Today I have the pleasure of interviewing middle grade author, Victoria J. Coe. Victoria has long been a fan of books, dogs, and the Boston Red Sox. Today she combines these passions as the author of the Fenway and Hattie series, written in the voice of a dog named Fenway. She loves to visit classrooms and share point of view activities with elementary students.
Thanks for hosting me, Stacy! I’m thrilled to be part of your blog! You wear both hats – as an author and a teacher – so your inviting me means a lot. Deep thanks!
When did you decide to become an author?
I’ve always wanted to be an author! For years and years, I read and wrote, I took workshops and went to SCBWI conferences, and joined a couple of critique groups. But I just wasn’t progressing to that next level. So in 2010, I decided to really go for it. I spent that whole year working one-on-one with a mentor. Sadly, she has since passed away. But working with her was a huge turning point in my writing journey and I will be forever grateful for that amazing experience.
In the summer of 2011, we were moving and our dog was terrified. When he saw us packing, he jumped in the car and sat in the passenger’s seat shaking, refusing to get out. Even though we were crazy busy with the move, that image of a dog who didn’t want to be left behind captured my imagination.
In the weeks that followed, I journaled and journaled until the character of Fenway emerged. That fall, I summoned the skills I’d worked on with my mentor and wrote a draft of the story that became Fenway and Hattie.
After revising with my critique group, taking a class, and going to an NE-SCBWI conference and revising some more, I started querying in the summer of 2012. I signed with super-agent Marietta Zacker in August of 2013. Fenway and Hattie sold to Putnam in January of 2014, and the first book was published in February of 2016. I’d say that qualifies as a long journey!
Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?
I never felt like giving up, but I did have a low point. At first, Marietta responded really positively to Fenway, but she felt that I needed to develop Hattie more and expand the story. We chatted on the phone and she invited me to revise and resubmit. I was beyond thrilled. She really “got” Fenway and we shared a vision of what the story could become. I knew she was the agent for this book and for me.
After rewriting for months and feeling like I nailed it, I resubmitted to Marietta with high hopes. Unfortunately, she replied with the news that it still wasn’t working. I was devastated.
But incredibly, she said she’d be open to seeing it again if I chose to keep at it. I'd hit bottom, but the stakes were sky high. I had to find a way.
I reached out to one of my old teachers and he graciously agreed to help. After reworking and sending Fenway and Hattie back to Marietta once again, everything clicked.
The lesson here is crystal clear: DO NOT GIVE UP!
Your book, Fenway and Hattie, is told from the pov of a dog. How did you get into a dog's head?
That’s right. Since you only get Fenway’s side of the story and he’s a dog, the reader has to figure out what’s really going on.
When I was journaling about Fenway’s character, I kept asking myself how he would view various aspects of moving from the city to the suburbs. In my family’s case, we did the reverse. I literally walked the streets of Boston with my dog, watching very closely how he’d check everything out.
I already knew a lot about dogs from going to dog training classes and reading books (turns out having a badly behaved dog can be an asset!). So it wasn’t too hard for me to put myself in his place. Once I started living through my character, I really got into his head and that dog point of view became part of me. Pretty soon, I was spotting squirrels everywhere and detecting food on the sidewalk before my dog! Sometimes I can’t turn it off!
Are there any more Fenway and Hattie stories coming in the future? If not, what are you working on next?
Yes! The next book, Fenway and Hattie and the Evil Bunny Gang, is coming out on January 24, 2017. Picking up soon after the first book leaves off, this book tackles issues of jealousy and friendship – and a whole gang bunnies. Wait till you see how evil they are!
Any advice you would give to a writer just starting out?
Write, write, write. Read, read, read. Take classes, join a critique group, don’t be afraid of healthy criticism – we all need it to grow. And most importantly, never give up! Keep an open mind and get help when you need it. Dreams really do come true!
Thank you so much for stopping by, Victoria. I can't wait to get a copy of the new book!