Chatting with Millie Florence about middle grade novels
I recently had the lovely opportunity to interview Millie Florence, the author of one of the very best books I read last year: Honey Butter. It’s a charming middle grade novel that reminds me of L.M. Montgomery and Beverly Cleary and Kate DiCamillo and Jeanne Birdsall all rolled into one, which is very high praise indeed! (If you haven’t yet picked up a copy, you’re missing out!) Millie actually published the book when she was 13 years old, and since then, she has published two more novels: Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen, and her brand-new release, The Balter of Ashton Harper. Read on to hear about her writing process, inspiration, and some favorite books!
I loved reading Honey Butter, and I’m curious to know: what books inspired you while you were writing it?
First of all, thank you so much! I’m so glad you enjoyed Honey Butter!
Several of the books I had in mind when I wrote Honey Butter were the Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, and Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery.
I wanted to write a story that paid attention to what it feels like to be a child, and those books are some of the best at that.
Which authors have inspired you the most over the years?
I could make this list a mile long, but I’ll try to limit myself.
Johnathan Auxier. He is the author of Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster, which took him years to collect the inspiration to write. I find his story very motivating on days when my writing feels slow, or I’m not making as much progress as I would like in my career.
Trenton Lee Stewart, the author of The Mysterious Benedict Society. The Mysterious Benedict Society is one of my favorite books of all time. It’s everything I love in a middle-grade novel, and the sort of book I aspire to write someday.
L.M. Montgomery. I grew up with the Anne of Green Gables books, so they had a huge influence on my writing journey. I listened to the free Librivox audiobook on a loop from ages seven to nine.
Abbie Emmons, a homeschool graduate and author YouTuber. I love her videos and how she breaks down the writing process! Watching her videos always inspires me to keep writing!
Can you give us some behind-the-scenes insights into your writing and research process?
The Balter of Ashton Harper is the only story I’ve written so far that required true historical research, which was a very interesting experience! However, I had unintentionally already done a lot of research for it through several essays I wrote on Regency-era culture in my senior year of homeschooled high school. So in many ways, further research came quite easily to me because I had already started.
My writing process has varied over the years and changes a bit depending on what sort of book I’m writing, but it usually looks like this: a rough first draft, a round of beta readers, a second draft, another round of beta readers, a third, fourth, and sometimes fifth draft, until I’m satisfied with the story. Then I begin to pursue either the self-publishing process or begin pitching the book to publishers.
What’s your best advice for writers?
For new and young writers, my main tip would be “quantity over quality”. When you’re just starting out, often you’ll outgrow your current project, skill-wise, before you have time to finish it. Write lots of short stories, poems, free writes, and writing exercises. There’s nothing wrong with attempting that novel you’ve been dreaming of, but I noticed a major improvement in my own writing when I started incorporating more short writing “challenges” into my day-to-day routine, which helped me a lot with those longer projects.
Tell a story in five words, write a page describing your garage using all five senses, or create a poem where every line must begin with the letter C. Just like athletes have warm-up exercises to make their physical muscles stronger, as writers, we should give our creative muscles (our brain) some warm-ups too.
Do you think writers should cultivate a habit of re-reading?
Beyond re-reading, I believe studying the books you love can be extremely helpful. It’s like taking apart an alarm clock to figure out how it works. The more you read the books you love, the more the individual elements become apparent to, you, and learning how stories you love work is one more step towards writing a book that you love!
I know you’re a proponent of creative exercises for writers. Have you been doing any fun things lately to fuel your creativity?
A habit I’ve developed over the past year is taking a walk first thing in the morning before I do anything else. That absolutely fuels me creatively! The time in nature and allowing my mind to wander is the perfect recipe for coming up with new ideas and refining old ones.
I’ve also been very inspired by writing on my manual typewriter lately. Doing things outside of a digital format is so helpful sometimes. It has fewer distractions and also makes me feel more in tune with my work. There’s not a sheet of glass between me and the words I write. I can touch the paper and smell the ink.
Please tell us about your newest book, The Balter of Ashton Harper! How did you decide to write a magical book set in Regency England?
Originally, I believe, I thought the book would be just fantasy. It started with the three Harper siblings, and I knew from the beginning that dancing would play a large role in the story, and the sort of dancing I had in mind was English country dancing. Over time, the idea evolved from a world inspired by the Regency era to the Regency era world with a sprinkle of magic, and that was when I began to write my first draft.
The heart of the book has always been the Harper siblings. Something I want to see more of in fiction is realistic sibling relationships. Ashton, Zizi, and Drusilla love each other, but like any human relationship, things get complicated. They try and fail, they fight and forgive. Being a family is not easy, but it’s worth it!
I’d also love to hear about your upcoming picture book!
Yes! My picture book, No Snow Yet, is coming out sometime this winter, release date to be announced. It’s illustrated by the marvelous Sarah Baren, who I am so excited to be working with! The manuscript is actually based on a poem I wrote when I was twelve, which is crazy to think about!
No Snow Yet follows a young girl who, while wishing and waiting for snow, discovers that even without it, the winter world is beautiful. It’s a story about finding wonder in the waiting, and a celebration of nature.
This blog is all about vintage middle grade! Do you have a favorite vintage MG title?
One that has always stuck with me is A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which is about how the power of kindness and imagination can make us better people, and the world around us a better place. The protagonist, Sara Crewe, is one of the most selfless and inspiring characters I’ve ever read, yet utterly realistic and far from perfect.
It’s such a beautiful story!
Are there any particular stories you’d love to see told by current authors? What would be your dream middle grade book to read?
I want to see more MG literary adventure books! Books like The Mysterious Benedict Society that are clever, funny, and action-packed, yet aren’t afraid to use big words and delve deep into timeless topics that force you to sit back and think. It’s a difficult balance, but when it’s done right, those are my absolute favorite books to read! Books that aren’t afraid to take themselves seriously, but that also aren’t afraid to be utterly ridiculous.
In other words, unafraid to be childlike in every way.
Many thanks to Millie for participating in this interview!