With me on the blog today is the fabulous Laurie Morrison, who is here to talk about her latest middle grade novel, Coming Up Short, released on June 21 by Abrams. Cover art by Mike Burdick and design by Deena Fleming. Laurie is represented by Sara Crowe. (Click on Abrams above to be taken to the synopsis.)
El Space: Now that you’ve got four published novels, if you could go back in time to before you knew Every Shiny Thing would be published, what would you say to yourself then to encourage yourself?
Laurie: That’s a great question. As you know, it took a while (and a handful of shelved manuscripts) before Every Shiny Thing sold, and there were times when I felt disheartened because I was pouring so much time and work into writing books that didn’t get published. Looking back from my current vantage point, I would try to reassure my former self that none of that work was wasted. All those early projects helped me hone my craft and develop a whole repository of ideas and characters that have found their way into books that did get published. So I would urge myself to trust my own process and have faith that as long as I am writing stories I love—stories that no one but me could write in quite the same way—then I am doing everything I can to make my dream of becoming a published writer come true, and my work has value whether it ends up in bookstores or not.
El Space: I love that! Great answer! What inspired you to write this novel? Why was it important for you to tell this story?
Laurie: After writing Up for Air, which features a competitive swimmer, I was eager to write another sports story. There are so many compelling dynamics to explore when it comes to sports, and I was so moved by readers’ responses to Up for Air that I wanted to offer a follow-up that people who loved that novel would be excited about. This time, I wanted to write about softball—a sport I played growing up—and I wanted to focus on pressure and performance anxiety because I was a kid who loved sports but didn’t respond well to the intensity that comes along with sports once you reach a certain level. I also really wanted to write about a kid who feels pressure to be perfect and responsible for her parents’ happiness; those are other pressures that I’ve dealt with and seen my former middle school students grapple with, but I hadn’t seen them explored much in middle grade fiction and I think they’re important to delve into.
El Space: What characteristics of yours does Bea share? How is she different from you?
Laurie: Bea has some of my perfectionism, and she and I both feel responsible for things that aren’t really our responsibility and we’re hard on herself when we make mistakes. But she’s a whole lot tougher and feistier than I am, and she’s a much better softball player than I was!
El Space: What inspires you these days—books, podcasts—whatever?
Laurie: Two middle grade novels that have inspired me a lot are Erin Entrada Kelly’s Those Kids from Fawn Creek and Tae Keller’s Jennifer Chan Is Not Alone. They’re the kinds of books I want to read once for enjoyment and then again to analyze and learn from them. I recently binge-listened to Hayley Chewins and Lindsay Eager’s Story of the Book podcast and found their conversations about craft to be extremely inspiring and illuminating, and I’m also really inspired by the picture books and chapter books my young kids are devouring. We’ve been reading a lot of Princess in Black books recently, and it’s been such a joy to see how that series builds and to notice which aspects delight my kids the most.
El Space: As an author, what other formats do you think you’d like to try—graphic novels, screenplays, etc.? What would you stay away from?
Laurie: I’ve always wanted to write a book that’s entirely epistolary, and I’d also like to write a short story or two as well as a novel that’s really funny. There’s some humor in all my books, but I’d like to try something where the humor is central. I keep waiting for all the books I read with my kids to rub off on me because I’d love to try writing for a younger audience, whether that’s a picture book or chapter book, at some point, but so far I feel most drawn toward writing for an upper middle grade audience. Maybe someday I’ll try another age category, but I’m happy in this niche for now. I don’t think I’d ever try to write a graphic novel script—though I love graphic novels—because I’m not very visual or concise, so I don’t think that format would play to my strengths at all!
Two epistolary novels
El Space: What will you work on next?
Laurie: I have another realistic upper middle grade novel in the works that hasn’t been announced yet, but I’m excited about it. For now, I’ll just say that it features academic overachiever rivals, distance running, the summer between eighth and ninth grade, and more of a romance than any of my other books to date.
Comment below to be entered into a drawing for a signed copy of Comng Up Shorr. Winner to be announced sometime next week..
Author photo courtesy of Laurie Morrison. Author photo credit: Laura Billingham. Books covers from Goodreads.