I’ll tell you something I doubt many aspiring authors would ever say: I used to hate books.
I blame it mostly on my third grade teacher. The first time we were ever allowed to pick a book to read for class, I went to her and said I couldn’t decide. I told her I wanted a book with dragons and magic and adventure. She gave me Where the Red Fern Grows. If you’ve ever read Where the Red Fern Grows, you can likely see my problem. I dutifully read the whole thing waiting for a dragon or a witch or a goblin, but when they didn’t come and I had inevetiably read a book about a young boy in the Deep South raising coon dogs only to have them die, I resigned my nine year-old self to the fact that the books I wanted just didn’t exist. That book my sister had read to me, The Secret of Dragonhome, was a one of a kind. A literary fluke.
Fastforward a few years. I’m twelve, running out the door to catch the bus that picked us up for school before the sun even came up, and I realize we’re taking the Ohio Standardized Tests today. My school was pretty strict about needing to have a book for after the test. They wouldn’t even let us color. My sister was down the driveway shouting for me to hurry up and I panicked and told my mom I needed a book. When she ran into my sister’s room and grabbed the first book she could find before shoving it in my bag and pushing me out the front door, I doubt she knew she had just done one of the best things she would ever do for me. It wasn’t until I finished my test that I even bothered to look at the book, but the cover gave me a small bit of hope. A boy stood, staring at the sword in his hands while his friend rode a horse towards the black castle in the background. I remember shrugging. I either had two hours of this book or two hours of trying not to look at Mrs. Ellinger’s pet tarantula beside me. I chose the lesser of two horrors and opened the book.
It was the first time a book swept me away. One minute I’m sitting in my middle school science classroom and the next I’m walking the halls of Trebond Castle with Alanna and Thom. Before I knew it, I was on this great adventure with Alanna, who disguised herself as a boy in order to become a knight. I don’t think I looked up once and I had my first taste of regret at having to stop reading once the bell rang. I finished the book that night and a few days later, carried it in to my local library. I though if there was anything else like it out there, a librarian would know. I stopped the first woman I saw, not knowing she would one day be my first boss, handed her the book, and asked for more. She smiled, as Laramie often does, and ushered me over to the Young Adult section where an entire shelf of books by the same author awaited me. I’ll tell you this much, no one has ever changed my life so much as Tamora Pierce. I’d even go so far as to say she saved me.
For Christmas that year, my mom did the second best thing she would ever do for me. She gave me another book, said the man in the bookstore mentioned it was good for kids, said it wasn’t a best seller or anything, but it came highly recommended. That year for Christmas, I opened Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It wasn’t a big hit yet, but I guess we all know how that one turned out.
These books came into my life to inspire me at just the right time because the following year I had a new teacher, Ms. Kehres. I loved her even though she was tough (and god help you if you messed around in class while she had a headache!). She gave me my first ever extended paper. We were given a week to write a five page narrative. During the week she taught us all about storyboards and thought-webs and revision skills. This project also got me my first ever extention. I went to her the day before it was due in a panic, swearing I had been working on it, but it was a lot longer than I thought and would she please please please consider giving me until Monday and maybe I can have a middle and an end by then. Exasperated, she asked to look at what I had. I handed over the ten pages of double spaced papers I had printed for just this reason as well as the storyboard so she could see where it was going. I didn’t understand the strange look she gave me at the time as she flipped through my hours of work. I didn’t understand the smile. “Don’t worry about the middle or the end. Get it to a pausing point and bring me what you have on Monday. This is wonderful.” I have to admit I was confused because she had stressed to the class the importance of a narrative having a beginning, a middle, and an end, but I had her permission. On Monday, I handed in 19 pages. My first ever chapter, exciting cliffhanger and all.
When I recieved it back with the most satisfying A+ I had ever gotten, it came with a note. ‘Keep writing. It will be a wonderful book one day.’ There are moments when our lives change. Sometimes they’re small things that we barely notice–a choice to turn right instead of left–but sometimes they’re big, world-stopping moments that ingrain themselves into our memories. This note was a big one. I swear that for just a moment, the whole world stopped turning. I read the note three times as the realization dawned on me. I could write a book. I could be like Tamora Pierce and J.K. Rowling. I didn’t have to sit around waiting for interesting books. I could write them myself.
I continued writing through high school and went on to earn a B.A. in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Hollins University. My writing has grown, morphed by feedback and critiques, by everything new I learn. I had an amazing series of professors at Hollins and a fantastic group of friends and peers who have always pushed me to be better than I was the day before.
And now here I am. Three years out of college and trying to find an agent. During my hours of searching for the exact formula of how to write a query letter and synopsis, trying to syphon out the agents who say they accept fantasy but really are only interested in urban fantasy, and trying to keep myself from the emotional breakdown from the confusion of it all, I kept wishing there was someone out there who had all the answers. I’m still wishing, but I have begun my journey into the world of submissions and literary agents and I’m a big fan of learning from others, so I’m putting it all here. Everything I can think of. I doubt I’ll have all the answers, but maybe I might have some shred of knowledge that will help someone else on their journey.