A Round of Questions for Author Grant Overstake
How would you describe Maggie Vaults Over the Moon to someone who hasn’t read it?
Maggie is the story of a gutsy Kansas farm girl who overcomes tragedy and soars to new heights as a pole-vaulter, but, at the same time, it’s much more than just a sports story.
Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
KIRKUS REVIEWS calls Maggie, “A fine young adult novel about perseverance in sports and in life.” And, there’s a deeper meaning to the story, if you look for it. The Poet Laureate of Kansas told me, “There are some big ideas in this book,” and I was so pleased that she noticed.
If Oprah invited you onto her show to talk about your book, what would the theme of the show be?
Oprah is a deep-thinker. She’d be eager to talk about our all-good Universe and the healing power of Spirit. Without being religious, the novel follows the heroine on a spiritual journey toward healing and awareness. I think Oprah would love Maggie Steele. Somebody get her a copy of the book!
How much of the book is based on real life (either yours or someone you know)?
Maggie is a piece of realistic fiction which takes place in a composite rural Kansas farming community. But Maggie’s quest is a familiar one, to make it to the Kansas State High School Track and Field Championships, the largest track meet in the nation, with over 3,000 participants. I took the farm scenes from my experiences as a newspaper editor and pastor in rural Kansas. And I competed at the Kansas State Track Meet three times in high school with limited success. I wanted to experience what it would be like to be a state champion, and so I wrote a story about it.
How did you get the idea for the novel?
Watching former Olympic pole-vaulter Earl Bell share his coaching wisdom with young vaulters at the Tailwind Pole Vault Club in Jamestown, Kansas. I asked him if he would consider coaching a fictional pole-vaulter to new heights and when he said yes, I knew Maggie was destined for greatness. I also want to say that Tailwind Coach (Doc) Mark Breault also has played a huge role in Maggie’s success.
Which came first, the title or the story idea?
The title came later. I wanted to make sure that the title included a female character’s name and the sport of pole-vaulting, which is one of the fastest-growing and most popular sports among girls. When it came to the title, I was kind of thinking about Google search, to be honest with you. It’s the first novel ever to be written about this awesome sport, and I wanted people to find it.
What scene or bit of dialogue in the book are you most proud of, and why?
KIRKUS REVIEWS liked the pole-vaulting scenes because of their “authenticity and tension.” I enjoyed writing them because I pole-vaulted myself and in writing about it I felt a kinetic connection to the scenes. Many coaches have purchased copies of the book for their vaulters, because it’s so realistic. I cried several times writing the book, in sympathy for Maggie and what she was going through. The story has provided hope and healing for many who’ve suffered profound loss in their lives.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about your book?
Yes and No. Even though I’m sure it’s not perfect, I promised myself not to second-guess my first novel, to protect myself from too much self-criticism. I’m demanding and that can overwhelm my creative self if I allow it. The fact that this story is written in first-person protected me. High school seniors aren’t expected to write like JK Rowling, so it felt safe for me as a first-time author to let my character say what she had to say, in her own words and phrases.
I’m delighted that so many people have been inspired by the story, from all walks of life, which is more important than the quality of writing, in my view. I’m happy that the quality of the writing also has been recognized. The KIRKUS review was a big affirmation. And the story has been praised by writers I admire and respect. And, having the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA) endorse the story and put it on the cover of their statewide journal was a great tribute.
What inspired you to write your first novel?
After writing thousands of features and articles as a journalist, it was time to write a novel. I happened to be between jobs when I realized that it was time to begin. What started out as a way to preserve my sanity during the job search became a passion. Now I’m an author full-time. It’s fulfilling. I work every weekday morning. My second novel, The Things We Put Away, is almost finished. Afternoons, I spend time marketing.
Looking back, who influenced you on your writing journey?
First and foremost, I was blessed to have outstanding newspaper editors. They taught me how to tell a good story and tightly edit my own copy. As a novelist, I’ve learned the importance of listening to the Voice. Some might think I’m way out there, but I believe there is a Source where creative ideas come from. I write best in the wee hours of the morning. I come away astonished at what shows up on the page.
Also, I’ve read several how-to books on fiction writing. I needed help to make the shift to fiction. The thing I learned is that there are Three Important Rules to Writing Fiction, but nobody really knows what they are. There is a real craft to storytelling, but you’ve got to trust the voice in your head and be who you are. It seems to be working for me so far.
Considering a book from the first word you write to the moment you see it on a bookstore shelf, what’s your favorite part of the process? What’s your least favorite?
Funny you should ask. I took time to visualize the entire publishing process, from the writing, to editing, to publishing, seeing everything turning out right for Maggie. I envisioned the book coming off the press, onto the shipping truck, and onto bookstore and library shelves. I saw it being read by happy readers. I even saw myself sitting at the movie theater, eating popcorn, watching the Maggie movie. I’m still holding that thought (screenwriters take note).
My least favorite thing was searching for a literary agent willing to give a first-time author and Maggie a chance. After six months and several nice rejection letters, I grew impatient and formed my own publishing company, Go Team Enterprises. Before letting the novel go to press, we made every effort to make sure the manuscript was up to professional standards. We didn’t want anyone to say, “Oh, it’s obviously self-published!” Nobody has said that about Maggie, so I see that as a validation. The owner of Watermark Books here in Wichita says, “Maggie isn’t self-published; it’s independently published, and there’s a big difference.”
I’ve also done all of my own marketing for Maggie, which has been a daily process. I’ve spent more time and energy on Maggie than any publishing house would have. I’m in the process of looking for the right publicist to help guide my next project, but doing the first one myself was best for me, because I learned so much in a short time.
What’s up next for Maggie?
I’m delighted to announce that Maggie’s audiobook, read by a six-time Audie Award Finalist Tavia Gilbert, will be released March 31st by Blackstone Audio, the nation’s largest independent audiobook distributor. Tavia is one of most sought-after voice actors in the industry. There are hundreds of authors and publishing houses begging her to perform their stories, and I’m delighted beyond words that she chose to read mine. To give you an idea of how enthusiastic she is about Maggie, Tavia helped me raise funds for the project through a crowdfunding campaign, and then helped me secure the long-term deal with Blackstone Audio.
What’s up next for you?
My second novel, The Things We Put Away, is in final edits. I’m working on the plot summary and query letter, and plan to have an agent represent me on this one. I can’t wait for you to read it!
Do you have any advice for other budding authors?
If you get stuck while trying to write on a computer, get out a pen and paper. I write fiction in longhand and then my wife, Claire, who is truly a saint, types it into the computer. I don’t get to see it again until I’ve written the entire story. I tried writing fiction on a keyboard, but because of my newspaper background, I kept going back up the screen to polish what I’d written. Also, when you delete something from the computer, it’s gone, which is a bummer if you change your mind. Writing longhand is better for me, I’ve found.
I’ve also found inspiration from Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way. In fact, I facilitate Artist’s Way creative workshops once a week here in Wichita. It’s refreshing for me to be around other creative people.
- Is there anything else you’d like to say to your readers?
Thank you for visiting Grain Valley, Kansas. I look forward to sharing my next novel with you soon. Until then, like Grandma says, “I’m knowing the highest and best for you.”