So, something major has happened in the last few months.
I’M GOING TO BE PUBLISHED!!!
I guess it’s time for a bit of a belated update on this beloved little blog (emphasis on belated--even this announcement dropped a while ago). Even if it is mostly a trove of my angsty writerly rants from when I was in middle and high school (which I find equal parts amusing and embarrassing), I wanted to provide an update on what has happened since TeaNovel.
Some of you might know that I wrote YA for a while. For pretty much all of my high school years, I worked on this YA fantasy that I called TeaNovel. The process of writing and revising it taught me so much — about how to plot a novel, how to write characters, and how to craft a story that came alive with setting and voice. I started querying it six years ago, almost to the date. I also learned how to deal with rejection -- lots of it. I signed with my lovely agent Jess Regel (also goes by: superstar, all-around badass) with this manuscript. I poured everything I had into it.
Which meant I was devastated when, after months out on submission, it ultimately didn’t sell. I had spent a majority of my teenage years on TeaNovel, and it was time to move on.
At that point in time, I was totally lost. I didn’t have any other ideas for a YA, let alone a YA fantasy. I scribbled down ideas, only for them to go nowhere. I took a bit of a break from writing as other parts of life rushed in: college application szn, senior year in general, and my family’s move following my high school graduation.
As my family was quite literally embarking on a cross-country road trip to our new home, I began to develop the seed of a new idea.
And it terrified the hell out of me. Because it wasn’t YA fantasy — it was the furthest it could be from that. I had the gut feeling that it was middle grade. And contemporary (well, contemporary-ish, since it’s set in the 80’s). And I hadn’t just loved contemporary middle grade books when I was a kid — I revered them. I loved books like Because of Winn-Dixie and Wonder and The Wednesday Wars. I remember racing through all of Gordon Korman and Rebecca Stead and Grace Lin’s books. They were funny and wise-cracking and heartfelt and poignant. Which meant that, well, in writing my middle grade novel, I had to be funny. And wisecracking and heartfelt and—well, you get the idea. Not to mention that in spite of all of this, this would be the first manuscript I’d drafted from scratch since drafting TeaNovel all those years back. What if I’d forgotten how to write?
But I still wanted to try my hand at it. And I hadn’t been this excited about an idea for a long, long time. So I made a deal with myself: I would put zero expectations on myself. I would write this story if and only if it kept bringing me joy. This would be my practice middle grade novel, just to prove that I could write one.
I began drafting Clues to the Universe in the summer of 2017. And it all came back to me.—that mojo or fairy dust or whatever word you’d use to describe that incredible feeling where you can’t stop thinking about your characters and your story because you’re kind of falling in love with them. Writing was exciting and freeing again.
And this time around, I barely said anything about my project, mostly because I wanted to keep this little magical thing contained to myself and, well, because I wasn’t sure where this was going. And so I finished the first draft in summer 2018, waking up in early in the morning to finish a couple of chapters before work started. I revised mostly in between college quarters and summer internships, finishing the final draft just this past summer.
Jess and I went out on sub in mid-August, on the Monday of the last week of my summer internship. I was beyond ecstatic to go out on sub again, after I thought I’d never be able to write another novel. This time, I had my lovely agent with me every single step of the way. But this time I also was fully aware that in spite of having a novel I loved and a kickass agent, this book still might not sell. And so the Monday we went out on submissions, I took an extra-long lunch break and went up to the rooftop level of my workplace, where the cafeteria was. I called a friend. I tried to calm myself down and try to come to terms with the possibility that even if my novel never sold, I would still be grateful to have something that I loved working on be considered by editors I’d admired. And then I settled down for the expected months-long wait.
Except this time, just two (TWO?!) days after we went out on sub, Jess emailed me to tell me that editors were already reading and loving my novel.
I tried to calm myself down. I told myself that this could still take weeks to unfold, and tried veerry hard to focus on the final presentation I was working on for my internship. But I couldn’t help but freak out just a tiny bit. People were reading it! They were reading and responding to my writing!
I tried to go about normal life as usual. I wrapped up my summer job and got ready to move back home to chill for a few weeks before school started.
And then the following Monday, mere hours before I was supposed to fly across the country back home, I got a call from Jess while walking back from lunch. I started freaking out again just a tiny bit more, because, well, I’d read enough of these kinds of posts to know that agents don’t usually call unless it’s really urgent/good news.
Me: “Hey, what’s up?”
Jess: “So, great news! I have some editors that wanted to speak to you about your book. Let me know when you’re free!“
Me: *mind goes blank*
(Editors? Like, editors, plural? As in, more than one person liked my book? Is this the real life???)
I think I babbled something about losing my mind, and then I raced to my computer and emailed her all my free times. Which, as my summer job had *just* wrapped up, I conveniently had a lot of.
The next day, I spoke to those lovely editors on the phone. And I was on cloud nine. Because these editors and their respective imprints had each worked on books that I’d grown up loving as a child—books that I’d carefully checked out again and again and then saved up Christmas money to buy—and to get to speak with them about my book was an absolute dream. They each had wonderful things to say about my book. It was kind of unreal.
And then at 8 AM the next morning (I live on the west coast), my phone rang with the news that HarperCollins was coming in with an offer. As in, the publishers of Ella Enchanted and The Graveyard Book and Charlotte’s Web.
This was something even my wildest dreams couldn’t conjure up.
Long story short, we took the offer. And while my agent was being her incredibly kick-butt self and negotiating the terms of the deal, I spent the day trying unsuccessfully to binge watch the new season of VEEP and to not hyperventilate. By 1 PM that day, Jess called me with the finalized offer, and it was a done deal. After ten years of writing and hoping, I was going to be a published author.
What commenced was a series of telling people and crying. I told my family and I cried. I called close dear friends who had been there for me every step of my writing career and I started sobbing. I probably came off as a little crazy. I probably was. But the thing is, I’d been writing novels since I was eleven. I’ve been getting countless rejections since I was fourteen, and just two years ago, I thought I was never going to be able to write a book again. And when you’ve been working toward this and dreaming of this moment for so long to the point where it feels kind of impossible, finally achieving it is the best thing in the entire world.