A number of years ago, I was experiencing a lot of writing angst. OK, ok, I am still experiencing a lot of writing angst, but this was different. I had started submitting an earlier draft of my YA mystery novel Swimming Alone to agents, and I was dealing with the agonizing heartbreak of rejection. I turned to the ever faithful internet, and discovered Verla Kay’s Blueboard. I began to connect with other writers, specifically those writing for children and young adults. Unlike some of the writing boards I had encountered, the Blueboard was a super-friendly and supportive place. One writer suggested I attend an upcoming New York SCBWI conference. It turns out, this writer lived nearby, and we decided to meet on the train into NYC. And that is the story of how I met Stacy Barnett Mozer. Soon after, Stacy asked me to join a critique group. Attending my very first SCBWI conference and joining a critique group really turned my writing life around. (Shortly afterwards, I did a thorough rewrite of my novel, and landed an agent.)
Stacy Barnett Mozer is a third grade teacher and a mom. She started writing books when a class of students told her that there was no way that a real author who wrote real books could possibly revise their work as much as she asked them to revise. She’s been revising her own work ever since. Stacy is also an assistant regional adviser of NESCBWI. She coordinates critique groups for all of New England.
Stacy, I’ve had the pleasure of reading many manifestations of The Sweet Spot in our critique group. How does it feel to see your work in print?
The first time I saw my work in print was actually last year when I had copies made of my book to put in my classroom library and to give to my kids’ school. Once I saw my book looking like a book, it made me see it and myself differently. I finally felt like an author instead of a writer. Some people don’t believe that there is much of a distinction between the two, but to me becoming an author was always the big picture goal. I was a writer every time I put words on the page. Being an author was different. And having kids actually reading my book and seeing it on the shelf in the library made it even more real. I am very excited to start seeing it in bookstores and town libraries next week.
The Sweet Spot started as a story about a girl who went camping. In one scene of that story I had my main character take part in a baseball game, hiding the fact she was a ball player at home. People loved that scene so much, I started adding more about her being a ball player and that eventually led me to write this book.
Why a ball player? I had two reasons. First, every year I’ve had one or two girls who have faced the challenge of being accepted by the boys at recess when they want to join in their sports games. Each year they’ve persevered and found a way to be accepted into soccer or football or whatever they were playing and I wanted to capture that with my main character. Second, while I never played sports as a child, I have always been a huge Mets fan and at the time I wrote this book I was going to little league games and practices four or five times a week. Combining the two, Sam became a ball player.
Why do you write?
At this point I write because I hear voices in my head and it’s either write them down or be called crazy, but that wasn’t always the case. I really learned to be a writer by learning how to teach writing. I spent a week at the Teacher’s College Writer’s Workshop and they had each of us start our own writer’s notebook in order to have a shared experience with the students we would be teaching. I continued that practice as a teacher, completing every assignment that I asked my students to complete and it made me love the writing process and getting involved in that process myself.
What else gets you up in the morning? What are you passionate about? And how does this influence your creative life? (or does it?)
My two kids get me up in the morning and I love every moment spent with them (even the tough ones). They certainly influence my writing. There is one scene in The Sweet Spot between my main character and her sister that came directly out of my life. As I was writing a chapter and completely lost in my fictional world, my daughter Annie started bringing in all of her baby dolls. By the time I pulled my head out of the chapter I was surrounded by baby stuff and Annie was telling me all about the baby she would be having at the hospital and why I needed to watch her things. I added the whole scene to the book.
I am also a passionate reader. I read about two or three middle grade or young adult novels a week, often when I am supposed to be sleeping.
You are also a teacher. What advice would you give to a young person who thinks they’d like to be an author?
Live a writerly life. Keep a writer’s notebook and write down your observations of the real world. Don’t be afraid to show your work to others and be willing to accept feedback. Read, a lot. Study your craft. I wish I had known at a younger age that I would be a writer some day. I probably wouldn’t have avoided all of those writing courses in college. And most important, never give up the dream. If you keep at it, learn from your mistakes, and continue working, you will definitely find your sweet spot.
Visit Stacy’s blog stacymozer.com for more information about Stacy and her books. Stacy also blogs at Sporty Girl Books, From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors and http://selfpubmg2k15.blogspot.com/ She is on twitter at @SMozer.