Diving Deep with Lydia Lukidis and Deep, Deep Down
Intro from Lynne Marie: I’m super excited to kick off the New Year with a wonderful Judge and a fabulous book! I am so thankful to have been a part of this book’s journey. This is an example of a book that’s fresh and new, exciting and informative, and well, exceptional. I feel it’s important for aspiring writers to identify and discuss what makes a book stand out. Even before that, what makes an idea stand out?
Lynne Marie: First of all, please share a little bit about yourself and your writing journey priorto DEEP, DEEP DOWN.
Lydia Lukidis: Thanks for having me, Lynne Marie! For those of you who don’t know, I’m a kidlit writer represented by agent Miranda Paul from EMLA. Miranda is my third agent, so I’ve certainly been around the block. Like many of you, I’ve also dealt with and continue to deal with continuous rejections from publishing houses. But I truly believe that if you keep reading, writing, improving your craft, and putting yourself out there, you’ll eventually reap the rewards of your efforts. My journey with DEEP, DEEP DOWN was similar; it had been shopped around and the piling list of rejections was distressing. However, I always strongly felt this book would be published. Though I’ve been writing for many years, this was the FIRST time I ever felt that strongly about a book. I kept hanging on, and with Miranda’s help, we finally found its home.
LM: What inspired you to tackle the subject matter of the Mariana Trench?
LL: In 2019, I read an article about how scientists found a plastic bag floating in the Mariana Trench. They also discovered plastic in the belly of various marine animals. My heart sank. I wondered how we human beings managed to start damaging one of the most remote places on the planet. At that point, I didn’t know much about the Mariana Trench and my curiosity grew. I began my research on the internet and then came to realize most of that information was false. The book really came together once I interviewed a slew of experts (6 in total) who devoted their lives to studying the deep sea, the hadal zone, and geology. They also helped me find the right books and articles to read for updated information.
LM: How did this book come to you? Was it the beginning, middle, end or something else?
LL: I usually struggle with structure and voice when it comes to nonfiction. I often need to put the manuscript aside for months or even years, and often, the manuscript ends up in the book graveyard because for whatever reason, it doesn’t come together. But with DEEP, DEEP DOWN, everything flowed. The structure and voice never changed and I saw the book from its beginning to end from the very start. I wish I could say this is always my process! But that’s not the case. This was the first time I ever experienced such magic. I certainly hope it’s not the last, but I confess that I’ve struggled with manuscripts I’ve written since. Each one is different. As usual, some need to be placed in the drawer until inspiration hits while others may never make it out.
LM: What was your revision process like for this book? How long from inception to publication?
LL: Although the structure and voice never changed, the editing process was grueling nonetheless. There were millions of edits, mostly to get the scientific facts right. Our understanding of the trench is constantly evolving, so some of the facts actually changed during the years it took to write this book and find a publisher. And because the text is lyrical, I obsessed over every single word. I had to rewrite the book over 55 times to get to the final version but it was well worth it! I can also say that without a doubt, this was the most difficult book to research so far because much of the trench life continues to be a mystery.
LM: I often recommend learning the rules before you can effectively break them. And as a result, I don’t believe I could have pulled off some of my later books as first books. Do you think DEEP, DEEP DOWN could have been your first book? Why or why not?
LL: That’s very wise advice! In all honesty, DEEP, DEEP DOWN could not have written many years ago when I was starting out. I had a lot to learn back then (and still do). I got my start with nonfiction through work-for-hire projects and I’m so grateful for those opportunities. I still take on some WFH contracts to this day, although I’m more selective. Those projects were helpful in teaching me how to research and write nonfiction. However, I had trouble making the leap from educational to trade nonfiction. Many rejections noted the text was too “educational” in tone, so I had to reassess everything. What makes nonfiction engaging? What makes it more commercial and accessible? I spent about 5 years studying that and it culminated with DEEP, DEEP DOWN being acquired.
LM: What Non-fiction sub-genre would you classify DEEP, DEEP DOWN as? Why?
LL: For me, DEEP, DEEP DOWN is straight nonfiction and I would categorize it as expository nonfiction. Its purpose is to explain, describe, or inform readers on a certain concept or idea. Debunking incorrect myths while shining a light on the truth regarding life in the trench seems to connect to this category. However, one of my peers, Kathy Halsey, brought up a great point; my narrative asks the reader to imagine journeying to the bottom of the trench. In that sense, it creates an extension to include an imagined voyage. That said, I’m sure this will be classified under nonfiction in libraries and bookstores.
LM: I absolutely love the language, poetic devices and lyricality of this informative book. What made you choose this approach?
LL: Thank you! Science and poetry are two of my biggest passions in life, but oddly enough, I never thought about combining them. I have written poetry since the age of 6 but it was personal and very deep. I had never considered bringing that lyrical voice to a science concept. But I spent hours watching footage from the trench and many creatures move slowly and some, like the sea cucumber, oscillate and dance, almost like underwater ballet. I was love struck, and that’s when I realized the trench itself was a poem. The text could not have been written any other way. The way I wrote and formatted the text mirrors the poetry I’ve written for decades.
LM: How close was this book when submitted to published format? Did you include side bars and backmatter? Please expand on that.
LL: The submitted version was the same structure and tone except I had removed the sidebars. I cannot tell you how many hours I obsessed over sidebars!! I felt they detracted from the story and I incorporated all that information into the backmatter. I did include many pages of backmatter because the information was fascinating and Capstone ended up keeping all of it, much to my surprise. Based on their other books, my fabulous editor Alison Deering asked me to consider keeping the sidebars as that was their preferred format. As an author, you need to remain flexible and open to the publisher’s vision as well so I ultimately agreed. The only thing I wouldn’t budge on was the spacing and formatting of the main text. I’ve always written like that and luckily, Alison appreciated it.
LM: Did the publisher have any criteria for sidebars and backmatter?
LL: When I added the sidebars back in, I cut a lot of the text to make them short and succinct. But Alison wanted to beef them up so we ended up using the original sidebars I had written months ago. Again, you need to remain flexible and trust your publisher.
LM: Some writers make a notation that backmatter will be provided. Many publishers I have spoken with recommend including any potential backmatter. What are your thoughts on this?
LL: I think adding potential backmatter is a great asset. You’re showing the publisher that you have ideas and can provide further information that appeals to young readers. Sometimes you may spend a lot of time writing backmatter and it may not be used. Such is life. For myself and my slightly OCD personality, I always include detailed potential backmatter. That said, I’m ready to cut or change it based on the publisher’s preferences.
LM: What is a consistent problem you see in the manuscripts you rate for Rate Your Story?
LL: The most consistent problem I encounter is that although there’s a well-crafted challenge / conflict, the protagonist doesn’t take any agency in solving it.. Or, there’s no real solution, and the ending just conveniently solves the problem for no apparent reason (like a character suddenly having a change of heart). The protagonist needs to make a concerted effort, we need to see them sweat and fail, and the stakes need to be high. That way, when they succeed, it’s much more poignant and we root for them.
LM: Please share a tip with our readers on selecting a topic for a non-fiction picture book.
LL: Here’s a lesson that took me years to learn and I confess I’m still stubborn about it. I tend to choose topics I find fascinating but forget to ask myself if a child would find that fascinating. You need to find the right “in” to the material, to make a child care about this nonfiction topic. How does it relate to them? That’s the question you need to answer. It’s about a lot more than just listing cool facts, it’s about creating emotional resonance to connect with your reader.
LM: Please share a writing craft tip with our readers.
LL: The best thing you can do is study the market, read books, and keep writing. To get published in this very competitive market, you’ll need to stand out. You need to ask yourself, what’s different about my book? What makes it unique and different from what’s currently on the market? Many passes I get from editors say they like the text, but it’s not “fresh” or strong enough to stand out. That’s something I struggle with because I tend to write about what I love, which is important, but you also need to think about the book’s marketability. This goes back to what you said at the start of this post, about ideas needing to stand out. That is critical.
LM: What is on the horizon for you?
LL: Thanks for asking! I’m excited to have just announced my second trade nonfiction book, DANCING THROUGH SPACE: Dr. Mae Jemison Soars to New Heights (Albert Whitman, 2024). I actually wrote this in 2015, and it’s a very long and convoluted story about how it got acquired. I’m very keen on writing about the intersection of art and science. I’m also working on several WIPs. One of my frustrations as a writer is that I sometimes get stuck during the editing process. Maybe I don’t know how to fix the pacing or the ending, for example. The only solution I’ve found is to put the text aside for a while and come back later. It often feels like it’s outside my control because I rely on my inspiration, and it seems to operate on its own schedule. Sometimes I spend months writing but don’t have anything concrete to show for it. But then I remind myself that no effort is lost and it’s simply part of the process.
Just the other day, I experienced something magical. Inspiration struck (at a most inopportune time, of course) and I finally understood how to fix a PB that I had put aside and almost gave up on. Who knows if it will ever be published but that experience was so gratifying!
LM: Please share something special about you!
LL: Did you guys know that after acquiring my degree in Pure and Applied Science and then in English Literature, I became a jewelry designer and later, a puppeteer? I’ve always had an artistic streak and have come to see how much creativity there is in science. Poetry, STEM, art, design- all of these disciplines interest me. I feel grateful to be writing kidlit and that I get to incorporate all these passions in my work.
LM: What is one question (and the answer) that you had hoped I had asked of you that I did not?
LL: Is it necessary to consult with experts when writing nonfiction? I think it depends on the book. For DEEP, DEEP DOWN, I could not have written it without the help of experts. I used 6 in total and each one brought their specific expertise to the table. As I mentioned, a lot of the information about the Mariana Trench on the internet and in articles is not scientifically accurate or up to date. I relied heavily on my experts to get things right. Ultimately, speaking with experts enriches your work. I simply reached out to the Schmidt Ocean Institute and it snowballed from there, experts are usually more than happy to share their knowledge.
If you’re writing narrative nonfiction and your subject is a person, it would also enrich your book to interview them. You can add juicy details that can’t be found in books. It’s not always possible though, if the subject is no longer alive, for example, or if you can’t manage to get in touch with the subject. That happened to me for my forthcoming book so I did the best I could. I read every book including autobiographies and lost myself in hours of interviews and videos. The deeper your research goes, the better the book will be.
LM: Thank you, Lydia, for your time and candid answers! I am sure that our readers will find this deep dark topic illuminating!
NOTE FROM RATE YOUR STORY: We are pleased to share that Lydia Lukidis will be joining Lynne Marie for a *Members Only* Non-Fiction First Pages Session on Zoom on Wednesday, January 18 from 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM EST. During that time they will read and comment on select First Pages. Rate Your Story Members may submit one First Page for consideration. Not all First Pages will be read and commented on, however, the recording will be posted on the 2023 Rate Your Story Resource page for members. Only 2023 Rate Your Story Members will be admitted to the session.
BIO: Lydia Lukidis is the author of 50+ trade and educational books for children. Her titles include DANCING THROUGH SPACE: Dr. Mae Jemison Soars to New Heights (Albert Whitman, 2024), DEEP, DEEP, DOWN: The Secret Underwater Poetry of the Mariana Trench (Capstone, 2023), THE BROKEN BEES’ NEST (Kane Press, 2019) which was nominated for a Cybils Award, and NO BEARS ALLOWED (Clear Fork Media, 2019). A science enthusiast from a young age, she now incorporates her studies in science and her everlasting curiosity into her books.
Lydia is an active member of SCBWI, CANSCAIP, 12 x 12, and The Authors Guild. She's very involved in the kidlit community and also volunteers as a judge on Rate your Story. Another passion of hers is fostering love for children’s literacy through the writing workshops she regularly offers in elementary schools. Lydia is represented by literary agent Miranda Paul from the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.
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