Today is a special day here on the blog. Today I’m featuring author Terra Elan McVoy here on The BookBandit Blog! As you know I recently read Drive Me Crazy, Terra’s debut middle grade novel. And as you also know I really loved this book.
So much so, that after reading I e-mailed Terra almost immediately. I knew I needed to feature, not only Drive Me Crazy, but also her on my blog! And I so very happy and grateful that she took the time to answer a few of my burning questions.
Terra Elan McVoy (TEM): I started composing stories when I was about four years old—I would dictate them to my mom who typed them up on our old typewriter. From then on, writing was my favorite thing. I had a diary, I wrote long letters to my cousin, pen pal, aunt, and grandmother, and loved any writing activity at school. I got serious about it when I was in middle school (when I wrote my first novel and discovered ee cummings), and I continued on to study creative writing in both college and then grad school. I never aspired to make a living as a writer, however, because it’s so hard to make it; I thought I would write for pleasure (maybe an occasional story printed here or there), and earn my living another way. That’s how I’ve been doing things until about two and a half years ago, though I do still currently work part-time at an independent bookstore here in Atlanta. My first novel, Pure, began as something I was playing with for entertainment. With the help of my best friend Anica (who became my editor for six out of my seven books, including Drive Me Crazy), it got published, and things have continued on from there. I’m very blessed that my main job now is a thing that I love so much, and that I get to keep learning and growing in my favorite thing every day!
BB: What is the inspiration behind you debut middle grade, Drive Me Crazy?
TEM: There was a lot that inspired Drive Me Crazy, but three relationships in particular get the most credit. Very first is the connection I have with my editor, best friend, and writing collaborator, Anica Rissi. Every novel I’ve done, including this one, stems from some conversation (probably multiple conversations) we’ve had, often during a walk or while sharing some kind of fantastic dessert. Drive Me Crazy in particular emerged from a talk about middle grade books and what my writing one might look like. She had told me a horribly embarrassing story from her own history about a girl who’s diary had been found, and then read aloud on the bus, and that seemed too good a tale not to be used somehow. Luckily she was sweet and generous enough to let me run with something that came from her actual life!
There were other relationships we thought I could work with too: first is my connection with my cousin, Meg. To me, there’s something very unique about a strong cousin relationship: you’re not sisters, but you’re still family (so therefore attend the big family gatherings together). You have an opportunity to become a special kind of friend/relative with each other, and I wanted to write about that. Second, the idea of two girls who are seemingly opposite finding a point of connection was also inspiring to me. My oldest and dearest friend and I met when we were in second grade, but in middle school we went our separate ways for awhile (quite awhile—until our senior year, really), because she wanted to be a certain way and I wanted to be another. This tension between girls going through changes at that age was interesting to me, but I also knew from experience that it can be worked out. Also, I wanted to try my hand at doing something fun with grandparents, and Tess and Howie were certainly the answer!
BB: What is the biggest difference, you’ve found, writing young adult and writing middle grade fiction?
TEM: For me the biggest difference is there’s definitely far less self-analysis in middle grade. Sometimes that’s hard for me to remember when I’m writing, actually! When Lana is scared, she’s just sacred—she doesn’t have a big monologue with herself about why. If Cassie’s angry, she’s angry, and she doesn’t try to rationalize or justify it. Also, there’s far less romantic turmoil, and that was somewhat refreshing, I have to admit.
BB: If you were going on your own road trip, where would you go? And what would your music playlist look like?
TEM: When I was young, if my family went anywhere we drove instead of flying, so I love road trips. I think if I were to go on one now, I would like to drive from here (Atlanta) up to Idaho–an area of the country I’ve really never seen (there or much of anywhere between here and there). My playlist would be a mix of all kinds of things: broody crooners (I love the National, and Phox), upbeat, boppy dance hits (vintage Madonna, Gorillaz), and probably some good classic sing-alongs. I’d make sure and bring a whole range of things (definitely there’d need to be some Dave Matthews Band and John Mayer in there too), since your mood can shift so much depending on the landscape and how tired you are!
BB: Would you say you’re more like Lana, or Cassie?
TEM: It’s funny—throughout the writing of Drive Me Crazy I would go back and forth between whom I related to most. When I was in middle school myself, I think I was a Lana who desperately wished she could be a Cassie. So I was struggling with both of those identities at the same time, and in some ways still am!
BB: What challenges did you face creating two main characters who are so vastly different? With that, each girl faces some tough issues, what was the challenge in creating these issues?
TEM: Creating friends out of two seemingly clashing personalities was a big motivator for writing this book. Oil and vinegar make the best salad dressing, after all, though it does take a lot of shaking to make them mix, and one never fully gets incorporated into the other. I tried to remember, while I was writing, that each girl possessed a quality that the other one could benefit and learn from; the arc of the story followed a path that would get both Cassie and Lana to places where they could realize that. The biggest challenge there was making sure I stayed on track!
Both girls do also have their own different personal difficulties in Drive Me Crazy, and the challenge there was maintaining my own empathy for how serious each one was for them. Keeping their responses appropriate for their ages and development, instead of inserting my own grownup perspective, was sometimes hard to do.
BB: A big moment that takes place in Drive Me Crazy is when Lana hopes to capture a little magic, why was that moment so important to you, and to the story?
TEM: One of my favorite genres is magical realism, but for me the magic has to feel very, very grounded in our actual world in order for me to get sucked in. (Books like The Night Circus and Winter’s Tale are good examples of what I mean.) Cassie and Lana are right at that age when we often start questioning whether story magic is real or not, and are also learning to see what is magical in the ordinary life around us. Whether a reader is clinging to their belief in magic, or letting go of it—I wanted to create a scene that would work for whichever side they’re on.
BB: Can you tell of any upcoming projects you are working on? With that will readers get to see more of Lana and Cassie in the future?
TEM: Yes I’m very excited to be working as we speak on the companion book to Drive Me Crazy, called This is All Your Fault, Cassie Parker. (Which will come out in summer 2016.) It’s the tale of Fiona Coppleton, Cassie’s former best friend with whom Cassie has had a very nasty break at the beginning of Drive Me Crazy. Though we hear a lot about Fiona from Cassie’s perspective, This is All Your Fault, Cassie Parker gives us a chance to see what all of that looked like from Fiona’s side. You will just have to see whether Lana makes an appearance or not!
BB: What advice would you offer to aspiring writers?
TEM: My advice to aspiring writers involves two main things: first, read. Read everything you can, as much as you can. Read what you love of course, but make sure you read things outside of your comfort zone. Read essays and articles. Read memoirs and historical fiction. Stick with a book you really dislike, and try to figure out what the author is doing that you can’t jive with. The more you read, the more you will absorb about good storytelling, compelling characters, and lush description. (And also what you don’t want to do!)
The second thing to do is practice. A lot, without thinking about publication or fame or what people will think, or any of that stuff. That can come later. For now, write letters, poems, and stories, book reviews, interviews with people you know, novels or just ideas for novels. The more you write—even if you abandon something mid-way—the stronger your writing muscles will get.
And actually there’s a third thing: Be willing to fail spectacularly. If you are worried about making everything perfect, each time, or afraid of putting down anything that feels silly or weird, then you will have a tough time being a writer. The braver you are about what you put on the page, the better. Even if it ultimately stinks, you will learn from it.
Seriously readers, check out Drive Me Crazy. Run to the library, the book store, or wherever it is you get your books from and read it! You will not be disappointed! And please make sure to visit Terra’s website to learn more about her and all of her awesome books!
THANK YOU Terra, for not only being awesome, but for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer a few questions for me and for the BookBandit Blog. It sincerely means so much to me!