After years as a freelance musician, becoming a stay-at-home dad afforded David Arnold, author of Mosquitoland (Viking, Mar.), time to agonize over what direction he wanted to take his career. “In the first few years, taking care of my son was special, but there were definite moments of [wondering], what do I do with my life?” he says. And as his new son played with his toys on a mat, Arnold was steps away, writing his first book.
At first, Arnold wrote middle-grade stories. “I love the whimsy inherent in middle grade,” he notes. He also tried his hand at picture books: “I thought anyone could do it. I know now that it’s one of the hardest things to do.” Initially, the main character of Mosquitoland was a boy in Mississippi, but as Arnold grew closer to the heart of the story, he moved the focus toward Ohio (where he grew up) and fine-tuned the character to create Mim, a 16-year-old girl who embarks on a road trip from Mississippi to Ohio to see her ailing mother, while dealing with her own struggles.
Getting published for the first time was an almost paradoxical process. For Arnold, the deal happened rather quickly, after starting to send out query letters to agents in May 2013. That July, he was signed by Daniel Lazar at Writers House, and the book sold to Ken Wright at Viking in September. This may seem rapid, but, Arnold says, “one of the things I learned is the importance of taking time.” He adds: “Rejection hurts but [avoid] submitting before it’s ready. I spent a lot of time on the manuscript before I ever started querying agents.” Arnold thinks the extra time and attention that he devoted to his manuscript paid off.
“I feel like the luckiest writer in the world,” Arnold says. “Ken and his assistant, Alex Ulyett, are so brilliant and so insightful.” Arnold has also relished being part of the community of YA writers. He joined his regional chapter of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators before he had a finished manuscript and finds that “the industry as a whole is so kind and welcoming.”
Arnold and his wife have recently bought a house in Lexington, Ky., and the family is in the process of moving. He’s also at work on his next book, though it’s in the very early stages. But he’s got the milieu down: “I’m trying to write a book the way Arcade Fire performs a song, with reckless energy, and very youthfully.”
Arnold notes that people often say they don’t have time write, as he himself once did. But eventually he found the motivation and carved out time, even if it meant “staying up until three or four in the morning and feeling like a zombie the next day.” He says, “Sometimes I’d take my son to the Y day care, and you can’t leave the premises, but I would just write in the lobby.”
When asked what drives him to work this hard, Arnold replies: “I’m driven by character. If I care about the character, I’ll work through any plot issues. I have to write for the character, I have to finish [the story] for them.”
To see all six of this season’s Flying Starts authors and illustrators, click here.