Maureen Fergus' Buddy and Earl Meet the Neighbours (Groundwood Books, illustrated by Carey Sookocheff) is the newest addition to the beloved Buddy and Earl series, which follows the titular friends, a dog and a tiny hedgehog, who manage to find themselves in some very unexpected situations, meeting all kinds of characters along the way. And Buddy just happens to share a name with Fergus' own four-legged friend.
We're excited to welcome Maureen to Open Book to take us behind the scenes of the publication journey in our Going Pros and Cons series. She tells us about the good (thousands of cheering kids!), the bad (accidentally offering a lesson on the writing life to a Booker Prize winner), and the beautiful (the first draft as a half-finished marble statue).
Going Pros and Cons with Maureen Fergus
My best public reading or event experience:
When my middle grade novel Ortega was nominated for the Ontario Library Association Silver Birch award, I flew to Toronto for the event and it was incredible. Thousands of kids cheering and clapping for their favourite writers, gasping when they recognized me walking around the event site, lining up to get their books signed — I felt like a rock star.
My worst public reading or event experience:
I was invited to be a guest reader at a school’s Family Fun Night. Unfortunately, nobody showed up to the Fun Night, so I spent the hour alone in a weirdly-decorated Grade Two classroom rocking back and forth in a giant, squeaky rocking chair. It was like something out of a horror movie.
My most awkward writing/publishing moment:
I was at a literacy event in Saskatoon and spent a bit of time chatting with the husband of the lovely and talented author Alice Kuipers. I’d missed his name when we were first introduced but of course that didn’t stop me from going on and on about what it was like being a writer. Later, I asked someone what Alice’s husband’s name was. The answer? “Yann Martel. You know – the guy who wrote Life of Pi.”
The advice I would give someone trying to get a book published for the first time:
Do your research — figure out which publishers are actually looking for stories like yours. Follow submission guidelines. Ensure that your query letter makes your book sound like a must-read. And if you do all that and still get rejected? Take the time you need to feel disappointed and frustrated, then dust yourself off and move on to the next project. The writing game is a marathon, not a sprint. Lots of talented people give up along the way because it is too hard — don’t be one of those people.
My favourite part of the publishing process:
I love the editing process. I always picture the first draft of a book as a half-finished marble sculpture — you can clearly see what the artist is trying to create but you can also see that it’ll take a lot of smoothing and refining to turn it into a thing of real beauty. I’ve always had the privilege of working with gifted editors — using their feedback to inform the rewrite process in an effort to turn a good first draft into a thing of real beauty is always a profoundly satisfying experience.
Maureen Fergus is an award-winning author of books for kids of all ages. Her novels include The Gypsy King trilogy and Ortega; her picture books include InvisiBill, The Day My Mom Came to Kindergarten, and the Buddy and Earl series. She lives in Winnipeg with her family and her dog, Buddy.