Today I’d like to introduce a dear friend Nancy Rue. Nancy is the author of more than 100 books that span from tween to YA to adult. Finding out how successful authors tackle books for children can help you grow as well!
Q. You have several series that are geared for girls in the 8-12 age range. What draws you to that age group?
What draws me to the 8 to 12 age group is the fact that they are no longer those sweet little baby girlfriends, but they haven’t lost their minds yet and become teenagers. This is the time to lay a foundation for them – a basis for making their own decisions and standing up for themselves and others and Jesus as they get older. They still love to play and be ridiculous (two of my favorite things to do), but they can also understand the importance of their choices in things like relationships. If we wait until they’re teens to do all this stuff, it’s almost too late.
Q. Where did you get your start in writing for kids?
I got started writing for kids probably because I was a high school teacher for 16 years. When I was called to write, they seemed like the natural audience, though as I got more into it, I discovered the above and took on writing for tweens as well
Q. What do you see as some of the key elements that distinguish middle-grade fiction?
The key elements in middle-grade fiction are REAL characters readers can totally relate to emotionally, REAL plots that involve the kinds of problems they themselves are facing, and the opportunity for them to learn some life basics from the story without being preached at. Plus, it has to be fun and written with a certain rich literary quality – no talking down to them
Q. What are the best kinds of protagonists for 8-12 readers?
The best kinds of protagonists – kids at the upper end of the age range who are not too perfect, who are trying to be better and having a hard time with it! They need to be REAL – not how we wish kids were but how they really are.
Q. What are the struggles of this age group that you try to tap into as you create plots?
The struggles of this age group – for girls at least – always involve girl politics; relationships are HUGE for them right now, and the BFF is, like, the prophet Isaiah or something! They’re also concerned about fitting in without having to be something they’re not – and the changes in their bodies also cause them some concern. With those general things in mind, I’ve written about jealousy, competition, boys (also known as absurd little creeps), family issues, conflicts with teachers, peer pressure – all that stuff.
Q. How do you approach dialogue for your tween books?
When it comes to dialogue, I listen a lot to the way kids talk and I’m constantly making notes. Then I get to know my own characters individually by having them write in a journal in their own voice (I know – it sounds crazy). Once I have that voice in my head, it isn’t that hard to write dialogue. Again, I don’t try to make it sound the way we wished kids talked; I go for how they really do talk, only leaving out a lot of the “likes” and “ums” and random thoughts.
Q. What do you hope your readers take-away from your books?
I hope my readers finish reading my books and see some way that they can be closer to God, and thus closer to who they really are, and as a result closer to the people they love. That’s the theme of every one of my books in some way.
Q. What do you see as the biggest difference between writing for teens and writing for the 8-12 set?
The biggest difference between writing for tweens and writing for teens is probably depth. The problems of teens are tougher, potentially more life-changing, and lonelier. They require more research before I try to put them on the page. My soon to be released RL books, for example, deal with such issues as ADHD in adolescent girls, relationship abuse, steroid use among athletes, and racial conflict. I obviously don’t go there with tweens, though I have written about parental abuse (a friend whose dad hits her), a friend suffering from leukemia, a mom dying, a dad who’s blind. But I treat all of those things the way I would treat a tween girl who came to me personally with that problem.
Q. Any common mistakes you see new writers making when trying to write for this age group?
I think a lot of new writers trying to write for the tween age group tend to either write down to the audience, thinking they have to spell everything out and then hit them over the head with it, or writing in a style that’s too adult. If a novice knows the audience, he or she can hit a homerun, but without a deep understanding of who they are and what they care about, it’s practically impossible to write for them.
Q. Would you like to share with us about your latest work?
My latest work. For tweens that is the Lucy series of novels, in which 11 (and later 12) year old Lucy Rooney wrestles with some tough stuff. She lives with her blind father, her mother having been killed in the same explosion that took his sight. They reside in a tiny town in rural New Mexico, where there is no soccer program – and Lucy LOVES soccer (because her mom played). She doesn’t do well in school – her best friend is a boy because she doesn’t relate well to girly-girls, and her aunt visits periodically and tries to turn Lucy into one. She’s one of my favorite characters ever. I have a year-long devotional book coming out this summer for the girls, too. For teens, the first in my four-book series called RL (Real Life) will be out in the spring. It’s exciting!
Q. What are your hopes for your future writing? Anything on your “dream list”?
I always have a dream list! I would love to add to the Lucy series, and have devotional books to go with them. We need to sell a lot more of the current titles before that can happen, though. I want the RL books to be a success, because I would also love to do a devotional program to go along with them which I can’t exactly describe because I don’t want to give away the secret inherent in the series. I also want to do a book on boys for young teens. I just finished the Moms Ultimate Guide to the Tween Girl World, which will have an accompanying book for dads, and I dream of that being a big enough success to warrant some teaching packages.
Q. Any other advice you’d like to share with aspiring writers who want to write for kids and/or teens?
I would tell aspiring kids’ writers that they’d better absolutely love their audience and know exactly what kind of difference they want to make in their lives, because they aren’t going to make a ton of money or land on the New York Times Bestseller List writing for this audience. They have to do it for the joy of it, and because they’re called and feel committed. It’s hard work, but in my view, it’s the best job out there.
Thanks for being with us Nancy! You can find out more about Nancy and her books at her website.
On Thursday: A Marketing Perspective on Children’s Books from Tommy Nelson