Millie Florence Talks Being a Teenage Published Author, Navigating Negativity, and Middle Grade Book DealsRead Now
Interview conducted by Cailey Tin
Cailey: First of all, thank you, Millie, for taking the time to have this written interview with me. Having several projects that will be coming out soon must make you busy, and I’m so excited for their release! Without further ado, here are some burning author questions prepared for you.
You published your debut book, Honey Butter, at age thirteen. What was the process of writing and publishing it like for you? Were there any resources or help you got at the start?
I may not have finished Honey Butter without NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, which is every November. It’s the challenge to write the entire first draft of a novel in thirty days. Their official website provides you with tools to track your word count goal, advice, and inspirational pep talks to keep you motivated. The program was definitely what pushed me to write the first draft of Honey Butter.
I’ve been obsessed with writing and storytelling for as long as I can remember, but always struggled to finish anything longer than a short story. My goal in writing Honey Butter was to write something a step up from a short story. Something simple and short and sweet, but something I could write with excellence. Something I could be proud of. Although all my projects before this had been epic fantasy and sci-fi novels, for this I purposefully kept myself to a limit of 30k words and a contemporary story set in an ordinary suburban neighborhood.
I have a video on my YouTube channel about the process of writing Honey Butter, which I highly recommend. I explain everything more eloquently and in depth there, with some advice for young writers who are experiencing the same struggles I did!
Are any of your characters based on friends, siblings, or anyone in real life? And most importantly, do they know if someone is based on them?
I’ve never purposefully based a character on someone I know, but it sometimes happens on its own. My younger brother and sister swear that the Zs, a pair of chaotic trouble-makers in Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen, are based on them. I never thought about that once while writing! It’s all very subconscious for me.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with both positive and negative reviews?
So far, yes, I have read my book reviews, but that’s mostly because there aren’t very many of them. Due to having a smaller number of reviews, there also aren’t many hateful ones. I anticipate receiving a lot more reviews once my traditionally published books are released, because those companies have a built-in audience that I don’t, and it has been on my mind lately, how I should approach reviews once I start getting large numbers of them.
Abbie Emmons, an author and YouTuber I follow, mentioned getting in a very bad mental place with reviews when her first novel came out. She read every single review for a while, and whether she had a good day or a bad day depended on the reviews she got. Obviously, that’s not healthy.
I think it’s a balance. You need to be able to take feedback and hear what your readers are saying, but you can’t let it consume your life. It comes down to having confidence in your story. You have to be able to see through both flattery and hate to recognize your story for what is truly is.
How was your journey from going through traditional publishing after self publishing your other projects? Which method do you prefer?
It’s been a really interesting experience, and I love both! I love the control of self-publishing and the fact that I get to be intimately a part of how the book is produced. Still, traditional publishing has a wonderful collaborative nature to it, and it’s amazing to work with such talented and hard-working individuals. The process and experience with traditional publishing can also really change depending on what company you work with.
In the future, I’ll choose a route depending on what I think each book needs.
What aspect of your books do you treasure the most? Were there any scenes that felt particularly easier or harder to write?
My favorite part of writing is when the characters come to life. If you develop characters well, they’ll sort of start talking and acting on their own, or, to put it in less whimsical terms, you know exactly what they would do or say in any situation. Thus, all you have to do is create the right situations, put your characters in them, sit back, and type as fast as you can. It’s like building a marble run and then experiencing the satisfaction of watching your marble zoom through it exactly as you intended. Those are my favorite scenes to write, with characters bouncing off each other and their environment until they land exactly where they need to be to further the plot.
Of course, sometimes it’s not that easy. Sometimes you’ve miscalculated the placement of a few pieces in your marble run, and when you put the marble in it falls out off the track, or goes in a different direction entirely. That’s when adjustments need to be made.
How has your process of writing books tailored to younger kids changed as you got older? How does writing middle grade feel to you compared to the process of writing books for an older audience?
I’ve never written a book for an audience older than middle grade, so I don’t know! I’ve never felt held back by the limitations of middle grade. In fact, I’m not really sure what those limitations are, it’s always been instinctual for me. Even now, at nineteen years old, I never read adult fiction and only read YA very rarely.
My process has never changed towards how I view middle-grade characters. I may not be middle-grade age anymore, but I remember what it was like, and I’m still around kids a lot, between my four younger siblings, babysitting, and volunteering in the children’s department at my library.
I think the key is not to make a list of dos and don’t when it comes to writing for and about kids, but instead to try and think like a kid yourself. Kids are smart, they just have less experience in life than adults do.
How long do you take to draft your books, and what does your author process look like? How many hours a day do you usually write?
I always write my first draft as quickly as possible, which takes one to three months, depending on the length of the draft. I have to strike while the iron is hot, so to speak, and take advantage of that initial burst of inspiration. The drafts after that vary, they can less or more time than the first draft, it all depends on what changes I decide to make. I alternate between receiving feedback from beta readers and author friends, and implementing the changes until I feel that the story is the best it can possibly be! It usually takes me four or five drafts to get there.
When I’m writing a first draft I spend anywhere from one to five hours a day writing. That’s the most intensive part of the process. Once I get to later drafts progress it a bit more difficult to measure. I’ll often go days or weeks without writing in drafts two and three, but I never stop brainstorming and thinking through the best way to improve the storyline. That way, when I do sit down to write, I don’t spend too much time staring at my blinking cursor. Half the battle is sorting out what I’m going to write. After that, it comes pretty easily to me.
How did you navigate the publishing process and “break into it”? Did it feel exciting or intimidating?
I always knew I wanted to publish my books someday, so I would say it felt a lot more exciting than intimidating. There was definitely a lot to learn, but I loved every minute of the learning process. I started out by researching publishing in-depth and eventually settled on using Ingramspark for my self-publishing distributor. Later, when I wanted to explore traditional publishing, I did a lot of research on how to query and the different pieces that went into that avenue.
What is the most difficult part of being a writer for you?
Getting distracted. Our modern world is full of distractions, and writing, by nature, requires you to be bored enough to come up with your own imaginative entertainment. When social media is always at my fingertips, that can be very difficult. Those distractions have always been a struggle for me, but I learn and grow every day!
Has middle grade always been your favorite genre, and do you plan to write something else in the future?
I follow my inspiration, and so far all the story ideas I’ve come up with have been middle-grade! If I get an idea in the future that better lends itself to YA, then yes, I’ll write a YA book, but otherwise, I don’t have any plans to. I do have plans to write more picture books in the future! Picture books are a very special medium to me–they’re like an art gallery and a short story rolled into one. I can’t draw, but I love working with people who can, and I love the challenge that comes with telling a story in such a short format.
If you could be anything but an author, what would it be?
A stage actor.
I’ve been acting in community theater since I was very young, and I absolutely love it. The collaboration with the cast and crew and the opportunity to bring a character to life is a very special experience. I love working with fellow creative people, and I love putting on a show. There’s something beautiful about hearing your audience’s reaction in real-time, and for a few hours, in one room, a group of strangers are all fully immersed in a story together.
Being an author while juggling school is extremely difficult. How did you navigate this?
I was homeschooled my entire life, which I genuinely believe is part of the reason I became the writer I am today. My parents tailored my education to me individually, which meant that at the beginning of every year, we would all sit down together and figure out what my education would look like for that phase of my life. I helped set my own goals and create my own booklist. Because I set my own deadlines, and because I was studying everything in a way that interested me, I learned how to be self-motivated, organized, and productive. I did all my schoolwork in the morning and then spent the rest of the day writing. A lot of the things I did to further my writing career also counted towards high school credits like creative writing, business writing, business research, etc.
Since you’re also an avid reader, I’d like to know– what books inspired aspects of your own projects? Do you read the same genres you write?
Yes! I’m a big fan of middle-grade, and I always will be. Two books that were influential to me at a young age were Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I listened to those two audiobooks over and over and over again when I was little, and they definitely instilled in me a sense of wonder for everyday life, and the importance of imagination and hope.
One of my favorite quotes about storytelling is “The two most engaging powers of an author are to make new things familiar, and familiar things new.” Anne of Green Gables and A Little Princess are in the category of making familiar things new.
In the category of making new things familiar, I also grew up reading Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia.
On the topic of books, who are your favorite authors and what aspect of their writing do you admire the most?
My favorite book of all time is The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. It checks all the boxes of everything I love in a middle-grade novel and executes them to near perfection. Mystery and adventure, lively characters, subtly quirky narration, impossible odds, and yet everlasting hope. It’s an adventure that is fun and fantastic, while simultaneously holding great depth and wisdom that leaves a lingering warmth in your chest when you finish. It’s the sort of book I want to write!
How did publishing Honey Butter transform your writing process for your future books? Did you feel any particular standards you had to meet with your second story?
I definitely learned a lot! The biggest lesson was that the publishing process takes a lot longer than I thought it would. In terms of writing though, I don’t feel like my process really changed, or at least, not much. For the most part, I was just excited to move on and write the next story!
It wasn’t until the publication of Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen that I really began to feel the pressure. When my second novel came out, it sold more books in a month than Honey Butter had sold in a year. That was exciting but also terrifying. Suddenly, I was worried. None of my new ideas seemed nearly as good as Lydia Green of Mulberry Glen did. I never wrote something better than that? The thought was a bit irrational, looking back, but it’s hard not to get caught up in the emotions of the moment.
I had major writer’s block for a year, harshly judging everything I came up with. Writing drafts, and then discarding them, hating them. That was a very difficult time for me creatively. The way I finally found my way out was to stop putting so much pressure on myself and write because I loved it–after all, that was why I started writing to begin with.
What journey do you want your younger readers to go through as they read your books?
The specifics depend entirely on the book, but in the end, I hope every reader closes a book of mine feeling hopeful. Because no matter what journey I write, it will always end in hope. That’s something I believe in very strongly. As G. K. Chesterton says:
“Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.”
If you could tell your younger self anything writing-related—whether it be publishing advice, marketing tips, anything, what would it be?
Quite honestly, I would say “Don’t worry so much.”
I’m very passionate and motivated when it comes to my writing, but there is a dark side to that when doubts start to creep in. What if I don’t make it? What if my writing isn’t good? What if it is good but it doesn’t matter because it gets lost on the internet and no one ever reads it? What if I do everything right, but I just wasn’t lucky enough? What if I’m still here in fifteen years?
But worrying about those questions doesn’t answer them. Doubting if a dream will come true doesn’t make it any more likely to do so. Worrying doesn’t make a difference in the outcome, but it does make a difference in our mood, and not in a good way. What does make a difference in the outcome is excitement and creativity and passion for the stories we write, and you’ll live a happier life along the way.
Millie Florence is an adventurous homeschooler who published her first book, 'Honey Butter', at age 13, and another middle grade book at age 15. Currently, she has two books on the way. She loves sushi, zip lines, and just about all things yellow.
Cailey Tin is an interview editor of Paper Crane Journal. She is an Asia-based staff writer and podcast co-host at The Incandescent Review, a columnist in Incognito Press and Spiritus Mundi Review, and her work has been published in Fairfield Scribes, Alien Magazine, Cathartic Lit, and more. Her work is forthcoming in the Eunoia Review and Dragon Bone Publishing. Visit her Instagram @itscaileynotkylie
i. smile wrinkles | 笑纹
They curl outwards, stretching themselves to bask in the sun: soft grooves twined upon aged skin. They remind me of parentheses, whispering quietly after a sentence; filled with memories of summer heat and full-moon harvest; monsoon rains and terraced farmlands; the graves of lives cut short, and the many springs of new birth.
I’ve never quite known what to call them. There’s “crow’s feet”, of course, and “rays of the sun”, or simply “wrinkles”, but my grandmother calls them “smile wrinkles”--those which fleck the corners of her eyes. When I was younger, I used to promise to myself: when I get old, 笑纹 [smile wrinkles] will be the only wrinkles I have.
My grandmother is the embodiment of joy. When she smiles, her entire being glows: she stands taller, her lips tug upwards, and her eyes crinkle in the corners, golden, like hot bowls of soup. Her eyes tell stories; the wrinkles around them of a hard life filled with small, yet profound delights.
My grandmother is one of “those people” in life. It’s one of those people who you’d never know would bring so much light, fill up so much space, yet is one of the smallest people in the room. She has made the best bread I’ve ever tasted, and travels, in spirit, over 7,000 miles every month to call me and my family over the phone.
I could go on and on until the world ran out of words and I ran out of metaphors, but this story is about her eyes, and my eyes. Because, I’m still convinced, that if you look at them close enough, you can see sunbeams.
ii. my grandmother tells me a story | 奶奶的故事
The first time I visited China was in the summer of fifth grade. Between hot
afternoons and damp monsoons I found myself listening to my grandmother’s voice amongst the drumming of the rain. And her voice told stories.
One night before bed, she paused to stir the pea soup simmering on the stove. I took in a deep breath, lying on blanket spread out on her apartment floor, and ask her to tell me a story.
“Do you know where our eyes come from?” She asked after a moment.
I wrinkle my face. “I ordered them online, and one day they came into the mail and I stuffed them into my eyeholes.”
“If you want,” my grandmother laughs. “But let me tell you a story.”
And so I listen.
My eyes were born in a kitchen kiln. They grew from cracked bone china; the murky tips of lotus roots, the seed-eye holes, festooning shower heads spraying water, eyes growing like weeds.
The weeds grew taller, engulfed in sheets of sky. Sleet fell, winter wrapped around the arms of spring like a blanket. The eyes grew, still; the kiln burned brighter.
The sun rose.
In fields of wildflowers and lonely melodies, the reaper’s harvest began. In sweeps of scythe, wheat fell, and the eyes burned like sulfur rising from the underworld.
They found homes.
The eyes, that is.
The eyes of our proud ancestors, sculpted from jade, cooked for years—they are beautiful.
The eyes grew wings and planted themselves in the sockets of children, sunbeams leaking through, and I could see, and you could see.
I watch my grandmother’s eyes shift and gaze and shimmer in the soft evening light, her smile wrinkles folding mischievously.
“I don’t believe it,” I said.
“It’s not real,” she replied.
I fell asleep moments after.
She has told me the same story for fifteen years, each time with fervor, each time with purpose. My grandmother is humble, but she will always take pride in who she is
And each time she tells me, I believe her a little more.
iii. eyes that slant in the corners | 骨瓷的哭泣
Bone china: ashes weeping into clay; vines squeezing daylight out. Porcelain tea cups and cold flowers, old rooms hosting fire, whispering in the hearth.
The first time that I learned the story was wrong was in seventh grade. It wasn’t that it wasn’t real—of course every bit of it was imagined, concocted up in a sea of ancient stories, brewed up with fine wine—but that didn’t mean it wasn’t wrong.
Clouds cover the sun, smile wrinkles fading into dust.
Why are your eyes so small?
Can you see the board okay? Open up!
Your eyes look like slits. You’re a fox.
I stopped smiling, because who has time to smile when you’re too busy opening your eyes wide enough for the world to leak into them, and burn them from the inside out?
I looked in the mirror and held my eyelids back with my fingers, because in a world where you are never enough, who gets to be beautiful?
Ants crawl up my throat and close my eyes, at last.
My grandmother’s story lies forgotten, gathering dust, in the corners of my mind where the monsters lurked. I fought them, until I could not, and I realized that the only monster was me.
iv. a word that wilts on my tongue | 在嘴上枯萎的字
I have forgotten how to smile.
v. dragon | 龙之怒
But, who gets to tell me? Who gets to burn my grandmother’s storybook and write our worth? Who decides who I can, and can’t be?
My eyes and my grandmother’s eyes are the embodiment of our culture, and for that, I am so, so proud.
And if eyes are the window to the soul, my eyes are copper, burning bright, magnesium strips set on fire, the rustle of brown autumn leaves melting into chocolate mousse cake.
If only eyes that are big are beautiful, let my heart be so big the size of my eyes will no longer matter.
In a world where only some can be beautiful, none can be beautiful. And if my eyes are truly slanted in the corners, let the rays of the sun leak through, thicker than blood, and shine upon the world.
The ants crawling up my throat become oxygen, and the dragon becomes my companion, the fire within. I ride the spirits of my ancestors, my eyes shining bright, because I am no longer ashamed.
vi. rays of the sun | 太阳的光芒
And finally, I smile, my mouth turning into the corners of my grandmother’s eyes, which radiate and extend into the rays of the sun.
Rue (she/her) is a writer from the Mid-Atlantic. Her work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Alliance, Aster Lit, The Blue Marble Review, and TribLive, among others. She currently contributes as photography editor & opinion writer for her school newspaper. While she’s not consuming her body weight in blueberries, you can find her debating something philosophical with friends, or running with her track team!
Would you like to publish a guest column? Insert your email and we will contact you.