Hannah Mary McKinnon

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Jennifer Mook-Sang - Author in the Limelight

Posted on December 9, 2016 at 7:00 AM


I'm thrilled to feature the brilliant author of Speechless, Jennifer Mook-Sang, in this week's Limelight post!




Hi, Jennifer, and welcome to my blog. What can what can you tell us about yourself?


I am incredibly attractive, astute, and alliterative, acutely cute and charming. And modest, smart, honest as the day is long (what on earth does that mean?) Did I mention modest? Yeah, that, for sure.


 


Couldn't agree more! Now, your brilliant debut middle-grade novel, Speechless is a huge hit. Tell us more, please!


Hey, thanks, Hannah! Speechless is a humorous middle grade novel published by Scholastic in September 2015. In the story, Jelly is as surprised as anyone when he decides that he's going to win the annual sixth grade speech contest. Just like that, Joe Alton Miles, better known as Jelly (because his initials are J.A.M. and his best friend's are P.B.), is faced with overcoming not only his terror of being in the spotlight, but also the wrath of smart, popular Victoria, who believes that the prize (like all prizes) is rightfully hers.


Here’s a link to a review which says it all much better than I can.


 

Speechless has been nominated for numerous awards and you’re on CBC’s “Writers to Watch” list. Can you tell us a how that feels?


Crazy-awesome! It proves my theory that the universe is completely random!


 


And pretty ... (sigh) Ahem. Anyway, when did you start writing? Had you written anything before Speechless was published? And why write kid-lit?


Why write kid-lit? Because that’s my favourite thing to read! Picture books are tiny perfect stories with high stakes and serious dilemmas that run you through a gamut of emotions. After reading a megazillion of them to my kids, I decided that writing one would be the most amazing thing ever. Then I discovered how hard it was to write something so deceptively simple and small.


Speechless was started (ages ago) in a writing class where I struggled to figure out character, pacing, story arc. Our instructor, Brian Henry, made us bring homework to (yikes!) read out loud. I decided to try for humour. Maybe the laughs would cover up the fact that I didn’t know how to write a story in the first place. My classmates liked it and ordered me to write some more. I kept bringing in a few pages every week until it appeared that I had started to write a novel.

How did you go about finding an agent and surviving the dreaded querying process? How long did it take? What did you do to stop yourself from losing your mind?


In Canadian children’s literature, you can get published without an agent. It helps to attend conferences and workshops where you can meet and connect with editors and publishers. In retrospect, it didn’t take very long for Speechless to find a home.


I sent a query to a few agents and publishing houses and got the expected slew of rejections which I dutifully pinned to the wall as advised by Stephen King. After about 3 months I got a response from the Scholastic editor who eventually accepted it. But the whole process of getting it read and approved by all the important Scholastic readers and approvers was about 6 more months. In all that time, I could think of nothing but, “Don’t get your hopes up, nothing might ever come of this.” And then I’d do a weird little laugh, leap in the air and click my heels together. Needless to say, I got very little accomplished during that time. I remain un-agented but open to suggestions :-)




You have a picture book coming out next year. How was your experience writing for younger children?


I actually wrote Captain Monty Takes the Plunge a long time before Speechless was even started. It sat in my notebook for several years waiting for the perfect ending before it got sent off and became a finalist in the CANSCAIP Writing for Children Contest. Because of that honour, the manuscript was sent to three publishers and Kids Can Press offered me a contract for it.


Picture books are still my favourite reads and I hope to create more stories for small children that also resonate with the big people who are doomed to read them over and over and over …




Do you think you’ll ever write for adults?


I have written for adults. One of my stories placed third in the Elora Short Story Writing Contest. And I’m also working on a series of chapters about a group of young people who are in the throes of finding out about life and love as they venture into the world of grown-upping, tentatively titled, The Chronicles of Dr. Mike.



 

Can you tell us about how you write? Any particular methods or quirks you can share?


I’m a poorly motivated procrastinator pantser. I have deleted Mah-jong Solitaire from my laptop and I recommend that if you don’t know what that is, you never Google it. I write in fits and starts, and in between I complain bitterly that I’m the worst writer ever, to anyone who will listen. Seems to work for me.




 What’s the most surprising thing you learned about yourself when you started writing creatively?


I learned that all the crazy stuff in my head is actually useful for something—those times I wondered what if … or got carried away with how a certain event might turn out if … or made up motivations for the odd behaviour of other people (never my own because my behaviour is always perfectly understandable). It’s a relief to see that other people also appreciate that life is funny.


 


What are your Top-5 tips for aspiring writers?


Here are the ones I believe in:


1. Read (always – widely, deeply – what you love, what you think you might hate – and don’t listen to people who tell you not to read books like the one you’re writing)


2. Write all the $%#& in your head – tell your inner critic no one will ever read it anyway


3. Put it in a drawer and forget about it


4. Revise/rewrite/re-vision and edit it, over and over and over compulsively, until you think you’re actually beginning to make it worse by fiddling with it.


5. Share your writing with a trusted writing friend. They will find all the ways to make it better that you couldn’t see because your eyes were glazed from reading the darn thing so many times.


 



What do you like to do when you’re not writing?


I like to READ! Nap! Cook! Eat! 


 


And finally, what are you working on now, and where can we find out more about you and your work?


I’m procrastinating hard on a follow-up to Speechless. It’s another stand-alone story in the same school setting with the same cast of characters, and a few new faces. Jelly’s good friend Sam is determined to impress her dad with her technology skills and joins the Robotics Team at school. Little does she realize that she’ll have to choose between the dancing and volunteering she loves and the opportunity to learn new skills and get her dad to notice how smart she is.


You can find out more about me at jennifermooksang.com and follow me on Twitter.



 

Categories: Limelight Series

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1 Comment

Reply Elizabeth Crocket
6:04 PM on December 12, 2016 
Hi, Hannah!
I just read your great interview with Jennifer Mook-Sang. Well done!
Not only is Jennifer all of the things she jokingly refers to in your first question, she is also a writer who offers great support and encouragement to other writers, too. Can't wait to read her new picture book coming out in 2017!