Hi, Wendy. I’m really excited to talk to you not only because you recently revealed the cover of your debut upcoming book, It’s a mystery, Pig-Face, but also because you’ve got a unique story about how you got there!
Let’s start with the first question I’ve been dying to ask, how did you make the jump from CEO to author? I kind of imagine you yelling, “I quit!” and storming out of the office!
Ha! It was almost that dramatic (at least to me!) but not quite!
I had written years before and at university and it had always been my dream to write for children. But then I allowed working and having my own children to side-track me. Comments like “You can’t make a living as a writer”, “You have no connections in the industry” and “You don’t have an MFA” also didn’t help my confidence. So I kept working and I rose up through the ranks until I became head of my government’s Department of Education, overseeing a nearly billion dollar budget and hundreds of staff. I was at the top of the game, but I wasn’t happy, because the dream of writing was always there at the back of my mind. My father’s death was my wake-up call and my permission slip. What was I waiting for?
The day I gave notice was the hardest thing I’d ever done. I knew people would think it was foolish to walk away from such a good job to switch careers for something that might never pan out. Then I realized I didn’t care what other people thought. I was going to give this a shot, and I decided to apply the same principles to my new career that had gotten me to the top in my old one:
1) Be willing to change things when I got better information (the key is to become a good writer, not to think your work is so precious it can’t benefit from advice and criticism)
2) Be excellent. I can always tell when I’m cutting corners or being lazy. Cutting corners and being lazy doesn’t equal publication at least for me!
3) Be kind, optimistic, and patient. For the first two years, I had to be my own cheerleader because nothing was happening. I just had to believe the work I was putting into my writing would result in something wonderful. Even more importantly, I had to tell myself this wasn’t a race; others’ success did not mean I wouldn’t also have success.
Once you committed to writing, how many queries did you send out before you found your agent?
Oh the first year was horrendous! I hadn’t written in SO long, the business had changed so much and I lived hundreds of miles away from conferences that could have helped me. So I read tons of books on the craft of writing, took tons of online courses, wrote and rewrote, and hired professionals to give me critiques. It was very humbling to be starting all over again, and I queried WAY too early. I was sure everyone was waiting for my book. They weren’t. After about twenty or thirty queries I stopped, realized I was not following my own principle #2 and did a massive rewrite based on the feedback I was getting. I began to submit again in September 2014. I think I submitted to about 15 agencies that month and almost all of them asked for full or partial manuscripts. Finally, I could see the work I was doing was paying off. The week I signed with my agent, Lauren Galit of LKG Agency, I was in discussions with several other agents to represent me. But I chose Lauren because not only was she smart, she was witty and straightforward. The day Lauren signed me, I cried. It was almost two years after I’d left my old job and finally, I’ had a foot in the door! She sold my book a few months later!
What inspired this book?
The book is a kind of love letter to the small town where I grew up. The kids in our neighbourhood were always looking for mysteries to solve. If we couldn’t find one, we made one up, and not always successfully! Tracy, the main character in It’s a Mystery, Pig Face!, makes a lot of mistakes and assumptions about things based on how she sees the world.
Alright, now that we know you’re not only a super business lady and author, what’s another super power you’d like to add to your troupe?
Singer. I wish I could sing like Adele! Sadly, this one will likely evade me forever! It was not be my third career!
Do you write at night or in the morning?
Morning all the way.
Fill in the blank: I must have ______ when I’m writing.
I must have quiet when I’m writing and I must dither on the computer for exactly fifteen minutes. Don’t ask me why – maybe to get it out of my system?
Wendy McLeod MacKnight grew up in a magical small town with a library card as her prized possession. Over the course of her professional life, she’s been responsible for early childhood and child welfare programming, and ended her public service career as head of the Government of New Brunswick’s Department of Education. Then one day she woke up and decided it was time to pursue her life-long dream of writing books for children. It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! is her debut novel and any resemblance to the author is purely intentional. Wendy lives in New Brunswick, Canada with her family, Indy the Wonder Dog, her garden, and a ne’er-do-well groundhog.