Miracles and Sticking to Your Guns
by James Mihaley
My Own Miracle
I got an agent on a Monday. She gave my book to an editor at Macmillan on Tuesday. We sold it on Wednesday. I do volunteer work at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. I’m part of the Literally Healing program, which believes in the healing power of children’s literature. I was walking through the front door into the hospital when I got an e-mail from my agent, Rosemary Stimola, informing me that Macmillan had acquired ‘You Can’t Have My Planet But Take My Brother, Please’. But here’s the craziest thing of all. It wasn’t until after I sold the novel that I actually learned how to write for children!
What the heck does that mean?
Rolling the Dice
I have some monsters in my book called Kundabons. How do you keep a monster from being clichéd? Well, they have a cage attached to their bodies, which they use to store their victims. The cage is actually part of a Kundabon’s body, just like an ear or nose. The bars on the cage are lined with fine white hairs. When Giles sees a wart one of the bars, he freaks out. (Can you blame him?)
Another big gamble, in a completely different way, was including a girl in a wheelchair as part of Giles team that must clean New York City in one day in order to save humanity. My editors initially had reservations about this. They thought it might come across too heavy in a fun Middle Grade book for reluctant readers. They were thrilled with how it turned out. Navida’s role in my book, her importance especially at the end, is something I’m very proud of.
Fortunately my editors let me take risks. Sometimes they thought I was going a bit too far and would reel me in. But they always gave me the right to make the final decision on whether or not something got deleted.
Sticking To Your Guns
My editors made suggestions that almost always made sense. (You expect that when one of them worked on The Hunger Games!) However, if I didn’t agree with a suggestion, and if I felt in my gut that the line needed to stay in the book, I let them know and they respected this. I think it’s important to listen to your convictions. If you feel on a gut level that something needs to stay in the book then by all means keep it there. One of the dangers of a writers group is that you get bombarded with feedback. This is something to be wary of.
The architecture of your novel must come from your own heart, not the random thoughts of others sitting around a table.