Michelle Houtslives and plays on a family farm in West Central Ohio. She shares her days with her three children, the farmer of her dreams, some cattle, hogs, a whole lot of barn cats, a golden retriever, and a goat who thinks he’s a golden retriever. She enjoys reading, cooking and hiking any place that has hills because where she lives it is very flat. An eternal student, Michelle has degrees in special education and speech-language pathology. The Beef Princess of Practical County (Random House Children’s Books) is Michelle’s first novel for middle grade readers. It received the 2010 International Reading Association Children’s Book Award for intermediate fiction and the 2011 Nebraska Agricultural Children’s Book of the Year. It was a finalist for the 2010 Buckeye Children’s Book Award and the 2011-12 Indiana Young Hoosier Book Award. Michelle’s next middle grade novel, Winterfrost, will be released in 2014 from Candlewick Press. For more info, visit her website and her blog.
Let the conversation begin!
Earliest childhood memory?
Love this question – no one ever asks and I’ve got a good one. I was born in State College, Pennsylvania (No, I don’t remember being born… now, that would be a good one!) We lived in a neat split-level house that I recall vividly even though we move toOhio when I was just four. When you walked in the front door of the house onSylvan Drive, you faced two sets of stairs. One went down to the basement living area and the other up, to the living room, dining room and kitchen areas. I can very clearly recall standing at the top of the stairs near the kitchen and looking down to the front door as my parents entered, a bundle of blankets in my mother’s arms. They were bringing my younger sister home, and as my mother grabbed my toddler-sized hand after a week in the hospital with an infant, she exclaimed, “Oh my, you’re so big!” I was two years and two months old.
What’s the first item on your bucket list?
Aside from restoring the schoolhouse, I dream of taking my family to my second favorite country in the world, Denmark. I am fortunate to have lived there for six months following college (that was a long time ago) and to go back once for a wedding a few years back. I’m even more fortunate that the friends I made there have kept in touch and many have even visited ourOhiofarm. So, someday, someday, someday… I want to take my husband and kids to see what’s so special aboutDenmark.
What element would you add to your writing space if money wasn’t an issue?
I guess there’s only one word to answer this question: Restoration.
Here’s my (future) writing space. Our family acquired it a few years ago and it sits just one mile from my house. Although it needs a little work – okay, a LOT of work, it’s in great shape for its age. Yep, that 1-8-9-4 in the slate on the roof is the year it was built. I have all kinds of visions for making it my place to write. And not one of them includes an outhouse. Yeah, I’ve got some work to do.
Easier to write before or after you were published?
I think it was easier to write before The Beef Princess of Practical County was published. For a couple reasons. First, there is so much to do now that goes along with being published that doesn’t have a thing to do with creating a new story. Like book signings and school visits and keeping up a website and answering emails. And doing interviews! All of those things are great fun and don’t at all begrudge that they are waiting for me! But they do take time, time that might be spent on the next book. Another reason it’s a little harder now is because when I wasn’t published, I had hopes, but few expectations. After all, doesn’t everyone tell you how hard it is to get published? Don’t expect too much. After the first book, I feel that my own expectations of myself grew. The pressure was on now to perform, to whip out another great book. I’ve learned to balance those expectations with reality. Life is full, and there is time for the next great book to develop.
Outliner or seat-of-the-pantser?
Oh, seat-of-the-pantser for sure. My characters never reveal enough about their plans for me to outline!
How long do you take to write a book?
About a year for a MG novel. 3-4 months to get it down. 2-3 months to let it (and me!) breathe. 1 -2 on first revisions. 1-2 for more breathing. 1-2 on second revisions. Then it’s ready to actually show to an editor or agent. Anytime I’ve rushed the process, I’ve regretted it.
What was the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?
Sunrise Over Gudhjem. It ‘s a smoked fish dish with a raw egg broken over it (Hence the sunrise… get it?) Named for a beautiful city in Denmark.
What is your secret talent?
I can pick up most anything with my toes. Thanks for letting me know it is a talent! All along I thought I was just too lazy to bend down!