Matthew J. Kirby is the breakout author of two popular novels for middle grade readers—the critically acclaimed The Clockwork Three, which has published in seven countries, and Icefall, winner of the Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery and the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Children’s Literature. (Scholastic’s stunning trailer for The Clockwork Three can be viewed here.) Matthew is currently finishing up revisions for TWO novels: The Lost Kingdom and Cave of Wonders, Book 5 of the hit multi-platform Infinity Ring series. Both new novels will hit stores September 2013.
*After Matthew’s interview are instructions for entering today’s Free Partial Edit Giveaway.
How many drafts does it typically take before you feel confident about the character and story choices you made?
To begin with, I don’t have typical drafts in the way many people think of them. I’m a very linear writer, and I revise very heavily as I go along. If a scene isn’t working, I can’t move on until it does. If a character isn’t working, I have to sort that out before I can write further. If I suddenly realize that I’ve neglected to lay the groundwork for a particular plot development, I stop what I’m writing and go back to take care of that. It’s just the way I’m wired. The result is that any given scene in a book might have gone through several revisions, or it might remain the way I wrote it down the first time through. My confidence in how the characters and scenes are working doesn’t seem tied in any way to the number of times I’ve revised them, but to my general awareness of the story as a whole. I just have to trust my instincts about whether something is working, or something isn’t.
Which draft typically gets shown to your editor? How much revising happens after the editor sees that draft?
My editor sees the book pretty much as soon as I’m satisfied with the final scene. Because of the way I write, everything preceding it is as good as I can get it, and now I need her outside perspective to help me look at the book from new angles, to spot the problems I’ve missed. There’s quite a bit of revision that takes place after she looks at it. Some of it is thematic, some of it structural, some of it rooted in the character dynamics. (For example, I switched one of the characters in Icefall from a girl to a boy during that process.) Some of it is cosmetic. (Awkward phrasing, redundancy, and that sort of thing.) All of it makes the book better, and I’m grateful to her for that.
Do you use critique partners?
Yes, I have a writer’s group that I’ve been a part of for seven or eight years now. Until I moved, I met with them weekly, in person. They are all very dedicated and talented people. I’ve learned so much from them over the years, and gained so much from our work together (one of them actually suggested the character switch I made in Icefall). Now, when I can, I meet with them over skype. I also send stuff to a few trusted readers and friends occasionally.
You’ve said that your upcoming middle-grade adventure The Lost Kingdom (Sept 2013), which first attracted the attention of your agent, went through a major overhaul. How did you know it wasn’t working? What was the key to the revision success?
The book that would become The Lost Kingdom was the first piece of novel-length fiction I’d ever attempted. I didn’t know what I was doing, really, and I couldn’t see what or if anything was wrong with it. But Stephen Fraser (now my agent) saw through those mistakes. I think in retrospect he recognized it as a first novel, because his advice was to put it aside and write something new. That wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear. I wanted him to help me fix whatever was wrong with the thing. But I took his suggestion, and wrote The Clockwork Three. Then I wrote Icefall, and after that I started to think maybe I could go back to that first attempt with fresh eyes. When I did, I saw that it wasn’t working at a pretty fundamental level. So fundamental, I deleted the file and started from scratch. I think it was just the time and distance from the story that allowed me to see it, and now the book is completely different from that first attempt.
You’re writing an installment in the Infinity Ring series: Infinity Ring, Book 5: Cave of Wonders (Sept 2013). How does the revision process work in a multi-author, multi-platform series?
Working on the Infinity Ring series has been a blast. We’ve all had a lot of freedom to go where we want to go with our individual books, while also contributing to the overarching story. The process has been a bit like passing a baton. In the beginning, we had some conference calls and a meeting with all of us in New York, just kicking ideas around. I had some long conversations with Matt de la Pena, whose book comes right before mine, because I wanted to pick the characters up where he’d left them off, emotionally. I think all of us have relied heavily on the amazing editors of the series at Scholastic, who have had the unenviable job of keeping us all on target, and making sure the books gel together
How do you know you’ve got the final draft?
When my editor tells me it’s the final draft!
The Editor is giving away another FREE PARTIAL EDIT of your manuscript. Note that the winner of today’s giveaway IS eligible for Saturday’s grand prize Full Manuscript Edit Giveaway. Here are the rules, with a bonus entry available to DearEditor.com subscribers:
- Your manuscript can be of ANY GENRE or CATEGORY (for adults or children, fiction or non-fiction), including picture books.
- The partial edit will cover the FIRST CHAPTER of your manuscript. In the case of a picture book entry, the edit will cover the entire manuscript—but the manuscript cannot exceed 7 double-spaced, 12-pt font pages.
- Deadline: MIDNIGHT tonight, March 28, 2013, PST.
- Winner will be randomly selected using Randomizer.org and announced on March 29, 2013, in the DearEditor.com comments section and on the DearEditor.com Facebook page, and the winner will be notified directly via email.
One entry – SEND EMAIL to DearEditor.com using the “Write to The Editor” button at the top of the blog or by clicking here. Type “Free Partial Edit Giveaway” in the subject line. In the body of the email, include the TITLE of your manuscript and YOUR FULL NAME. DO NOT send your manuscript or any portion of it. (If you have any difficulty with the contact button, send an email entry directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.) *If you do not want your title announced, please use an alternate working title.*
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Anyone who doesn’t follow these rules will be disqualified, at the Editor’s discretion.
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Congratulations to yesterday’s Free Partial Edit Giveaway winner: Ann Wagner, with her manuscript “Maggie Doon’s Jewels.” I’ll send you an email, Ann.
It’s enlightening seeing everyone’s process. (I adore ICEFALL.)
I agree, Michael. I was particularly intrigued to hear how his first novel effort actually became his THIRD novel published.
Congrats to Anne! 🙂 I’m so happy to read about a writer whose drafting and revising techniques match my own. I write chronologcaly and can’t proceed in an ms unless I’m very clear about characterization and plotline. I also find others’ input very helpful. Thanks for the interview, Matthew and Deborah!
I’m really enjoying seeing how different each writer’s process is. There is something to take away from each of these interviews.
Glad you’re enjoying the interviews, Rosi. I deliberately structured the interviews so the similarities and differences would be apparent—and so each fantastic author’s unique creative process could be revealed. I’m having a great time with this; I am intensely grateful to Matthew, Larry, Laura, Bruce, Susan, and Peter for being a part of it!
It’s so interesting to see how many different ways writers write. I couldn’t be further from this particular approach!
All my writer friends write one full draft and then start revising. I work just like the guest editor and until now, didn’t “know” anyone else who shared my way of working. Phew, I’m not alone. I’m still normal. 🙂 Thanks, Matthew. I enjoyed reading about how you attack this process.
Congratulations to Ann! I’m going to check out Matthew’s novels for my middle-grader. I think he’ll like them. 🙂 Also, I just want to say that Stephen Fraser is such a lovely man with terrific insights (I got a nice rejection from him once 🙂 ).
My sons are chomping at the bit for The Lost Kingdom. They loved the Airborne series, falling in love with aeroships. They saw the cover of The Lost Kingdom and totally freaked out with excitement. I know they’ll love it.
LOL! I can see why your kids would freak out over that cover. It is seriously exciting…aeroships and snarling beatie, what’s not to love?
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