Yeah! I'm back and delighted to welcome Niki Lenz to the blog. Past Pitch Wars mentor, middle grade author, and all around lovely person, Niki answered some of my questions to find out where it all began and how she reached the title of published author.
Check it out!
When you're a Buttman, the label bully comes with the territory, and Bernice lives up to her name. But life as a bully is lonely, and if there's one thing Bernice really wants (even more than becoming a Hollywood stuntwoman), it's a true friend.
After her mom skedaddles and leaves her in a new town with her aunt (who is a real live nun), Bernice decides to mend her ways and become a model citizen. If her plan works, she just might be able to get herself to Hollywood Hills Stunt Camp! But it's hard to be kind when no one shows you kindness, so a few cheesy pranks may still be up her sleeve...
Bernice Buttman is tough, and she is crass. But if you let her in, she'll serve up some laughs, a lesson or two about empathy, and plenty of cheese balls in this delightful debut.
Where did Niki Lenz - author begin?
Well, I have always been an avid reader, and when my babies were born I started blogging about our adventures. I always got comments like, "You have such a funny way of telling a story!" and "Oh my gosh, you make the dumbest incidents seem like a whole thing..." And so, while my children took naps, I sat at my computer and told myself stories. I remember Googling, "How to be a published author" and "How to write a book." And in those (somewhat futile) Google searches I found out about Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) and thought I would try it, just to see if I could. My first outline was just a list of ten things I thought could maybe happen. Oy.
What's one of the first things you ever wrote?
The first full novel I wrote was a dark and twisty YA set in an insane asylum in the 1920s. Not exactly on brand for me! I tried writing middle grade a few books later and fell in love with the freedom, honesty, and humor there and never looked back.
Did you share it with anyone - what did they say?
Yes, I made a bunch of my friends read it. They were all very supportive, but it makes me cringe now, ten novels later, that they saw my first attempt. I'd like to think I've gotten better since then!
Do you have a day job? Can you tell me about how you balance that and all the other arms of life with writing?
I do have a day job now that both of my kids are in elementary school. I am a substitute teacher. I love getting to interact with kids, plug my books, and help teach writing! And, bonus, no after school meetings to attend! I taught kindergarten for six years before I had children, so it is nice to be back in the classroom but on my own terms. I usually only sub three days a week and try to squeeze author stuff in on the other two days.
What did you do to hone your craft?
Well, some valuable advice I got when I Googled "How to be a published author" was to watch what real authors did and then do that. So I did! I joined a writer's group at the library. I signed up for SCBWI and went to my first regional conference. I read the entire "writing" section at the library. Basically, I was in full on "Fake it til you make it" mode!
What steps have you taken to grow as a writer?
The very very best thing anyone can do to become a better writer is to get some CPs who are better than you. I am serious. My CP, Jennie, is amazing and insightful and she reads all my terrible first drafts and I love her to pieces. But don't just stop at one! Keep switching manuscripts with as many people as possible, because you will learn new things each time.
Have you a team of cheerleaders behind you?
My family is super supportive of me. My husband worked hard to pay for laptops and memberships and conferences when publication was such a long shot. I will be forever grateful to him for that. My kids think it's really cool to have a mom who is an author. And they all work extra hard at staying out of my hair when I am on deadline, so that is immensely helpful.
When did you make the decision to pursue publication?
I went to my very first SCBWI conference in the middle of drafting that first novel, and I knew I was going to query it, at least for practice. I remember hearing statistics at the conference about how hard it is to get your work published, and instead of being discouraged I thought, "Why not me, though? I mean, they have to publish somebody..."
Can you tell us about this journey, from sending that first query to getting that call from the editor?
I queried my first three novels and wracked up three hundred rejections within a few years. But when I was ready to query my fourth novel, I knew had something special. I only queried my top fifteen agents for that one, and when Kate Testerman of KT Lit emailed to set up a call to "talk about my book" I was like "Wow, I've never had an agent call to reject my book before! Progress!" But it turned out that wasn't what the call was about at all. Kate offered me representation, and I was over the moon. We went on submission with that book for about a year before Kate read my next novel, BERNICE BUTTMAN, MODEL CITIZEN. She decided to put novel number four on the shelf and send out BERNICE. It was only a few months before it found it's home at Random House with my amazing and talented editor Caroline Abbey.
If you could pass on one piece of wisdom you've collected during your journey, what would it be?
I think my advice would be to just try to enjoy every stage of the process. It is such a privilege to find an audience for your work, and I don't ever want to take it for granted. If just one kid loves my story, I will be super duper excited. And the rest is just the gravy on top.
And for fun...
Mayo or Tomato ketchup
BOTH ON ALMOST EVERYTHING
Cats or dogs
Paperback or e-book
Day or night
Indoors or outdoors
Beer or wine
Run or walk
Mountains or beaches
Sweet or savory
Niki Lenz is an author living in Kansas City, Missouri. She is married to a handsome and brave police officer and has two adorable children.She studied elementary education at Southwest Baptist University and taught kindergarten for six years. She enjoys reading, travel, glamping, polka dots, red lipstick, and oldies music. Bernice Buttman, Model Citizen is her first novel.
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