“Middleview” Interview with Debut Author Rebecca Petruck

Posted by Tamera Wissinger

Today, Rebecca Petruck is joining Smack Dab In The Middle Blog for a guest “middleview” interview. Rebecca’s debut middle grade novel STEERING TOWARD NORMAL, Abrams/Amulet, releases on 05/13/2014! Congratulations, Rebecca!

Here is a bit about Rebecca:

Rebecca Petruck is a Minnesota girl, though she also has lived in Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, England, Connecticut and, currently, North Carolina. A former member of 4-H, she was also a Girl Scout, a cheerleader, and competed in MathCounts. She reads National Geographic cover to cover. Her first novel, STEERING TOWARD NORMAL, is an American Booksellers Association Indies Introduce New Voices selection and a Spring 2014 Kids' Indie Next List title. Vanity Fair's Hollywood dubbed it a "book we'd like to see made into a film." STEERING TOWARD NORMAL will be released by Abrams/Amulet May 13, 2014. You may visit her online at www.rebeccapetruck.com.

Here’s a description of STEERING TOWARD NORMAL:

Eighth grade is set to be a good year for Diggy Lawson: he’s chosen a great calf to compete at the Minnesota State Fair, he’ll see a lot of the girl he secretly likes at 4-H, and he and his dad Pop have big plans for April Fool’s Day. But everything changes when classmate Wayne Graf’s mother dies, which brings to light that Pop is Wayne’s father, too. Suddenly, Diggy has a half-brother who moves in and messes up his life. Wayne threatens Diggy’s chances to win Grand Champion, horns in on his girl, and rattles his easy relationship with Pop.

Despite his high hopes, eighth grade quickly turns into Diggy’s worst year ever, filled with jealousy, fighting, and several incidents involving cow poop. But as the boys care for their calves, pull pranks, and watch too many B movies, they learn what it means to be brothers and how weird the concept of family can be as they slowly steer toward a new kind of normal.

Here are the links to Rebecca online Website, Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook

Now it’s time to hear from our guest:

Smack Dab Middleview with STEERING TOWARD NORMAL author Rebecca Petruck

1. In a nutshell, what does your main character, Diggy, want? 

Externally, Diggy wants to win the Grand Champion purple ribbon in the junior steer competition at the Minnesota State Fair. Internally, he wants to feel Pop and Wayne would have chosen to be part of his life, rather than just stuck with him.

2. What is in his way? 

His personal insecurities. And Wayne—Diggy’s sudden half-brother seems to him to intentionally tick him off and otherwise mess up his life. 

3. Did you know right away that this was your story, or did you discover it as you wrote? 

This story seriously evolved over time. Initially there were three boys, a girl, and a little sister. Four POVs. Dairy cattle rather than steers, and even chickens for a while. I had scenes at the VFW, at the hardware store where the town gossips were having a field day, a joy ride into town that resulted in the truck being towed (with the little sister still in the vehicle), and even Diggy’s mom returning to town after her twelve-year absence. But the root was always the discovery of a half sibling and the state fair. Once I pared away all the stuff that happened, focusing on the theme of choice and choosing, the story became much clearer.

4. Was Steering Toward Normal always for middle grade readers or not? 

Yes and no. STN was my thesis for an MFA program without a children’s writing component. So initially, it wasn’t written as a children’s novel, but I had no aspirations of publishing it for any category other than middle grade.

After graduation, my approach for revising the manuscript so it was more kid oriented was to “Point and Focus.” What was my main point, and what scenes gave focus to it? I’d guess more than half the manuscript that was my thesis was cut away, with new pages emphasizing Diggy’s internal journey through external events.

5. What is the best part of writing for middle grade readers? 

I love how willing middle grade readers are to suspend their disbelief and go with a story that catches their attention no matter how outrageous the idea—even if the “outrageous” idea is only that they might ever live on a farm and raise cattle. I think middle grade readers don’t have a lot of filters yet so they seem more willing to let themselves experience a wide range of possibilities through story—which gives me a lot of room to play.

Also, middle grade years are when decisions begin to have more impact with greater repercussions. Good role models are vital, and books have always been a source of positive role models for me.

6. Is there any downside? 

For me, middle school was tumultuous and embarrassing. Mining my own memories and confronting my personal insecurities is not comfortable. But books truly have been mentors for me throughout my life, and I hope readers will feel better able to cope with their own situations by seeing how Diggy coped with his. Keeping one’s heart open, even knowing there will be pain (especially knowing there will be), is scary and difficult, but I think it’s the truest way to live a happy and full life.  

Thank you for joining us at Smack Dab in the Middle Blog, Rebecca. Again, congratulations on the release of STEERING TOWARD NORMAL!


  1. Thanks for inviting me to Smack Dab in the Middle!

    1. Thanks for visiting, Rebecca. I'm so happy for your upcoming release!

  2. I already love Rebecca's book, and now I love the back story. Thanks for sharing!

  3. This is the first I've heard of this book. I'm going to add it to my TBR list. I need some more middle grade in my stack!

    1. Oh, glad to hear it, Rebecca. This sounds like a story I'll enjoy, too.

  4. Such a great interview! I LOVE this book and am so excited to get my hands on a real "live" copy.

    Despite the fact that the MC is a boy and there are cow patties and Yeti involved, ;) the language of STN is gorgeous. I read the first seven chapters in one sitting. Congrats to you, Rebecca!

  5. Great interview. Congratulations on the release Rebecca. I have added this book to my TBR list!

  6. Can't wait to get my hands on this one, Rebecca!


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