BY IRINA TRENKOVA
St. Petersburg High
Author Nancy Cavanaugh knows why never giving up pays off in the long run. After 18 years of rejections and disappointments — and an abundance of hope and determination — Cavanaugh's dream of being published came true with her first book, This Journal Belongs to Ratchet. Cavanaugh, who lives in Palm Harbor, pursued that dream throughout a career as third-grader teacher for 13 years, a middle school language arts teacher and librarian. She'll be speaking at the Times Festival of Reading Saturday at USFSP. She chatted with tb-two*.
Where did you get the inspiration for This Journal Belongs to Ratchet?
Usually, my stories begin with some vision of a character. From that point, I begin to develop the character — their personality, life, issues — and the story naturally follows. I decided to have Rachel, the protagonist, be a mechanic, based on one of my own life experiences . . . when my husband taught me how to disassemble and put back together a small engine for a camp that we were teaching at. I think Rachel's uncharacteristic interest in cars and mechanics makes her a unique girl character, because that's not an interest one would normally expect. Through this knowledge, she is able to find friends and define herself.
I think many children today look at their life and constantly wish for something else. Not only kids, but many people feel that someone else's life is always better than theirs and they are never satisfied. I hope from this book, children can learn to appreciate what they do have and view their life circumstances in a positive way.
Why did you choose to write a novel directed at a younger audience?
I wrote a novel directed at a younger audience because I've always wanted to publish a children's book. I am a huge fan of children's books, and those are typically the only books I read and with my experience as an educator and librarian this is the audience I'm most familiar with.
What tips or advice would you give for aspiring writers?
To never give up. I have been faced with many rejection letters, yet if I had given up I would never have gotten to this stage of my life. Never lose hope and keep on persevering.
Why do you think you were originally rejected, and what changed?
The writing market is very competitive. Not only do you need to be a good writer, but you need an idea that's marketable and commercial. Publishing companies search for books that will appeal to a large audience and will sell. I think my problem originally was that I was a decent writer, but my work didn't stand out. Through time, I learned how to improve my writing and get better at it.
Your second middle school novel, Always, Abigail, is scheduled to come out in October 2014. Can you give us some sneak peeks?
Abigail is one of those characters that knows what the right thing to do is, but has a hard time being brave enough to actually do it, which I think is applicable to many people. The novel is written in a series of lists and letters because Abigail loves to write lists, and she's writing letters because of an assignment from her language arts teacher.
How does it feel to be participating in the Festival of Reading?
It is a dream come true. I have been an attendee before, and now that I get to be part of it is such a spectacular experience. Finally, after all these years of persistence and hard work, I'm doing what I love. This past year has been my debut year, and I've been able to promote my work at bookstores, sign books, and speak to kids at different schools about writing.