Bonnie Ferrante: Gail Hedrick is a middle-grade fiction author, freelance writer, editor and proofreader.
Welcome, Gail. Tell us a bit about your writing and your most recent work. Is it a departure from your usual writing?
Gail Hedrick: I write for kids and their parents. I’ve written and sold articles on subjects from grandparents to organizing your underwear drawer or your locker, to why socks were invented, underage drinking, cinnamon, decision-making, and more. My published poems and activity verses have been on subjects like bedtime, setting the table, holidays like the 4th of July and Groundhog Day, smells and school. I enjoyed the challenge of short stories and published pieces on fitness, fears, and change, and most recently, completed and sold two middle-grade mystery books to Tumblehome Learning.
Actually, I had written two other middle-grade fiction books, but they remain in a drawer, and I look at them as my practice books. I don’t really think of my books as a departure from my other writing, just where I’d always been heading.
Ferrante: It seems you write both fiction and nonfiction. Do you approach them differently? Which one do you find more challenging?
Hedrick: I am probably not the best one to ask about process, but it feels like I approach both kinds of writing about the same. Lots of gathering of information precedes anything I write. It may be newspaper clippings, articles, bookmarked pages on my computer, maybe a phone interview or photos, and once I have a folder of stuff to refer to, then some fleshing out gets going. It’s kind of an outline, or rough idea of where it seems like I should begin, stuff I might include, and potentially, where I’d like to end up. I like writing both fiction and nonfiction, but I find nonfiction pretty challenging as it’s more than ‘just’ data. You are trying to assemble a collection of facts into a fun, interesting story. You also want to let kids see what excited you about this information in the first place.
Ferrante: What research did you do for this novel?
Hedrick: For Something Stinks! – I had to learn what might have killed fish in large quantities in fresh water in a climate like Southwestern Virginia. I needed to find out if it was environmental, industrial, natural, and man-made. Depending on the answer, I then might need to find out things like if it was industrial-what kind and how it might occur. I had to research water testing, how county law enforcement and newspapers worked, different types of fertilizers, farming practices, and water quality issues.
For The Scent of Something Sneaky – I had to find out how drug trafficking can occur, especially through the southern US, how steam engines, septic tanks, and smells work and affect us, how bed and breakfasts operate, labor laws for kids, drug testing options, retail operations, residential electricity/wiring, beekeeping and hives, levers, and home or residential fires.
Ferrante: A lot of work but worth it for authenticity. Why did you choose this genre and age?
Hedrick: Seventh and eighth grades are pretty vivid in my memory. There are friend issues, parent issues, striking out on your own-in that you want to, yet you are scared, you’re a kid one minute and sprouting body parts the next. I also loved mysteries from mid-elementary on-those and biographies. I could barely finish one before I’d start another and still love them.
Ferrante: How many versions did you write?
Hedrick: For Something Stinks! there was really only one. I just kept expanding the scenes, and when it looked like it was becoming a science mystery, some additional work had to be done to flesh out the science to help to tell the expanded and more complex story. There were five line by line revisions.
For The Scent of Something Sneaky there were three (and two were awful!) versions. When I finally got the third version, then there were a number of revisions, perhaps six or seven. About mid-way through this whole process, I sat down, did an outline, and wow, it saved me!
Ferrante: Yes, if you make a lot of changes it’s necessary to do a new outline.
What do you feel makes your writing original?
Hedrick: I think it’s my dialogue, which is kind of funny as I’m pretty shy, and not much of a talker. And, even worse, in real life, I’m a terrible story teller, and usually forget the punch line.
Ferrante: What is the most important thing you have learned about writing?
Hedrick: Hmm, that it’s hard, but fun; that it leads you on a journey, and even if you get lost, the travel was always worth the trip.
Ferrante: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
Hedrick: It’s probably a good idea, even if no one else interviews you, to ask yourself some questions like these. It reminds us why we get up in the morning!
Ferrante: What do you think is the best conversation piece in your home?
Hedrick: Our photo wall, of our immediate family, grandparents on both sides, our kids from birth to adults, us when we were young(er), and now our grandchild.
Ferrante: Which particular historical document (or portion thereof) do you think every American should know by heart?
Hedrick: The Preamble to the Constitution.
Ferrante: What is something you forgot once that you will more than likely never forget again?
Hedrick: When running errands, with list in hand of what needed to be done/purchased, I forgot to look at the list before going home. Trust me, if you make a list – read it, use it!
Ferrante: Ha! Good advice. I usually lose it.
Thank you for sharing your ideas and books with us. Something Great Happened Here.
Something Stinks will be reviewed on this blog on February 25, 2017.
Note: the three random questions are from “Chat Pack – Fun Questions to Spark Conversations”.