Monday, November 14, 2016
Gail Nall Interview and Out of Tune Giveaway!
Today I am excited to interview Gail Nall, author of OUT OF TUNE, a super-fun tween road trip adventure, which hit shelves November 8. Gail's other middle grade novels include BREAKING THE ICE and the YOU'RE INVITED series (co-written with Jen Malone), all from Aladdin/Simon & Schuster. Gail is also the author of the YA novel EXIT STAGE LEFT (EpicReads Impulse/Harper). Her upcoming book, the co-authored BEST.NIGHT.EVER, will be published this August.
Here’s a quick synopsis of OUT OF TUNE:
When twelve-year old Maya’s dad brings home a junker RV, she knows she’s in trouble. Sure enough, her parents sell their house, move the family into the RV, and set out for road trip adventure. Maya has to leave everything behind—her best friend, her cowboy-hatted crush, and her chance to audition for Dueling Duets, a reality singing competition that’s surely going to propel her—and her singing partner/crush—to stardom. As Maya’s family travels west, visiting natural beauty and historic national parks, all she can think about is OMGH, or Operation Maya Goes Home. In true middle-grade fashion, Maya devises several schemes to get home—none of which work as anticipated. (Bears, bison, and an RV named Bertha complicate Maya’s plans.) As Maya sets out on a secret bike ride through Yellowstone National Park with her little sister, a cute boy, and a blue-haired girl named Shiver, she wonders if it’s possible to find home in the last place she ever expected.
Gail, thanks for stopping by Middle Grade Minded today to talk about OUT OF TUNE. I loved Maya. She was such a spot-on middle grade character, from her voice to her motivations. Like any tween, her BFF, her crush, and her dream of stardom are foremost in her mind. (When I was twelve, I was certain I would become the next Olympic figure skating champion, so I could totally relate.) How do you develop such well-rounded middle grade characters? Any advice on nailing that elusive middle grade voice?
Thank you! I really loved writing the characters in OUT OF TUNE. (In fact, they're probably my favorite set of characters I've written so far!) Usually, I have an idea of the main character as I start the book, but I add to that idea as I write and go through drafts. It's almost as if they're created in layers. I learn more about them as I go. I always start with the main character's goal and then slowly build her personality as I work through drafts of the story. Bits of Maya that I added along the way are Hugo (her cat), her love of reading, the backstory between Maya, Jack, and Lacey, her signature “Holy Potatoes!” exclamation, and the little things she keeps with her that tie her to her dream, such as the posters and giant book about music.
Where did you get the idea for a road trip adventure story?
I'm obsessed with road trips! A huge part of this book came from my own travels out west and the places where I left my pieces of my heart. And I love (LOVE!) reading road trip travel blogs. I stumbled across blogs from young families who do what Maya's family does in OUT OF TUNE – sell pretty much everything to live in an RV and travel the country. The whole idea fascinated me – everything from the downsizing to how the parents actually earn money to the utter freedom of it. And then I started wondering if I'd be as interested in this whole idea if I were twelve years old (short answer: no way!). That's how the idea behind the book was born, and I set the biggest chunk of it in one of my favorite places in the world – Yellowstone National Park.
OUT OF TUNE is fast-paced, with a constant ticking clock. (“35 days until Dueling Duets auditions, 16 days until Dueling Duets auditions…") The sense of time running out kept me reading late into the night. How else can middle grade writers keep readers turning pages?
This is something I struggle with! Ending a chapter with a cliffhanger works really well. I'm awful at ending chapters, and I almost always have to go back and either fix my chapter breaks or add something to the end of the chapter to make the reader want to turn the page. But for most books, this doesn't work for every chapter. A compelling character with a goal the reader can sympathize with is key. And never underestimate your secondary characters! If you make them as well-rounded and interesting as your main character, readers will be eager to keep turning pages. A mystery can help, too, even if you're not writing a mystery novel. Holding a little something back from the reader, dropping clues, and then setting up a big reveal is a great way to keep readers hooked. I tried to do this with Shiver's character in OUT OF TUNE, and found it really fun to write. (Although adding clues is not easy. It took me a few drafts to get those put in the right places.) And finally, pacing. It's crucial to create ebbs and flows in the action of your story. If it slows down for too long, readers will lose interest. At the same time, if it's constant action, readers never have time to identify and sympathize with your main character.
Can you share your publication story with OUT OF TUNE? How many drafts did you write? Did you face any rejection on your road to publication?
No rejections on this book, but don't worry – I have many, many war stories of rejections on other books. So if you're piling up the rejections right now, I empathize. I wrote the original drafts of OUT OF TUNE before I had an agent. When I signed with Julia for BREAKING THE ICE (and EXIT STAGE LEFT, which is its own crazy publication story!) in 2013, I was still working on OUT OF TUNE. I went through several drafts of the manuscript before I even showed it to beta readers, never mind my agent, and I rewrote the last half twice before Julia ever saw it.
The biggest challenge with this book was making the second half match up with the first. Originally, Maya and her friends got lost in the woods about halfway through the book. It ended up reading much more serious than the first part of the book, so I had to decide what kind of book I was writing. I opted for something lighter, in the vein of the two books I'd already written, and rewrote the second half to make it more fun. Except, there's only so much you can do to make getting lost in the woods fun . . . so I finally scrapped that idea altogether and added in the hundred-mile bike ride. Julia liked it, and sent it to Amy, my editor at Aladdin. Amy loved it, but thought Maya needed a stronger motivation to get back home. That's when Maya went from a knitter to a singer! OUT OF TUNE is a very different and much stronger book now – eight drafts later.
Thank you, Gail, for taking the time to stop by Middle Grade Minded.
For a chance to win an ARC of Out of Tune, leave a comment below before midnight on November 15. A winner will be drawn at random.