, , , , , , , ,

by Kitty Felde

Kitty Felde at Literary Hill BookFest on Capitol Hill 2022

There is nothing more scary than a blank screen. Starting a new novel from scratch is more terrifying than any roller coaster in any amusement park anywhere in the world.

That’s why I avoid an empty page.

Instead, I’m a great believer in germination. Instead of starting from bare earth, I plant the tiniest of ideas, giving them time to take root and put up shoots. I never know which seeds will fully blossom, but I’m willing to be surprised.

I decided that 2023 would be the year to write the third book in my middle grade Fina Mendoza Mysteries series. When I sit down to get started, I know I won’t have to face that empty page, that computer screen that seems to laugh at me, doubt my talents as a writer, and mock my efforts to create something new. Luckily, my little patch of ideas has been germinating in a file called “Fina 3” on my phone. I’ve been pruning themes and plot points for more than a year.

My Fina Mendoza Mysteries series of books and podcasts follow the adventures of the 10-year-old daughter of a congressman from California who solves mysteries inside the U.S. Capitol. It’s a mystery, a family story, but also an introduction to civics education for elementary school readers.

Cherry Blossom time in DC

I know the title for book three is “Snake in the Grass,” about the bitter partisanship on Capitol Hill. So I’ve been researching groups in Washington whose members cross the aisle. I know there will be real snakes in the book, too, so I visited the Reptile Discovery Center at the National Zoo in Washington to meet some of my reptile characters in person. I collected links to newspaper stories about snake invasions in suburban homes around D.C. (There are an astonishing number of snake sightings all over Washington!)

I know that the teenage character Gabby will be learning to drive, so there are links in my file to driver’s license requirements in the District of Columbia, and even a sample test for getting a permit.

I know the story takes place in the spring, which in Washington means the Cherry Blossom Festival and I know that native Californian Fina will think they are pink jacaranda trees. (There ARE such things!)

Spring also means practice for the Congressional Baseball Game and I’ve found out the names of the actual coaches for the Democratic and Republican teams and where they practice.

Staffers root for their boss, Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, the first woman to play at the Congressional Baseball Game

I’ve scribbled down a few paragraphs of dialogue that will go somewhere in the book, and lots of bullet points with questions about things I’m not sure about just yet.

In other words, I have a messy, disorganized file, not unlike my brain, that will somehow sort itself out when I sit down to pound out a first draft. I will weed out the ideas that don’t work or aren’t necessary, much like in my messy real-life garden. I will continue to collect random ideas that will either bloom or die off because they don’t fit into my plot.

That messy garden of notes, links, and random thoughts lets me face that empty page with courage, knowing that those tiny seeds of ideas will grow and eventually blossom into a completed manuscript.

Germination. It takes time and patience to grow a garden. Or write a book.

For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.

Kitty Felde is a veteran public radio journalist who covered Capitol Hill for nearly a decade. Her Fina Mendoza Mysteries series received praise from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and bipartisan praise from members of Congress. The Fina Mendoza Mysteries episodic podcast has nearly 100,000 downloads. Kitty also hosts the award-winning Book Club for Kids podcast.

Photos courtesy of the author.