My Chat with Holly Schindler by Deborah Lytton

DL: Holly, it’s super exciting that we both have new books out this month. You have NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID and I have RUBY STARR. I love that you have created a book of poetry for middle grade readers. What do you enjoy most about writing for 7-12 year old readers?
HS: It is exciting! Congrats on RUBY STARR.

I think MG readers are really our “sponge” readers—soaking up and learning all about the world around them. It’s fantastic how interested they are in everything; I can feel it leak through the screen during Skypes. In the upper end of the MG readership, it also seems like they’re really straddling the line, developing more mature, teen-like interests but aren’t ready yet to completely ditch their interests from childhood. NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID let me tap into all that: I introduce those sponge-like readers to the villanelle, a type of formal poetry (the book as a whole is a single poem), and I also provide visual art throughout that combines more mature looking photography with younger-reader-style watercolor and colored pencil drawings.

I think my vision of an MG reader has also been shaped greatly by the interactions I’ve had with students as I promoted my first MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY. How have your own interactions with young readers (or your own kids) changed or influenced your idea of what an MG reader is?

DL: I love your description of MG readers. I think they are the very best of readers because they become invested in the stories they read. The thing I have learned from my interactions with them and also from my daughters and their friends is that they pay very close attention to detail. I have been asked some very deep questions by MG readers and in most cases, they are about things other readers have failed to pinpoint.  This always impresses me and makes me strive harder to write stories that will give them lots to think about and discover within the pages. My main character Ruby is one of these readers. She loves books. I have lots of things I love about her, but my favorite thing has to be Ruby’s sense of humor. She makes me laugh while I am writing the words down. What is your favorite thing about NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID?

HS: I agree—humor is so important, especially for this age group. (And the writing of anything humorous is just so much fun. We always say if we’re not crying, our readers won’t be crying or emotionally involved, either—but it’s so important to remember the same can be said for laughing!) My favorite parts of NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID are the pages in the back that guide young readers through writing their own first villanelle. It’s not a form of poetry usually discussed in the elementary levels—it’s often not discussed until high school, when students read Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night,” arguably the most recognizable villanelle ever written. I love the idea of kids taking the plunge, writing formal poetry, accomplishing something they may not have thought was even possible.

I think, though, that most writers of juvenile lit hope their work leaves a thumbprint of some kind on their readers—what do you hope readers take away from RUBY STARR?

DL: I think it’s a wonderful way to end your book with inspiration for young readers to write their own villanelle! I hope you will post some of their poems on your blog. I can’t wait to read them. In RUBY STARR, Ruby references her favorite books throughout the story and I hope readers will connect with her love of books and be inspired to read more. I am also posting book club questions on my blog for some of Ruby’s favorites and some new books so that MG readers can start their own book clubs just like Ruby. There is a common theme in all my books about being true to yourself and this theme is also present in Ruby’s stories. It’s something I hope all my readers take away from my books. Here’s a super hard question: Name your favorite middle grade book of all time. I would have to say ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS. I just re-read it for the book club I am hosting on my blog and the book still touches me just as much as it did when I first read it. I also love BLACK BEAUTY because it takes us inside the mind of a horse and shows us the way to compassion for animals and others in a poignant way.

HS: That’s not just hard, that’s impossible! I feel like I have a new favorite MG book every time I pick up a new read. Having grown up with Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary, I have to say I have a special place in my heart for contemporary realism. I think a lot of times, authors of juvenile lit start gravitating toward magic or supernatural or fairy tale-type stories because it feels to us like contemporary stories of growing up have all been done before—we feel like we’re traveling the same ground. But it’s not old territory to our readers! They’re all living through being ten, eleven, twelve for the first time. I think it’s still really important to give them contemporary stories showing smart, resourceful, good-hearted peers navigating through sticky situations, becoming the heroes of their own lives in a setting that feels modern and real and of their own world. (The concepts in kid lit from decades past might cover some of the same topics—friendship, divorce, first crush, etc.—but today’s kids won’t relate as well to a book in which characters listen to records, don’t have cell phones, there is no internet, etc.)

I do think, too, that many writers of kid lit were voracious readers themselves when they were young—did you have an “ah-ha!” moment with one of those books—did a specific book make you want to become a writer?

DL: All you had to say was Judy Blume! She definitely influenced my love of books. ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS is the book that always touched my heart and made me want to write for MG readers. A WRINKLE IN TIME is another book that opened my eyes to possibilities and the creativity of writing. I am also a Jane Austen fan. I have always been in awe of what all of these authors could do and the way they could turn words into stories that would take us on journeys into our imaginations. It took me years to be brave enough to try it myself. Did you learn anything about the craft of writing while working on NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID? This is the first time I have written a sequel, so I learned a lot about tracking my facts.

HS: I love that I got to delve so deep into poetry here—poetry’s an old love, and I included some poems in my first novel, A BLUE SO DARK (YA), but this is truly my first story in verse. Really, though, the learning curve was with the illustration. I’ve been moving into doing more and more artwork since I started releasing my own independent work a couple of years ago, but for NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID, I was responsible for everything you see in the book—the photos, drawings, design for both the interior and the cover. The only things I didn’t create on my own were the fonts! (Those came from Creative Market, a great site for original commercial use fonts.) The drawings for KATY DID were all done in traditional media—watercolor and colored pencils. Then, I scanned the drawings and cut them out digitally using Photoshop, combining them with photographic elements and backgrounds. I couldn’t have done it without my Wacom drawing tablet (I use the Intuous Pro). Even if you’re doing cover art rather than full-blown illustration, the drawing tablet really opens you up to all sorts of new possibilities, allows you to accomplish effects you couldn’t achieve relying solely on your mouse.

I’ve written a sequel myself, and it’s amazing how much you forget between book #1 and book #2. How did you accomplish fact tracking? Any tips?

DL: I am so impressed that you created the artwork as well as the poetry. You are a creative force! Your artwork is stunning and it goes seamlessly with the poetry. I would imagine this was a wonderful process to create the entire project yourself. (My teenage daughter is an artist and has the Wacom Intuous Pro drawing tablet as well. She loves it.) For my work on RUBY, I finished editing Book #1 and then began writing Book #2 so there wasn’t too much of a time lapse between them. That helped a lot in terms of fact tracking. But I did create a document for myself with important facts which was really useful. I also kept the Book #1 manuscript on my desk while working for quick references and to ensure continuity. It’s really wonderful to be able to revisit a character and setting and write a new story with them. I am enjoying the process so much! I am always so impressed that you are brave enough to jump into different genres and you do it so successfully. What’s your secret?

HS: Just break it apart, whatever the job is. Don’t get overwhelmed. Trying a new writing genre? Start simply—what are the main features you HAVE to hit for a work to be considered reflective of the genre? (For example, a romance has to have a happily ever after or at least a happy for now ending.) Then, what are the traditional beats for that genre? (It’s fine to play with this, but you should know what the rules are before you break them.) From there, you can begin plotting and outlining your book, just as you did with books in the genre you were previously writing in. Or, if you’re moving from traditional publishing to indie pubbing: every single job an indie author takes on can also be broken down into smaller chunks. Need to create your first cover? A cover is, in its simplest form, an image with a title on it. So—to start, don’t worry about anything but finding the right image: Do you know a photographer? Will you use a stock photo? Take a photo yourself? Draw something? Just get the image. THEN: figure out how you want to edit the photo / get the title on it. A ton of free resources are available (GIMP’s great for e-book covers). Same with formatting—it can be broken into smaller jobs, too. (I recommend Scrivener and Ed Ditto’s formatting book to get started.) I mean, in order to write a book in the first place, you have to break it into smaller, manageable daily chunks, right? Same with any new writing or publishing task you’d like to take on. You’re not going to get it all done in a day; it’ll take some herky-jerky, wonky first attempts. But you’ll get there if you just keep at it. (And trust me—YouTube instructional videos are definitely your friend.)

What’s one job you’ve taken on in your own writing career that you never would have thought you’d have to tackle? How’d you work through it?

DL: You have the best attitude. I am sure that is the single ingredient that holds it all together for you. You see possibilities in every genre and you don’t limit yourself. It’s really inspirational. The job that I never really thought about before I had my first book published was the PR aspect of the job. I thought about talking to readers and maybe speaking at a conference, but it was the actual promotion of the book that was more of a surprise and it is the most difficult for me. It takes time away from actually writing and also can be difficult to accomplish, and yet, the success of the book hinges on a writer’s efforts. The publishing house does handle some of the promotion, but only to a certain extent. The rest is left up to the author and with social media, there is a lot of pressure on your presence. I prefer writing to tweeting! You mentioned Scrivener. You’re the one who convinced me to try Scrivener and now I am completely hooked. What’s your best Scrivener tip?

HS: I love Scrivener so much. I can’t imagine writing a book without it. I think the most useful feature is the binder—even more so than the cork board. That binder, running along the left-hand side, tells me where I’m at in the book every single time I sit back down to work—I’m reminded of what chapters came before, what comes next; it really helps with pacing. Also, it lets me easily bounce back up to a previous chapter and plug something in (about character or plot) when I get a new idea. I’ve been relying on split-screen with my current WIP—I have two files open, usually the chapter I’m currently drafting and either a previous version of the chapter or a cut file, where I can easily take out phrases or passages that don’t quite fit (but that I still like) and store them until the exact-right place for the line comes along.

What’s your own best Scrivener tip? What kind of WIP do you have going in your current Scrivener file right now (what can readers expect next)?

DL: I love the binder, too! I have been working on an Austenesque historical and the binder has been so helpful because I have been working a lot on Ruby. When I come back to my historical, sometimes I need to bounce around to check things I have already established. I also love the character sketches. I think they are really helpful in organizing my thoughts about each character and having them available as I write. My best Scrivener tip is to read other blogs about Scrivener. I have learned everything from you and from other writers who have shared their own tips for using the program. It really is an incredible tool for writers. Up next, I will have Book #2 of RUBY STARR followed by Book #3 both of which will be new adventures in reading and in Ruby’s world.
Thanks Holly for chatting with me today! NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID is available at Amazon as an e-book or paperback. For more information about RUBY STARR, you can go to


  1. Thanks ladies...I really enjoyed getting to know both of you better and appreciated your sharing your process. Learned a lot. Congratulations and good luck with the new books.

  2. What a great interview! Loved the glimpses into the creative process for both of you - and now want to learn more about the villanelle from NOBDY SANG LIKE KAY DID.

  3. Thanks, guys! And thanks for the interview, Debby!


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