Kidlit Writing Duo: Coauthors Extraordinaire
We're happy to be here!
I've always wanted to know more about coauthoring books, so thank you for sharing with me how you worked together to write THIS IS JUST A TEST and NOT YOUR ALL-AMERICAN GIRL.
Wendy, I'd like to pick your brain first.
How did you and Madelyn meet and who came up with the idea that you'd be able to write a book together?
I met Madelyn at the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI conference, back when it was at a church in Arlington and you had to help put away chairs at the end! My first image of Madelyn was her holding an enormous bag of recycling to take home, which, if you know Madelyn, is perfectly fitting. Her books, like TAKE CARE and ONE SMALL HOP, have really strong environmental themes.
As it turned out, I ended up joining a writing group that Madelyn belonged to, and then, as another coincidence, Madelyn and I ended up with the same agent. It seemed like we were destined to be friends. We were starting our writing journeys at the same time, our kids were around the same age, and we both were terrible at playing tennis, so we could play together without anyone feeling bad.
I started campaigning to write together after I found out that Madelyn had written a book with another friend. I remember thinking, “Huh, you can do that? You can get paid to hang out and write? How do we get in on that?!”
Very interesting! After coauthoring THIS IS JUST A TEST with Madelyn, why were you excited about working together on your second book, NOT YOUR ALL-AMERICAN GIRL?
When you’re starting a story, you have to make so many decisions, it’s kind of exhausting, right? You have to figure out your character, where they live, what’s going to happen, who their family is, etc. One of the nice things about going back to the same world is that you’ve already gotten a lot of that figured out, so you can focus more on what’s going to happen next. I loved THIS IS JUST A TEST, the way it came together and the way the prose just bounced, so I was excited to return to that world of defined characters (and it’s in the ’80s, so there’s an unmistakable vibe).
I’ll also tell you that when we write together, my goal is to make Madelyn laugh. Not that she’s a hard sell, but Madelyn has really good taste, so if she laughs out loud, I know it’s a keeper.
Making a friend laugh is a cool thing! What did you enjoy about doing events together, both in-person and virtual ones?
After working together for so many years, we’ve really developed a comfortable patter together where we can kind of sense when to jump in or throttle back. We didn’t have a joint book come out this year, but we each had a book come out on the same day (again! coincidence!) so we had an online event with One More Page Books. This was one of my favorite events to date because we talked about each other’s books (a distinct improvement over talking about your own book), and then Madelyn had this brilliant idea that we should prepare trivia questions based on the topics in each other’s books, sort of like Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. The audience really loved it. It was kind of a quirky detour from the usual book event, and more than that, you could see we were cracking each other up with these oddball questions.
It’s not important who got more questions correct. The point is everyone had fun. Okay, fine, it was Madelyn. There will be a rematch.
Haha! I'm sorry I missed that.
Two authors writing a story with one voice and from one character’s POV sounds hard! Did you and Wendy have to spend loads of time outlining each stage of the plot?
You know that age-old question: Are you a plotter or a pantser? For this one, Wendy and I were both “pantsers” so there wasn’t so much outlining. Or, you know, any. We did do some brainstorming. Lots and lots of brainstorming. We took turns writing chapters, but as we wrote, the other person would edit the previous chapter and then move the story forward. Then the next person would come in and edit the edits. Honestly, by the time the book was finished, I feel like we both touched every sentence. Each of us added layers. With each edit, we went deeper into our character and the story. It worked that way with humor, too. With each edit, the other person made it funnier. It was story building in the truest sense.
Whoa! That required a lot of mental muscle and discipline! I reckon, like with exercising, having someone by your side to sweat it out with helps with motivation and staying the course.
After coauthoring THIS IS JUST A TEST with Wendy, why were you excited about working together on your second book, NOT YOUR ALL-AMERICAN GIRL?
I was excited to get back into that world, of course, and I was also excited to get more time hanging out with Wendy. When we wrote together, we worked on a lot more than just our writing; we worked on our lives. We figured out what to eat for dinner (chicken and dumplings, carnitas), how best to help our kids, how to deal with certain situations without losing it. We need to work on something else because I miss having her voice in my ear every day.
That's so sweet! (I LOVE chicken and dumplings, BTW!) How would you compare the coauthoring experience to writing solo? What part of it do you like better?
They say you should write books only you can write; as coauthors, we wrote books we could only write together. As a solo writer, it can be a pretty lonely experience, so it was lovely to be able to share my brain. Writing with a partner, it was easier to break through writer’s block because there was someone who had ideas when I was out. We could also talk through things to move our character ahead. There was just less being stuck. And of course, the copy was cleaner because we had both been over it so many times. Also, it’s much easier to promote a book if you’re promoting the work of a friend. I was less self-conscious about saying, “Please read this!” And I’m also so chicken when it comes to reviews. I made Wendy read them first.
So what's NOT YOUR ALL-AMERICAN GIRL about?
It's about Lauren, who is Jewish and Chinese, and used to being the side dish alongside Tara, her best friend. But after Lauren’s audition for her school’s “All-American” musical goes extraordinarily well, Lauren wonders if it’s her turn to be the star. Lauren’s hopes are dashed when the director tells her she doesn’t look the part to play the lead. And who is cast instead? It’s blonde-haired, blue-eyed Tara! Lauren can't bring herself to sing anymore, jeopardizing her role in the ensemble and her friendship with Tara. But with the help of a button-making business, the music of Patsy Cline, and her two bickering grandmothers, Lauren just might find her voice again.
Considering your backgrounds, I can see why you and Wendy were the perfect coauthors to tell Lauren's story! Well, as fun as it's been, I reckon it's time to go. Thank you both for being here. It was great fun learning about your process. And do let us know when Book 3 comes out!
Our pleasure, and will do!
Madelyn Rosenberg is the author of a dozen books for children, including One Small Hop, a Junior Library Guild selection, and Cyclops of Central Park, a picture book about seeing the world that came out just when the pandemic began and we couldn’t. You can find Madelyn online at squealermusic.com.