I hope you all are having a wonderful November! I’m closing out the month with another guest post from a published YA author–Christine Potter, author of In Her Own Time and Time Runs Away With Her. Today, she’s sharing some of the lessons she’s learned on the road to publication.
So, how do you get started writing young adult fiction? I think there are, as the old saying goes, many roads to Rome. And to continue the journey metaphor—because why the heck not—we’re all trying to get there from different places.
I started out a poet. Dirty job, but somebody’s to to do it. I taught poetry in the public schools. (I also taught lots of other language skills, but I was indeed the pet hippie poet at the high school where I worked for many years.) I published a lot of poems in small literary magazines. I still do. I have two poetry collections, Zero Degrees at First Light, and Sheltering In Place: mostly serious and kind of literary, although some of my poems are funny. I moderated a poetry workshop online back in the Wild West days of the early internet.
My poet friends used to sniff at poetry that was too “narrative.” But I found myself yearning to tell stories. And then, just before I aged out of teaching, I reread Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and it blew me away. I wanted to tell that kind of story. (But I was a poet! I couldn’t be too…sniff…narrative!)
Several years later, I was on Prince Edward Island, home of all things Anne of Green Gables—and birthplace of its author, Lucy Maud Montgomery. I actually had grown up without reading that sweet book, and so I remedied that problem as I sat in the cottage my husband and I had rented. Anne cast her spell on me, and I plowed through everything else I could get my hands on by Lucy Maud. (Incidentally, I like the Emily series even better than the Anne series, but I digress…)
When I got home to New York, I no longer yearned to write stories. I had to write stories. And because I taught for all those years—and probably because I’ve still got an emotional age of about sixteen—I knew I had to write for kids. I was on fire to create a book that bucked the contemporary trends: wizards and vampires, dragons and dystopias. I wanted to write something a young reader could get lost in that would be as cozy as falling asleep in her bed at…okay, at Hogwarts. I wanted a happy ending. I wanted to swing for the fences. And I didn’t want to have to write about cellphones!
So I set my books in the past (like Lucy Maud Montgomery). And I wrote time travel (like Madeleine L’Engle). And I took L’Engle’s dictum about not writing down to my audience very, very seriously. I put together the first draft of Time Runs Away With Her, starring my main character Bean Donohue, an aspiring folk-rock musician and a time traveler, who lives mostly in the year 1970 with a disapproving mom and (eventually) very loving boyfriend. The book contains the essential elements of 1970, which is to say it does not shy away from pot-smoking track stars, Grateful Dead concerts, and wanting to go to bed with your boyfriend…while time traveling.
The universe yawned. I had a year of go-rounds with agents: near misses, more rejections than I can remember. I was fortunate enough to get accepted to a week-long retreat on Whidbey Island to study with Karen Joy Fowler, who wrote The Jane Austin Book Club. She took a tough pen to my first draft, and I spent the next months at home reworking and rewriting. And then I hired an editor to have a look and took some of her suggestions, too.
I was considering going to indie presses sans agent when I bumped into a poet friend online who is an acquiring editor for Evernight Teen. And so I nervously sent her what was by then draft one zillion of Time Runs Away With Her. I was back on Prince Edward Island, reading the Emily of New Moon books by Lucy Maud Montgomery—and actually staying in a cottage owned by her family—when I got the acceptance from Evernight. I told them I wanted to do a trilogy of Bean books. They did not say I was nuts. I rejoiced.
I wrote another book about Bean Donohue and her boyfriend Zak last year. In Her Own Time (Bean 2) was published in the late summer of 2016. And I’m just now finishing the third book in the series: working title The Time She Forgot, with my characters all in college, circa (mostly) 1972…and also 1893 and the early 1960’s…
So here’s what I’m going to tell you: have other writer inspirers, and accept their inspiration and learn. Write hard, and do it every day if you can. Write the book that would have healed you at sixteen. Start referring to the time you spend writing as “working.” That last thing might seem obvious, but I have found that friends and family respect “I need three hours to work” a whole lot more than they respect “I’m going to write for three hours.” Have faith in your story and let your characters talk to you. And revise like a fiend. Don’t think you have to have an agent, and consider indie presses. And one last thing: never, ever give up.
Christine Potter is a young adult novelist and trying-to-be-grownup poet. She’s the author of The Bean Books–Time Runs Away With Her (Book One) and In Her Own Time (Book Two) available on Evernight Teen. You can read more on her blog, Time Travels.