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April 7, 2016

A Daughter’s Help - Guest Post by Nancy Cavanaugh, Author of JUST LIKE ME

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When it comes to getting feedback for their writing, authors usually go to an editor, another writer or a friend. But author Nancy Cavanaugh has the perfect reader in the form of her middle schooler daughter. In this post, Cavanaugh explains how her daughter unknowingly helped her write her new book, JUST LIKE ME --- and maybe even served as inspiration.

Your daughter is the same age as many of your readers.  Do you ever consult her for advice or involve her in the creative process?

As a middle grade author with a 13-year-old daughter, I have a captive audience living in-house.  This helps me as a writer in many ways.

My daughter and I often read books aloud together, which gives me the opportunity to experience a lot of middle grade titles both old and new, and reading books in my genre is always a good thing.  Each book I read is an example of great writing, solid story structure, and plausible plot.  Being exposed to this over and over, in each new book we read, reminds me of what I need to do in my own writing.

Besides reading together, my daughter and I also enjoy watching DVD’s of old television series such as "Little House on the Prairie," "The Brady Bunch," and "Gilligan’s Island."  Having the opportunity to observe first-hand how a middle grader enjoys and responds to stories (no matter when those stories were created) gives me such valuable information.  It continually reminds me of things such as what is funny to a middle grader, what problems are important to a middle grader, and most importantly what makes a story compelling for a middle grader.  All this is true, even if you’re just watching Gilligan devise a crazy, hair-brained plan to get off a desert island.

So having a middle grader living with me strengthens many of the things that I think of as the foundations for my writing, but that’s not the only way it helps.  Most recently my daughter and her experience of being adopted from China inspired my third book, JUST LIKE ME.

My husband and I adopted our daughter when she was 10 months old; and when we went to China to bring her home, we travelled with a group of other families who were also adopting.  Since that time, we have stayed in touch with several of those families; and the girls, who began their life together in an orphanage in China, are still friends.  Their special friendship and their experience of going to summer camp together made me wonder about the special bond these girls have.  My wondering led to my third book, JUST LIKE ME. 

Though JUST LIKE ME was inspired by my daughter and her “Chinese Sisters,” the characters in the book are actually quite different than my daughter and her friends, and the story itself is fiction.  Even so, I most certainly wouldn’t have written this book if it weren’t for my daughter and her experience.

So, I don’t know if I would say I “consult” my daughter, as much as I would say that I appreciate that I get to hang out with a middle grader every single day.  And because of that, I get to stay tuned in to the kinds of things my middle grade audience enjoys.  And as a bonus, I sometimes even get first-hand inspiration for brand new story ideas.