“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” — Aristotle
Gina Loveless, Author
In 2015, I commented on a thread in Facebook group. That comment led to me getting to know Gina Loveless. In take charge fashion, she responded, offering the option of a couple of time slots for a phone call. She was in Pennsylvania while I was here in the Midwest, so meeting for coffee or lunch wasn’t really an option.
We settled on a time and date, and when the moment arrived, she promptly called me. I answered the phone, not sure what to expect—not that Gina ever could be exactly what someone expects anyway. Little did I know I was about to talk to a whirlwind.
In that phone call, which was supposed to last 30 minutes but really lasted for more than an hour, I was swept up in Gina’s ceaseless energy. I was encouraged, empowered, and excited to know a fellow writer with as much drive and eagerness as Gina. She told me unashamedly of her failures thus far, of the discouragement she had received and eventually cast off. I learned what stories meant to her, for her life. And she shared her vision with me, tentative and yet sure. I’ve never doubted her tenacity would result in her authorship.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging…”
Those are words I’ve heard more than once from Gina in the last year or two as her writing career has taken twists and turns and she’s continued to share her wins with me. I’m always eager to hear about her triumphs and failures because first, that’s what friends do—listen to one another—and second, because she’s living the life of a full-time author and I want to know what that’s like. I find both her success and her failures to be encouraging, to offer me hope and solace as an author.
While most of the time those words are followed by, “And I can’t tell you anything because I signed a nondisclosure agreement,” I can feel her over-the-moon excitement whistling around every letter, just as I would expect from a whirlwind.
She is celebrating the release of her middle grade novel Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw and was kind enough to let us celebrate with her through an interview.
More about Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw.
Mindy: Tell me about the release of your middle grade novel with Epic! Originals and Andrews McMeel Publishing.
Gina Loveless: It has been such an exciting whirlwind. The book originally released on the Epic! app in May of this year. It was part of Epic! Original’s new lineup of original content for the Epic! App and was the first middle grade book in the line-up. I had assumed it would have a happy little digital home on the app, and that was it. Then my editor told me Andrews McMeel had partnered with Epic! and would be releasing a number of the Epic! Original titles as physical books, and mine would be part of the initial group. That was completely unexpected and so exciting!
M: If you had to choose a character in your story that is most like you, which character would it be?
GL: I’d have to go with the protagonist, Robin Loxley. Robin doesn’t think like every other elementary school kid, and that’s something I can relate to. While I didn’t have the courage to stand up to my bully the way Robin does with Nadia, I felt very similar to the way Robin does. How she just wants what’s fair and honest, and doesn’t stand for lying or cheating. It can be really hard to stand up for what you think is right when you also want people to like you. I wasn’t brave enough to stand up for myself and I also didn’t get people to like me much. So I wanted to give Robin the voice that I was too afraid to have when I was in elementary school, and show that it can be really beneficial.
M: What did you most enjoy about writing this story?
GL: I really loved reimagining the Robin Hood story and figuring out how to make it apply to kids. In the original stories by Howard Pyle, the whole reason Robin Hood is an outlaw is because he shot a man—someone related to the Sheriff of Nottingham—with his bow and arrow to protect himself in what is essentially a bar fight, and then he had to go on the run. Not exactly something many nine-year-olds are going to relate to. But it was unbelievably fun to let my brain jump from shooting arrows to shooting baskets. And then jump to letting Robin get frustrated over a basketball disagreement on the school playground. That felt like something kids could relate to. The more I dug into the story and reimagined it for kids, the more the voice of Robin, and the rest of the cast, formed into clearer images for me.
M: Can you share the plans for future Epic! Original projects you’ll be writing?
GL: Hmm, what can I share with you… I can tell you that the second book, Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw: The Friend Thief, will be releasing as a physical book next year. I’m collaborating with Epic! Originals on some other fun content, but I can’t release those details quite yet.
M: Do you have any other middle grade novels in the works?
GL: I have a humorous health and wellness book, Puberty Is Gross, but Also Really Awesome, due out with Random House in 2021. It’s a book for every tween, regardless of gender, and it’s packed with accessible scientific information and unique studies. It covers everything from breast development to gender identity, and from acne to mental health. Integrated on every page are illustrations that will help tweens better understand the physical and emotional changes happening to themselves and their peers. And that it may all be awful, but at least they aren’t the only one’s going through it! I’ve got a few other projects—fiction and nonfiction—that I’m working on with my agent as we speak.
The journey to becoming a writer.
M: Let’s talk about how you became a writer. Was there a moment where you knew that you had to become a writer?
GL: Well, I fell in love with kids book right away in elementary school. I would write stories too, always revising them to make them as funny as possible. In college, while it seemed crazy to most people I talked to, I said my goal was to be a full-time author. During grad school, I lost that belief in myself, and I decided to try and take more practical routes. But they never panned out. I could never be as enthusiastic about teaching composition or copy editing as I was about writing. On December 31, 2015, I realized that I was turning 30 in 2016, and I’d been talking about writing a book for the last three years, and I hadn’t made any progress. Something just switched on inside me, and on January 1, I started making my writing my biggest priority.
M: Where did you go from there? How did you decide what your next steps needed to be on your path to becoming an author?
GL: In 2014, I’d fallen back in love with writing by reading some [young adult] novels. Specifically Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You The Sun—the best YA book period, in my opinion. In 2015, I started kicking around a few ideas, but hadn’t taken the plunge on any. So when I made the push in 2016, a YA novel seemed like the right fit.
While I was working on that book, I was working part time for a library, and I was freelancing for Men’s Health magazine as a researcher/fact-checker. That summer, Men’s Health offered me some onsite work, and I left the library. I decided then that I would either pursue writing for magazines or working in kids books. It just so happened that Rodale Kids was a new book imprint with the company, and when I started onsite, a woman I met at Women’s Health knew one of the main people involved. His name is Eric Wight, and everything changed for me after meeting him. Within a few months of meeting Eric, I was pitching agents and working on Puberty is Gross. I landed my agent, Alec Shane at Writers House and was offered a deal for Puberty is Gross the same week in August 2017.
M: Being a writer is a leap for anyone. There’s no guarantee you’ll ever sell a single story. When did you make the leap to taking on less work with a guaranteed paycheck to allow yourself more time for writing?
GL: In 2016, when I was able to take the onsite work with Men’s Health, it afforded me the opportunity to work part-time and dedicate more time to my writing. I was taking a total leap of faith then. It can absolutely take years upon years for someone to even get noticed by an agent or a publisher. But I took a huge leap and it paid off. And then, to go full-time into writing, well… I wouldn’t say I took the leap, as I was more so pushed.
When the larger company Rodale was sold, my onsite work for Men’s Health was phased out in early 2018. I auditioned for a few writing gigs, but none landed. At the same time, I was looking for replacement jobs, and none of those quite landed either. Everything came into focus in the fall. That’s when Eric Wight, who was now with Epic!, asked me if I’d like to write some middle grade work for them. I was able to pick up some freelance work with Men’s Health again, and I’ve been able to keep it going ever since.
M: Succes never comes without some sort of personal sacrifice. What’s been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?
GL: I think my husband has made the biggest sacrifices so I could make this ridiculous and audacious dream of being a writer possible. In 2016, a very large reason I was able to dive in head-first was because he believed in me more than I believed in myself. Over time, I was able to sip the same Kool-Aid as him and believe that it could happen—believe that I could earn a living as a full-time writer. And when I took a part-time job to have more time for writing, while it did keep us steady, financially, he was working an incredible amount of overtime. That helped us keep afloat until my first book was sold. I can only hope that one day I can show him the same support. In the meantime, I shower him with love.
M: For me, writing the novel is the easy part. Knowing that writing a novel will put me in the spotlight (even if that spotlight is small) is the hard part. How do you feel about being in the spotlight?
GL: As much as I am a gregarious, extroverted person who’s excited to meet people and possibly—hopefully—get good things written about them because of my hard work, I really try to focus on what my real job as a writer is. That’s focusing on the reader. If I ever get enough attention to have a movie made based on one of my books, get interviewed on a talk show, or even just get a starred review from a trade publication, that will all feel great, and I’ll check them off my long-term goals list. But the other day, I got my first fan letter from a kid who read my book on the Epic! app and thought it was the best book he’s ever read in his whole life. That made me feel better than any of those other things ever will. And it’ll keep me afloat if I never get any of those big long-term goals, even as I write more books. The part of the spotlight I try to focus on is helping and entertaining and reaching more kids. That’s the dream.
M: What do you wish you had known as a middle schooler?
GL: I actually don’t wish I had known anything different. Because if I’d known that I would end up more confident, believing my weird quirks are good and shouldn’t change and that I would feel loved by friends, I wouldn’t have had the hard time I did in middle school. And then I’m not sure I would have become the person I am today. I definitely wouldn’t be writing the books I am today. I think back to those tough feelings from about [age] six to 14 every time I write anything for middle schoolers. Without them, I don’t know if I’d have looked for myself in books, which ultimately is why I write for kids.
M: You could write for any age group, any genre. What is it about kids in middle school that makes you want to write for them?
A: I think it’s the time when things were the most confusing for me. At the time, I’m not sure I felt that way. I certainly felt confused, but I don’t know if I felt it was the most confusing. High school, in the moment, felt more confusing. But now, when I’m able to look back on that time, high school felt as confusing as it did because of all the moments that happened to me towards the end of elementary school and into middle school. And that confusion is so universal. I think most kids are just trying to get by, trying to keep their friends, trying to understand why someone doesn’t like them anymore, why their family doesn’t understand them, or why they feel so alone. It’s even how many adults feel. My whole mission is to help the weird kids of the world feel less alone. And I think it’s during those middle grade years that kids first start to see themselves as weird, and end up feeling alone because of it. So, hopefully my books can help alleviate that.
M: If you could go back and do anything in your life differently, would you? If so, what would it be?
GL: Nope. I truly believe I’m only exactly where I am now because of every epic failure I had, devastating heart break, total screw up, and every other up and down of my roller coaster life.
M: If you were given the choice to go back to middle school, would you?
GL: Absolutely not. While I wouldn’t change anything, I wouldn’t dream of reliving even one day of it. I’ll do it hypothetically in every book I write instead.
M: Which of your parents named you, and is there any special significance to your name?
GL: They both did. After my grammy Regina Caciolo. Fun fact: If I had been designated male at birth, I was going to be named Vincent.
M: Do you typically remember your dreams?
GL: I do, but I wish I didn’t. The regular dreams are fine, but the nightmares can be too vivid and tough to handle.
M: Have you ever named an inanimate object? If so, what was the object and what name did you choose?
GL: I have a stuffed giraffe that is approximately four-feet-tall named Donna Jean, after the only female member of the Grateful Dead.
M: Which of the following bothers you the most:
- Bent pages in a book.
- Broken book spines.
GL: Bent pages in a book and broken book spines. I legitimately can’t pick one over the other. I will buy a book from a thrift store with writing in it before I’ll buy one with a cracked spine. In middle school, I still remember the time my mom borrowed a book of mine, and returned it with a cracked spine. I never let her borrow any more of my books. And at the same time, if anyone that ever borrows any of my books bends a page instead of putting a bookmark in it, they will never borrow a book of mine again, either. Use a dryer sheet, an old receipt, literally anything that is dry and hasn’t directly touched food. But don’t dogear anything of mine.
M: You can travel to any great event in all of history. Name three you’d visit first.
GL: I’d see the Grateful Dead perform in Egypt on September 15 and 16, 1978. Do I need two more events? I’d be utterly satisfied for life if I could just do that one.
M: Have you ever had an imaginary friend?
GL: I had imaginary friends for a lot of elementary school. Probably past when I was supposed to. The whole “being a weird kid” gets you picked on a lot. But sometimes weird kids are extroverts, and they just can’t make friends. So, they pretend to have more than they do. That was me. I don’t remember any of their names, but I remember I used to record fake intros and outros to songs, as if I was a DJ, on casette tapes, and play them back to a pretend group of friends, trying to get feedback.
M: Thank you, Gina, for participating and taking the time to give such thoughtful answers.
GL: That was so much fun. Thanks for the opportunity!
More about Gina
Gina Loveless fell in love with kids’ books when she was eight and fell in love with them all over again when she was twenty-eight. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the California Institute of the Arts and resides in eastern Pennsylvania with her rescue dog Gerd (check out the Gerd Word on her website) and her family.
Diary of a 5th Grade Outlaw
Fifth grade has just started, and the school bully, Nadia, already rules recess with an unfair Playground Tax. Robin refuses to be pushed around, but all she can think about is winning back her best friend, Mary Ann, after a disastrous fallout over the summer. To do so, she will have to stand up to Nadia, face the wrath of Assistant Principal Johnson, and become a legendary outlaw at Nottingham Elementary—all while forming a merry band of new friends along the way.