An Interview With Children’s Writer Michelle Houts

Michelle Houts Postcard front2

  1. In one paragraph, summarize your new book, The Practical County Drama Queen.

In The Practical County Drama Queen, eleven-year-old Frannie has ten weeks to stop her older brother Ronnie from making the biggest mistake of his life.  As the youngest of Practical County’s Ryan family, Frannie has grown up watching everything. Watching her older brother and sister show steers, watching her Granddad work with the cows and calves, and watching the Darling sisters manipulate, lie, and cheat at the Practical County Fair. Frannie has also grown up knowing that, if she’s persistent enough, she can usually accomplish whatever she set out to do. But in this summer tale of growing up and letting go, Frannie begins to realize that some things in life just might be beyond her control.

  1. What was the inspiration behind your main character?

Frannie was a fan-favorite character in my debut novel, The Beef Princess of Practical County. Then, she was a precocious preschooler with a huge vocabulary and an even bigger imagination. Readers begged me to give Frannie her own story. So, Frannie grew up a little, and what a story she has to tell!

  1. Who are your favorite authors?    

I have always had great respect for Katherine Paterson. And, anything written by Cynthia Rylant is golden in my eyes!

  1. What has been the biggest challenge on your path to publication? 

Patience. It goes against my nature to be patient. But authors know that the publishing world moves at a turtle’s pace. If you can’t be patient, you’ll give up before you get to the best part!

  1. Were you a drama queen as a teen? 

Me? (Laughs hysterically) Oh, pul-eeze! Why you even ask me that? For crying out loud! A drama queen? Ha! Really. (Rolls eyes).  Well, maybe.

       6. If you were to describe yourself as a type of livestock, what would you be?

I’m probably a mother hen. I could curl up on a nest and brood all day.

     7. What are your writing strengths?

I’m an instinctive writer. I don’t follow an outline. I break a lot of “rules.” I like working on character and setting. Planning out the plot gives me fits, so I usually just write and see what happens. Is that a strength? Or chaos in action? I’m not sure, exactly.

     8. Was it easier to find a publisher for this book, than your debut novel, The Beef Princess of Practical County?

One would think! But life is tricky sometimes, isn’t it?  I entered The Beef Princess of Practical County in the Delacorte Dell Middle Grade Fiction Contest in 2008. I didn’t win. No one did, actually. It was one of the years they didn’t choose a winner. But shortly after, I got a call saying I was a finalist. And, would I be willing to do some work on the novel and resubmit it?  Uh, sure? Of course! So, Beef Princess was sold to a Random House imprint without an agent on a second try. Not your typical “how I got published” story, I’ll admit.

Beef Princess fans asked for more. (But my editor didn’t.) Young readers said, “You should write another Practical County story!” (Hmm, my editor didn’t.)  School teachers said, “Frannie surely has her own tale to tell!” (But my editor wasn’t asking for Frannie’s tale.) So, I wrote it. And much to my shock and chagrin, guess who wasn’t all that interested? I know, I know. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed sometimes. 

After Beef Princess, I landed a fantastic agent, who sold my middle-grade novel about Danish gnomes at Christmastime (a bit of a leap from cattle farming, I know) to Candlewick Press. That is Winterfrost – due to release 9/9/14.  My wonderful agent was determined to sell The Practical County Drama Queen.  But we were met time and time again with this:  It just doesn’t make sense for us to publish a sequel to something we didn’t publish in the first place.

Enter SCBWI. Their member’s magazine had a story last year on E-First Publishers. These publishers put books out in electronic format first. Then, they may or may not offer a print edition. My agent submitted, and MuseItUp offered an electronic AND print contract right away. Frannie’s tale would be told!

     9. How do you balance writing with raising a family?

Seasons. I give myself permission NOT to write during certain seasons. When my farmer husband is planting or harvesting and I’m doing all the household chores, feeding extra farmhands, and running for parts to fix broken equipment, I give myself permission NOT to write. When I’m hosting the extended family Christmas and working parttime and caring for aging in-laws, I give myself permission NOT to write. It sure beats beating myself up for NOT writing.  But when I have a deadline or a blizzard hits or I’m just inspired, I declare a season of writing.  And that’s when I give myself permission NOT to fold laundry. It sure beats beating myself up over it.

      10. Can you tell us about your writing space?

Right now I write just about anywhere I can find a quiet corner. But, I’m working on restoring a one-room schoolhouse built in 1894. It has been used as a barn for more than 50 years, so it needs a lot of work! When it’s done, I want to use it as my writing studio. And, I dream of having a cat there. I’d name her Miss Beadle.

I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Michelle Houts.  To learn more visit her website www.michellehouts.com 

To buy her books visit your favorite local independent bookstore or www.amazon.com, www.barnesandnoble.com

 

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