Kathy MacMillan of the Sweet Sixteens recently spoke with her longtime friend, Fearless Fifteener Megan Morrison, about Megan’s middle grade novel, GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL (April 29, 2015 from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic).
Megan Morrison spends her time having adventures with her husband and little boy, teaching drama and language arts to 7th and 8th graders, and writing fairy tales set in the world of Tyme, which she co-created with Ruth Virkus. When she’s not busy working on something or other, she enjoys obsessing over other people’s stories. She’s a huge, dress-up-in-costumes-and-scream-a-lot level fan of Harry Potter, Jane Austen, Star Wars, Firefly, and BioWare’s role-playing games. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where she enjoys nature and coffee.
You know about the tower, the hair, and the witch. But in the world of Tyme, they’re only the beginning . . .
Rapunzel knows only her magical tower and her wonderful Witch, who guards her against evil princes far below. But when a peasant named Jack climbs into her life, Rapunzel learns that Witch is in terrible danger — and to keep her safe, she must leave her tower and journey with Jack on a quest far across Tyme. There she finds a world filled with even more peril than Witch promised . . . and more beauty, wonder, and adventure than she ever dreamed.
GROUNDED: THE ADVENTURES OF RAPUNZEL is the first book set in the land of Tyme — with many tales to come. It is available for purchase at Amazon, IndieBound, Barnes and Noble, Books A Million, and Powell’s.
Kathy: The world of Tyme is so detailed and richly imagined! Tell us a little about the process of developing this world.
Megan: Thank you! Tyme is a world that I co-created with Ruth Virkus. She and I have been friends for many years, and we’ve always enjoyed creating stories together. The way it tends to work is that we plot and plan, and then I go off and write until I come across a detail I don’t know. It can be a little detail, like the name of a street or a character, or it can be a big detail, like the governmental structure of a country or an essential plot point. I then circle back to Ruth, and we share ideas, opinions, historical information, images, personal experiences, and anything else that inspires us, until we’ve hammered out an answer that feels true to the series. We once spent a whole summer just inventing magical creatures! We both have active imaginations, and they really like to play together.
Kathy: You came to publication by a slightly unusual route – working with an editor before an agent. Can you describe that process for us and how it affected your work?
Megan: I had the extreme good fortune of being introduced to Cheryl Klein back in 2004, when I was a swooning Harry Potter fan and Cheryl worked at Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic) as the continuity editor of the Harry Potter series. When she agreed to read the first draft of GROUNDED, I was as elated as it is possible for a fan girl to be (read: MOST EXTREMELY ELATED). Cheryl sat down with me after reading the draft, and she gave me excellent critical feedback. She said that the story had a long way to go, but that she would be glad to look at it again when I revised it. For many reasons, I did not complete a revision that gave me joy until 2012, but when I did, I e-mailed Cheryl. We’d stayed in touch over the years, and she was still open to reading the revision. It was an amazing moment for me when she told me she loved it and wanted to work on it. She wanted me to cut 50 pages and rewrite the beginning before she could confidently take the book to her Acquisitions team. I trusted her and took her advice, and ultimately she was able to make a two-book offer. I am still amazed that I get to work with her. She is brilliant, sensitive, and incredibly hardworking, and I have great faith in her guidance. GROUNDED is a better book by far because of her.
I also really lucked out with my agent. My first-choice agency was the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, because of the sense of community that Erin fosters among her clients. I wanted that sense of belonging, as well as wanting the agency’s amazing track record and expertise on my side. Alas, EMLA was closed to queries from anyone they hadn’t already met! Fortunately, Cheryl sent an e-mail to Erin about me, and Erin was willing to read the beginning of GROUNDED. Her reaction was very positive. She wanted to keep GROUNDED “in the family” but she had a full plate. Enter EMLA agent Ammi-Joan Paquette, who read the full manuscript and immediately offered to represent me – just two days before Scholastic made the offer. In the nick of time, I landed a great agent to help me navigate the deal. All told, I’ve been incredibly fortunate.
Kathy: Rapunzel is such a wonderful main character, in part because she is so innocent and we discover the world of Tyme as she does. What were some of the challenges of writing from the perspective of a naïve character?
Megan: This is a great question. Rapunzel is an excellent device for revealing a fantasy world, it’s true; but her naiveté does complicate things. When her story begins, her experience is so limited that many simple, everyday concepts are outside her understanding. I wanted to honor that truth by allowing her to question many things, but I also had to create balance in the story. For there to be forward motion in the plot, she could not stop to question every single vocabulary word that might be foreign to her. I dealt with that challenge by making tough decisions about which words and concepts were the most important for her to question onscreen, for the sake of the story. Everything else had to go. It was hard to cut some of those conversations!
Kathy: Can you give us a preview of what’s in store for the Tyme series?
Megan: Each book in the Tyme series will tell a different fairy tale, and I anticipate six books altogether. All of the tales are set in the world of Tyme, and all of them overlap in some way or another. Ruth and I have been planning this series for over a decade, and in that time, I’ve drafted partial or complete manuscripts of every book, so I have a pretty clear picture of what’s coming. Many of the people and places that appear in Rapunzel’s journey – including Rapunzel herself – will turn up again later!
Lightning Round Questions:
Favorite fairy tale?
Beauty and the Beast. In its classic form, I like that it’s about redemption and love in spite of appearances.
Favorite fairytale adaptation? (Aside from Tyme, of course!)
I know many people think this movie is cheesy, but I have always loved “Ever After”. I love that the prince’s first move is to start a library and a university, and it’s about equity for everyone, not just getting the heroine out of the muck.
If you could go back and tell your 16-year-old self one thing, what would it be?
Work harder at math – don’t assume you’re bad at it just because you don’t get it the first time. Stop being a quitter.
What band did you love when you were 16 that you would still listen to?
I still listen to U2 a lot, actually.
What are you reading now?
I just finished reading BOSSYPANTS by Tina Fey. I love Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. They put people who say women who aren’t funny right in their place.
Favorite piece of advice for writers?
Be open to criticism, really open to it. Try to really hear what people are saying when they give you feedback. I use the cringe test; if I read that piece of feedback and I cringe, then it means I have internally recognized it to be true. It’s embarrassing to have someone else point it out, but oh well. I’m lucky to have an editor who makes me cringe so very very much.
Read an extended version of this interview, including Megan’s thoughts on how writing fanfiction shaped her as a writer, as well as lots of Harry Potter fangirling, at Kathy’s blog.
About the Interviewer:
Kathy MacMillan first met Megan Morrison when they were both writing Hermione-centered fanfiction on SugarQuill.net nearly fifteen years ago. Kathy is the founder and lead administrator of the Sweet Sixteens as well as the Published and Listed Member Coordinator for the MD/DE/WV region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Kathy is also an American Sign Language interpreter and librarian and enjoys exploring linguistic geekery, along with swoony romance, in her fiction. Her YA Debut, SWORD AND VERSE, which features a slave girl who learns a forbidden language and gets caught up in romance and rebellion, will be published by HarperTeen in Winter 2016.