I didn’t start my career as a YA author. I began by writing plays. I styled myself after Eugene O’Neill and Edward Albee, both risk takers and excellent craftsmen. I spent many frustrating years writing plays and collecting rejection letters. I made some progress, there was interest from the Public Theater and Steppenwolf, but no productions.
I’d always wanted to write novels but the skill jump, though it might seem small, was actually quite large. To begin with, I had no idea how to write action or description. Basically, if it wasn’t dialogue, I was clueless. In a play, you can write, “Bob crosses the stage and grabs a glass of water.” Given the tone of the scene and the dialogue, the actor/director will know how to portray that movement. Unfortunately, there are no actors or directors in novels. The writer has to do all the heavy lifting.
I found writing novels intimidating. I still find writing novels intimidating. In order to learn fiction, I began, like so many writers before me, with short stories. The writing group I joined tore apart my work but also helped me improve. At the same time, I began to read at a rate I’d never managed before. Twenty-four books a year was my old average. I cranked that up to seventy. Armed with lots of practice and new knowledge, I went on to write my first novel, Tough Girl, a contemporary novel with an eleven-year-old protagonist. It’s an incredibly depressing book, so much so that my husband thought I was suffering a depressive episode. In order to cheer him up, I decided to write something happy. Thus began my career writing fun YA novels (where multiple characters die and everyone’s always in danger–turns out, you can’t change who you are).
Confession time: I really hadn’t read much YA before starting Welcome to Sortilege Falls. Sure, I’d read Christopher Pike and RL Stine in my teenage years, but keep in mind that my teenage years ended before the aughts began. I went to Goodreads in search of books and what I found disturbed me. So many readers I encountered felt that YA was filled with weak female characters. I grew curious and began investigating (aka, reading YA novels).
I loved much of what I read, but I had to agree with other readers – too many female characters were berated or led by their male counterparts. I made a decision. I was going to write a YA fantasy novel and I was going to make damn sure my main character was strong, even if she floundered here and there.
I began writing Welcome to Sortilege Falls in 2012. You read that right. Six years ago. It’s been an absolutely wild ride. I’ve watched Grape Merriweather go from worrying about making friends at a new school to fighting in an army alongside mystical creatures. As Grape has grown, so have I. We’ve both found ourselves making major decisions, scared that we’re all alone, and feeling stuck in impossible situations. Grape had to rescue her brother from forces truly evil while I’ve only had to get a mortgage, learn the joys of itemizing a tax return, and decide between an HSA or standard insurance (being an adult rocks!). She’s faced down a dictator but I’ve lowered my cholesterol so it’s pretty much the same thing.
Kidding aside, I’m proud of every word I’ve written in the series. I can’t believe how much I’ve learned as a writer and as a person. During the course of three novels, I’ve questioned how I feel about beauty worship, celebrity, war, freedom, government rule, torture and tribalism. Again, this was supposed to be a fun YA adventure.
But all good things must end. I’m excited to announce that I sent book three, Sometimes A Monster, to my publisher yesterday. This is the final book in the Grape Merriweather series. I’m sad to say goodbye to Grape and her friends, but I’m excited to move on to new stories and new adventures.
Thank you for joining me on this wild ride!