I first heard about OLIVE AND THE BACKSTAGE GHOST from one of my critique partners. It’s a beautifully written Middle Grade book with a compelling narrative, and a lot of delightfully unexpected twists and turns. Have a look:
This is the story of Olive – who loves to sing, but finds herself gripped by stage fright, especially with her ghastly, overbearing mother breathing down her neck with expectations. When she flunks a big audition for the school show, Olive wanders among the glittering, enticing theaters and comes upon Maudeville, a fascinating old theater with so many secrets, run by the grand-dame of show business, Maude Devore. Offered the opportunity of a lifetime, Olive is gradually sucked into a story of darkness and fear, where the bright lights of Maudeville conceal a shifting world of ghosts . . . .
According to your bio, you write books for both Young Adult and Middle Grade. What do you feel are the key differences between a YA and an MG narrative voice?
The obvious (but not always true!) answer is age – most YA protagonists are teens, and most MG protagonists are in that “9 to tween” range. Same goes for the target audience. But I think the more accurate answer is a little more complicated than that. It’s about the journey the protagonist takes, and their transformation by the end of the story: what do they learn, how do they grow, that sort of thing. The most concise way to put it is that a middle grade protagonist is figuring out how she fits into the world, while a young adult protagonist is figuring out how she can affect or change the world. I wrote a novel once that I thought was MG, but my critique partner (a former literary agent who repped both MG and YA) told me that while my characters were 13, and the voice and style were classic MG, the story itself was YA. That was a tough but necessary lesson for me to learn! I went into this in a lot more detail in a presentation I did last summer on Reedsy’s Youtube channel.
Your insight is extremely helpful! And it’s true—parts of the same story can can invariably slip into various age groups, so it’s good to know the difference. More specifically, I love the mother/daughter dynamic you’ve included in OLIVE AND THE BACKSTAGE GHOST. What inspired this, and what hopes, if any, do you have for Olive and her mother?
Thank you so much! I wrote four versions of OLIVE for my literary agent before I figured out how to tell her story properly, and her relationship with her mother was the key. The first few versions I wrote had a super complicated plot involved a whole mess of stuff that wasn’t in the final version (an underground city, evil dolls, doppelgangers…!) and my agent kept encouraging me to simplify all that and figure out what was at the heart of the story. Well, once I finally accepted that I had to rewrite the story from scratch, I asked myself which elements were most important. I knew I had to keep my villain, Maude Devore…but then it hit me that the whole reason Olive falls victim to Maude’s charms is because of her strained relationship with her mother. I had buried all of that emotion under pounds of unnecessary plot and worldbuilding.
Once I stripped all of that away, Olive’s mother became even more of an antagonist than Maude. She’s a nightmare stage mom, and the death of Olive’s father prior to the start of the story was the breaking point in that mother-daughter relationship. They’re both grieving, and instead of turning to each other for comfort, they turn away from each other. My hope for them is that what happens to Olive at the end of the story (no spoilers! 🙂 is their next turning point. They have work to do, it won’t be easy, but I think they’re both in a place where they’re willing to try and mend their relationship.
You did such a great job bringing everything together, and it’s also helpful to know that sometimes it can take a bit longer for a manuscript to form its true shape. You also offer online courses on your website. What do you like most about helping other writers and authors?
I was actually a teacher well before I was an author! I got my bachelor’s degree in music education and I’ve taught band, ESL, and creative writing. I absolutely love working with aspiring authors of all ages. There’s nothing more exciting to me than helping someone who has an idea for a novel that they just can’t stop thinking about figure out how to tell that story and get to The End. Honestly, it’s a huge part of what keeps me inspired as an author, too – the excitement is contagious! That’s what led me to start my writing workshop Youtube channel earlier in 2020; I love reading about everyone’s progress on their novels in the comments on my videos!
What a wonderful way to reach and interact with people! What are some of your current projects?
I have three middle grade novels coming out from Scholastic in 2021 and 2022. The first just came out this month! It’s called SOME BUNNY TO LOVE, and it’s a fun animal adventure story (think Secret Life of Pets meets Homeward Bound).
I’ve also just started on a new Middle Grade fantasy novel, and I’m documenting the whole experience on my Youtube channel. Right now, it’s still in the outlining phase, and I plan on filming all the ups and downs of the drafting and revising process, including sending it off to my agent and eventually going on submission (hopefully!). My hope is that sharing this will be as helpful for aspiring authors as any writing workshop! (Also, I think it’ll hold me accountable and make me finish the book! 😉