Today I am joining Rhonda Smiley’s blog tour for her exciting middle-grade adventure, Monty and the Monster.
Rhonda Smiley is a writer living in Glendale, California. After graduating from Concordia University in her native Montreal, Canada with a BFA in Film Production, she began writing for television – everything from family adventure to cop shows to cartoons. Her passion for storytelling led her to become an author, and her first novel, Asper, was awarded the BRAG medallion.
Monty and the Monster is a story of friendship and learning to trust your own instincts is about a boy who finds it difficult to make friends so decides to create his own friend using potions he discovered in a secret chamber. However, his new friend does not turn out quite as expected.
Before we start I would like to thank Rhonda for agreeing to be interviewed for this stop on her blog tour. I really enjoyed reading Monty and the Monster and was intrigued to discover more about how you wrote the book. So without further ado, let’s us begin…
Q&A session with Rhonda Smiley
There’s a strong theme of friendship and bullying within your novel. What made you want to explore these themes?
They’re both very relatable themes, especially for children. I was shy as a child and making friends didn’t come easy. At the time, I thought I was the only one who felt that way, which of course wasn’t true. There are a lot of children who feel the same way, and I wanted to make them the hero of their own story. At the same time, I thought it would be interesting for those who do make friends easily to see through Monty’s perspective and get an idea of how it feels from the other side.
Bullying came into play when considering obstacles to Monty’s goal. Even though he can be his own biggest hindrance (can’t we all), I wanted outside complications as well, and bullying is a very real and scary one. It was important to show the emotional effects of it. It made normal everyday events, like going to school, very daunting for Monty. But I also wanted to convey that sometimes bullies have their own inner issues and use bullying as a means of acting out.
What gave you the idea of a child creating their own friend?
I wanted the book to be really funny, full of incredible adventures, and truly heartfelt, and the literal interpretation of “making” a friend was the perfect springboard for all of that.
Of course, Monty tries the conventional way to make a friend at first, but it’s a bust. I love that he doesn’t give up and proactively turns to the replication formula, which is its own humorous undertaking. And when he does make his new friend, well, that opens up a whole new set of challenges. It is a stinky hairy eight-foot-tall monster, after all.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I am definitely a plotter. I started out as a pantster, but when I began writing for television, I was required to do outlines. I dreaded them at first, but soon realized how incredibly helpful they were and ironically how liberating. It’s much easier to write details of a story when you have the structure plotted out and you know where you’re going. That said, if a character or situation sparks a new and exciting direction, I’m all ears, but I always refer back to the outline to make sure it fits within the overall story and that important points aren’t lost.
Talk us through your writing process for Monty and the Monster.
My writing process is pretty much the same for all my works. I start with the broad strokes of an outline, the beginning, middle, and end, and then open it up and fill in the gaps with goals and obstacles and the characters involved.
Once I have the outline, I dive into my “words on paper” draft. That’s where I just get it down and don’t worry too much about phrasing or on-the-nose dialogue. If I come across something that needs researching, like Monty’s skateboarding tricks, for instance, I make a note to do it later and don’t let it interrupt my momentum. It’s the kind of draft you’d never let anyone read, but it’s a wonderful way to lay out all the pertinent information. Once I have that, the real fun begins with finer details, character development, dialogue, and phrasing.
I’d like to say that’s my official first draft, but honestly, I do several more passes, looking for redundancies, crutch words, inconsistencies, and mistakes. When I think the manuscript is as good as it can be, I give it to an editor for overall story notes, which inevitably leads to more drafts.
After that, when I’m absolutely certain it’s as good as it can be, I send it off to beta readers. Getting outside eyes on it is extremely helpful. Of course, more drafts follow. It’s a long process, but every step adds to the depth of character, story, and the world.
How did you develop your characters and their voices so children can identify with them?
My background in children’s television has given me a lot of experience with different age groups as well as a wide range of characters. I’ve written for Little Bear, Rescue Heroes, The Adventures of Chuck and Friends, The Stinky & Dirty Show, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Totally Spies just to name a few. From adventurous boys and girls to crime-solving teens to mutant turtles living in the sewer!
It’s really fun to lose yourself in the mind-set of a child or tween or teen (or bear or truck or turtle) and look at the world through their viewpoint. Many times I’d step back and put myself in Monty’s sneakers to understand how he’d perceive what was happening. Even though the book is on the fantastical side, the characters’ reactions and emotions are still based in reality.
What is your favourite thing about writing for children?
You can’t ask for a better audience. Children are naturally curious and open-minded. I can tackle important topics without being didactic or preachy because children are eager to learn and grow. They pick up on the themes within the entertainment.
What writing advice would you give to people aspiring to be a children’s book writer?
Research your demographic. Are you writing Chapter Books, Middle Grade, or Young Adult? It’s important to know who you’re writing for, how they see the world, and what’s meaningful to them at this stage in their lives.
If you’re writing for a younger age group, consider what parents would want their children to read since the parents are most likely buying the book. Kids can’t fall in love with your stories if they never get a chance to see them!
And finally, don’t underestimate kids. Even though you want to use language and themes appropriate for their age group, it’s okay to have a word or two they can learn from context. I learned a lot of new words from reading when I was growing up. Actually, I still do.
Thank you again Rhonda for joining me on my blog. You have given us a great insight into your writing process for Monty and the Monster.
Check out the rest of the blog tour here:
I would like to thank Anne Cater from Random Things Through My Letterbox for organising this blog tour and inviting me to take part. Hopefully this will be the first of many more. Thank you.