Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Interview With MG Novelist Nancy Viau

New Jersey author Nancy Viau got her start writing for such children’s magazines as Highlights for Children, Highlights High Five, and Ladybug. In the fall of 2008, Nancy made the leap from magazine writer to novelist with the debut of SAMANTHA HANSEN HAS ROCKS IN HER HEAD.

Nancy, please tell us a about your middle-grade novel.

Samantha Hansen is a ten-year-old mad scientist, but she doesn’t blow up stuff or change kids into cats that bark. She just has a little trouble keeping a lid on her temper, and she loves science (especially rocks). Her family is planning a “dream-come-true” trip, so Sam works hard to stay in control and out of trouble. It isn’t easy for this fourth-grader because she has to deal with a bossy sister, a mom who’s obsessed with birthdays, and the school bully.

What inspired you to write this story?

I thought that a book with a character who struggles with anger would give kids a chance to see that anger is part of growing up. I had the idea to add the science element and the list-making because Sam not only needed something she could excel in, she needed an outlet for ordering her chaotic world.

How did your experience with magazines help you as a novelist?

Writing for the magazine market gave me the opportunity to experiment with different types of poetry and prose. I learned what I liked best and what was the best fit for my voice. But I tired of writing according to a specific style, a wish list, or word count. It wasn’t until I freed myself from those things, and focused on my own goals, that the novel started to take shape.

Would you recommend other aspiring writers start first with magazines?

It’s a good place to “get your feet wet,” and earn some publishing credits, but your accomplishments may mean nothing to a book editor or agent. If you enjoy magazine writing, that’s another story. If it’s your dream to write a book, write the darn book.

Sam’s rock collection is a fun part of your book. Did writing about rocks require lots of research? Or have you always had an interest in them?

I had weird rock facts stored in my head from when I was a teacher, and I did a little research to make sure my muddled brain hadn’t mixed up anything. I’ve always had a passion for science—rocks, weather, planets—you name it, so it seemed natural for me to to add science to my story.

What are the advantages of being part of a group like the Class of 2k8?

The Class of 2k8 was made up of some very talented women. And their talents extended far beyond their fabulous writing. Each author had a strength, and based on those strengths we divided ourselves into committees such as Executive, Web Presence, Video, Blog, Public Relations, Print Materials, Special Events, and Guerilla Marketing. It was almost like you had a personal assistant at your fingertips. (Hey, can somebody explain how to do a press release? What's viral marketing? Where can I get inexpensive bookmarks? Who can write up a conference proposal?) That was the biggest advantage—knowing that another 2k8-er would either have an answer, help you research the answer, or actually do it for you! We were all debut children's book authors willing to work countless hours. That was the glue that held us together and allowed us to succeed in marketing our books despite the tightened budgets of our publishers.

From your Web site readers can click on “Where’s Nancy?” and see a list of your appearances. You’ve been a busy lady promoting Samantha Hansen. How did you line up those appearances?

Months before the book came out I began promoting it on Early on, when I signed ARCs, I handed out a bookmark with my site on it. In fact, I handed out bookmarks to everybody! It didn't matter if I was doing a free writing workshop, signing books at a bookseller or a festival, or even chatting with the local Mom's Club. If you get people curious about your book (or better yet, if they've read it and loved it), and you project a fun and energetic personality, they will tell other people about you, and you'll soon get asked to another event. But they'll check out your Web site first! Ninety percent of the things I've set up have come about because someone has emailed me from my site, asking about my availability. Oh, and I have never turned anybody down, despite crazy scheduling conflicts (on my part) and lack of funds (on theirs).

You have a tremendous Internet presence. Tell us about the on-line avenues you’ve used to promote your work.

My favorites include:
My Web site:
My blog:
Book Tour
Verla Kay Children’s Writers and Illustrators Message Board
Online interviews and reviewers
Online contests and giveaways.

What tips do you have for aspiring novelists?

Read a ton of books! Read the blogs and Web sites of authors, agents, and editors. Attend conferences, network (speak up!), and take writing workshops. Set goals, focus, and be part of a critique group made up of members who aren’t afraid to do line-by-line crits. Be persistent, persevere, and practice. Oh, and give in to the hard times (getting through them will make you a better writer), but never give up.

Since this interview was written, Nancy has signed with Joanna Stampfel Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary. Stay tuned to Nancy's blog for news of her new picture book.

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