheating to name a whole series? I guess if I had to pick just one, I’d say Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Mischief managed.)
2. When/how did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
The year was 2008. I had been an elementary school teacher for five years. While I loved the actual teaching, the mountain of papers always needing to be graded was wearing me down. One October evening, I was working late at school. It was 7:30 pm or so. I was tired. I was hungry. I was considering my options.
Suddenly, a thought popped into my head. What if I wasn’t a teacher anymore? I looked around. Had anyone heard me think that? After spending the last decade working toward becoming the best teacher I could possibly be, it felt almost sacrilegious to imagine myself doing something else. And what could I possibly do? Without missing a beat, another thought popped in my head. I could write.
A few months later, I was at a conference for writing teachers. At this conference, we spent a lot of time actually writing, which made me realize that more than teaching people how to write, I wanted to write myself. I finished out the school year with my fourth graders, then went to graduate school to get my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, which is where I wrote the first draft of SUPERSTAR.
3. What’s your favorite thing about writing? Least favorite?
My favorite thing is that moment when my writing actually makes me start to feel something. It usually takes a while to get there, but once I feel that emotional resonance, I know I’ve found the story.
My least favorite thing about writing is the deadlines. While I know that deadlines are necessary and they can help me get moving on a project, the amount of time it takes to complete something is usually a big question mark for me. Sometimes, I can write pages and pages in a day. Other days, I struggle for every sentence. When I’m under a deadline, instead of relaxing into the work, which results in my best writing, I tend to freeze up because I’m scared I won’t finish the project on time. In order to work successfully under a deadline, I try to finish way before the actual date it’s due. That way, if the work takes a lot longer than I expect it to, I’ll have some wiggle room.
4. How much time per week do you spend writing?
When I’m having a writing week, I write full-time, which ends up being about 30 hours a week. But not every week is a writing week for me. I usually write for a few months at a time; then I take some time away for other work. Sometimes I do house projects. Other times, I take care of family. It’s really important for me to keep a healthy balance between my writing work and the other things I do, which I like to call “life work.”
But even during my weeks of life work when I’m not physically writing, my mind is still working on a story. I usually return to writing with a bunch of new insights and ideas for my current work in progress. The time away also allows me to come back to a project and see it with fresh eyes, which is an integral part of the revision process. That time away ends up being just as important to my creative process as the time I spend writing.
5. What is the most difficult part of your creative process?
The act of writing is like walking into a giant, dark room. It’s all unknown, and while some people find the unknown exciting, I happen to find it absolutely terrifying. The longer I’ve been away from the writing, the bigger and darker (and scarier) the room is. So, even though spending time away is necessary to my process, that first day back is always really scary. Sometimes, I find myself putting it off for days (or even weeks) just because I’m too afraid to face it. Eventually though, the story in my head gets fed up with my procrastination. It doesn’t care that I’m scared and that I have no idea how I’m going to write it. It just wants to get out of my head and become real. So eventually, I take a lot of deep breaths, face my fears, and sit down to write. And just like that, as soon as I actually start writing, the room lights up and I wonder what I was ever scared of in the first place.
6. What was your path to publication?
While in graduate school at Hamline University, I met a lot of amazing people, one of whom was Jill Davis. We found our way into the same writing group, and she began working as an editor at HarperCollins Publishers. For over a year, she would send me notes. Was SUPERSTAR done yet? Had I finished the revision? When was she going to see it? Eventually, I gave her a date when I’d have it done. I was a few days late, but I finally got it to her. She presented the book at an acquisitions meeting a few weeks later, and I had an offer. I found my agent (Jennifer Laughran at Andrea Brown) and within a few months I had signed my first contract.
7. If you could tell your younger writing self something, what would it be?
Looking back at my life, I realize now that I was always a writer. Before I was even in kindergarten, I used to tell my mom the stories, and she would write them down for me. But as I progressed through school, writing became less about what tugged at my heart and more about assignments and grades. I still enjoyed the process and the work of putting words on a page to make something meaningful, but somewhere around middle school I stopped writing for me. I didn’t start writing for myself again until that fateful October night when I decided I wanted to become a writer. If I could tell my younger writing self something, it would be to keep writing what is in your heart. The writing you do for yourself is just as important (if not more important) than the writing you do for others.
A special thanks to Mandy Davis!
Locate your local independent book store to purchase SUPERSTAR, it is also available at most other nationwide bookstores or online.