Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy Pub Day!

Happy New Year, everyone!  I'm start the year off right with an awesome series being published!  Tomorrow is the pub day for the first two books of the Major Eights series, written by Rie Neal as Melody Reed.  Yayyy, Rie!  Everyone, check out her interview below and be sure to pick up copies to ring in 2018!

First off, tell us about the books! 
Ok! The Major Eights are a band made up of four 8-year-old girls, and are an early chapter book series perfect for ages 6-8. Jasmine, Scarlet, Maggie, and Becca have been jamming together in each other's basements for a while, but decide now that they're ready for the big time! 

In the first book of the series, Battle of the Bands, Jasmine (the keyboardist) talks them into entering their town's Battle of the Bands, but when the band wants to do a silly song they made up themselves, she has second thoughts, worrying they won't be taken seriously. In Book 2, Scarlet's Big Break, Scarlet (the singer) wants to try being a soloist, like her aunt, at the school's talent show. But the band doesn't know this, and Scarlet can't work up the courage to tell them. When they find out about the show, they're eager to enter. Scarlet is tasked with signing them up, but when she gets there, only one spot is left. Scarlet needs to decide whether she's going to do what her friends are hoping for or strike out on her own and risk losing their friendship. 

The books are all about girl power and working together through differences. Each book follows a different girl's perspective. And there are four more books releasing in the series throughout 2018!

For everyone who doesn't know, tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to start writing.
Sure. I'm a kidlit author in general, but especially love writing middle grade and young adult sci-fi. I've always loved to write, but only started writing in any kind of serious way about two years ago. My grandpa, a lifelong NASA employee/fan, had just passed away. Inspired by his devotion to all things skyward bound, I started to research what it would be like to live on Mars, what challenges would have to be overcome, how scientists were already thinking of addressing them, etc. Characters and a plot grew out of that, and then an outline and a rough draft. I joined Twitter and found the writing community there. I entered contests, and I revised and revised and revised. I reconnected with my childhood best friend, too, who had just become a published author, and she helped guide me through the process. We both signed with agents within a month of each other!

How did you come to write the Major Eights series?
A couple months after I signed with Carrie, she sent an email to her kidlit authors with notice of the opportunity. Little Bee Books was looking for someone to write an early chapter book series about a girl band. I have a background in music--I was a band rat all through middle and high school, and I've done choirs and worship teams and musical theater, too. I also have two kids, and my daughter was the age of the Major Eights (um... eight) at the time, so I felt like I could get a bead on the target age range. I sent in a sample (through Carrie) to be considered for the project, and they chose me to write the series! 

After working on this series, tell us what you have learned about IP projects and what you think of them.  How is it different from working from books whose plot, topic, etc. you think of yourself?
Hmm... good question. (IP = 'intellectual property,' for anyone who doesn't know. It means that the publisher chooses the concept, and sometimes more (characters, plot, etc.), and then looks for an author to write it. They then retain ownership of the whole thing.) On one hand, IP projects move quickly, because there are some things already decided for you. Little Bee already had the concept, basic ideas for the characters, and plot ideas for the first book. So I didn't waste any time second-guessing these details and was able to move on to character and plot development rather quickly. In some ways, that's kind of freeing. But on the other hand, you have to stick to what the publisher wants in terms of ideas, edits, etc., so you may not get to write the book you want to write. In truth, though, good writing is such a collaborative business anyway--even when writing your own concept, where you theoretically have control of everything, you still have to listen to your beta readers, the market in general, your agent, your editor, your readers... and you have to be willing to take feedback from all those sources. So it hasn't really been a problem for me. I've gotten along well with the editors at Little Bee that I've worked with, Jenna Pocius and Kristin Zelazko. They've both had great ideas and have guided the books in smart ways. I'd say in general that if you find an IP concept you're excited about and if you're willing to collaborate on it, an IP project can be a good thing. 

Did you feel like you were involved in the various stages your book went through?  What kind of input did you have and do you think that if might have been different if you were working on a non-IP series?
I don't have much else to compare it to yet, but I actually had a fair amount of creative input with the series. They had already developed a basic idea for the plot for the first book, but after that, I've worked with my editors on the plot for each book, and they've encouraged my ideas every time. Typically, Jenna (now Kristin) will shoot me an idea or I'll shoot her one. We'll discuss it briefly over email, and then I'll work up an outline. They send me back notes on the outline with suggestions for changes, most of which I say yes to, because ... they own the series, after all. (But ownership aside, they have great suggestions!) And then I work up a draft, edit it like crazy (including simplifying language for young readers!), and send it. They send back edits, and I either make or okay the edits, and send it back. I don't usually see it again after that point. They handle the copyedit phases without me. I imagine I'd be more involved in those latter parts of the process if it were a non-IP series. I also don't usually get to see the illustrations until the public does. I know authors often have little to no say in that department anyway, but I think we got lucky here; I absolutely LOVE Emilie Pepin's illustrations!

What else are you working on?
Oh, so many things!! Books 3 and 4 are due to release later in 2018. And last summer, Little Bee also extended another contract, for Books 5 & 6, which amazed me, because the first two books weren't even out yet! I'm now finishing up Book 6. I've also rewritten that first middle-grade novel of my own (the one set on Mars) extensively, and it's back out on submission. I'm working on getting my website up and running, too, and my current project is a young adult sci-fi that has to do with cochlear implants and string theory.

What's a fun fact about yourself?
I play all of the Major Eights' instruments EXCEPT THE DRUMS. I had to connect with a drummer friend for some expert help on that one.