Author Spotlight: Megan E. Freeman
|© Laura Carson|
Jan. 29, 2021
We are pleased to feature author Megan E. Freeman and her debut MG verse novel, ALONE (Aladdin, Jan. 12, 2021). Enter to win a copy!
|© Pascal Campion|
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
I live and write in northern Colorado now, but I grew up in the northeast corner of Los Angeles, in a little area called Eagle Rock. I went to a wonderful elementary school and we did a lot of creative writing. I loved reading and making books for the Young Authors’ Festival every year, and I think that’s where the idea of becoming a writer began. As an adult, I spent much of my professional career as an educator, so I was always around children. I think they’re marvelous people and I can’t imagine a more wonderful readership.
Congrats on your debut middle grade book, Alone! Tell us about the book and what inspired it.
Alone tells the story of a twelve-year-old girl who is left behind and has to survive on her own when her Colorado town is evacuated and abandoned. The idea first came to me in a mother-daughter book club meeting when my daughter and her friends were in fifth grade. We read Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, and the girls were fascinated by how the main character, Karana, could survive alone on an island for eighteen years. I pointed out that the island was her home, and she was already comfortable there. The greater challenge was being all alone for so long. I asked them to imagine what it would be like for them to come home after school to find everyone in the entire town gone. What would they do? How would they survive? What if they couldn't reach anyone for help? What if no one came back? I couldn't get the idea out of my head and it became the seed for the story of Alone.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
It’s been a long and winding road, but in hindsight, I needed that time for the book to become what it ultimately wanted to be. I first wrote the manuscript in prose, in third person voice, and in past tense. After many rounds of revisions, submissions, and feedback from multiple sources, I began again, this time tapping into my experience and skill as a poet. I rewrote the story in verse, using first person voice and present tense. This allowed me to get inside Maddie's head and explore the solitary and sensory nature of her experience. The poetry freed the story.
Back when the manuscript was still in prose, I queried agents and received a number of requests for fulls, but nothing converted into offers of representation. I think it’s because the story had a compelling hook, but the prose narrative wasn’t up to snuff. When I realized I needed to rewrite it in verse, I stopped querying and just worked on revisions. Then I attended an SCBWI conference where an editor in a novel intensive liked my first ten pages and asked me to send him the manuscript. He read it and offered me feedback, and he referred me to a handful of agents. I was fortunate because the agent I ended up signing with wasn’t open to unsolicited queries, so if I hadn’t been referred by the editor, I wouldn’t have been able to query her. We didn’t end up publishing Alone with that editor, but I still think of him as the book’s godfather, because he believed in the project from the beginning and was so generous in his support. All in all, it was about ten years from conception to publication.
What are some of your favorite classic MGs, and more recent ones?
I grew up loving Harriet the Spy, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and all of Judy Blume’s and E.B. White’s books. I loved the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, though I recognized then and now the issues they raise. When I reread them as an adult with my daughter, they provided great opportunities for thoughtful conversations about hard and important topics.
Today I love anything by Kate DiCamillo, Rebecca Stead, Sharon Creech, and Karen Hesse. I’m thrilled by all the new novels in verse coming out, including those by Thanhha Lai, Elizabeth Acevedo, Jason Reynolds, Joy McCullough, Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess. It’s an exciting time to be a young reader.
What other projects are you working on?
I have a contemporary YA manuscript with my agent now, and I’m working on final revisions for another MG novel that I’m loving. Both of those manuscripts are in prose, but another novel in verse may be percolating in my brain, possibly a YA. We’ll see what bubbles to the surface.
What are the one or two best things you did for your writing career? Would you give this advice to aspiring authors?
First, joining SCBWI was a game changer. The combination of craft resources and industry support is invaluable. I am a better writer because of SCBWI and I am a savvier business person. I encourage everyone to join and take advantage of as many of their resources as possible.
Second, my motto for anyone who wants to be traditionally published is this: Show up. Show up to your desk, show up to conferences, show up to webinars, show up to critique groups, show up to online writing communities. Sign up for workshops that include professional critiques so you’ll have an imposed deadline you’ll have to meet. It doesn’t even matter if the agent or editor or writer likes your work; you will have done the writing, and that’s the most important part. I almost didn’t register for that novel intensive where I met the editor who ended up introducing me to my agent. Imagine if I hadn’t shown up for that!
Here’s another example of what I’m talking about. At the end of 2019, I applied for a place in a juried writing workshop where an author I admired was going to be teaching. I hadn’t completed the required manuscript, but I had the early chapters to submit with my application. Acceptances wouldn’t be announced until a few weeks before the conference, so I had to go ahead and finish the manuscript assuming I would be accepted; there wouldn’t be time to do it later. As it turned out, I wasn’t accepted and the author cancelled the workshop due to COVID, but none of that mattered because I had a completed manuscript that I wouldn’t have written otherwise. It was a win-win, regardless of the outcome of my application.
Every single opportunity that has advanced my writing career or my mastery of craft happened because I showed up.
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
My favorite thing to do in the summer is attend the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival in Crested Butte, Colorado, and hike around with a camera and a notebook to find and identify wildflowers. When I find them, I note the year and the location so I can compare to previous seasons. These can be very slow hikes, because many wildflowers are tiny and require a lot of pausing and stooping down for closer examination. I’ll never forget the rush of finding a cluster of Lady Tresses Orchid (Spiranthes romanzoffiana) for the first time in the river bottom of the Slate River. A thrilling day.
Where can people find you online?
My website is MeganEFreeman.com where you can contact me and find all the links to my social media.
Megan E. Freeman attended an elementary school where poets visited her classroom every week to teach poetry and she has been a writer ever since. She writes middle grade and young adult fiction, and her debut middle grade novel-in-verse ALONE is available from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin. Megan is also a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet, and her poetry collection, Lessons on Sleeping Alone, was published by Liquid Light Press. An award-winning teacher with decades of classroom experience, Megan is nationally recognized for her work leading workshops and speaking to audiences across the country. Megan used to live in northeast Los Angeles, central Ohio, northern Norway, and on Caribbean cruise ships. Now she lives in northern Colorado.a Rafflecopter giveaway