Five years ago this week, my first book, Story of a Girl, was published. This, as you can imagine, was a significant occasion in my life and the beginning of a new reality. i.e. – My career as a novelist, my voice in the YA community, this blog having an audience…basically, so many of the dreams I worked for for ten years coming true. If you’ve followed along, you know that “dreams coming true” doesn’t mean “problems solved.” But, you know what, part of that feeling is a forgetfulness of what it was like Before. So this is a week for me to reflect, recognize, and celebrate that beginning and that book, which will always be extra special to me for so many reasons.
First of all – where you come in:
Tomorrow, Tuesday, the official five-year mark, we will have a fun giveaway on Twitter. Tweet something about Story of a Girl–a favorite line or moment, a memory of reading it, a response to the story, a comment about a character, etc., and use the hashtag #storyofagirl (easy to remember). Little, Brown Books for Young Readers will randomly pick from these tweets and give away five signed copies of Story of a Girl.
Obviously, if you have a memory or favorite line or comment about the book, there’s a good chance you don’t need a copy. Play anyway, and if you win you could give your copy to a friend, or donate it to a school or public library. If you haven’t read the book, you too can play along. You can tweet something about one of my other books that makes you want to read Story, or straight up beg for a copy. Just be sure to use #storyofagirl in your tweet. Tomorrow. Tuesday.
All week, I’ll give a background/timeline of how the book came to be published, because, I don’t know, I want to mark this anniversary, think about where I’ve been, and I also know that when I was starting out, I had an insatiable hunger for publication stories so hopefully this will be interesting reading for you, too.
2001 (I think): Deanna Lambert was born in a different book, one I’d just finished, one that was all about the character Lee, who became a secondary character in Story. Deanna showed up in Lee’s gym class and when I finished that book I knew she was the most interesting thing about it. I wanted to tell her story and hear her voice. I started writing a first draft about her, then called Together Alone. My idea was that Deanna’s father had Gulf War Syndrome and that was the main reason life in their family was so difficult.
2002: Parted ways with my first agent who just seemed to have zero enthusiasm for my work. Wondered, after 7 years, if I should go on. Started looking at technical colleges and also thought about applying to Vermont MFA. How would I afford it? No clue. Depressed. Got laid off of my cushy work-from-home job. Double depressed. Kept writing. My writers group helped, and somewhere along the way I realized the conflict needed to be more directly about Deanna and her father. Bye-bye Gulf War Syndrome. Hello Tommy Webber. Went to my first Glen Workshop, ready to quit, with my first chapters of the new version of the book. The encouragement and validation I got there were part of a major turning point.
2003: Finished the book and started looking for new agent. Rebecca Sherman of Writers House wrote me “reader’s notes” for her then boss (Rebecca has since become an agent in her own right), and that was my first experience with what was, essentially, an editorial letter, and a great one. Revised the book based on her notes. Came up with a new title. Won the Utah Arts Council prize for an unpublished novel. Sent that revised version to Writers House, which was still rejected. Woe! (Meanwhile I’d started writing the book that would eventually become Once Was Lost.)
2004: This year was filled with querying agents and publishers, being rejected or ignored, feeling despair, feeling hope, holding on. Tweaking the book. Wondering what the hell I had to do to get an agent to read my damn book. (Yes, I was angry that year and swore a lot.) I heard about Dystel & Goderich from a friend and scrolled their site from my day job, morose and certain at the end of all my efforts would be yet more rejection. I looked through the D&G agent bios, saw Michael Bourret’s picture, and had a feeling. Queried him with a partial, he requested a full, and then I waited. And waited. … Aaaaand waaaaiiiited. Every six weeks or so I’d send him breezy check-in emails, and we’d exchange a few words about life and pop culture. For five months.
TO BE CONTINUED…
(I realize this is not super suspenseful. But I’m breaking it up to keep the posts a reasonable length! See you on twitter tomorrow for #storyofagirl fun.)