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From the Slush Pile to Success: An Interview with Debut Author Marcia Wells

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Happy Monday, everyone! It has been an unforgivably long time since I featured an author interview, so to make amends, I’ve got a really dynamite one for you today. I’m excited to feature debut author Marcia Wells, whom I had the honor of meeting for the first time in…you guessed it: the slush pile! Her middle grade mystery novel, EDDIE RED UNDERCOVER hooked me from page one and I read it in a single sitting. She signed with agent Kristin Nelson, who soon landed her a book deal (no surprises there!) with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. It’s such a thrill to see the result—super-sleuth Eddie’s first adventure comes out in hardcover tomorrow, April 1st. It has been named to the American Booksellers Association’s New Voices list for Spring 2014, and Kirkus calls it “[an] effervescent debut…A sure pleaser for anyone fond of knotty, lightweight capers solved with brainpower (and a little luck).” Way to go, Marcia!

 

marcia_wells_4146_EDITAbout Marcia: Marcia Wells taught middle school students for more than a decade before becoming a full-time writer. She lives with her husband and two kids in Vermont, where she knows entirely too much about chickens, pigs, and sword fighting. Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile is her debut novel. You can read more about her work at  www.marciawellsauthor.com.

AM: Welcome to Word Cafe, Marcia! It’s wonderful to have you. And congratulations on being featured at Bologna Children’s Book Fair last week!

So, your first Eddie Red novel comes out tomorrow. You must be ecstatic! Could you tell us a little about the journey leading up to this big day? How and when did you get started writing, and what led you to choose middle grade? 

MW: I am so thrilled- it’s a dream come true! I started writing five years ago while teaching math and Spanish to middle and high school students. The kids were hilarious and provided a lot of silly inspiration. One day, I just opened my computer and began to write. My first manuscript was a YA story and quite terrible, but a great learning experience (I had never taken a writing class). Eddie was my second manuscript, but it still took three years of editing and doing online writing classes (and A LOT of rejections) until he was signed by Kristin Nelson of Nelson Literary Agency. I love MG and YA books, and Eddie’s middle grade story just popped out naturally.

 

The illustrations for Eddie Red turned out amazing! I’m so curious about this collaboration where another person brings the images from an author’s imagination to life. What’s it like, working with an illustrator? Did you choose the artist (Marcos Calo) and how much input did you have in the process?

marcia-eddie-book-coverI love the illustrations, too! The publisher chose Marcos Calo, and I wasn’t familiar with his work. I loved what I saw on his website, and was very eager to see what he’d do with Eddie. I wasn’t disappointed. He really nailed the characters the first time around. We had a few back and forths on a couple of pictures, tiny details like the length of a beard so that the picture would match the text, but all in all, a very painless and wonderful process. I can’t begin to describe how cool it was to see my characters come to life. Amazing!

There were two funny coincidences working with Marcos- the first is that he’s from Spain, one of my most favorite places in the world. I studied and worked there for over two years, and am fluent in the language. So when it came to working together, we used a mix of Spanish and English- really fun! The second coincidence is that one of the bad guys in my book is named Marco. So it got a bit confusing, talking about Marco versus Marcos. At one point, the publisher even had the name “Marco Calo” on the title page! We got it all sorted out. 🙂

 

In your author bio, it sounds like you do a lot of research and planning for your Eddie Red stories when you visit New York City. Could you tell us a little about how your books take shape? What does your research and planning process look like? 

I think when it comes to writing a mystery, you have to be especially careful with plot: knowing when and how you reveal clues, keeping the action going, and constantly raising the stakes. When I first thought of Eddie, I had a vague idea of the crime and museum sites where it might take place, then I interviewed relatives who live in NYC about landmarks. I studied maps, did a ton of online research, and got inside the museums that way. The research then generated a lot of funny ideas. For example, the Neue Galerie (an art museum in NYC) has a fancy staircase in its lobby- suddenly I had an idea of Eddie chasing a bad guy down those stairs. Internet research is great, but nothing is as good as visiting the actual sites. Eddie Red Two takes place in Mexico- so I took my family there over Thanksgiving. That was a lot of fun!

I mix both planning and free writing. I try to stay organized with facts and details, but it’s so important to just sit down and let the story flow. A lot of great stuff comes out when I just let myself go with it, but also a lot of not-so-great stuff that needs to be cut. It’s all part of the process.

 

It sounds like Mystery on Museum Mile is going to be the first in a series. Can you give us any hints about Eddie’s upcoming adventures? And do you have any other writing projects percolating?

Eddie’s next adventure takes place on a family trip to Mexico (my Spanish background was very useful with that one). As for more books, I’d like him to return to New York City in number 3, and then on to new places (maybe even work in Washington for the secret service!). One important aspect of the series is that the reader learns about a new place, its art, history, and culture (without it feeling like learning). So I always keep that in mind when planning new adventures.

As for other projects, I have an MG/YA fantasy being considered by my publisher right now. This time starring a 15-year-old girl protagonist. Fingers crossed!

 

I love the sound of that! My fingers are crossed, too. Thanks again, Marcia!