How They Got Here: 2009 Debut Author Saundra Mitchell

 This post is part of a year-long series of blog interviews I’ll be hosting with my fellow 2009 Debut Authors, called "How They Got Here." 

It should be an especially helpful series for teens who write, teachers, and anyone who wants to write for kids.  2009 debut authors will be dropping by to talk about how their writing in school shaped the authors they are today, what teachers can do to make a difference, how they revise, and how they found their agents and editors.  (You’ll even be able to read some successful query letters!)  If you know a teacher or two who might be interested, please share the link!


Today…Saundra Mitchell, author of SHADOWED SUMMER!


Nothing ever happened in Ondine, Louisiana, not even the summer Elijah Landry disappeared. His mother knew he ascended to heaven, the police believed he ran away, and his girlfriend thought he was murdered.

Decades later, certain she saw his ghost in the town cemetery, fourteen-year-old Iris Rhame is determined to find out the truth behind "The Incident With the Landry Boy."

Enlisting the help of her best friend Collette, and forced to endure the company of Collette’s latest crush, Ben, Iris spends a summer digging into the past and stirring old ghosts, in search of a boy she never knew.

What she doesn’t realize is that in a town as small as Ondine, every secret is a family secret.

Welcome, Saundra! Tell us about the first thing you ever wrote that made you think maybe you were a writer.

Even though I’ve been writing all my life, and had been selling stories and articles, it wasn’t until my second or third year as the head writer  on the Fresh Films series that I realized that writing was my calling and career. So I was a little slow in that regard.

What books did you love when you were a kid?

I loved The Outsiders, the Little House books, The Song of the Lioness series, pretty much everything by Lois Duncan, Zilpha Keatly Snyder, Stephen King, Jack London… this list is actually shorter if I list the books I loathed as a kid. (The Red Badge of Courage, if anyone’s curious. Why, Stephen Crane, whyyyyy?)

Is there a particular teacher or librarian who was a mentor for you in your reading and writing life?

My high school English teacher, Mrs. Redman. She got me. She just got me in a way none of the other teachers did, and she let me learn instead of making me conform. She was the first teacher who actively encouraged me to do more than read the text and spit out the approved answers. More than once, she said she was a great lover of words, and in her classes, I learned to be a great lover of words, too.

Moving on to the here and now, most writers admit that making time to write can sometimes be a challenge.  When and where do you write?   Do you have any special rituals?  Music?  Food & beverages?

Mostly, I just need people to leave me alone. I like to have a cocola, and some music, and a heating pad in my lap. But mostly, I just need my family to fend for themselves unless there’s blood involved!

Do you have a favorite strategy for revision?

I like to order my revision notes- easiest (things like spelling errors or badly-worded sentences in need of rescue) to hardest (adding in an entire storyline, rewriting large portions of the story.) Then I print them out so I can check off each revision as I complete it.  When I do it this way, I can see what I’m accomplishing, so it doesn’t feel like such an endless task.

What’s your best advice for young writers?

Read. A lot. And don’t let anyone tell you that fan fiction is NOT a great way to learn to be a good writer. In my opinion, it’s the *best* way!

What’s special about your debut novel?

Though I always strive for honesty and truth in my work, I think Shadowed Summer is different from a lot of books right now because it’s not stark. It reflects the reality of being suspended- in youth, in poverty, in ignorance- without insisting on the inevitability of hopelessness.

What were the best and worst parts of writing it?

This book was hard for me to write in a lot of ways. Mostly, I wanted to tell a wicked ghost story. That was the specific goal. But Shadowed Summer was also a way for me to ask *why*, and explore the answers, and the silences that come in response.

Would you like to share part or all of your successful query letter with blog readers? 

Nothing ever happened in Ondine, Louisiana, not even the summer Elijah Landry disappeared. His mother believed he ascended to heaven, the police believed he ran away, but twenty-five years later, fourteen-year-old Iris Rhame is determined to find out for sure. Enlisting the help of her best friend Collette, and forced to endure the company of Collette’s latest crush, Ben, Iris spends a summer digging into the past and stirring old ghosts in search of the truth. What she doesn’t realize is that in a town as small as Ondine, every secret is a family secret.

My name is Saundra Mitchell, and I have been a working writer for twelve years. For the last four years (and currently,) I’ve been the head writer for Dreaming Tree Films’ short film series, "Book of Stories," with over forty short film productions, and next year, principal photography will begin on my first feature, "A Rain of Blood." I have published fiction with ATM Magazine and Smokelong Quarterly, poetry with Poems Niederngasse, Doll World Magazine, and Parnassus, non-fiction with @Internet Magazine and The Familiar Magazine, among others, and I am a member of SCBWI.

"Incident" is my first young adult novel, however. It’s complete at 70,455 words, and I’d like to offer it to you for your consideration. As requested on Agents Actively Looking, I’ve enclosed the first chapter, and an SASE for your reply. Thank you in advance for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you.

(When I wrote this query, in 2003, Incident was the original title for Shadowed Summer. The book is now complete at about 45,000 words, and since then, I’ve written and produced over 300 short films! What a difference 6 years, a million revisions, and publication make!)

~ Shadowed Summer ~
Delacorte Press
www.shadowedsummer.com


You can pick up SHADOWED SUMMER at your local independent bookseller, order it through one of my favorite indies, Flying Pig Bookstore(they ship!), or find an indie near you by checking out IndieBound!

Up next in the "How They Got Here" Debut 2009 series…Stacey Jay, author of YOU ARE SO UNDEAD TO ME, will be stopping by on Friday, February 20th.

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