Shortly after I joined my first critique group in 2015, I read an incredibly inspiring author interview. (Unfortunately, I now cannot—for the life of me—remember the author’s name.)
In this interview, the author talked about how everyone from her first critique group had eventually published a book. It didn’t happen all at once, but it happened—and I thought to myself, Could it happen to MY group?
I realized, just recently, that it did. Looking at my first core group of critique partners, many have books out, and the rest of us have books on the way.
Each of our paths were different. Some were more of a smooth and steady incline, while others involved lots of hurdles and stumbling blocks. But, we all had one thing in common: persistence. We kept on swimming past agent breakups, near-offers so close we could taste them, and the naughtiest, most uncooperative manuscripts (some of whom spent years in the time-out chair).
Today, I’m excited to chat with Laura Perdew, whose debut picture book, The Fort, was published by Page Street Kids last month. The wild thing about Laura’s debut? She wrote the first draft of The Fort back in 2007! Read on to hear her story.
LL: Congratulations, Laura, on your fiction picture book debut! Tell us more about The Fort.
LP: The Fort is a story celebrating imagination and compromise. Two kids each use a fort in the woods in different ways. The boy uses it as his royal castle and is planning to host a grand feast for friends; the girl uses the fort as her pirate ship and is charting a course in search of buried treasure. But one day they cross paths and there’s a bit of a standoff. Is the fort a castle or a ship? Or, can it be reimagined as something they can use together?
LL: Speaking as someone who built her fair share of forts in the woods growing up, this sounds like loads of fun!
You’ve had a long relationship with this story. Walk us through your journey.
LP: The first draft of this story was written in 2007. It has been through DOZENS of drafts. The overall heart of the story is the same as it was in the beginning, but over the years I’ve played with different points-of-view, different beginnings, different endings, and everything in between. And, in fact, the story was originally titled The Princess and the Pirate, with the girl as the princess and the boy as the pirate.
LL: You’ve told me you had an Aha! moment and made a major change to the original manuscript. The story sold shortly thereafter. Tell us what happened!
LP: The aha! moment was when it occurred to me that maybe the girl was the pirate and the boy was royalty. I attribute that aha! to Story Storm (hosted every January by Tara Lazar). While the inspiration to switch the roles of the boy and the girl in the story didn’t come directly from that month of brainstorming, I feel like the creative energy generated during Story Storm had my picture-book-writing brain firing on all cylinders and then… AHA!
LL: I know that, for me, when a manuscript feels like it isn’t coming together, I usually tuck it away for a while and come back with fresh eyes down the line. Were there times when you put the manuscript aside? If so, what were you working on in the meantime?
LP: I put the manuscript aside many, many times – sometimes for months. Then, after a workshop or conference I’d pull it up again and apply what I’d learned. In the meantime, I wrote other picture book manuscripts and even a couple novels (none published… yet). I also began writing for the education market and now have over 30 published titles. The Fort, though, is my first work of fiction.
LL: We all have those manuscripts we keep coming back to time and time again. What kept calling you back to The Fort?
LP: Basically, The Fort wouldn’t leave me alone. Every time I learned something about writing picture books, that’s the one I went back to. There was something in the story that I believed in. It also helped that I received positive feedback from editors and agents I submitted to over the years, as well as from fellow authors.
LL: What advice would you give to the writers who think they might not ever get an agent or sell that first book? How do you keep from throwing in the towel?
LP: I’ve come very close to throwing in the towel several times! It can be difficult to handle repeated rejection. And yet, I realized that every time I reworked the manuscript based on feedback, it got better. The path to publication is a journey that has many twists, turns, and surprises; it requires perseverance. Believe in yourself. Explore ways to improve your story. Don’t give up after a few rejections – it’s a tough market!
The journey is also better shared with friends. Over the years I’ve become a part of an incredibly supportive kidlit writing community; the value of that is immeasurable. In addition, I have a wonderful writing group that meets regularly and have gained many friends. This community has shared my ups and downs, and has cheered me along through all of it.
Finally, for me, writing is a passion. I just can’t stop (maybe it’s an addiction?). I have notebooks full of ideas that randomly pop into my head. And I very much enjoy the challenge, taking those ideas and turning them into a story. So, above all, have fun and enjoy the journey.
LL: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat, Laura! Readers, if you want to connect with Laura Perdew, you can do so here:
Twitter – @lmperdew
Instagram – @authorlaurap
Laura Perdew is a mom, author, writing consultant, and former middle school teacher. She writes fiction and nonfiction for kids, including over 30 books for the education market. One of those, Biodiversity: Explore the Diversity of Life on Earth (Nomad Press, 2019) is on the Booklist editor’s list of the Top 10 Books on the Environment & Sustainability for Youth 2020; this title also earned a starred review from Booklist and is a Junior Library Guild selection. The Fort (Page Street Kids) is her first work of fiction. She lives and plays in Boulder, Colorado with her husband and twin boys.