Pam Munoz Ryan is the author of more than 30 books for young readers, including four beloved novels, Riding Freedom, Esperanza Rising, Becoming Naomi León, and Paint the Wind, which collectively have garnered, among countless accolades, the Pura Belpré Medal, the Jane Addams Award, and the Schneider Family Award. Pam’s latest novel, Echo, is a Newbery Honor Book. Pam has written picture books and beginning readers, but for this discussion of revision we focus on her novel writing. www.PamMunozRyan.com
Pam’s interview follows the Rafflecopter form/entry link for today’s Free Partial Edit Giveaway. Scroll down for her full interview.
How many drafts does it typically take before you feel confident about the character and story choices you made? Does this vary substantially for picture books versus novels? I don’t know, exactly, how many drafts it takes before I feel confident about the character and the story. I think I work on both until the last rewrite. Since I work on a computer, I don’t print every draft, so it’s hard to determine a number. Also, I’m a recursive writer. I begin a novel in an opening scene. The next time I sit down to work, I read what I had written previously, rewriting a bit as I go along, and then I continue writing to build the story. The next day, I start at the beginning again, reading and rewriting, and inching the story forward. There does come a point in novel writing that I don’t go all the way back to the beginning, but start, for example, several chapters back from the point I had stopped. For me, writing is an evolution, more than a process.
Do you use critique partners? No. I’m not in a critique group. It’s just me and my editor, Tracy Mack. I don’t have anyone who reads my work before she sees it.
Which draft typically gets shown to your editor? How much revising happens after the editor sees that draft? I’ve been working with Tracy at Scholastic for almost twenty years. There’s no one procedure for how we work. Every book has had its own idiosyncratic order of things. I usually discuss the story idea with her very early on, before I’ve ever written a word. When I know she’s on board and loves the idea, I start moving forward with the writing. I might write a treatment of the story to get a feel for the overarching plot. I might share that with her. Or, I might just start writing. Sometimes I’ve waited to show her a completed rough draft. Other times, I’ve shown her the first few chapters and given her a synopsis of the rest of the book. Different books have required different approaches. I would say though, that by the time she sees a complete first draft, I’ve rewritten over a dozen times. But as I mentioned before, it’s hard to gauge that. For me, rewriting is a constant and I can’t seem to separate it from the writing, or give it a number.
Echo, your latest novel, required you to balance storylines for several protagonists across several time periods and countries as well as an original fairy tale that opens and closes the book. I saw the white board in your office that you used to track the different storylines and main threads. Impressive! Did these extra efforts to harness the story during the original drafting reduce revision for this book compared to your other novels? Unfortunately, no, it did not reduce revision. But it helped me keep a lot of information straight. I tried using the computer program, Scribner, but it wasn’t a good fit for me and this book. So I tried the giant (7′ x 4′) freestanding white board. The revision on Echo, was very long. It’s almost a 600 pages! My editor and I knew the overarching organization of the book—three main stories and a transition story, framed by an original fairytale. All of the stories had to be woven with common threads. That’s where the white board came in. I could track, in one large visual, the leitmotifs, the recurring themes, words, phrases. I could see each character’s challenges and fears. Later in the editing process, after the big picture and the big themes were established, we broke it into sections. I would rewrite and fine-tune the first section, send it to her, and while she was editing it, I would work on the next section. We had many discussions and passed many notes back and forth.
How do you know you’ve got the final draft? Book manuscripts always want more. Putting them to bed is like putting a toddler to bed. You tuck them in and think that’s it, yet they want one more kiss, a drink of water, a song, the blanket fluffed, a night light. . . . Once I receive typeset pages, I know I won’t be making dramatic changes. After it goes to copyedit, I feel I’m almost done.
Thank you, Pam!