As a rule of thumb, New Hampshire author Joseph Monninger makes a point to write at least 1,000 words a day.
“Long ago, I read Sailor on Horseback: The Biography of Jack London by Irving Stone,” Monninger said in a phone interview. “It talked about how Jack London would write between a thousand and two thousand words a day. When I read that, I tried to make it my own goal.”
To somebody who writes, this really isn’t a big deal, Monninger said. Some days he’ll write more, between 2,000 and 3,000 words, while hidden away in his tiny backyard writing cabin. (It’s how he gets stuff done — away from distractions, away from the Internet.)
But based simply on how much Monninger has published, the system works. Just last January, for instance, the Hippo reviewed his recent novel, Margaret from Maine. That same month, his first middle-grade book, Crash, was released, and a couple months later, the second in that series, Cave-in.
“The first one came out in January. The publisher wanted to see if there was an appetite for this type of thing,” Monninger said.
The publisher is Scholastic, who approached Monninger with the idea for the series at its start. The publishers knew him from some of his successful young adult novels, like Baby, which earned the 2008 award for best children’s literature from the Peace Corps Writers and was also named a Top 10 book by the American Library Association. Hippie Chick also did well and won a blue ribbon through the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books in 2008.
In his new series, “Each book starts out with a new group of kids. The first three follow a plane crash in Alaska, a small tremor that hits the coast of Maine, a bus breaking down in Minnesota,” Monninger said.
Each chapter begins with a survival tip, and the plot follows from there, with multiple points of view and lots of action. Two more of this series are set to come out in 2014: Breakdown, which will be released in July, and Flood, which comes out September.
This is the youngest audience he’s ever written for.
“They’re adventure stories,” Monninger said. “My editor and I talked about it — when we were kids, we couldn’t wait to read stories like these. The other thing is that this whole survival thing is in the vapor right now.”
There is, however, a bit of a different air in writing books for middle-grade readers.
“The characterization is probably not as deep. There are no flashbacks — it’s all straightforward narrative,” he said. “It’s kind of fun from a writing standpoint. It’s just go, go, go.”
But there are other benefits, too. There are no readers like kid readers.
“Writing for young people is sometimes the best writing we can do. We can never read with the same passion and absorption as we can when we’re young. When I was young and got into a book, it was something important. I hope to give part of that experience back to the kids who are reading these books,” he said.
The writing process, however, is always the same.
“It’s all the same muscles,” Monninger said.
Regardless of whether those 1,000 words are for kid or adult fiction or nonfiction, he said, you nearly always meet the same challenges when you write. The biggest one? Just sitting down and doing it.
It’s what he tells his students at Plymouth State University, where he teaches.
“To be good at anything, you have to put your 10,000 hours into it. And I’ve put in my hours,” Monninger said.
As seen in the April 24, 2014 issue of the Hippo.