Imagine my surprise when I read that fellow Marylander – and one-time critique group member – Lauren Abbey Greenberg not only sold her middle grade novel… but to the same publisher who bought my middle grade book as well! A small world indeed! (Hooray for Running Press Kids!!)
I was lucky enough to attend Lauren’s recent book launch at a popular local bookstore in Washington, D.C. called Politics and Prose. Since then, she’s been so busy with school visits and speaking engagements that it was a challenge tracking her down for this interview!
Here is a sampling of the rave reviews Lauren’s debut novel, The Battle of Junk Mountain, has received:
“This absorbing middle-grade read gently but unflinchingly considers the common ground of growing up and growing old.”―Kirkus Reviews
“Realistic descriptions detail what it’s like to live with a hoarder and the reluctance to let go of sentimental treasures. This beautiful story reminds readers that there’s much more to life than material objects.―Booklist
“Themes on intergenerational relationships, grief, and evolving friendships elevate this above the standard summer vacation story.”―School Library Journal
“This coming of age story is a great book for middle grade[rs] . . . who enjoy realistic fiction.”―School Library Connection
“Shayne’s sharp wit combined with her can-do compassion grabs us from the get-go. Her summer of trials and unexpected friendships shines a brilliant light on the power of holding on . . . and letting go”―Jennifer Richard Jacobson, author of Small as an Elephant
“Anyone lucky enough to have a summer friend will instantly relate to Shayne as she navigates honoring old traditions and fostering new paths.”―Beth Vrabel, author of Caleb and Kit and the Pack of Dorks series
Lauren, let’s start with some questions about the book itself first, then segue to general writing questions…
Questions about The Battle of Junk Mountain
- It’s no secret that your cherished childhood summers inspired this story. How much of it is based on real events and real people?
Funny enough, it’s actually based on summers from my adult life! The very first time I visited the state of Maine, I went with my then-boyfriend (now my husband of almost 22 years) and we have returned almost every summer since. It has become a true family affair with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all making the ten-hour trek, and I feel blessed that my children have grown up with that tradition. The people in the story were all created in my head but much of the setting is modeled after real places, such as the Cod Café, Quayle’s Market, and the Cedar Island Flea Market. I will say that the scene in the Cod Café’s kitchen, where Shayne dumps salad dressing all over herself, was flat-out lifted from my life when I bussed tables as a young teen. Yep, it was quite a mess.
Thank you for your candor.
- One of the most unique and compelling features of your book is Bea’s hoarding. How did you come up with this? Was it a key element in the story all along? And did you know from the beginning that it was tied in to the loss of her husband?
Grandma Bea began simply as a yard sale enthusiast, who would delight in finding hidden treasures amongst the junk. But with each revision, I found that her hobby was morphing into a hoarding problem. Hoarding, of course, is often a symptom of a deeper mental health problem, like depression, anxiety, or OCD, and can be triggered by traumatic events such as a death in the family. Bea was assigning significant value to insignificant items, so I needed to dig deep to figure out the psychology behind her behavior. I also discovered an interesting connection between Bea’s hoarding and Shayne’s friendship troubles, as both characters let the power of memory control them, which kept them stuck in the past.
Definitely a very interesting parallel!
- One of my favorite characters is Linc, the boy obsessed with Civil War history. Have you known anyone like him? Have you attended any Civil War reenactments?
Linc is one of my favorite characters, too! I have not known anyone like him, but I felt that if he was the son of a reenactor and he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps, then he really had to own it; no apologies. I did work on a couple film productions about the Civil War and the American Revolution, and I remember attending an American Revolution reenactment once as part of a location scout, although Linc would say that doesn’t count. For research, I also paid a visit to a few antique stores that specialized in Civil War paraphernalia.
Hmm. Sounds like material for a sequel…
- What was the biggest surprise for you as a writer as you revised the book? Were there any major changes you hadn’t expected when you first started it?
I didn’t set out to write a book about hoarding, that’s for sure! My early drafts were heavy on setting and not much else. I remember a critique partner telling me, “your writing is lovely but there’s nothing going on.” I had to learn how to raise the stakes and take my characters to uncomfortable places. I would often ask myself, “What is this book really about?” It’s a simple question, isn’t it? But for me, those underlying truths weren’t clear until much later in the revision process.
I suspect that’s not uncommon. Sometimes the simplest truths are the hardest to grasp (clears throat and covers mirror).
- Can you give us any hints of your next project?
My next project is another realistic contemporary middle grade and is inspired by the mid-Atlantic derecho of 2012.
Sounds exciting; can’t wait for it to come out!
Questions about Writing
- When did you first start writing this novel?
The Battle of Junk Mountain was born out of a class I took with the Institute of Children’s Literature back in 2011. I had an instructor who mentored me through the first draft (working title: The Treasures of Thomas Cove), and then I was on my own to revise, revise, revise. I had so much to learn and it took me five years before I felt the manuscript was ready for sub. Once I found my agent, Amy Jameson of A+B works, everything moved a little bit quicker. She pitched the novel the summer of 2016 and a few months later I had a book deal.
In other words, you’re one of those overnight successes…
- As a debut novelist, what was the most challenging aspect of your journey to publication?
The most challenging aspect of the journey was the glacial pace of it all. You write, you share pages, you have your first chapter critiqued at a conference, you revise some more, etc. The seasons change and the years tick by. And, of course, you’re wondering if putting in all this time and energy is worth it. At first, your friends and family are excited for you because, how cool, you’re writing a novel. Yay! Sure, they’ll ask you how it’s going from time to time, but then after a while they stop asking, because you have no answers for them. I’ll be honest, I really didn’t want all my hard work to end up in a drawer. People say you shouldn’t write just to be published, but sorry not sorry, I had an endgame I wanted, and I’m beyond thrilled that I reached that goal.
I understand COMPLETELY.
- What has been the most rewarding part so far?
Gosh, so many things! My first reward was my finished manuscript. When I got to that point where I felt I couldn’t make it any better, I took a moment to soak in that achievement. I had created a story with a definite beginning, middle, and end, and it didn’t stink. After signing on with a publisher, though, I have to say the rewards have been plentiful. Everything from working with my supportive editorial team, to having input on cover design, to receiving that first author blurb and trade review. And last but not least, seeing young readers holding your finished book in their hands. It’s an incredible feeling.
Insert sigh of longing here.
- What advice do you have for upcoming debut novelists?
The required flip from introverted writer to extroverted promoter is pretty remarkable and all-consuming. Promote! Present! Post! It’s blood pressure-raising at times, but exciting, too. Be proud of your work, be kind to yourself, and enjoy the ride.
Sounds like excellent advice!
- What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Try to stay Zen and celebrate the small achievements along the way: a new plot idea, the completion of a first draft, a rejection letter with a handwritten note from an editor or agent. It’s not unusual to be circling the wagons for a long time, but with perseverance and patience, you will get there.
Lauren, thanks so much for sharing your story, and your journey, with us.