Six Questions with Rebecca Petruck
Rebecca Petruck is the author of two middle grade novels, Boy Bites Bug and Steering Toward Normal, both with Amulet. She has received starred reviews, is an Indies Introduce New Voice, and a youth reading award nominee in LA and MN. She has been a mentor for Pitch Wars, Writing in the Margins, and SCBWI Carolinas, as well a developmental editor and book coach. Learn more about Rebecca by visiting her website or Reedsy.
1. What advice would you like to give to aspiring kidlit authors?
The advice I have for aspiring authors is two-fold, and one is the same I tell students when they ask!
1) Be interested in people and the world around you. If travel is inaccessible, watch documentaries, read National Geographic, listen to music that’s new to you. Explore locally. Ask people for recommendations, or ask people about their interests, especially students. People love to talk about their passions!
2) Study childhood development and appreciate the differences between a 9-year-old, or 10, 11, 12, 13. There truly are differences, and a big part of writing for kidlit is meeting students where they are now, not what you remember from when you were that age. Middle grade students were born in 2010, high school students in 2005. Most adults writing for kids are the age that our own stories would be, eep, historical fiction! Our job is to connect with today’s students about the issues that matter to them now or can help them navigate this increasingly uncertain world.
2. What’s the best piece of advice a mentor has given you?
Don’t reread early drafts too many times! Too much rereading creates a groove in your mind that becomes increasingly difficult to budge away from when revision is needed. And begin every new draft on a blank page. It may seem intimidating, but it’s incredibly freeing. Every new draft is tighter and cleaner without the struggle of cutting away favorite lines or scenes. I almost never copy/paste anymore. Even in later drafts when I do have the previous draft on split-screen, I re-type everything and always cut and improve sentences as I go.
3. What do you feel you’ve gained from being a part of the children’s writing community?
Friends! Comrades in arms! A support system, therapy, and a shoulder to cry on. Publishing as an industry is, frankly, toxic. Agents and editors are good people, but the industry doesn’t really care about them any more than they do us. Navigating an unhealthy system to reach the people we truly care about—students and teens—is emotionally fraught, but it’s entirely worth it when we connect with those readers.
4. Where did you get the idea for Boy Bites Bug? What was your inspiration?
I was inspired to write this book after I read a National Geographic article about a UN recommendation that we, as a global population, eat more bugs. It makes sense: Bugs are nutritious, tasty, and require few resources to produce in quantity. As our population adds another billion people by the time my readers become adults, on an increasingly stressed planet where we already don’t feed everyone, we need to plan now for then.
But that’s only a situation. It took a while to find the story.
5. What was the process or timeline for this book, from idea to publishing?
Because this was my second book with my publisher, I sold the idea on a proposal, not a completed draft. I had a detailed outline my editor approved, but when I wrote the book, it was meh. My editor suggested I take out a plot element about the parents, but that not only took up 1/3 of the book, but also it was the reason the main character did anything! I was back to square one. It was so, so stressful—and ultimately amazing. I LOVE Boy Bites Bug now. I read it like an out-of-body experience, like I couldn’t possibly have been the one to write it. I’m so grateful my editor gave me the time to make the book what it could be, because it really is something I’m so incredibly proud of.
6. If you read this book to a room filled with kids, what message would you want them to leave with?
Try new things! Not only foods, but also activities, places, and meeting new people, especially those “different” from you. Truly, we’re all the same human-shaped beings with hopes, fears, ideas, likes and dislikes. Be open. Listen. Seek experiences (safely). Let yourself grow as a person. Sometimes that means we outgrow others, and that’s okay, because we can still leave room for them to meet us when they’re ready. Don’t hold yourself back. The world is a big, amazing place, and it wants to be explored.