What struck me most about today’s W.O.W. with David Arnold was his comments about taking your time. In this fast-paced world we seem to want it all NOW, but in writing nothing ever comes quickly. You must draft, write and then revise (sometimes over and over) in order to get the best possible manuscript. I love that he shared he went through 9 drafts of his novel, MOSQUITOLAND, before finally querying. It proves if you take your time, and really hone your manuscript, you can have eventual success.
Many thanks to David for sharing his journey today…
Amy: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
David: I’m not really sure how to answer that question, except to say that I’ve ALWAYS wanted to be a reader. I discovered The Hardy Boys when I was seven and from that point on, I’ve never not been reading something. So it was a logical next step for me, I think – to go from story input to story output.
Amy: What inspires you to write Young Adult Fiction?
David: Why I write about young adults: I think there’s something special about the 15-17 year-old age range. You’re old enough to think you know everything, but too young to know you don’t. This sort of blind naivety lends itself to great characters in unique, and oftentimes broken, situations. Why I write for young adults: I vividly remember my own young adulthood, so for me, it’s the nearest well to draw from. Whatever “voice” is, mine naturally comes from this place.
Amy: I love the premise behind MOSQUITOLAND. Was there anything specific that inspired the story?
David: Thank you! I’m not sure it was any one incident that inspired me to tell this particular story, so much as a million tiny incidents joining forces to push me into it. Many of the settings in the book are places I’ve lived, but very little of what happens to Mim (the main character) ever happened to me. But for me, story begins with character. Keeping with the “well” analogy from earlier, I’ve found that my writing tends to follow these steps: Find the well from which my character drinks. Drink from that well. Let them tell the story.
Amy: How many manuscripts had you completed prior to MOSQUITOLAND?
David: Completed is a funny word. The short answer is… one? For years, I wrote middle grade, but there was no sense of urgency and it showed in the work. Then my wife and I found out we were (surprise!) pregnant, and I was faced with serious decisions. The next day, I shelved all those middle grade projects, and decided to start a book I’d been too scared to try. That book is Mosquitoland, and while I won’t say I wrote it for my son, I will say much of it is written to him. (Sorry. Tangent. Yes, only one finished manuscript prior to ML.)
Amy: If you had preliminary rejections, how did you deal with that process and continue to write?
David: If you think about writing as a sidecar, rather than the actual motorcycle, it becomes a lot easier. Don’t worry about making it the MAIN thing. Just make it a thing. As the pressure diminshes, so too will the weight of rejection.
Amy: How long did it take you to write the query for MOSQUITOLAND? Did it go through many drafts?
David: I probably spent close to two months on the query alone. And that was just on the front end (drafting, critiquing, revising, rinse, repeat). After that, the real work began: researching agents and tailoring your query to each of their specific guidelines and needs. I spent countless hours on twitter, Writers Digest, and Querytracker looking for agents that would be right for me.
Amy: How many agents did you query for MOSQUITOLAND?
Amy: Did you receive instantaneous response or did you have to wait for requests/rejections?
David: It varied. Dan’s assistant (Torie) responded immediately, requesting a full. But Dan was on vacation in Europe, so she said it would probably be a while before he got back with me. And so began the twiddling of thumbs, the maniacal giggling, and the rousing rounds of Kumbayah. :/
Amy: What can you tell us about your “call” with your agent, Dan Lazar? How did you know he was a good fit for you?
David: When you query an agent, you’re looking for certain qualities: track record, current clientele, what agency they’re with, etc. All of those qualities were important to me, but they were things I could find online. So when I got to speak to an agent on the phone, I set new parameters. The two most important qualities I looked for were enthusiasm and kindness. Dan proved he got my work by asking the right questions and making incredibly insightful comments (one of which, was in reference to a WIP, now my book 2). Before I ever signed with Dan, I knew he had an inherent understanding of my work, and of my career as an author. And of course, he was exceedingly kind.
Amy: As many writers know the publishing world is very hard to break into. What was the one thing you did to help garner agent attention?
David: I took my time. Not just in querying and researching agents, but in writing the manuscript. Above, I mentioned that I spent some time writing middle grade. The thing is, I never queried those manuscripts because I knew they weren’t my best foot forward. Even with Mosquitoland, every time I thought I was done (9 times, to be exact), I took at least 3 weeks away from the pages. And every time I came back, I found ways to make it better. All in all, I spent two years writing/critiquing/revising before sending it out; had I queried it the first time I thought it was done, I would have gotten a stack of rejections (and rightly so). It’s true that writers will be rejected. But I think the amount of rejections can be reduced by simply… taking your time.
Amy: What advice did you get early on in your writing career that you still use today?
David: COMMUNITY! Find one. I dove into the SCBWI MidSouth region and honestly don’t know where I’d be without them. (Lost. Completely lost.) Through SCBWI, I also found my brilliant critique group. Those guys save my life one manuscript at a time.
David Arnold is the author of MOSQUITOLAND (Viking/Penguin, 2015). Previous “jobs” include freelance film composer, stay-at-home dad, and preschool teacher. He is a fierce believer in the power of kindness and community. And chips. He believes fiercely in chips. David is represented by Dan Lazar at Writers House. You can find him at davidarnoldbooks.com and on Twitter (@roofbeam).