Hey Anne! Welcome and thanks for allowing us some personal insight about you and your debut middle grade novel that releases this month. Can you tell us about it?
Not the Worst Friend in the World is a book about friendships, family, and growing up. Eleven-year-old Lou is in the midst of a painful friendship breakup with her long-time best friend Francie. Lou and Francie fought, and Lou said things she regrets, so she is trying her best to win Francie back. Then Cece comes to town with a big secret and a mystery to solve, and Lou thinks if she can help Cece she can prove she’s not the worst friend in the world.
I remember my friendships from 5th and 6th grade so clearly, especially how important they were to me. I wanted to write a story about girls experiencing those powerful friendships and figuring out how to navigate them without falling into a “mean girls” stereotype or a “bad” vs. “good” narrative.
Awesome. We'd love to hear more about your writing journey. What's the process been like?
I grew up wanting to be an author. I wrote books and gifted them to my friends, family, and teachers. As I got older, I thought the way to have a career in writing was to be a journalist, so I majored in English and Journalism. I didn't love reporting, so I became a teacher instead. When I left the classroom after my second son was born in 2017, I decided to get serious about writing. Not the Worst Friend in the World is the first book I wrote (though it's changed a LOT from the initial draft to the story it is now). I was lucky enough to get selected for Author Mentor Match in 2021, and the feedback I got from my mentors Megan E. Freeman and Nicole M. Hewitt was invaluable in making the book what it is today.
How do you go about finding story ideas?
I was a 5th grade teacher for seven years, so I got a lot of ideas and inspiration from my students. I also so clearly remember the middle grade years of my own life and take a lot of inspiration from those memories.
Any advice for someone who is just starting out?
My biggest piece of advice is to be open to feedback. Not the Worst Friend in the World changed so much from the first draft to the version that is being published. I sought out every opportunity I could to have other people read it and give me feedback. And I think when something feels hard to change or take out, remember that all versions and elements are part of the path to creating the best version of the story that you can. Early versions of Not the Worst Friend in the World included Cece point-of-view chapters. I got the feedback that the story felt more like Lou's (which is true!), but I don't think I could have developed Cece as well if I hadn't originally written those chapters.
Great. Do you have a critique group? And if so, how has that group been beneficial to your career?
I do! I met my fabulous critique group through Critique Across Kansas and Missouri back in 2020. We’ve stuck together and meet monthly to offer feedback and support. Their honest critiques, insights, and cheerleading have been one of the most important parts in my writing journey.
How have you stayed connected to the writing community outside of your critique group?
I stay connected with other writers through social media, through my critique group, and through SCBWI. It’s so nice to have a big community of writers that I can reach out to if I need feedback or general support.
What do you love about being a writer?
I love when it all starts to click and come together. Usually that’s in revisions, so revising is actually my favorite part of writing.
The best advice I’ve gotten is to not be too precious about your work. The more open to change and other perspectives, the better the story will be.
The best conference I attended was the Middle of the Map conference in 2018. It was the very first writing conference I attended, and it made me feel like this dream was possible and inspired me to learn as much as I could in order to constantly improve my writing.
How has networking with other writers helped you along the way?
I’ve learned about a lot of opportunities through being connected to other writers that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. My network of middle grade writers on Twitter is how I found out about Author Mentor Match, and that mentorship was such a critical part of the book’s success.
And what do you do when you are not writing?
I have four children—ages 8, 7, 4, and 10 months, so they take up the majority of my time when I’m not writing. This stage of life is chaotic, but I love it so much. I also volunteer as a Court Appointed Special Advocate and at my kids’ school. And I love to read, travel, and needlepoint.
So cool. How do you stay on track? Is it your daily writing routine?
I’m still working on nailing that down! My 10-month-old is home with me every day, so I try my best to get work done during her nap times.
Thanks again for sharing with us today. Any goals for 2024 and beyond?
I would like to complete a second middle grade novel within the year, and I would love to have a long career as a middle grade author.
Not the Worst Friend in the World, will be released on February 6th, 2024, from Holiday House and is available wherever books are sold. To learn more about Anne, visit www.annerellihan.com