Today I'm so excited because Carmella Van Vleet dropped by to answer a few questions. She's the author of the debut middle grade novel, ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER, and also one of my amazing MiG Writer friends.
Share a little about how you ended up as a writer.
I’m one of those writers who always knew this is what she wanted to do. I wrote all through high school and some in college. But then I took time off to teach and have my children. At one point, I volunteered to edit a newsletter for a local moms’ organization. When I needed to fill space, I wrote family humor pieces. The response was overwhelmingly positive so I pitched a monthly column in a local newspaper. From there, I began freelancing for magazines. A couple of years later, I began focusing on non-fiction for kids. I loved doing that and sold over a dozen books, but I always dreamed of writing fiction. So, a few years ago, I gave up all my non-fiction gigs, took an online class, found a critique group and began writing for middle grade and young adult readers.
How did the idea for your story emerge?
My daughter and I were in the car one day and talking about how she didn’t fit in at middle school. She
said, “I’m like the letter Y, not really a consonant but not really a vowel either.” I thought this would make a great opening line for a book. (This isn’t the book’s opening line, but I still think I might use it someday.)
Pretty soon after that, my main character, Eliza, started showing up and talking to me. I knew I wanted to write about someone who had ADHD (like my daughter), but I also knew I definitely didn’t want to write an “issue book.” In fact, I wanted the ADHD to be, for the most part, a positive thing because there are plenty of really cool things about it. The fact Eliza lands herself in a taekwondo class came pretty naturally, too. I’ve been training in the martial arts myself for about eight years, and so I know about being out of your comfort zone.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing your book?
For me, the hardest part of writing any book is figuring out what you need to include and what you should leave out. It’s like doing one of those jigsaw puzzles that comes with extra pieces. (For the record, I hate those.) Even though I knew a lot about Eliza - mostly because I lived with the real life version of her! - I had to decide what part of her story and personality to focus on. There were many scenes and favorite lines that ended up being cut because they simply needed to be.
Each book I write teaches me something about the world,
myself or the process of writing. What did you learn through writing your book?
Even though I’d been writing non-fiction for many years, I was surprised just how much goes into the revision process. ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG, FAT QUITTER went through numerous revisions with my critique group, then with a freelance editor, and then with my agent. And then, to top it off, there were revisions to do for my editor. Each and every round improved the book so I was happy to do the work. But after a while you start to feel like, “Really? I have to revise again?”
Because I love reading as much as I love to write, I’m always curious about what other people like to read. Do you have any favourite books?
I’m not sure about favorite (because how can you pick favorites?!), but there are several that made me want to be a writer, inspired me, or changed the direction of my career. In no particular order:
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
Savvy by Ingrid Law
A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Monster at the End of This Book (Sesame Street, Little Golden Book)
Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your book
or an upcoming project?
As part of my goal to spread kindness (like Eliza does), I have a special project called Black Belt in Kindness Club. If kids do ten kind things and let me know, I’ll put their names on a Wall of Fame on my website and send them a special postcard. Teachers and parents who’d like more information can click on the Flying Ninja Girl on the Home or MG-YA pages on my website www.carmellavanvleet.com
"In this uplifting novel about determination and the rewards of hard work, a preteen girl struggling with ADHD must stick with a summer taekwondo class to prove that she s dedicated enough to pursue her true passion: cake decorating."
Cover artwork is by Karen Donnelly.
Carmella's book officially launches tomorrow, February 14th, but it's already available!