Middle Grade author, Susan Maupin Schmid, is most known for her 100 Dresses series. But how did that come about? And how did she decide that it should be a series? Find the answers and more in this full interview!
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Full Interview with Middle Grade Writer, Susan Maupin Schmid:
1. You currently have 3 books out in your 100 Dresses Series. Where did the inspiration first start for the books?
100 Dresses started when I was in first grade. Seriously. The teacher read Eleanor Estes’ The Hundred Dresses to the class. Now I’m sure that she intended us to learn from the anti-bullying message in the story. But I couldn’t get past the terrible disappointment of reaching the end of the book only to find that THERE ARE NO DRESSES!! That detail stayed with me over the years and fueled the closet of magic dresses in my series.
2. Did you always envision this as a series? Or did you have to come up with additional plots after writing the first book?
I always wanted to do a series, but If the Magic Fits was written as a standalone. Even so, I left the over-arching question of where-did-the-magic-come-from unanswered, a sort of back door into my story that I could use if I got the chance. My editor at Random House, immediately after acquiring the book, asked if I would turn it into a series. I was happy to oblige, after all, there were a hundred dresses…. 😉
3. What kind of advice would you give to a writer hoping to create a series?
I think it’s easy to assume that writing a series is about answering the question: what comes next? And it isn’t exactly that.
A series needs an ongoing unanswered question (the big Q). That doesn’t mean that along the way questions aren’t answered or problems solved, but each book needs to be a building block towards that big Answer. It’s a juggling act to maintain the tension and the momentum, while resolving some things as you go.
Also, a series needs continued character growth, not just for the MC but for all the characters. Series written years ago were episodic and had stagnant characters. Think Nancy Drew, she never changes no matter how many mysteries she solves. It’s easy to stop to reading a series like that.
A good series is one that has me still hunting for the next book years after I read the first one. (Which reminds of another key point: read what you want to write!)
4. I noticed you create the dresses from the book for dolls! They’re GORGEOUS. Does bringing parts of your story to life impact your writing at all?
I love to sew, especially doll clothes. However, I soon realized that some of the 100 Dresses were impossible to reproduce: either the fabric or trims weren’t available or the design was too complex to miniaturize. Now when I write, I’m careful to describe some dresses that I know I can recreate. I have a personal favorite that I take to book events with me: Thirty-three. Too bad, she’s not my size; I’d wear that one!
Also, I keep a dress log. That way I know what numbers I’ve used, who Darling was when she wore it, and what each dress looks like. I have favorite colors. I have to be vigilant or half the closet would be some shade of blue or purple. The dress log is so useful that my editor asked for a copy.
5. You also have a Family Book Club kit. Has this been beneficial to your readers?
The Random House marketing team created the Family Book Club. I think they did a marvelous job. I’ve had kids send me pictures of their school book projects! SO FUN! I wish I could share them.
6. What has been your favorite part about creating a middle grade series?
Letter from kids!! I get the best letters and emails from kids asking questions and making comments. Madeleine L’Engle wrote back to me when I was a kid; that meant a lot to me. So I make an effort to answer letters!
7. Do you have any new books in the works or ideas you’re playing with?
I’m always writing. Lately, I’ve been scribbling down picture books, something I’m known in the Iowa Kidlit community for NOT writing. I’ve always said I couldn’t write anything short! But hey, I had an idea one day that just wouldn’t shut up and go away…so I gave in and started writing it down.
But it’s like that proverbial bag of potato chips: you can’t write just one! So now I have a pile. It’s wonderfully challenging. (Not that I’m abandoning novels, let’s not get crazy here.)
8. What has been the most challenging part of the publishing process for you?
Everything? Wait, it sounds like you just want one. Promotion.
Sarvinder Naberhaus happens to be a friend of mine and one day I noticed that she had her book cover on her phone case. THE WOMAN IS A GENIUS! I immediately copied her. It’s easy to pull out my phone when people ask me what I do. And the artwork helps me chat about my books. (Melissa Manwill is the cover artists go look her up, she’s amazing!)
9. Has this changed from your first book to now?
Yes and no. I’m an introvert. Once upon a time, when I told my husband that I wanted to be a writer, he warned me that I’d have to meet people. But I really wanted to succeed as a writer, so I made myself start doing things. (Brooke is like WHAT? She met me after I started making myself go do stuff; she’ll tell me the hard part now is getting me to be quiet. 😂)
Today, I’m a volunteer tour guide at a historic mansion, which is SO AWESOME, it allows me to talk and talk and talk about the house and antiques and the family and—you get the idea. A friend told me that it’s the perfect hobby for me and they’re right! My volunteer work benefits a beautiful landmark and sharpens me as a speaker.
I’m doing a book talk at the Cambridge Iowa Library in November. My website susanmaupinschmid.com has details on the Events page. It’s going to be fun! (And I promise not to talk about the mansion.)
10. What would be your best advice for someone hoping to publish their own kid’s book?
Hang in there. It’s not easy and it won’t happen quickly! Read. Write. (Eat chocolate) Revise. Repeat. And find some writer friends to hang out with. I love to brainstorm with a group I know. We’ve come up with some of the best stuff while goofing around over coffee.
Thank you so much to Susan Maupin Schmid for sharing her insights with us. Be sure to pick up the first book in her series, If The Magic Fits. It’s absolutely fantastic! I know you’ll love it.
And for more tips on writing middle grade novels, check out these articles around the blog:
- Full Interview with YA Author, Maggie Ann Martin
- Full Interview with debut novelist, Heather Shumaker
- Exercises to Try when Your Plot’s Struggling
- How to Plot a Novel