Elliah Terry interviewed fellow author Lee Gjertson Malone about her debut—a contemporary middle-grade novel just published by Aladdin. Malone is a member of the online group The Sweet Sixteens for YA novelists debuting in 2016; Terry rolls with the Swanky Seventeens.
About the Novel
Seventh grader Jeremy Miner has a girl problem. Or, more accurately, a girls problem. Four hundred and seventy-five of them. That’s how many girls attend his school, St. Edith’s Academy. Jeremy is the only boy left after the school’s brief experiment in coeducation. And he needs to get out. His mom won’t let him transfer, so Jeremy takes matters into his own hands: He’s going to get expelled. Together with his best friend, Claudia, Jeremy unleashes a series of hilarious pranks in hopes that he’ll get kicked out with minimum damage to his permanent record. But when his stunts start to backfire, Jeremy has to decide whom he’s willing to knock down on his way out the door.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lee Gjertsen Malone is a Massachusetts transplant, via Long Island, Brooklyn, and Ithaca, NY. As a journalist she’s written about everything from wedding planning to the banking crisis to how to build your own homemade camera satellite. Her interests include amateur cheesemaking, traveling, associating with animals, shushing people in movie theaters, kickboxing, and blinking very rapidly for no reason. She lives in Cambridge, Mass. with her husband, daughter, and a rotating cast of pets.
TALKING ABOUT “THE LAST BOY”
Elli: The concept of THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S is so unique. How did you come up with the idea?
Lee: My husband attended an all boy school as a child. One day I was reading an alumni newsletter he’d received, which talked about the school’s success of transitioning to co-ed. I thought, “Why would a school want to do this?” I also knew I wanted to write a strong platonic boy/girl friendship story.
Elli: You are represented by Bridget Smith of Dunham Literary. Please tell us about your journey to acquiring an agent.
Lee: Bridget is my second agent. My first agent and I parted ways after a different manuscript of mine didn’t sell. I originally queried Bridget and other agents with ST. EDITH’S (as a YA novel). I received a lot of great responses, however, a few agents mentioned the novel might be better suited as a MG. After making the necessary changes, I re-queried the manuscript as MG and signed with Bridget.
Elli: What was your revision process like for St. Edith’s?
Lee: I did an extended R&R (9 months!) with an agent I ultimately did not end up signing with. It was at that point I decided to turn the ms into a middle-grade novel. The YA version was originally 78K, and I cut out 35K in just one day! Then I entered the Pitch Wars contest and was chosen as Jen Malone’s alternate mentee. I was so excited to see that someone liked the story as a middle-grade novel. Jen helped me rework the manuscript and gave me confidence to go back out on sub (and even re-query some of the same agents, such as Bridget Smith). The revision letter from Bridget was 8/9 pages long, so by the time I was doing edits for my editor, the edits felt pretty painless.
Elli: What was your reaction to receiving the news of your book deal?
Lee: It was like giving a nine-year-old a pot of espresso. I was jittery and jumpy and talked really, really, fast. I knew the day and time my manuscript was going to acquisitions, so I decided to take on the difficult task of making blueberry jam to keep my mind preoccupied. When my agent called, I knew it was good news just by the way she said “Hello.”
I don’t really snack while drafting, but revision days definitely require junk food. When I revise, I’m up and walking around and doing lots of thinking (and therefore lots of snacking!)
Oddest job you ever had?
I worked for one day at a vintage clothing store in Manhattan. Sounds cool, but it wasn’t a good working environment at all. The boss was super pushy and I’d get into big trouble if a customer left the store without purchasing something. I was fired at the end of my first day working there. But if I hadn’t of been fired, I would have quit.
Big brother, little sister, in the middle, or one and only?
I am two minutes older than my identical twin sister.
What were you reading when you were 17?
I liked reading realistic fiction as well as historical fiction: Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game, Harriet the Spy, The Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and the Great Brain books . . . any story where ordinary kids do something incredibly cool.
Do you draft longhand or use a computer?
For first drafts, I use every available surface . . . the back of receipts, my phone, etc., even dictating to my daughter while I’m driving. Besides that, I generally use a computer.
What are you working on next?
Since I seem to have found a place for my voice among middle-grade, I’m taking an older manuscript—one that used to be YA—and turning it into MG as well.
YOU CAN PREORDER “THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S” AT….
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Elliah Terry (Elli) writes about things that hurt her heart. Her middle-grade debut, I AM CALLIOPE JUNE, a free-verse novel about a girl with Tourette syndrome, will be published Spring 2017 by Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan. She lives in southern Utah with her husband, three kids, two zebra finches, and a Russian desert tortoise.