Monday, June 17, 2013

Blog Tour: THE WIG IN THE WINDOW by Kristen Kittscher Guest Post

I'm so excited to have been asked to be a part of the blog tour for THE WIG IN THE WINDOW, a fun middle grades mystery by Kristen Kittscher (a middle school teacher!). I'm especially excited that Kristen offered up a guest post on her revision process (an aspect of the author's writing life I'm looking to share more examples of with my students - and in fact am co-chairing a session about at NCTE in November).
Author: Kristen Kittscher
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
Release Date: June 18, 2013 (tomorrow!)
Number of Pages: 368
Sophie Young and Grace Yang have made a game of spying on their neighbors, but when they stake out the home of notoriously phony middle school counselor Dr. Charlotte Agford (aka Dr. Awkward), they stumble across a terrifying scene.

Or do they? The girls are convinced that Dr. Agford’s sugary sweet façade hides a dark secret. But as they get closer to the truth about Agford, the strain of the investigation pushes Sophie and Grace farther apart. Even if they crack their case, will their friendship survive?

Perfect for fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Wig in the Window is a smart, funny middle-grade mystery with a Rear Window twist.
Kristen Kittscher was a child neighborhood spy but (allegedly) grew up to be an upstanding citizen and middle school English teacher. A graduate of Brown University, she now works as a writing tutor in Pasadena, California where she lives with her husband, Kai, and their hyperactive lab mix. The Wig in the Window is her first novel. Visit to investigate more about her and Young & Yang’s next adventure, The Tiara on the Terrace.

I’m so delighted to be continuing my blog tour for The Wig in the Window at Heise Reads & Recommends!

Given the prying nature of my enterprising tween sleuths, Young & Yang, I’ve been taking you all behind-the-scenes for some top secret investigations into how a manuscript is turned into a real, live book.

If you’ve been following the tour, you’ve already investigated what goes intodesigning a cover and gotten some insight into the naming of characters. Today we’re getting down to the nitty gritty and taking a look at what goes into the editorial and revision process.

Before I wrote THE WIG IN THE WINDOW, I cursed my own lack of talent. If I were a real writer, I thought, I’d be able to produce tighter, cleaner prose – and I’d be able to do it faster. Though I’d been preaching the importance of getting feedback and revising work to my own students, for some reason I thought my own writing should be better from the get-go. I’d start projects, fall into despair far too early, and toss my work into the trash.

Fortunately, I had not one, but two, fantastic editors at Harper Children’s who worked as a team to guide my revisions: Editorial Director Rosemary Brosnan (who edits one of my favorite authors, Rita Williams-Garcia) and Associate Editor Andrea Martin.

They were kind enough to let me share with you some of their notes on an earlier draft of The Wig in the Window. If you read the final product, you’ll see just how much their questions and comments improved my work!

First, Rosemary and Andrea collaborated on what’s known as an “editorial letter” to outline what was working in my manuscript and what bigger picture story and character problems needed to be addressed.

One challenge in writing a kids’ mystery is ensuring the kids are driving the action while those pesky, hovering parents stay out of things! I was so focused on Sophie Young and Grace Yang’s sleuthing hijinks that I found far too convenient ways to sideline parents. In an early draft, Sophie’s parents were very easily manipulated by the (potentially) villainous school counselor, Dr. Agford. Rosemary and Andrea weren’t about to let me get away with that!

Sophie and Grace’s families could stand to be developed more.  We barely see Sophie’s parents, and it’s a little hard to believe that they would so quickly accept all of Agford’s suggestions. Sophie’s parents would understandably be mortified by her behavior, but would they completely cave to Agford?

Uh, nope. They sure wouldn’t. My editors were right. To revise, I dove down into my story and tried to see it from my main character’s parents’ point-of-view. I found a new way to keep them out of the main action and also tried to give more true-to-life interactions with Sophie and Dr. Agford throughout the book. I’ve gotten a few compliments on the parents in the final version, which always makes me laugh—little does anyone know how bad they’d be without that editorial help!

In their editorial letter, Rosemary and Andrea always provided possible solutions for problems they saw. In most cases, though, I found that I’d discover different “cures” to the symptoms they diagnosed—ones that felt natural to me in the story. Though I agreed with most of their notes, there were always times, too, when I felt I couldn’t address them without wreaking too much havoc. We’d talk it out together, then, and decide how I could best work around those flaws.

I’d send them updates and questions sometimes, too. (The references here are to characters in the book):

I just wanted to let you know I’m still alive and working. Everything is progressing normally, which is to say that some days I feel very certain this manuscript is the equivalent of Sophie's turd volcano and others, it spews its fake lava as splendidly as Marisa's Mt. Etna. Assuming neither impression is entirely accurate, I press on.

I then asked if I should be weaving in descriptions of my potential villain’s Halloween décor. I had noticed that I point out her love of over-the-top holiday displays throughout the book, but the book takes place at Halloween and I don’t mention so much as a pumpkin!

Their replies:

I would go with some Halloween decorations, as they are in character for Agford, they add humor, and it seems counterintuitive that Agford would draw attention to herself that way, as you say. What do you, think, Andrea?

I really like the idea of a smattering of Halloween decorations.  They’re very much in keeping with who Agford is, and it’s also a nice way to set the time period of when the story takes place.  And it’s another great instance of phony outward appearances! 

A snippet from my revision:

The first Halloween pumpkins and decorations were starting to pop up. I was surprised Agford’s house wasn’t fully mummified in fake cobwebs yet. She’d gone so overboard for Flag Day, we were positive she’d hauled out a Ouija board and conjured up Betsy Ross to consult on the project.

After my revision, Rosemary and Andrea then did what’s called a “line edit” of the manuscript, where they look at how the book is working on a sentence level. While some editors now work with MS Word’s comment feature to give that feedback, I’m glad that Rosemary and Andrea still send back pages with their handwritten notes – it’s much more fun—and feels all the more caring. Besides, how great is that? Here Rosemary spilled a little soup from her lunch and apologized:
 In the line edit, Rosemary and Andrea provided a few more detailed notes on specific moments or phrasing that weren’t working—or things I hadn’t been ready to let go of yet in the earlier draft. Take, for example, the opening chapter:

There are many things we love about your opening (how Sophie keeps track of summers, for example) but we thought they weren’t as critical as the need to keep Sophie and Grace moving forward to Agford’s house. If you dearly miss those passages, perhaps we can find a place for them…or you can always save them for a blog post about all the beautiful, witty gems that your editors foolishly asked you to cut.

What do you say? Shall this be the blog post for it? Here’s a peek at a deleted paragraph right near the beginning:

I couldn’t tell you exactly when we started the patrols. Southern California’s vague seasons make it hard to track time. To make it easier, I’ve developed my own system of charting years. It’s pretty basic. I remember every year by its summer, and each summer has a theme. For example, my guinea pig Agatha died shortly after the Summer of the Highly Unprofitable Lemonade Stand but before the Summer of Truth or Dare at the Petersons’.
We started spying on our neighbors sometime before the Summer Everyone Started to Shave Their Legs….

Maybe the voice and observations are nice enough, but it was slowing down the action. When supposedly “good writing” is getting away of the story---it’s no longer any good!

Hope you enjoyed this little behind-the-scenes investigation – and that you’ll take heart the next time you’re looking at one of your own messy first drafts of writing. The magic comes in revision.

I hope, too, you’ll check out THE WIG IN THE WINDOW to see how the final product turned out! It hits stores tomorrow. Available at your local independent bookstore, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.

Want more? Links to the author online and book extras:

Follow the whole WIG IN THE WINDOW Blog Tour:
Wed | May 22 - Hobbitsies
Thu | May 23 - The Book Smugglers
Tue | May 28 - Read Now Sleep Later
Wed | May 29 - Teaching in Cute Shoes
Mon | June 3 - Great Kid Books
Wed | June 5 - Mod Podge Bookshelf
Mon | June 10 - Cracking the Cover
Wed | June 12 - Kid Lit Frenzy
Mon | June 17 – Heise Reads & Recommends
Wed | June 19 - The Brain Lair
Thu | June 20 - Teach Mentor Texts
Fri | June 21 - The Windy Pages
Mon | June 24 - Sharpread
Thu | June 27 - There’s a Book
Fri | June 28 -


  1. I am SO looking forward to reading your debut and now I want it in my hot grabby hands even more :) Great post!

  2. Fabulous and thoughtful post. I really enjoyed reading about your revisions.

  3. Thank you for participating in the tour! I was really looking forward to this "behind the scenes" post :D The deleted scene reminds me of the Summer We Played Nerf Pool So Much Our Arms Were Buff, aka 1987.

  4. I love the "behind the scenes" look at your beautiful book! Thank you for sharing!

  5. Great post! It truly highlights the important role that editors play. And, I love the rare inside look into the world of an author.

  6. very interesting post. editors are so important. it's true too that i think we are often harder on ourselves and expect more from ourselves than we would of other people. happy boo birthday to the wig in the window!