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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Guest Post & Giveaway: Laurel-Ann Dooley

I'm excited to have Laurel-Ann Dooley here today for a guest post and giveaway! Laurel-Ann is the author of the MG book Best Friend Thief...

Nathalie can’t believe it. Her best friend Reagan is ditching her to be BFFs with the class popular girl. They’d been best friends forever, but when Queen Blair decides that she wants Reagan to be her BFF, Reagan is gone in a flash. Catherine and Isabel can’t believe it either. They’re best friends just like Nathalie and Reagan, and the four of them always hung out together -- but now what? Will Nathalie get Reagan back? Does she even want her back? Will the group ever be the same again? Confusion and hurt feelings take over -- and that’s just the start of it!

Adventures on the Road to Middle Grade Fiction

by Laurel-Ann Dooley

Let me start by saying that I am a nonfiction kind of person.  It’s what I’ve always written, from the high school newspaper on.  I’m all about the facts.

But having said that, it’s only facts told in narrative form that I’m into.  Straight news, academic writing -- not so much.   It’s the story behind the bald statistics that I care about.  Not the time of death so much as the deceased’s last thought.  

So being such a story-telling nonfiction writer, I never imagined that stepping into the realm of fiction would be that much of a change for me.  In fact, I thought it might even be easier than what I was used to.  A story is a story, I figured, and with fiction, I wouldn’t have to worry about getting all the details right.   The details could be whatever I wanted them to be.

The idea to write a middle grade book was not one that came to me in a flash. It started with my daughter running out of things to read at that level. There was a fair amount out there, but she liked reading stories about girls her own age, and at the time, most of what was available jumped from 7-year-olds in second grade to pre-teens in middle school.  Then I realized that when my friends and I talked about our daughters, the experiences were very much the same.  It seemed like everyone’s daughter went through the same friendship issues when they were in that upper primary school age bracket.  And it wasn’t that different from what we ourselves had experienced in our own (long-ago!) girl lives.
So I thought I would write about some of these universal girl friendship things.  I wanted to do it in an emotionally realistic way, and not have every story conclude with an everything-all-fixed ending.  As I saw it, that’s not how things really went, out here in real life.  And there is a certain amount of frustration, I think, in the books you read all resolving in nice, tidy, perfect ways when that isn’t necessarily what happens in your own life.  So realistic stories with universal themes.  Practically the same as my kind of nonfiction.  Easy peasy.  And so I started in.

It didn’t take long to realize that this was not going to be the cakewalk I’d thought it would be.  I had sketched out the plot, in the same way that I mapped out a nonfiction piece.   Except now, when I started to write, there were no notes to write from.  No research pile, no interviews all transcribed and ready to go.  No nothing.  I kept looking down, to the right side of my computer where where my trusty material usually was.  But after years of being there for me, it was gone.  I felt abandoned.  

I realized how dependent I was on my files of facts, but recognizing the problem didn’t solve it.  I continued to flail, writing scene after scene, without any cohesive plot line to tie them together.  They were good scenes, if I do say so, and the dialogue rang true, but where was it all going?  

It dawned on me that the story arc they taught us about in high school lit class was the problem.  Or rather, the lack of story arc.  That formula of fiction that makes a story work -- set-up, conflict, resolution -- was nowhere to be found in my work-in-progress.  I was writing like a journalist -- describing the scene, providing the info, emphasizing the quote.  But as a features journalist, I didn’t necessarily have a resolution.  My stories were often more atmospheric, designed to give the reader a sense of the event, without necessarily providing a conclusory wrap-up.  

I went back to the drawing board.   I needed to re-think this whole thing.  I needed an arc.  And while my original goal of a girls book without a pat Disney-esque ending had some merit, I did, in fact, have to resolve the situation developed in the book in one way or another.  Plus, come to think about it, maybe an anti-Disney business model was not the smartest approach.  Disney has been known to do pretty well for itself.

Over the next week or so, I plotted my head off and by the end of it, I had me an arc.  Now, I needed a step-by-step storyline.  A pre-fabbed plot.   By this point I knew that I was not a-build-on-the-fly kind of gal.    

Finally, with pages of meticulously laid-out detail in front of me, I was ready to write my book.   I was ready to tackle fiction.  And if I think of my made-up details as the “facts” of my story, that is just my little secret.    

Find the author: Book Site / Blog / Twitter
Purchase: Amazon / B&N / iTunes
Laurel-Ann Dooley is a long-time journalist and a newly-hatched fiction writer.  Best Friend Thief is the first in her Between Best Friends series, which is based on all the girls she has known.  They’re more alike than you'd think!

Win a signed copy of Best Friend Thief!

Laurel-Ann is offering up one signed copy of her book.
Giveaway will run from 4/5 - 4/26 
There will be one winner
US/CAN only
Fill out Rafflecopter form to enter
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alicia marie said...

It's so great that you want to write books for those girls in the in between ages. Also, I imagine it would be a big jump going from non-fiction to middle grade, but it sounds like you got into it very well!! This looks like it will be a great new mg read: )

Unknown said...

This is exactly what my daughter is going through right now! My daughter and this girl have been best friends since 1st grade. A new girl moved into town and now neither of them have time for my daughter.

collkosinski said...

I remember those heartbreaking days.