How I became the most accidental YA writer ever

February 1st, 2012 | Blog Uncategorized

I know I promised to tell you how I ended up with a YA book deal to announce, and I'm going to TRY to explain today. But I'll be honest: it *kinda* happened by accident.

Not sure if you remember, but a couple of months ago I posted a very honest account of the incredibly long, incredibly stressful process I went through when I was revising KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES. I couldn't seem to get that book right, and with each new revision I piled more pressure on myself, to the point that I actually felt nauseous every time I opened the draft.

I also had insomnia pretty bad back then and I found myself spending the many sleepless nights thinking about a crazy idea. Two teenage characters with a very YA story to tell–not something the middle grade writer in me ever thought I'd attempt. But one night at 4am one of them said something so funny I crawled out of bed, grabbed my laptop, and typed those words because I wanted to see them in print.

And I just kept going.

I poured out six pages in a massive brain dump and then tumbled back to bed and FINALLY fell asleep.

I reread them the next morning expecting them to be laughably horrible. But I was surprised to discover that they were actually the best six pages I'd written in a LONG time. Not because they were perfect–far from it, actually. But because they were MINE.

I'd spent so many months revising KEEPER, trying to figure out how to make OTHER PEOPLE happy with it, and all that stress and pressure had stolen the joy from writing. I needed to make it FUN again, and to do that I needed to write just for ME. And so, my secret project was born.

I worked on it in my free time, or when I needed a break from a hard scene in KEEPER. I didn't take the draft seriously. I didn't tell anyone what I was doing. I just wanted to let the characters tell their story the way they wanted to, without thinking about market trends or rules of craft, because no one besides me was EVER going to see it. It was just my pet. My baby. My sanity keeper.

But somewhere along the way I started to find my YA voice and the story started to feel like it was working and I caught myself thinking, I might be onto something here

I tried to talk myself out of it, but the feeling wouldn't go away and eventually I sent some chapters to my trusted readers in an email titled: am I losing my mind?????? And was stunned when they all came back at me with: I LOVE THIS!!! (plus a lot of, wow–you're writing YA???–to which I was like, I know, WHAT AM I DOING????)

Which meant it was decision time. If I was really going to do this then… I needed to maybe start taking it more seriously. Like, actually revise it a bit. But I made myself a deal: I was not going to put any pressure on it. I was just going to do the best I could and see what happened.

About halfway into the draft I decided I should probably clue Laura into what I was doing, make sure she didn't think I'd completely gone off the deep end. So I sent her the first nine chapters and went more than a little stir crazy waiting to hear back. And when I finally did, she said:

I love these pages and wished I had more! This is a wonderful beginning. I'm so excited to see where this goes.

Fueled by the rush of OMG SHE LIKES IT–SHE REALLY LIKES IT I cranked through the rest of the draft faster than I ever thought possible. I revised it and sent it to readers–and they loved it. I revised based on their feedback and brought it to a conference, where I got some intense but awesome feedback and went back and revised again. After that I sent it to Laura–who loved it and gave me some notes so we could get it cleaned up for submission. A big part of me couldn't believe we were getting ready to shop a YA project. But I was actually getting excited about it too, so I dove into the revision. And somewhere in the middle of it my phone rang.

It was Laura calling to tell me we had a pre-empt offer on KEEPER.

I'll admit–while most of me was thinking AHHHHHHHHHH–AN AMAZING EDITOR WANTS TO BUY MY BOOK,YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, a *tiny* part of me was thinking… what does that mean for my YA? We couldn't sell both, could we?

Even though that had never been my plan for the project, I'd become very attached to it–and pretty darn proud of it–and it made me sad to think it might have to be shelved for a few years. So I emailed Laura, asking if it was possible to shop a YA on the heels of a middle grade deal and was relieved when she said her plan was for me to have a middle grade debut and a YA debut. And much to my surprise, that's exactly what ended up happening.

Once I recovered from the crazy whirlwind ride of selling five books in two months I sat back and realized: Holy crap–I'm going to be a middle grade AND a YA author!!!!!!!  And trust me, I am well aware of how amazing that is. To get to share both of my series–and to get to work with the same fabulous editor on all of them–is the most incredible gift.

It's also a crazy, crazy amount of work–but it's worth every bit of it. (though, can one of you please remind me I said that when the deadlines really get painful?) I NEVER expected to be here–and it was a bit of a fluke that I made it. But I'm beyond grateful that I did.

And  THAT'S how I accidentally became a YA author. 🙂

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