Two students who write for Willow’s student newspaper, The Willow Gazette, interviewed Ms. M, Willow’s Lower School science teacher. Ms. M published her first book, Amelia and the Mysterious Woodpecker last year, and she’s now published a second in the series, Amelia and the River of Lost Souls.
Check out the transcribed interview below. Ms. M shares her process writing the book, how she was feeling after writing, and what it took to publish her debut novel.
Willow’s student newspaper is one of our middle school student-led Committees. In our Committees, students take the lead in creating the school’s yearbook, writing and editing the student newspaper, or working on sustainability initiatives on campus, all working with caring faculty advisors. Last year, students transitioned the Gazette to an online platform, gaining web design and publishing experience too!
Q: What inspired you to write a book? Is it a specific event or did you just generally want to write a book? Did you start wanting to write a book recently or have you had the idea for a long time?
It was actually a spark; it was immediate. I’ve never wanted to write a fiction book. I loved writing poetry and short stories, and I love reading fiction, but I never thought I’d write anything like this. I was listening to a podcast about creativity and how sometimes an idea just comes to you and you should just go with it no matter what. That was in the back of my head while I was sitting on my steps looking at my backyard, and I was thinking, “What if I saw a rare or extinct bird?” And then I thought, “Well, what if it was one of my students who saw the rare or extinct bird? What would they do?” So I just pictured one of my students and thought about what they would do. I realized that I don’t have to think of this whole big crazy idea for a story, I just have to start with what would my character do, and what would they do next? And that’s where the story began.
Q: Is there any specific event that inspired you to write this book?
I guess just feeling like anyone could do it and feeling like I had the right to write a book…just knowing that all humans should be able to be creative. I was just thinking, “Well, why not? Just go for it!” Not letting myself not do it because I was feeling afraid of failure.
Q: Is this book in any way inspired by this school, The Willow School, or your job as a science teacher and your experiences teaching the younger kids?
I would say that being a teacher gave me a good perspective. I was able to picture what my students would do and also infuse my time [and experiences spent] as a teacher into the different parent and teacher roles in the book. The [character of Amelia’s] teacher is a very important part of the book, so putting myself (as a teacher) inside his character. Also putting my students in the main character’s role, but then also at the same time putting myself, when I was that age, into that same role. So, there were so many different parts of so many different roles that I have had in my life, and I put them all into the story. The mother is an important character too, and just thinking about different motherly roles that I have had in my life helped me along. So yes, definitely this book is inspired by my personal life!
Q: In terms of actually writing this book, is there a specific line, or part of the book that jumps out to you? Something that you absolutely love? Or a part that you wish you could change?
The thing is, I was so thorough with the editing process. Honestly, I can’t even go back and read it now because I have spent so much time reading and rereading every single line! If I look back on it in a year, there will be things that I’ll want to change, I’m sure. Right now, I am too close to it to say that. But is there a part that I really love? I really like the conversation between the main character and her mother. It is very heartfelt and it kind of is the culmination of a lot of the book. So that is pretty special to me and sometimes makes me tear up. I just love the mother-daughter thing.
Q: Did you go through many drafts to get to your final product?
[At the time of interview], I am actually going through the revisions for the second book, but the first book’s beginning structure was pretty similar to how it was finalized. I did not do a lot of reworking; I added more because it was very short when I first wrote it. It was really just fine-tuning it and editing, and that was really pretty intense. Just trying to remember a lot of the rules that I learned when I was in school, making sure I had my commas in place and everything. But for the third book, I have been doing a lot more reworking. I realized that I was pretty lucky the first time around, that I did not have to rework it that much.
Q: In terms of the publishing process- did you like it? Was it hard for you? Was it very straightforward? Can you give us an overview of how that process was for you?
Sure! I was trying to get it traditionally published. I first wrote the book three and a half years ago, and I tried to find an agent. I sent out maybe 40 letters, and none of those ended up working out, so I decided to self-publish it. I thought I could be sending out letters for years, but I just wanted to get the book out. I just wanted for people to be able to read it. That’s why I wanted to self-publish it, and it wasn’t too hard. I just had to sign up for an account, which I did on Amazon. Then I found a designer to design the cover. The hardest part was figuring out the formatting and a few other ins and outs that I had no previous clue about. I liked having more control over the book. I actually had to purchase my own ISBN so that I can sell it wherever. Setting up a website and all the social media was actually pretty fun, but there is a lot that goes into it. It takes about an hour or two a day to do all of that, but it is very fun.
Q: Is there a specific message you want to portray to the kids that read your book?
Yeah! That is a great question. I would say to follow your curiosity. I think that is the theme of the book, that there is so much out there to learn. Kids can learn and discover so many things – anybody can! I hope that adults who read the book, too, will remember their sense of curiosity and will carry that on throughout their lives as well. I really want to encourage kids to follow their own curiosity and make their own discoveries.
Great interview, Gazette students, and congratulations Ms. M! Click here to visit Ms. M’s author website to learn more.