Thursday, April 23, 2020

the not-so-short story of how I got published

So, something major has happened in the last few months.


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.

So. Storytime. 

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. 

(Seriously, what?!) 

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. 

Friday, August 24, 2018

draft, finished.

So, I finally finished the first draft of my new writing project this summer.  My first serious writing project since TeaNovel.

Let me back up for a second. TeaNovel had been my beloved writing project ever since I was thirteen, when I wrote an awful draft of something that I dearly loved and polished it, slowly but surely, into something that I could make others love as well. I can't keep track of the nights I'd spent brainstorming ideas and wrapping myself around one plot pretzel after another (which, remarkably, led to me spilling my entire plot to the stranger sitting next to me on the plane one time in hopes that someone I'd met 5 minutes before could fix my book already). With that book I learned how to tell a story; not only how to convey across the beats of a plot and the actions of characters, but how to infuse a scene with atmosphere; how to convey emotion; how to make storylines resonate. At that point, TeaNovel was the best thing I'd ever worked on, which made it even harder to let go. At that point, I thought that the story and writing of TeaNovel was going to be the only thing that would bring me joy and purpose in writing. (I was wrong.)

It took a long time to refocus and to start brainstorming again, especially sandwiched within the most chaotic and stressful years of high school. A lot of things have happened since I wrote TeaNovel, and I've since begun to realize that, despite the messiness, I needed the in-between: to grow, to balance out my life, and to gain the maturity that made this second go-around slightly more doable.

So, yes. this new book. It's still a total work in progress at this time and it's an entirely different book from TeaNovel. But what matters is that it's about things I'm fascinated with and characters I can't stop thinking about. It gives me the same enamored thrill, that same kind of excitement and joy, and I'm so glad I get to do this thing again.

Sunday, December 31, 2017


I've never really been a big sucker for New Years resolutions. I've always regarded them with a sort of jaded wariness. New Years' resolutions seem to have radioactive half-lives, faded to burnished partial promises within days.

But with the quietly momentous year that 2017 has been for me, I think it's apt that for once, I truly, vividly celebrate the end of the year and welcome the new one.

In 2017 I

tumbled through changes faster than I'd ever expected. participated in my first march, clutching my homemade sign and yelling, demanding to be written into history for upholding the values I held dear. got into a dream college that I never had dared to hope for.  celebrated the end of high school properly, earrings glistening and smiles beaming through the vermillion spring youth of college declarations; prom; high school graduation. moved states. missed the scorching, humid summers of the Midwest and my spirit city with the ache of losing a place that had shaped me; my heart; curved around my tongue with its strong Chicago accent. learned to make a new home of the west coast; fell into In-n-Out and Birkenstocks and beautiful craggy beaches. began college. read beautiful books. met wonderful new friends and relished old ones. left and returned to writing. started a new writing project that scared me, that I challenged me to my core, that I almost gave up on time and time again, only to return to more inspired and more enamored. realized that love fails not always to oblivion but to make way for new, richer love.

In 2018 I vow to be more patient. to be kinder to myself as the scars from years ago fade completely. to understand what I want; to embrace what makes myself and not reject it. to reach out to others and surround myself with the people that dazzle me and challenge me and whom I feel at home with. to appreciate the ones I love. to finish this damn first draft, because it's been four years since I've finished the first draft of a new project. to be patient. to be patient. to be patient (and follow the Junot Diaz quote, heavily paraphrased, "people tell you to hurry but art tells you to be patient. always listen to the art"). to learn how to do my brows. and to learn; infinitely, uninhibited.

this blog is now five years old. wow. I was thirteen, five years ago. I was truly a baby when this whole endeavor started, wasn't I?

and finally, because this seems to be a thing now: a song?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Chapter One Young Writer's Conference Blog Tour: Interview with Katelyn Pettit

Hi! Welcome to my installment of the Chapter One Young Writer's Conference 2017 Blog Tour!

One of the things I get most excited about in my writing endeavors is this magical thing called the Chapter One Young Writer's Conference (Ch1Con for short), an annual national writing conference organized by and for young writers ages eleven to twenty-three. This year, the conference is going to be held on Saturday, August 5th in downtown Chicago! We're bringing a fantastic panel of speakers and mentors from all across the publishing/writing field, from New York Times Bestselling author Kody Keplinger (whose debut novel she published as a teen, DUFF, is now a movie!) to literary agent extraordinaire Brent Taylor, and I'm honestly so pumped.

What's equally incredible, though, is the Ch1Con team I get to work with every year--a group of motivated, kick-butt, and incredibly passionate young writers. Today, I get the absolute honor of interviewing our inimitable transition consultant, Katelyn Pettit!

A Quick Bio: Katelyn knows everything there is to know about non-profits, so she’s leading the initiative over the next couple years to transition Chapter One Events, LLC to an NPO. She recently graduated with honors from Oakland University, where she received her undergraduate degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. She has previously interned at Dzanc Publishing, worked as a freelance editor, and studied Medieval Literature at Brasenose College, Oxford University, and is currently working at the Detroit Zoo where she is heading several creative projects, including writing scripts for a worldwide conference and exhibition that will take place early next year. When she isn’t forgetting to update her blog (*ehem, oops*) she can be found curled up in her bed watching Korean dramas (who knew they were so entertaining?!) or at Target where she spends way too much money.

How did you first get involved with Chapter One Conference? 

Well, I went to high school with Julia (the conference founder) and she invited me to attend multiple times but I was either busy or unsure it was for me. That was a stupid thought to think, come to find out, because everyone who runs the conference is super nice and fun, and I get to spend an entire day with like-minded young writers!!! I first attended Ch1Con in 2016, which is the same year I jumped on board as the non-profit coordinator. I loved every second of my time with Ch1Con and I just knew I wanted to be involved somehow :)

How has your experience with Chapter One Conference fit in with your journey as a writer and as a part of the writing community? 

Unlike a lot of the young writers who attend ch1con, I had a significantly smaller amount of peer interaction. Particularly in high school, I had convinced myself that writing was a completely solo, "me, myself, and I" type activity. It was only later in life (when I took my first couple of creative writing classes in college) that I realized this wasn't true. In fact, having a support system of other writers is incredibly helpful. Ch1Con helped me broaden my mind to this fact even more. Honestly, if I could go back in time and give my baby writer self some advice, I think it would be to reach out in the writing community. Ch1Con is a great way to do this!

What's your favorite part of the Chapter One Conference experience? 

I feel like for me this is a bit of a hard question to answer because 1) I attended for the first time last year, and 2) I'm on the oldest age range of the spectrum, so I think my take away is pretty dramatically different from some of our younger attendees. That being said, I think my favorite part of last year's conference (and one of the main reasons I love Ch1Con so much) was seeing all of the potential in the room. When a bunch of young writers are gathered together like that, talking about mutual interests, tips, and struggles, the atmosphere is incredibly exciting. Honestly, you end the day thinking, "okay, how can I best write the book in my head in the next hour?" The amount of inspiration is truly unbelievable.

What's the next book on your TBR list right now? What was the last great book you read?  

I will be the first person to admit that I am really slow on the uptake when it comes to the newest best reads out there. For example, several months ago I read A Monster Calls for the first time, and it was amazing! I have also been on a large non-fiction kick lately, reading stories of folklore and mythologies from countries around the world. My next TBR are Six of Crows and Truthwitch. So, yeah, again I am a bit late coming to those parties :)

What's your advice to younger writers who are just starting out? 

My best advice to young writers would be not to hold yourself to high or unrealistic standards. How many people are published by the age of twenty? Hardly any! It's honestly very rare, and it is certainly not what qualifies someone as a good writer. Hell, some of the most popular authors of our time (JRR Martin, JK Rowling) didn't publish their first books until later in life (my bad if that is an untrue fact, but I'm pretty positive those two are good examples). Write what you love because you love it. You will find much more enjoyment in your craft and what may seem like intimidating tasks become enjoyable challenges when you love what you do.

Thank you so much for letting me interview you, Katelyn! Stay tuned with the rest of this blog tour! :)

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Starting Anew

Hi, blog.

It's been a while since I'd shared my thoughts on here. I don't quite know how to explain it--

Well, let's start with 2016.

Though not without its highlights, 2016 was, for the most part, a spectacular mess. I remember scrolling through newsfeeds and panicking about the horrors going on in Syria. I remember hearing news about Orlando and sitting in the car, numb with shock and thinking, one more reason to not be who I am. I remember spending hot, sweltering summer days making phone calls and handing out flyers for the woman I believed should be president, only to spend November 9th sobbing with classmates as we saw a man who spewed bigoted views get elected to our highest political office.

Personally, 2016 found me in a state I'd never been in before. I was stuck in a state of fear and anxiety. Words were hard to put on the page, and the constant background hum of characters and plots and pages to write had ceased. Having unreservedly charged through things for much of my earlier life, always building a presence for myself, always trying to give myself a platform to stand on, I shrank back this past year. Doubt reigned, and in addition to very personal losses in my family, there was always, always this cynical fear in the back of my head; fear that I wasn't doing anything productive, fear that I was taking risks that would never pan out.

Then, this November, I watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. 

For two hours, I sat in a movie theater, truly spellbound, seeing the magic I'd loved as a child play out before my eyes again. I gasped at the resplendent colors and characters of Newt's briefcase; I adored the novelty of the story.

I watched J.K. Rowling's beautiful world she'd created, thinking that despite everything, there was still magic in this world.

The fear receded. I started watching more movies and reaching out more to others. I girded up my political activism; I called representatives and donated and vowed to fight for what I believe in for the next four years. I read Maggie Stiefvater's wonderful post about choosing to be the hero of your story. And I chose to write again, realizing that, like Elizabeth Gilbert had said in one of her TED talks, the desire to create superseded my fear of failure.

Slowly, I'm finding my way back the thing I love to do. I'm finding my way back to the caffeine-fueled adrenaline of NaNoWriMo, to the home of crinkled pages and the click of keys against the muggy summer rain.

Here's to hoping that 2017 is a year of intrepid beginnings and sweet resolutions, of courage and moxie and everything in between.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Ch1Con Twisted Blog Tour: Interview with Anne Brees

Hi all!

Welcome to the Chapter One Conference Twisted Blog Tour! For the past few weeks, the Chapter One Conference Team has been mentoring young writers through the process of authorship and publication. Today I have the absolute pleasure of interviewing one of my mentees, the incredibly talented Anne Brees! Her short story, Onyx, will be in the Chapter One Conference anthology, Twisted: Short Stories by Young Writers. 

What beautiful secrets and story gems lie behind this chilling cover, you ask? Well, here's a clue:

 From dueling families to an insane asylum, these short stories are... twisted.

During the autumn of 2016, the team behind the Chapter One Young Writers Conference mentored two talented young writers through the publishing process, giving them a head start on becoming the successful authors of tomorrow. Now, read the stories on which these up-and-coming writers worked, along with four by the Ch1Con mentors themselves.

Each of these stories comes with a twist. You'll never see what's coming next.

Intrigued? You can get your very own copy for yourself, digital (here) or paperback (here).

Onto the interview!

1. Hi Anne! Tell us a little about yourself!

Hi! I'm a high school student who loves writing novels, reading every book I can find, playing piano, and eating more chocolate than I should.

2. What do you like to write? (Novels, short stories, poems, etc.) 

I write mostly novels. Whenever I try to write short stories, they always seem to turn into novels. I hope that someday I figure out the secret to writing poetry.

3. That's awesome! (I can totally relate with the poetry thing). What's your writing process like? Any special rituals? 

I wish I had a normal writing process. (I would probably be a lot more productive if I did.) Usually my writing process is just me forcing myself to put my hands on the keyboard and hoping for the best.

4. If you could describe your short story in just three words, what would they be? 

This is a cruel question. :) Family decides all.

5. What's your favorite book/series, or a great book you've recently read? And if you could live within any fictional world, which one would it be?  

It's impossible to pick a favorite, but I just recently finished the Crooked Kingdom, the second book in the Six of Crows series. It was as amazing as Leigh Bardugo's books always are. I wish I had her talent to create such intricate plots and lovable antiheros.  I also love the Raven Cycle, with its amazing realistic characters and unique take on the supernatural.  I'd love to spend a day with Blue and the Raven Boys in Cabeswater.  (The Henrietta of The Raven Boys sounds a lot safer than the Ketterdam of Crooked Kingdom.)

6. Oooh, I love the world of The Raven Boys too! What's your top piece of writing advice for others starting out as writers? 

KEEP WRITING. Every writer says this, but that's because it's true. It can be really frustrating to just write and write and not get any validation or success from it, but that's because you are still growing. When I first started writing, I wanted to be published right away as all writers do. Now, I'm so relieved that my first works weren't published. (Thinking about some reading my old manuscripts makes me want to cringe.) While it may be frustrating, you have to grow as a writer and try a bunch of different things until you find the ones that work for you. So just keep writing.

Thank you so much for letting me interview you, Anne! 

Everyone else--pick up your copy of Twisted and check her story out! 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Ch1Con Blog Tour 2016: Interview with Kira Brighton

Hey all! Sorry for being MIA on this blog for so long--between revisions and the crazy that is junior year everything (if you  want to find me, I'll just be hyperventilating under a stack of AP prep books). 

BUT! I'm absolutely thrilled to be hosting a part of the Ch1Con Blog tour for the day. Some things about Ch1Con: it's this awesome writing conference for teens and young adults (ages 12-23) that takes place in the Chicago suburbs every year. This year it'll take place in St. Charles, IL, on August 6th, 2016. Come for a cozy, tight-knit writing community and a day of informational sessions taught by both bestselling authors and young, up-and-coming novelists alike (this year we're hosting the incredible NYT bestselling Susan Dennard, who wrote the SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY series and TRUTHWITCH, Francesca Zappia, author of MADE YOU UP, Jennifer Yu, author of FOUR WEEKS, FIVE PEOPLE, and Jordan Villegas, an incredible novelist who's represented by Emily Keyes of Fuse Literary). Also, you'll be surrounded by like-minded writer peers your own age and meet our bookish, Panera-loving team (including yours truly.) More info about it here!

Today I'll be interviewing the wonderful Kira Brighton, the Master of Marketing at Ch1Con. Y'all, Kira has the lowdown on all things marketing, from organizing the annual Ch1Con blog tour, to co-running the Ch1Con Twitter and Facebook accounts. Kira is a senior at BYU-Idaho, studying English with an emphasis in Literary Studies, and a novelist, primarily of YA fiction. Besides working for the Ch1Con team, she participates in a few other writing communities, including NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which she has won five times. She has written nineteen novels so far, won various titles in the annual Write It! Awards, including “Best Writer”, and has published short fiction and poetry in many small compilations, such as through Creative Communications, Greensprings, Pegasus, and more. She was a speaker for Ch1Con in 2012 and 2014 and has been part of the team from its inception. In her spare time, Kira plays cello, squees at cats, and obsesses over the BBC. She’s also prone to social justice rants and fangirling about Harry Potter and the Hunger Games.

Now, onto the interview! Today I’ll be talking about making writing a habit, where Kira has graciously agreed to address questions about ritual, organization, balance, and perseverance.

1. What are your tips for balancing a busy school schedule with writing?
If it works all right for you, take a notebook everywhere while you're in the midst of writing a draft, so you can pull it out and write in any moment of free time/boredom. Stay focused, be excited about your story, and you should be able to make quick progress while accomplishing the rest of your work. I also highly recommend NaNoWriMo. Honestly, though, writing styles and processes are very personal and varied, so my ways won't work out for everyone.

2. What habits help you in drafting? In revising? Are there any must-have items, rituals, or mandatory cups of coffee?
Seeing as I'm Mormon, the coffee would be ix-nay. ;) I'm fortunate enough to be pretty adaptable when it comes to writing. I can write just about anywhere with great focus. Revising is more of a butt-in-chair situation--every time I take a break, I have to force myself to start again, but once I'm working, I'm in it to win it.

3. Speaking of ritual, how important is an organized writing schedule to you? Or do you prefer to write on a whim?
I have OCD, and writing is something I love partly because it has this magical property of somehow being OCD-immune for me. I'm a pantser with few, if any, writing rituals, and no writing schedule to speak of. My writing life is the most disorganized part of my existence (though not the publishing aspect, of course--business requires organization). My OCD makes only two notable appearances in my writing process: occasional bouts of anxiety about whether my work has any value and that fortunate ability to sit down and be (obsessively, but not in an anxious way) focused on finishing the work. Whoo-hoo!

4. Do you have a goal-setting system for your writing/noveling aspirations? What is it like?
NaNoWriMo is key to my writing process, but I don't really need that end goal. I just like that fun graph where I can see the wonder of my progress. I'm a self-motivated person. I do set general goals for my career every New Year, and with my latest book, I had to set a deadline (that I slightlyyyy crossed over) to get myself past my editing anxiety so I'd send the draft to my first group of readers. But overall, it's free-form.

5. How do you deal with writer’s block? Do you believe there is such a thing?
I believe that writer's block occurs for one of three reasons: writer's doubt, not listening to your characters, and/or a failure to perform the holy act of butt-in-chair. With the first and the third, you have to force your way through. With the second, however, you do need to take a step back and reconnect with the creative flow. You have to give your will over to the character and let them tell you what they think and feel and how they would honestly react to the situations you've put them in. If you do that, you should be able to find the point in your story where you ignored them and amend it. After that, the story will flow more naturally. 

6. What resources, authors, or familiar quotes do you go back to when you find yourself stuck in writing?
My writer friends (hello Ch1Con team!) are my top resource for any writing-related problem. They're intelligent, supportive, and have a variety of ways they work, so I can turn to them for new direction whenever I need it. Otherwise, I remember the lessons I've learned myself through years of working--butt-in-chair, ignore that writer's doubt, get your draft down before anything else, etc. I also find sketching my characters and locations to be a helpful source of inspiration when I'm drawing a particular blank.

7. Do you have any general advice for cultivating writing as a habit? 
Develop OCD. No, I'm joking, don't do that. What you really need to do is practice! Go write. And read. All the time. The more you work, the more you'll understand what methods speak to you and the more you'll know what to do in the difficult moments. Butt-in-chair, my friends. Get your brain working.

8. What is your advice to a young writer just starting out and hoping to become published or professional?
Don't give up. As with anything worth doing, becoming an author takes a lot of work, a mountain of time, and a fair amount of heartache. You have to be stubborn. You have to decide upfront to continue working towards your dream whatever happens. If that's not something you feel you can do, you should consider writing for enjoymentwithout a clear professional goal. Maybe you'll find your will along the way. If not, you'll still have cultivated great skills and had fun along the way!