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Guest Post and Giveaway: Michelle Schusterman on Writing What You Know

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Happy New Year, Pub Crawlers! All of us here at Pub(lishing) Crawl are excited to return to our regular schedule with fantastic content about writing and the publishing industry. And we have some exciting things in store this year! Next week we’ll be introducing THREE NEW MEMBERS! We can’t wait for you to meet them. So be sure to check in next week!

We’re coming back from the break with a guest post and GIVEAWAY by debut middle grade author Michelle Schusterman! The first two books in Michelle’s middle grade series  I Heart Band! and I Heart Band! #2 Friends, Fugues, and Fortune Cookies debuted yesterday and she is giving away a signed pair of the two books!

BUT FIRST! Check out what Michelle has to say on writing what you know.

 

michelle-author-2 3Even twenty or thirty years from now, I’m pretty sure I’ll look back on November 16th, 2011 as the luckiest day in my career as an author. I’d had an agent for a year and a half. I’d been on submission, had an early offer, and had that offer rescinded. I wrote another book while the rejections poured in, only to have my agent advise me to rewrite it…then rewrite it again. I realized I was beating a dead horse with that particular story and set it aside.

And out of nowhere, at this very low point, I received an email from my agent. An editor at Penguin had contacted her looking for “an author who was a band geek or understands band, and can write confidently about that,” to write a middle grade series called I HEART BAND. “Could this be for you?” my agent asked.

My response: “I was in band from sixth grade through college. It was my life, I LOVED it, all my friends were in band. I have a bachelor’s degree in music education, and I was a middle and high school band director for four years. So…YES!”

Somehow, a week later, I had a book deal. To write a series about band geekdom. Like I said – luckiest day of my whole career.9780448456836_ihb_1heart_cv_front-14

I always took the saying “write what you know” to mean something more along the lines of “write what you’re passionate about,” or maybe “write about feelings you have experienced.” I HEART BAND is about music, friendship, and competitiveness, all of which I’ve had plenty of experience with. But these books have allowed me to “write what I know” in a more specific way.

This almost feels like confessing a sin, but this series required the least amount of research of any books I’ve ever written. Even the tiniest details like transpositions or fingerings or where a French horn player would be placed on a band seating chart in relation to her first chair trumpet player-crush were things I barely had to think about. I lived in band halls for over fifteen years. It was frighteningly easy to write those rehearsal or performance scenes with all their disruptions and nerves and goofiness and the sheer joy of playing music.

9780448456843_ihb_2friends_cv_front4None of the characters were based on any of my former students, peers, or co-workers (although bits and pieces of some personalities certainly slipped in). I’m not a perfectionist like Holly, although I worked just as hard in band and loved it just as much. I was friends with naturally talented musicians like Gabby who could make a simple scale sound gorgeous (despite her less-than-desirable instrument cleaning habits). I taught humble students like Owen who seemed to have more faith in his friends’ talents than his own, but made quiet, steady progress nonetheless. And poor Mr. Dante…I definitely sympathize with the unique experience that is teaching a roomful of seventh graders wielding instruments with spit valves.

In a broader sense, I know what it’s like to want to be noticed yet be afraid of sticking out, to feel ridiculously (but inconsolably) devastated at getting second place, the rush that comes with the perfect performance, the truly special friendships you form with a group of peers who set aside everything else once a day to make music together, the challenge those friendships face thanks to chair tests and ratings and an atmosphere of nonstop competition.

No matter what the genre, writing middle grade always comes down to the characters, their feelings and relationships and goals – universal concepts you can find on every page. With the I HEART BAND series, it’s been a joy and a privilege to “write what I know” in a very literal sense as well.

Michelle Schusterman is a former band director and forever band geek, dating back to when she first picked up a pair of drumsticks in the sixth grade. Now Michelle writes books, screenplays, and music. She lives in New York City with her husband (and band mate) and their chocolate lab (who is more of a vocalist).

Find Michelle online: WEBSITE | TWITTER | TUMBLR

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23 Comments

  1. Posted January 10, 2014 at 5:50 am | Permalink

    I love music! I’ve been playing for 8 years…and it was SO helpful when I wrote a book about music. My music-y-geeky-ness went wild. ;) I just have to be careful not to be too detailed, or else the reader won’t care at all. Awesome post! And congrats on your series!

  2. Posted January 10, 2014 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    What a great success story for you and what a fabulous idea for a book series. I am not an author. I review/blog so I write about books and the industry as I have experienced it. The best things about this series is I have a 7 grade daughter named… Holly! She plays viola in Orchestra instead of band though. :) Would love to win these two books for her. Thanks!

    • Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      Ha, that’s so cool, Sharon! My middle school didn’t have an orchestra, which I thought was a shame…if I hadn’t been a percussionist, the cello would’ve been at the top of my list. I hope Holly is enjoying the viola!

  3. Posted January 10, 2014 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    That is so cool! You say that it was “luck” that you were contacted about the offer, but it seems to fit so perfectly to be called anything other than “destiny”… ^^
    I probably “write what I know” more than anything else. That’s why what I write tends to be so personal to me. So much of what I’m feeling or going through gets put into my stories and characters. Maybe too much?
    These books look adorable. Thanks for the giveaway!

  4. Chris Bailey
    Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    “Write what you know” may be such a good piece of advice because it has so many interpretations! I hope the heart you’ve put into the series will make it a chart topper. Best wishes!

  5. Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Sounds like the perfect combination!!

  6. Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Love this interview! Your journey to publication seems meant to be :) I absolutely can’t wait to read this book.

  7. Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    What a fabulous happy post. I’ve been watching my sons grow by leaps and bounds because of their music program and the wonderful educators who guide them. SO glad that this series is out there in the world and SO happy for you! I’ve used my athletic experience in my writing and have had that same joy of truly understanding the world. That doesn’t mean everything is easy when you know the world really well. Infact, figuring what to leave OUT becomes much harder. Congrats!

    • Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      “figuring what to leave OUT becomes much harder” <–truth!!! I'm so glad your sons are enjoying their music program, Anna. And thank you so much!

  8. Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    What a fabulous happy post. I’ve been watching my sons grow by leaps and bounds because of their music program and the wonderful educators who guide them. SO glad that this series is out there in the world and SO happy for you! I’ve used my athletic experience in my writing and have had that same joy of truly understanding the world. That doesn’t mean everything is easy when you know the world really well. Infact, figuring what to leave OUT becomes much harder. Congrats!

  9. Posted January 10, 2014 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Matching you up with that series was serendipity, for sure!

    I always feel like my long and scattered list of jobs is the perfect preparation for the kind of writing I do. I know just enough about most things to determine whether they’d work in a book, and to know where to do further research, haha

  10. Posted January 10, 2014 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations on this series! How have I not heard about this series before? It sounds AMAZING! I love the fact that it’s about band. Even though I was never in band, I did grow up learning to play the piano for years, which is the extent of my musical abilities.

    Anyway, in answer to the question for the giveaway, writing what I know usually involves one of two things: (1) writing something that mirrors emotional situations that I’ve been through or (2) writing about characters who have similar traits to myself or people I know. It’s also applicable when it comes to setting, since I often find myself setting my stories in small towns like the one I grew up in for most of my life. All in all, it helps that I have plenty of journals and photos to help me incorporate these things into stories I write!

  11. JenP
    Posted January 10, 2014 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    Not all, but some elements–I still research, though!

  12. Meghan Jashinsky
    Posted January 11, 2014 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    This is so cool! I was a total band geek too, from 5th grade through part of college (though even once you’re out of band, do you ever really stop being a band geek?). Awesome post! I haven’t ever really tried including my love of music in my writing that way… But now I’m thinking I will need to try! :)

  13. Posted January 13, 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    This is what we get when luck and talent meet. :)
    Congratulations!!!
    Now I don’t know if I’ve incorporated what I know into any of my ms, so now I’m going to pay careful attention to find out.

  14. Sandy
    Posted January 13, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    The covers are so cute and the story sounds like something my sister and I would enjoy ^_^.

    Yes but nothing really big yet. It’s little things like habits or bits of personality traits from people I know or myself.

3 Trackbacks

  1. By Book Bloggery Week-in-Review (42) on January 12, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    [...] Michelle Schusterman swings by Pub(lishing) Crawl to talk about writing what you know. [...]

  2. By Introducing Our Newest Member: Janice Hardy! on January 13, 2014 at 7:02 am

    [...] « Guest Post and Giveaway: Michelle Schusterman on Writing What You Know [...]

  3. […] Michelle Schusterman swings by Pub(lishing) Crawl to talk about writing what you know. […]

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