Author Interview: Tamera Will Wissinger, Author of the Debut Middle Grade GONE FISHING

I am a huge fan of debut authors and new writers, which is why I interview so many on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog. Today's getting-to-know-you interview is with Tamera Will Wissenger, author of the debut middle grade contemporary adventure, GONE FISHING (Houghton Mifflin, March 2013), illustrated by Matthew Cordell, which uses poetry in its writing. Reading how debut authors got published is a great roadmap for those looking to follow in their footsteps.
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I am a huge fan of debut authors and new writers, which is why I interview so many on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog. Reading how debut authors got published is a great roadmap for those looking to follow in their footsteps. Today's getting-to-know-you interview is with Tamera Will Wissenger, author of the debut middle grade contemporary adventure, GONE FISHING (Houghton Mifflin, March 2013). Tamera is a graduate of Hamline University’s MFA Writing for Children program. Find her on Twitter, find her on Facebook, or find her on Goodreads.

GONE FISHING: A NOVEL IN VERSE, illustrated by Matthew Cordell, uses poetry in its writing: "Nine-year-old Sam loves fishing with his dad. So when his pesky little sister, Lucy, horns in on their fishing trip, he’s none too pleased: 'Where’s my stringer? / Something’s wrong! / The princess doll does not belong!' All ends well in this winsome book of poems—each labeled with its proper poetic form, from quatrain to tercet. Together the poems build a dawn-to-dusk story of a father-son bond, of sibling harmony lost and found—and most of all, of delicious anticipation. Charming line drawings animate the poetry with humor and drama, and the extensive Poet’s Tackle Box at the end makes this the perfect primer to hook aspiring poets of all ages."

(How many agents should you contact at one time?)

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What is the book’s genre/category?

Middle Grade Contemporary Adventure.

Please describe what the story/book is about in one sentence.

GONE FISHING is a humorous fishing adventure and sibling rivalry novel in verse for children ages six and up that includes poetry writing information.

Where do you write from?

I’m fortunate to have an office at home; that’s where I like to write. However, I share my time between Florida and the Chicago area and also travel some, so I write anywhere – even a hotel room, an airplane, or standing at a kitchen counter.

Briefly, what led up to this book?

I had been writing poetry and picture books and had published single poems in the children’s magazine market. After trying to publish my picture books for a number of years, I was receiving good feedback but no offers for publication. At that point I enrolled in Hamline University's MFA program in writing for Children and Young Adults. What I learned there helped prepare me to write GONE FISHING.

(Hear from middle grade author Allan Woodrow on how he signed with his literary agent.)

What was the time frame for writing this book?

GONE FISHING is told through a series of poems. The first in the book is called "Night Crawlers," a poem about a boy and his dad hunting for worms. I wrote that poem in 2006 and it was published as a stand-alone. That poem sparked my imagination and childhood memories, and more poems emerged that became a collection of fishing poetry for children. As I studied plot, the story began to emerge through the poems and that took it beyond a collection to a story in verse.

What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?

Learning experience/reinforcement of a belief: There is an amazing and rich network of fellow authors, illustrators, educators, librarians, booksellers, and industry professionals, all of whom are committed to excellence in writing for children, and helping place great stories in the hands of kids.

Surprise: A polished manuscript plus a book contract is not an ending, it’s the ending of one thing and the beginning of something else. Experiencing the revision process has increased my admiration for what a good and kind editor and her publishing team bring to the table.

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Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?

Two things: First, I was willing to evolve as a writer. I recognized that there were things about writing for children and the publishing industry that I needed to learn. I was fortunate to be able to return to school to develop my writing and critical thinking skills, and I began studying the industry on my own. Second, I continued writing and trying to make my story better. When it was as polished as I could make it, I kept submitting with the goal of finding it a good home.

On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?

On one level, I see how every step and misstep that I took led to this story being published with this publisher at this time. If I could do it again, I might immerse more quickly and more deeply in studying the art of writing for children as I was working on my earliest stories. I would save my energy on submitting anything before it was truly ready and surround myself sooner with experienced teaching writers willing to tell me “not yet.”

(Is it better to sign with a new literary agent or an experienced one?)

Did you have a writer platform in place?

I would not recommend this, but when my contract arrived in 2011, I had outdated business cards, an email address, a personal Facebook account, and socially I identified myself as a children’s writer. After months of scrambling, much has changed since then. Now I have a website with a blog journal, an author Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a Goodreads presence. I'm also a member of two 2013 debut children's and YA author groups, The Class of 2k13 and The Lucky 13s. Plus, I participate in three collective blogs, two for poetry, and one for middle grade authors. I’m developing an online presence, and balancing that with planning in-person events, writing or editing new material, and trying to enjoy this magical time in my writing career. My current motto: "You only debut once!"

Website(s)?

tamerawillwissinger.com

Best piece(s) of writing advice we haven’t discussed?

Write what you love and want to write. For years I heard the rumor in the children’s industry that authors shouldn’t write in rhyme. For better or worse I didn’t listen, partly because I love to read and write in rhyme, and partly because I continued to see poetry and rhyming stories being published. Something didn’t add up, and I think somehow the message has been misquoted. It should be this: “Of course, write in rhyme. Before you submit it, though, make sure that: a. your rhymes are exceptional, and b. they are secondary to telling a great story.”

My guess is that any format or genre has had a similar rumor somewhere along the way – I say ignore it – write what you love, just make your writing and your story so good that an editor can’t resist.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I really do fish, I think that worms are fascinating, and I love to be near water.

What’s next?

I work on more than one project at a time. Currently I'm writing more poetry and fine-tuning a couple of quirky picture books and a traditional middle grade historical fiction novel.

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