The first in this week-long series of interviews with brilliant young authors is fourteen-year-old Millie Florence, whose debut novella Honey Butter blew me away last week. She’s kindly given up her time to share with us, among other things, some of her tips for young characters. She writes mostly children’s fiction and poetry.
Where did the inspiration for Honey Butter come from?
It started with the paint cards. About a year and a half ago my family was doing some work on our house, which meant a lot of trips to the paint store. While my parent discussed colors, returned samples, and looked at prices, my four siblings and I usually hung out in the sample card area.
Having nothing better to do, I spent the time reading the names of the colors, and was soon enchanted by how the simple word combinations could call to mind a picture in my head. I love wordplay, and had written many stories before I started Honey Butter, so the interesting names naturally appealed to me.
At first I started taking a few home, making sets of colors as a sort of character development game. After a while I had a small collection, and then came the idea that started Honey Butter. What if I created a story about a character who was obsessed with paint cards? Before long I discovered a picture in my head of the main character, a stubborn seven-year-old girl with a battered blue shoebox under her arm. And from that small seed of a story, my book grew.
In what way is writing from the perspective of a young child different to writing as someone your own age or older?
In some ways I believe, writing from the perspective of a young child is easier, because I’ve already been that age, so I can look back at some of my own experiences with distance from them.
The biggest difference I think though, is the way little kids express themselves. Young children have just as complicated emotions and opinions as older ones do, but they are not quite as good at expressing it, sometimes not even to themselves. So I have to get creative in the way I convey Jamie’s emotions and thoughts. Show, don’t tell, is a good rule for that, because Jamie would have a lot of trouble explaining her thoughts, but through her actions and expressions she shows them without thinking about it.
What tips do you have for writing in an authentic child’s voice?
1. See them as a character, not a specimen.
2. Realize that they have their reasons for even the most irrational actions. There are plenty of things my main character, Jamie, does throughout the book that seem slightly ridiculous or not thought through. But to Jamie it seems perfectly reasonable to do them. Get inside the head of your little character and listen to their reasoning.
3. Read the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary. Seriously. If anything can show you how a little kid thinks, this will. I highly recommend the audiobooks read by Stockard Channing, it brings the whole thing to life.
4. Spend time around some young kids you know. Talk to them, play with them, keep an open mind and try not to act like the older one.
5. I mentioned before that some of the things young characters do don’t seem thought through. That’s because, much of the time, they aren’t. I remember when I was little once and my mom told me that I should ‘think before I act’. I was appalled. Was I seriously supposed to stop and think about what I was doing every time I did anything? It seemed tedious and unnecessarily complicated.
Little kids act on instinct, and don’t usually ponder the consequences of what they are doing.
6. Don’t underestimate them. If you treat your character (or any little kid) like you’re better than them because you’re older, they won’t listen to you. Try not only to understand what they’re thinking, but also to agree with them on some level. And realize that just because they’re young, doesn’t mean that they can’t play a big part in your story.
Has being homeschooled affected your writing?
Absolutely. I would not be the person I am today were it not for homeschooling. As a homeschooler I have a much more flexible schedule and a lot more time of my own. Have a strike of inspiration in the middle of math? No problem! Just pause and hurry over to the nearest notebook or computer. And the things I learn can be tailored to fit my interests; writing of course, among others. And my writing and self-publishing can count towards my high school credits.
Are your family and friends supportive of your writing?
They are incredibility supportive! My parents read my early drafts and give me feedback. I love brainstorming with them; our ideas bounce back and forth like lightning. There’s also quite a bit of good-natured teasing and inside jokes surrounding my book. Referring to the crazy things that happened in my earlier drafts or coming up with absurd idea for sequels, like ‘Sherwin Williams goes out of business!’
Whenever we go anywhere interesting, my younger siblings think that I should set up a book signing, and none of them ever hesitate to say proudly to strangers, ‘my sister wrote a book’ should the conversation turn even slightly in that direction.
What are you working on next?
A fantasy novel, and a collection of poems. I have no release dates for them yet, and I don’t want to give too much away as I’m early in the process. But I will say I do tend to be more of a fantasy person myself. Honey Butter is actually quite different from the few dozen stories I wrote before it, but which never made it to the publishing stage. I love Honey Butter, despite the imperfections that are unavoidable to the eye of the author, and I will always keep it close to my heart. It’s a sweet book and filled with my soul and heart. I will say though that I am thrilled to be writing a new story once again, and am excited to see where this next adventure will take me.
What one piece of practical advice would you give to other young writers?
Wonder. Dream. Imagine. So much of the time we get all tangled up in the little nitty-gritty details of writing that we forget what the foundation of it really is. Imagination. Don’t be afraid to waste time staring at the slow progress of the ceiling fan while your mind flies away with wild and unrealistic fantasies. Unrealistic fantasies are what stories are built upon. Today spend ten or twenty minutes doing absolutely nothing, no music, no phone, just let your mind roam. Notice the world. See it. Feel it. Smell it. Let yourself get board and see what happens inside your head. Those are the best conditions for a story to be born. Don’t dismiss the crazy ideas that pop up as un-usable. This is an art after all; there is no wrong, only write.
Millie Florence is an adventurous homeschooler who published her first book, ‘Honey Butter’, at age 13. She loves sushi, zip lines, and just about all things yellow.
Millie lives in a picturesque blue house in the woods with her parents and her four siblings, and a varying amount of cats and chickens.
Find Millie at:
And Honey Butter at:
If there’s anything else you’re curious about then Millie has said she’ll be happy to answer any questions you have for her in the comments.
Tomorrow we’ll be hearing from Coby Lee Davis, another inspiring teen author and entrepreneur, and learning how she balances two microbusinesses on top of High School.