Welcome to Countdown to CHIRP, a wonderfully nerdy blog series about the writing process behind my February 2020 MG novel, CHIRP. Here’s a little about the book from Bloomsbury, so you’ll understand what I’m talking about when I share all the nitty-gritty writing and revision details…
When Mia moves to Vermont the summer after seventh grade, she’s recovering from the broken arm she got falling off a balance beam. And packed away in the moving boxes under her clothes and gymnastics trophies is a secret she’d rather forget.
Mia’s change in scenery brings day camp, new friends, and time with her beloved grandmother. But Gram is convinced someone is trying to destroy her cricket farm. Is it sabotage or is Gram’s thinking impaired from the stroke she suffered months ago? Mia and her friends set out to investigate, but can they uncover the truth in time to save Gram’s farm? And will that discovery empower Mia to confront the secret she’s been hiding–and find the courage she never knew she had?
In a compelling story rich with friendship, science, and summer fun, a girl finds her voice while navigating the joys and challenges of growing up.
In my last post, I talked about how I tackle revision once my first (rough!) draft is complete. With CHIRP, I worked through several revision passes on my own, focusing on different elements of craft and revising for both big-picture and paragraph/sentence-level writing. At this point in the process, I know the book inside and out. It’s time to bring in some fresh eyes.
I’m incredibly grateful to have a handful of great friends who are also amazing writers and critique buddies, and I want to share some of their feedback helped to shape the story.
My friend Laura Ruby – you know her from her award-winning YA novels like 13 DOORWAYS, WOLVES BEHIND THEM ALL and BONE GAP – sent me an email after she read an early version of CHIRP. One of her most helpful suggestions had to do with characters. There were a LOT of them and she was having trouble keeping them straight. She suggested doing more to distinguish those secondary characters – adding more gestures, facial expressions, details, patterns of speech, and quirks.
This is a great example of something I just couldn’t see in my own manuscript because I’d been working with this cast of characters for so long. But Laura’s advice was brilliant, so my next revision pass focused on working more with those secondary characters. I went back to an earlier step in the writing process — brainstorming — in order to get started.
My longtime friend & critique buddy Linda Urban – you know her from her wonderful MG novels like A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT, HOUND DOG TRUE, and WEEKENDS WITH MAX AND HIS DAD – read an early draft, too. Linda and I read for each other often, and we use the comments feature on Microsoft Word to offer thoughts. Linda’s comments to me on CHIRP are great examples of what really thoughtful, helpful feedback looks like. Like Laura, she noted that the number of characters felt overwhelming sometimes. (I ended up fleshing some of them out & cutting others who weren’t really essential.)
A great critique partner isn’t afraid to suggest cuts when the writing isn’t as clean & sharp as it might be.
At this point in the writing process, I’m still working on big-picture revision and line edits, so I’m not too worried about typos and spelling errors yet. But if you’re critiquing a manuscript and you happen to notice something like that, it’s still helpful to point it out. Linda usually does that with a quick highlight.
Critique buddies also ask questions when something isn’t totally clear. This is so helpful, as it’s often the stuff we can’t see in our own work. We know the story and all of its intricacies, so an outside reader makes such a difference.
Another super-helpful thing Linda does when she’s reading is point out what IS working. One of my issues with the rough draft of CHIRP was the point of view. I’d intended to write in a very close third person, from inside Mia’s head. But sometimes the voice didn’t reflect that. Linda was great about pointing out the places where it worked well and asking for more of that.
Critique buddies also look at big-picture issues related to story structure. Linda offered some comments on the opening of CHIRP that prompted me to rework both the first and last chapters.
Constructive comments from writer friends like Laura and Linda helped bring this book to a level I couldn’t have managed on my own. After incorporating their feedback, I sent the draft to my editor at Bloomsbury, who offered…more feedback! More on that in a future post…
For now, I’d love it if you’d consider pre-ordering CHIRP. If you do that through my local indie, The Bookstore Plus, I’ll personalize and sign your copy to be mailed out on release day. And wherever you pre-order, Bloomsbury will send you a special gift – a CHIRP poster and a class set of bookmarks to share! Just fill out this form after you’ve pre-ordered.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read about CHIRP. I’m so hopeful that this book will find the readers who need it, and I’m grateful for the early praise it’s garnered from readers and reviewers alike…
“Kate Messner strikes the perfect balance of joy, pain, and strength in this deftly layered mystery about family, friendship, and the struggle to speak up.” – Laurie Halse Anderson, bestselling author of SPEAK and SHOUT
“Chirp is so many things: a mystery, a family story, and a story of the power of friendship. It’s about learning to speak out when it seems the whole world would rather you shut up. Sure to be passed from kid to kid to kid” – Laura Ruby, National Book Award Finalist and author of the York Trilogy
“Once again, Kate Messner has written a book that will be a dear and important friend to her readers. A loving and compelling ode to the joy of friendship, the many kinds of strength, and the everyday bravery of girls.” – Anne Ursu, author of THE LOST GIRL
“Messner deftly weaves together myriad complex plot threads to form a captivating whole. . . . Rich, timely, and beautifully written.” – Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews
“Messner addresses #MeToo themes authentically and with care as her story moves toward empowerment: Mia displays fear and confusion alongside a hope to reclaim the strength she once felt as a gymnast. Layering mystery elements, strong and myriad female characters, and a poignant analogy involving chirp-less female crickets, Messner gently guides Mia on a journey of resilience that both comforts and inspires.”
– Starred Review, Publishers Weekly
“Messner honors middle graders by exploring important, relevant issues at their level of understanding. This book will prompt discussions of gender inequality, consent, and sexual abuse. A must purchase.” – Starred Review, School Library Connection