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Author Interview and Review: The Scoop on Laurie Morrison

Laurie Morrison is the author of the new middle grade novel, “Up for Air.” We were lucky enough to get our hands on a copy! Check out what we thought of it below:

Review of “Up for Air” by Laurie Morrison

“Up for Air” by Laurie Morrison follows thirteen-year-old Annabelle as she battles to figure out what she wants. An avid and fantastic swimmer, Annabelle finds herself in the water. Out in the real world, things can be tough. But when she’s in the water swimming, everything changes. She ends up being so good that she starts becoming more of an interest to the high school swim team. While this seems great, this leads into a journey of self-discovery for Annabelle who gets more than she bargained for.

This novel is a great book for middle schoolers to read, especially if they are about to make that transition into high school. It’s a story about finding yourself and understanding what it is that you actually want from life. Readers follow an incredible protagonist who isn’t perfect and is figuring things out, just like any middle schooler who will be reading. “Up for Air” by Laurie Morrison is a beautiful story and one that you don’t want to miss out on!

Q&A With Laurie Morrison

We had a chance to talk with the author herself after reading her novel! Here’s what she had to say:

Tell us a bit about yourself! What do you do?
Thanks for having me! I taught middle school language arts for ten years, but I’m currently taking some time off from teaching to be a mostly-at-home mom of little ones and to pursue a career as a middle grade author. I miss being in the classroom, but am grateful for all the ways I get to connect with educators and kids as an author.

You wrote a novel called “Up for Air” that recently just came out. What is it about and why were you inspired to write it?
“Up for Air” is the story of thirteen-year-old Annabelle, a struggling student and star swimmer who is thrilled to be invited to join the high school swim team during the summer before eighth grade. Suddenly, she has new friends, and a high school boy starts treating her like she’s someone special. But the new team brings new challenges, and Annabelle has to find out who she can really rely on—and what kind of person she is, both in and out of the pool.

My former students really inspired me to write the book. In fact, one of them specifically told me I should write about Annabelle, who was a secondary character in a different book I wrote several years ago. On top of that, Up for Air is an upper-middle-grade novel geared toward 10-14 year-old readers, and it explores topics that many of my students were eager to read and talk about, including the social pressures of having older friends and the attention and awkwardness that can come along with being an “early bloomer.”

When I was teaching, I had a hard time finding books that really delved into these issues and featured thirteen or fourteen-year-old characters. A lot of middle grade novels felt too young to my students, so they preferred young adult novels, and there was nothing wrong with that…except that YA novels tend to feature older teens, so they really weren’t reading about many characters who were their age and managing the same experiences and pressures they were dealing with. So I wanted to write a book that sixth-to-eighth grade students like the ones I used to teach would see themselves in.

You also have a book called “Every Shiny Thing” that came out in 2018. What’s that book about and why were you inspired to write it?
“Every Shiny Thing” is a story about friendship, family, and what it means to be a good person. I co-wrote it with my friend, Cordelia Jensen, who writes in verse, so the novel is half-prose and half-verse. It has two point-of-view characters—Lauren, who comes from a wealthy family, and her new neighbor Sierra, who is in foster care. When the book begins, Lauren is beginning to realize how unfair the world is. She enlists Sierra’s help to enact a Robin Hood scheme to right some societal wrongs, but Sierra has a lot to lose if the plan goes wrong.

Initially, Cordelia and I knew we wanted to write a book together, and Cordelia knew she wanted to write about Sierra, a girl who has been a caretaker for her addict mom and ends up falling into a caretaker role with a new friend. She asked if I had any ideas about who that friend might be, and I thought of my students, who were passionate about social justice and determined to fix things that felt unfair. I wondered what would happen if I wrote about a girl who shared that passion but took it way too far, and pretty soon Sierra and Lauren’s story was born.

Your next novel, “Saint Ivy,” comes out in 2021. Though still a few years away, is there anything you can tell us about it?
“Saint Ivy” is still in the early stages, but I can tell you that it will be another upper-middle-grade story about family, friendship, and complex characters managing complex emotions. It also has a bit of a mystery element—there’s an anonymous emailer sending messages to the main character, and the mystery of that person’s identity is what propels the plot. So that part is a new challenge for me!

You used to be a middle school English teacher. How did you transition from that into writing?
I got inspired to try writing fiction at the end of my first year of teaching, so I was writing on the side during most of the years I spent teaching… but it took many years (and several manuscripts) before I got my first book deal. Then two things happened pretty much at once—my first book sold and my first kid was born. I kept teaching for one more year after that, but teaching, writing, and parenting felt like too much for me to balance, so it made sense to take some time to focus on writing, promoting my books, and being at home with my kids as much as possible.

You run an online book club and newsletter. What’s that about and how did you first start it?
I work with a group of other middle grade authors to run an awesome group called Middle Grade at Heart, which is geared toward teachers, librarians, and parents of kids who are 8-13 years old.

We feature a different middle grade novel each month and send out an online newsletter that includes a lot of great content about the book: an author interview, discussion questions, an activity, a recipe, and a printable coloring page. Then we also host a Twitter chat about the book using the hashtag #MGBookClub. I love working with the other authors to celebrate wonderful new middle grade books and create resources for kids, but I can’t take any credit for starting it!

Authors Amanda Rawson Hill and Cindy Baldwin are the co-founders and masterminds behind the group, and I got to know them because their first novels also debuted in 2018. As Middle Grade at Heart grew, they invited me to join the team and I happily accepted. It’s been a great way for me to use my teacher brain and connect with writers and educators.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process and how you create your novels?
Before I begin working on a novel, I need to figure out two things: a key emotion that the main character will grapple with, and a situation will shake up the main character’s world and lead to a lot of complicated dynamics that seem interesting to write about. For example, with “Up for Air,” I wanted to write a story about a character who would feel shame and vulnerability after making mistakes, and I knew that giving her the chance to join an older team would lead to a lot of complex relationships and scenes.

I also like to figure out a big turning point that will happen somewhere around the middle of the novel as well as the climax scene. When I start to write, I’m very much a two-steps-forward, one-step-back drafter. I try to push forward fairly quickly for a little while, but when I get stuck, I stop and go all the way back to the beginning, making changes and figuring out new things as I go, until I’m ready to push forward some more. That means that my first drafts aren’t “true” first drafts in that I’ve already worked on most of the scenes many times by the time I reach the end.

Is there a fun fact about yourself that might surprise our readers if you were to share it with them?
My go-to surprising fact is that, when I was in college, I spent a semester studying abroad at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and watched an episode of The Simpsons with Prince William (along with the the rest of the women’s football, a.k.a. soccer, team, which I joined for the semester… but still!).

What has been the biggest struggle for you as a writer?
For a long time, I struggled to figure out how to create a story that was unique enough to stand out. I wrote a few books that garnered some interest from publishers but didn’t sell before selling my first book, and the feedback I got over and over was that the stories I was writing just weren’t different enough and would be “difficult to position” for the marketplace. I think things like voice and dialogue come relatively easily to me, but it’s taken me a long time to get that sense of what makes a concept and plot special and resonant enough.

What advice would you give to struggling writers out there who are trying to accomplish their dreams?
Ask yourself, “What story do I care most about? What story am I uniquely positioned to tell?” Then pursue that! It’s impossible to guess what will be marketable and what won’t—in fact, I feared that both Every Shiny Thing and Up for Air wouldn’t be marketable, but I was so passionate about the ideas and felt so strongly that I had something to offer the world by telling those stories. I think that conviction came through and made those stories compelling.

What do you want readers to gain the most from “Up for Air?
Annabelle misreads some situations and makes some mistakes, but she is resilient. She lives through embarrassing experiences, and her missteps help her to recognize her strength and courage. I want readers to understand that we all make mistakes, and that’s okay. We are brave and lovable and wonderful even though we mess up—because we mess up and keep going!

Annabelle also has a very intense crush on an older boy named Connor who gives her a lot of flirtatious attention without thinking about how it will impact her. I’ve heard from several adult readers who’ve told me that they had their own “Connors” as young teens, and they believe that a book like Up for Air could have helped them to understand what was happening with those older boys who gave them confusing attention. I hope Annabelle’s relationship with Connor and realizations about him will be be validating, eye-opening, and comforting for a lot of tweens who read the book.

Where do you see yourself going from here?
I hope I’ll get to keep writing emotional, character-driven upper-middle-grade novels and interacting with the educators and kids who read them! It’s been wonderful to see how many teachers and parents of middle schoolers are excited about my books because they’re looking for novels that bridge the gap between middle grade and young adult books. Since I was always looking for books like that when I was teaching, it’s an honor and joy to get to write them now!

Do you have any final words of wisdom that you would like to share with our readers?
Do you know that saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy?” It’s true. Don’t waste energy comparing yourself to other people. It feels so much better to celebrate other people’s hard work and successes in addition to your own!

“Up for Air” by Laurie Morrison is available wherever books are sold!

To learn more about Laurie Morrison, check out her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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