It’s difficult to think of someone enthused about life and the writing process than Erin Soderberg Downing. I can see a world where I absolutely have her on speed-dial whenever I need a pep talk! Her books are full of joy, family and life’s pickles. . .or, in the case of her newest book, pie. We are celebrating her newest novel today, When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Peach Pie (Pixel + Ink), out just this week. It’s the first in a series and it’s sure to become a middle grade classic.
For me, writing a book is a lot like taking a road trip. Both fill me with great joy, both take a lot of planning, and the best part of both road trips and writing are the surprises and unexpected detours that crop up during the journey.
Before I set off on any kind of road trip, I always know the following:
- Who my traveling companions will be;
- I like to have a general destination in mind;
- And I usually have a pretty decent map of my route, with at least a few stops planned out along the way.
I use almost the exact same planning process for writing! When I set out to write the first book in THE GREAT PEACH EXPERIMENT (Pixel + Ink) series, I had a couple of key things mapped out before I ever sat down to write the first line (a line that was eventually cut and replaced dozens of times over):
- A pretty clear cast of main characters;
- I knew it would be a story about a broken family that starts to find their way back to wholeness through a great—and oftentimes challenging—adventure;
- And I’d drawn a skeleton map of my writing plan. I had sketched a loose line from BEGINNING to END, and had also mapped out some fun detours and stops along the way.
If you were to set off on a road trip with absolutely no map at all, you’d probably get lost. The same is true for me with writing. If I don’t have at least a basic road map before I start writing a book, I usually end up totally lost and wander way off course. But one thing I try to be aware of when I’m planning my route—for a road trip or a novel—is leaving plenty of room for the fun stuff.
Reading a book where nothing happens is a lot like sitting through the boring miles in the middle of nowhere on a road trip. Those long, dull stretches of highway are the best time to look up random roadside attractions, or force yourself to exit the highway to find some sort of off-the-beaten-path mom and pop shop or diner, or stop to play a round of mini golf. Neither a road trip nor a novel is supposed to be a race from BEGINNING to END; rather you remember both for all the strange and funny and surprising things that happen along the way.
When I visit schools to talk with kids about my plotting process and the importance of remembering to sprinkle in plenty of fun stuff, I like to use roller coasters to illustrate my point. Which looks more exciting: Roller Coaster A or Roller Coaster B?
Both of these roller coasters take their riders from BEGINNING to END, but Roller Coaster B has a lot more bumps and twists and turns and surprises along the way. So if, when I’m planning a story, I find a spot in my plot map that looks a little too smooth and bump-less, I know I better figure out how to put a few wrinkles in that part of the map (those wrinkles create conflict, and conflict is what makes a story fun to read!).
I suspect my planning process is one reason why THE GREAT PEACH EXPERIMENT: When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Peach Pie was a little easier for me to write than many of my other books…because it’s literally a book about a road trip, where I got to build in a bunch of fun stops along the way. I picked my traveling companions—Lucy, Freddy, Herb (and their dad, Walter) Peach—who made the trip a delight. And I came up with a premise—a broken family that travels around the country selling pie out of an old food truck—that left me with plenty of room for fun stops and bumps and twists-and-turns along the way.
Oh, and I also added pie. Lots of pie. Because pie makes life a whole lot sweeter, and it made my research process a whole lot more fun!
Erin Soderberg Downing has written more than fifty books for kids, tweens, and young adults. Some of her most popular titles include the middle-grade novel Moon Shadow and two fun chapter book series: Puppy Pirates and The Quirks. The first book in her brand new series—The Great Peach Experiment: When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Peach Pie—is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection. Before becoming an author, Erin was a children’s book editor, a cookie inventor, and also worked for Nickelodeon. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband, three hilarious kids, Wally the cuddly goldendoodle (star of Puppy Pirates!), and a tiny, mischievous aussiedoodle puppy named Nutmeg. More information can be found at www.erinsoderberg.com.