Natalie Rompella On Plots That Change As The Story Evolves (And That's Okay)

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.


Today's guest is Natalie Rompella, a former museum educator, elementary and middle school teacher, as well as the author of more than forty books and educational guides for young readers. She is also the winner of a Work-in-Progress grant from the Society for Children's BookWriters and Illustrators. Her most recent release, COOKIE CUTTERS & SLED RUNNERS releases November 21 from SkyPony Press!

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

I wish I could remember! I know the idea of sled dog racing came from doing research for another of my books: Famous Firsts about sports that started in the U.S. Ironically, sled dog racing was the last sport I chose. I knew nothing about it until I began my research. Then I fell in love with the sport so much I traveled to Alaska to see the start of the Iditarod.

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

I’m not even really sure how it all pieced together. My main character has OCD—I’m not sure how that came to be. I believe the baking part came from my own experience of loving to bake growing up. And then a lot of it wrote itself. I wasn’t aware of the twists and turns that ended up occurring until I put fingers to the keyboard.

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

Definitely. This story used to have the main character moving to Alaska. But it took about fifty pages for that to even happen. Eventually the idea of the main character moving got taken out all together.

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

I get tons of story ideas a day. Usually the timing is poor, though (such as in the shower or while driving), and I forget them. I do find that if I need to write something new and get stuck, I will not get re-inspired unless I go do something else, such as go for a run.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

I really bounce around a lot. I often set timelines to stay motivated, so maybe I plan out to work on one chapter of project X on Monday and then work on edits of project Y on Tuesday just to keep things fresh.

I have 8 cats (seriously, check my Instagram feed) and I usually have at least one or two snuggling with me when I write. Do you have a writing buddy, or do you find it distracting?

LOL. Absolutely. My writing buddy is the reason I finished this book!

As I mention in my Acknowledgements, this book had been put away in a drawer. Then I got a call from the SCBWI Work-In-Progress committee that I had won the WIP grant. I immediately pulled my manuscript out of the drawer to see if I could finish it.

At the same time, we had just gotten a puppy: Luna. As is typically done with potty training a puppy, we limited her to a small space. We had just expanded to include the living room/dining room area for her. Because I was doing the training, I also was confined to those rooms of the house to hurry her outside if need be. I set up camp at the dining room table and thought, might as well work on my novel while I’m in here. I ended up finishing it.

Luna is still my writing companion today. When she hears that I’m making coffee, she knows I’ll be headed to my computer. She joins me in my office and “gets to work”/naps. She has heard so many versions of this novel. But really, I do think of her as my muse/writing buddy/lazy assistant.