Turning Points: Guest Post by Léna Roy (+Giveaway)

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? I’m honored and excited to host their stories. Read on as Léna Roy honors the 50th Anniversary of her grandmother Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time by revealing how she came to call herself a “writer”…

I didn’t call myself a “writer” in 2004 when at the tender age of 35, I finally allowed myself to start working on a novel that had been marinating in my head for years. It is the story that developed into Edges.

I didn’t call myself a “writer” until after September 2007, when I really had to make a choice about who I was and what I was made of—when I embraced writing as a vocation.

A Wrinkle in Time

Yes, I am a veritable late bloomer. What took me so darn long? In my early 20s I wasn’t a stranger to putting myself out there, singing and performing in nightclubs. But my Gran, Madeleine L’Engle—yes, the creator of one of the most beloved books, A Wrinkle in Time—was the writer. Me? As a kid, tween, teen, I always wrote. Then as an adult, I was the actress who wrote, the bartender who wrote, the therapist who wrote, the mom who wrote.

Just never the writer. I would listen to my Gran talk about craft and she would say: “You’re a writer if you write.” Somehow I thought that this dictum applied to everybody else except me. I wrote in secret.

My early 20s were arty and wild. I lived with my grandmother off and on, I did performance art, I wrote, and of course, I would talk about my dreams as if they were already a reality.

When I made up my mind to leave the arts to go to school to be a therapist at the age of 25, I felt I needed to be serious and useful—I had used up my quota of “castles in the air.”

I could never make a living at performing, or writing like Madeleine L’Engle—to attempt to do so past a certain age would be hubris. We all know writing takes discipline, talent, and luck: I wasn’t very disciplined, I was unsure about my own talents, and luck—well, that’s not something we can count on, can we?

I worked in a psychiatric hospital in the Bronx. I moved to Moab, Utah (where I met my husband), and started an out-patient program for teens who had substance abuse problems, I worked as a counselor in a Dual Diagnosis treatment facility in San Francisco. But by far my favorite job was as a high school counselor downtown in NYC: teenagers were my people.

Then in the beginning of 2000, I started having babies and my grandmother needed caring for. My life revolved around the babies and the grandmother. Watching her decline was very painful; she wasn’t herself anymore. It was as if all of her ailments had trapped her spirit.

It’s strange that the death of one of my best beloveds was my turning point.

Early September 2007, I was standing outside of her house in Northwestern Connecticut with my husband, looking at the stars in her honor. Who are you?

My husband asked me the hard-hitting questions: Do you want to be a writer? Are you a writer?

Yes I do, and yes I am.

I had been trying to write that novel for the past four years. I wrote the first draft in three months: a teen runs away from an alcoholic father in New York City and finds himself at a youth hostel in Moab, Utah.

I rewrote it and then sent it out to one agent who rejected it. It went back in the drawer.

It came out again.

More rejection. More time in the drawer.

What then, was my vocation? Should I get another Master’s degree? Become a nurse?

But looking up at the stars on that warm September night, I felt my grandmother speak to me for the first time in years. Yes, it’s hokey, but I’ll say it: it was as if her energy had been released into the atmosphere and she was telling me to accept my calling, that it was time to find my own voice.

That night both my husband and my grandmother were telling me to embrace my true self, to stop fooling around, to take my writing seriously. Stop dabbling! So what if most writers don’t make a living at it. It would be a leap of faith. I would have to live, breathe, eat the writing world. I would have to commit to it 150%. I would have to follow in the road map Madeleine L’Engle had already created for me: create community, be around other writers, open myself up . . . teach.

I did another rewrite and I was finally able to secure an agent, the wonderful Edward Necarsulmer, who opened my eyes to the world of young adult literature, for that is where I found my voice. He recommended that I read Ellen Hopkins, Chris Crutcher, and Laurie Halse Anderson. John Green. It was a joy and a revelation to discover a whole world of wonderful authors and story-telling that wasn’t preachy yet refused to be cynical.

I started teaching and leading writing workshops. First at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine and NYC bookstores, then with Writopia Lab in NYC and Westchester, with kids, tweens, and teens who inspire me every day.


Edges was finally published in December 2010.

Now I write no matter what. No matter the reviews, positive or negative, no matter if my work is rejected. I keep reminding myself that my job is to serve the story and to tell the story in the best possible way that I can.

And I learned that I need to own what I write. People will ask me what my book is about, and even after one year, I still have a hard time narrowing it down to a sexy sound byte. Because truthfully, it’s about spirituality and addiction, and that’s not very sexy, is it? There are no vampires (unless you see addiction as a metaphor), and there’s no bodice ripping, but there is grittiness mashed with sweetness and hope.

People say that an author’s first novel is the most autobiographical, and that is also true in my case. Ava, one of the protagonists, is certainly a version of my younger self. And like all of the characters, I have certainly struggled with the nature of truth and reality, and what to believe.

This week we celebrate the 50th anniversary of my grandmother’s Newbery Award–winning opus, A Wrinkle in Time, which is perhaps my favorite book of all time. Help me honor my grandmother with your promise of being true to yourself as well—if you are a writer, find your voice, because the world needs you. I may not be Madeleine L’Engle, but I am Léna Roy, and I have learned from her that art comes from serving the story: nothing more, and nothing less.

—Léna Roy

Lena Roy

Léna Roy was raised in New York City, in the cloistered environs of a theological seminary, with extracurricular education provided by Manhattan’s club scene. She’s worked as a bartender, an actor, and with at-risk adolescents in Utah, California, and NYC. She now lives with her husband, two sons, daughter, cat, and four African water frogs in Katonah, New York, and is the Program Manager for Writopia Lab in Westchester. Edges is her first novel.

You can find her on her blog, www.lenaroy.com.

Follow @lenaroy on Twitter.



Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway via the entry form—and thank you to the author for donating the prize! I’m happy to announce the winner:

Kristen Aigeldinger won a signed copy of Edges!


Congrats! I’ll email the winner for her mailing addresses. Thank you again to everyone who entered!

Want more in this blog series?

The Turning Points series will continue with new guest posts three times a week. Subscribe to distraction no. 99 to keep up with the series, or read all the posts with this tag.

Here are the posts in the series so far:

You can keep up with all the open giveaways on the giveaways page!

Series images by Robert Roxby.

26 responses to “Turning Points: Guest Post by Léna Roy (+Giveaway)”

  1. The end of that made me tear up. That is a perfect request. Because, too often, we forgot to honor who we are — and instead, we honor who think we SHOULD be. That serves no one. That serves nothing.

    Thank you for the reminder — and the encouragement. This was a beautiful post, and I think your grandmother would be damn proud of it.


  2. Calling yourself a writer takes courage. It’s hard to let people know what your ambition is, especially since writing is viewed as either a pipe dream, or something anyone can do. Thanks for encouraging us all to serve our stories, and be proud.


  3. suhh goooood! i like that she’s been a singer/actress/writer/artist/etc. b/c i feel her advice at the end applies to all that dreamy stuff. LOVE.


  4. Oh, what a beautiful, hope-filled post. Thank you, thank you. This came just when I was feeling most useless, a dabbler in everything who will never accomplish anything useful. Thank you for reminding me that there is more, that I am more.


  5. This is honestly a beautifully written post. It was encouraging to read this, and for me, personally, it served as a reminder to embrace my writing and stand up for it and immerse myself in it. I’ve been so afraid of doing so because other people (i.e. family and friends) think it’s unconventional and crazy, just a pastime or a hobby. But I love writing. I love reading. And it’s time for me to step up to the plate!


  6. I am of course, a huge admirer of Madeleine L’Engle, but I am so pleased to know about Lena Roy — please enter me in the drawing so that I can hear her voice. Thank you for the lovely post, Lena, and for hosting this series, Nova.


  7. You got me with ‘I write no matter what’ . . . and ‘I learned that I need to own what I write.’ Yes, indeed, ‘art comes from serving the story.’ Now I know what multi-faceted woman you are, but, above all, a writer.


  8. Yes, thank you! Such a beautiful, inspiring post. I feel the need to go back and read it through again. I agree with the above comment—your grandmother would be proud.


  9. “We all know writing takes discipline, talent, and luck: I wasn’t very disciplined, I was unsure about my own talents, and luck—well, that’s not something we can count on, can we?”

    This sentence speaks volumes to what I keep thinking – I have a thousand reasons to be anything but what I want to be. This post was such a beautiful way of showing me that for all the searching, you really are a writer if you write. I can’t wait to read Edges and hear more of your voice.


  10. More than anything this makes me think of the women and men who set me on my course, so long ago, when I was very small. Thank you.


  11. I love this: “That night both my husband and my grandmother were telling me to embrace my true self, to stop fooling around, to take my writing seriously. Stop dabbling! So what if most writers don’t make a living at it. It would be a leap of faith.”

    That really nails it. And it’s so true.


  12. Amazing post. I read Madeleine L’Engle’s books over and over and over again when I was a kid. Not just A Wrinkle in Time series – I loved A Ring of Endless Light, The Small Rain, A Severed Wasp, A House Like a Lotus… She, more than anyone, inspired me to want to become a writer. Although, I am also a late bloomer and didn’t grasp the importance of being true to yourself until I hit 40.


  13. Lena never fails to make me happy. I love her story. SHE is the one who opened my eyes the reality: I can be a writer. Not only do I write for fun, I AM a writer. An inspiring author and a great book; what more could you ask for?


  14. Thank you for sharing your story. I, too, ignored my writing self until later in my life. I’m still struggling at times because of rejections and doubt, so your words encourage me!


  15. So wonderful to hear Lena flesh out her back story a bit! Edges is a wonderful book and I’m glad it took it’s time getting birthed into the right hands, so it couold be brought forth and made available to so many YA readers who can benefit from it’s powerful message of hope and redemption. Bravo, Lena! Bravo!


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