July 5, 2016

Congrats to Tracy Wymer on the release of SOAR!

Congratulations to Tracy Wymer on the release of his playful and emotional middle grade novel, Soar.

The Story

Seventh grader Eddie is determined to honor his father's legacy and win the school science fair in this fun and quirky debut novel.

Eddie learned everything there is to know about birding from his dad, including the legend of the Golden Eagle, which Dad claimed he saw once down near Miss Dorothy's pond. According to his dad, the Golden Eagle had wings wider than a creek and talons the size of bulldozer claws. But when Eddie was in sixth grade, Dad "flew away" for good, leaving Eddie on his own to await the return of the elusive raptor.

Now Eddie is starting seventh grade and trying to impress Gabriella, the new girl in town. The annual seventh grade Science Symposium (which Dad famously won) is looming, and Eddie is determined to claim the blue ribbon for himself. With Mr. Dover, the science teacher who was Dad's birding rival, seemingly against him, and with Mouton, the class bully, making his life miserable on all fronts, Eddie is determined to overcome everything and live up to Dad's memory. Can Eddie soar and make his dream take flight?

The Reviews
Thirteen-year-old Eddie Wilson is determined to win the seventh grade Science Symposium prize, as his father did, and to spot the rare golden eagle his father claimed to have seen as a young birder. But no one believed Joe Wilson, who had a reputation for wild exaggeration, and Eddie, now mourning his father's death, grapples with uncertainty about his father's honesty. He develops a friendship with Gabriela, a new neighbor from Brazil whose father is deaf and keeps exotic birds. Eddie is filled with adolescent angst but tempers his fear and frustration in dealing with Mouton, a classmate with Tourette's syndrome who taunts and bullies him and has stolen and trashed his bicycle. When his science teacher pairs him with Mouton for the Symposium project, Eddie must decide how to cooperate with his partner and harness Mouton's hidden artistic talent to devise an award-worthy project that will restore his father's good name. Descriptive bird references add texture to the fast-paced and absorbing first-person narrative and balance the emotional elements of the story. Eddie, an avid birder and artist himself, is a sympathetic character dealing with complex personal and practical issues that include antagonism toward his science teacher and concern over his mother's smoking. VERDICT This is an enjoyable read that avoids predictability and provides a satisfying conclusion; perfect for middle school students looking for realism.
--School Library Journal

The Interview
Q: Where did you get the inspiration for your book? I was teaching fourth grade reading/language arts and finally decided that I wanted to graduate elementary school and move up to middle school. Before my first year teaching sixth grade English, my colleague (the wonderful Cherie Boss!) informed me about our grade level research project on North American Birds. My first thought was “Birds? Puh. I teach English, not science.” But after teaching the project for several years, my students’ excitement for the subject inspired me. I soon hatched a story about a boy looking for a particular bird. That was the fledgling period for SOAR. (I am truly sorry for all of the bird references; sometimes I can’t help it.)

Q: Describe your writing process, from idea to final draft. My writing process is very organic. What I mean is that I hardly ever outline or write down anything before beginning a story. I have a big picture plan in my head, and I might have a few pages of sparse notes, but I never go beyond that. For me, outlining stifles the creative process. I like to arrive at the page not knowing what comes next. I also feel like outlining paints me into corners from which I can’t escape.

Character and plot tend to form in my brain simultaneously. I can’t recall being fixated on one more than the other. Once I begin writing my story, I do a lot of research during the drafting process. While I approached SOAR with a working knowledge of North American Birds, I wasn’t sure which birds were common in Indiana, where the story takes place. I did a lot of research that eventually informed my storytelling in countless ways.

I tend to revise as I write. I will often revise my previous day’s work before moving forward. It’s probably not the most efficient way to write books, but it works for me.

Q: Tell us about your journey, from finding an agent to publication.
After writing for many years and garnering hundreds of rejections from agents, I self-published a middle grade novel called THE COLOR OF BONES. I don’t regret that decision, but it ultimately had nothing to do with me finally landing an agent.

After writing an early draft of SOAR, which was called BIRD NERD at the time, I sent out a total of about 100 queries to agents. I sent ten queries, then ten more, and so on. Many agents requested the manuscript and read it, but no one offered representation.

Then I read a blog post on the Dystel & Goderich Literary Management blog. It was about how authors could exist as both self-published and traditionally published. The blog post was more in-depth than that, and the truth of it stuck with me over the next few days. I decided to send another query to this agency, even though I’d already queried someone there with my book. I looked up who represented middle grade books and found John Rudolph. I sent him a query. Three days later, he requested the manuscript. Four months went by, so I decided to follow up with John. I sent him a short e-mail, asking him if he had a timeline for reading and responding to my middle grade novel BIRD NERD. The next day, John emailed me, explaining that he’d read BIRD NERD the previous night, loved it, and wanted to discuss representation. I received this email while in my car, waiting at a stoplight. (I know that I shouldn’t be checking e-mail while driving, but technically I wasn’t driving).

In the spring of 2013, I signed with John. Over the next six months, we worked on the manuscript extensively. We went through three drafts, and then he sent it out to editors in the fall of 2013. We went through two rounds of submissions to editors, but no one wanted it. John and I talked about sending it out for a third and final round, but I was done with this book. I told him that I wanted to shelf it and move on to something else. The truth is, I was devastated from the rejections. I wanted to sprout wings and fly away from the publishing business and never come back.

In the summer of 2014, I visited my parents in Indiana. One night, I lay awake, thinking about writing and whether I had the courage and stamina to write something new and go through the submission process again. Let’s be honest, this process involves a lot of rejection, and eventually it gets to you. I couldn’t sleep at all that night. At about 3:00 a.m. I had an epiphany. I believed in BIRD NERD. I believed in the story from day one, and that’s what had taken me this far.

I emailed John the next day and told him that I wanted to send BIRD NERD out into the world one last time. However, I wanted to retitle the book with something that better fit the personality of the story. John sent the book out for a third and final time. In the fall of 2014, the book sold to Aladdin/Simon & Schuster as MIGHT FLY AWAY. As you can see, that title didn’t last either. Eventually, it was pushed out of the nest to make room for SOAR.

Q: Why would someone want to buy your book? Heart and humor. If you like a story that pulls at your heart strings but also makes you laugh, then my book is for you. And of course if you like birds then SOAR is a winner-winner-chicken dinner.

Q: What are your favorite books? What are you reading now?I don’t have a list of favorite books. I read so many amazing books that it’s really difficult for me to narrow it to my favorites. There are so many awesome books that are unique and inspiring for completely different reasons. However, here are a few that are particularly memorable:

The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein (for demonstrating altruism in its simplest form)

Lizzie Bright and Buckminster Boy, by Gary D. Schmidt (for its imagery and profound sense of place)

Reality Boy, by A.S. King (for its truth, told through the eyes of someone who feels rejected by the world)

Check out Soar on Amazon and on Goodreads.