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 Andrea Cremer reveals the accident that led her to writing her first novel, and the choice she had to make to keep writing more…
My turning point has been both sudden and slow. It began with a horse and ended by turning everything in my life upside down.
I’ve always been a writer. Since I first could hold a crayon I’ve drawn pictures and created stories about those pictures. The picture to written story ratio reversed as the years went by, but the creation of worlds and characters never ceased.
Despite my love of writing, I didn’t see a career as an author as a viable option. To strive to be a writer was akin to hitchhiking to New York in the hopes of making it on Broadway. Sticking with the sensible road, I pursued graduate education until there was none left to pursue and set out into the working world with a Ph.D. in early modern history. I landed a dream job at Macalester College, a wonderful liberal arts college in St. Paul, Minnesota. Work was both close to my family and introduced me to an abundance of smart colleagues and incredible students.
Though I was thrilled at the job and enjoying the start of my ‘real’ adult life following so many years of studenthood, the summer after I finished my first year of teaching I felt that something had been missed. Having given over so much time to study, I decided that some time off was in order and went in search of the those things that I’d left behind when I dedicated my life to the study of history almost exclusively.
Like many girls (and boys) I was obsessed with any and all things horse, and benefited from summers working on a local horse ranch. Once I went to college both time and money kept me from riding. With a job secured and the summer free I thought it no better time than to return to my love of horseback riding.
In June 2008 I had my horse all tacked up and ready to go on our first trail ride. As I led him from the stable, he was startled by another horse, jumped, and came down on top of my right foot. With two broken bones in my foot, the summer of riding came to an end before it began.
Not only would I not be riding, I had doctor’s orders to stay off my foot for the entire summer. My days would be spent on the couch, rather than on the trail.
I consoled myself for a time with my go-to comfort activity—watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But even Buffy couldn’t offer a full reprieve from my sense of a summer lost. In Minnesota, where winter goes on forever, a lost summer is something to truly grieve.
Wanting to salvage my days before school began again I wracked my brain for something that would give me a sense of accomplishment. Something couch friendly. As I mulled over the possibilities, a long-time dream came to mind. I’d always wanted to write a novel. My journals, notebooks, and computer hard drive were already filled with scenes, thoughts, and scribbles accumulated over the course of my life, but I’d never given myself the space or time to write a book from start to finish.
Still on the couch, but armed with my laptop, I began to write.
That was the beginning of my turning point.
My love of writing was not only confirmed, it was transformed: into an obsession. I had never felt so alive, or complete, as when I put words to the page. The experience was thrilling and terrifying. It reminded me of falling in love—I was afraid to let go of the experience, thinking I might never capture the magic again and at the same time the thought of trying to make writing more than a sideshow in the carnival that was my working and personal life seemed an impossible task.
But I couldn’t stop writing.
And I began to live a double life. Professor by day, writer by night (and morning, and any time I could snatch for myself). In addition to writing, I did research. I consumed every piece of information I could about the publishing industry. I taught myself about literary agents and query letters. And after writing two “practice” novels, I wrote Nightshade. And I knew I’d reached the point where I wanted to take my work into the world.
I began to query.
There were rejections.
I continued to query.
My (would soon be) agent requested the manuscript.
My (almost) agent offered to represent me.
I signed with the agency.
We revised the manuscript.
Nightshade went on submission.
Michael Green purchased Nightshade in August 2009, a little more than a year from the accident that started it all.
This is halfway through my turning point.
By phone and email I met my editor, Jill Santopolo, who turned out to be (and still is) one of the most talented and amazing people I’ve ever met. Not only did Jill understand my writing, she understood how to make it better.
I learned much more about writing and revising through working with Jill. Nightshade went into copyedits. I wrote Wolfsbane and began Bloodrose while Nightshade was in the run-up to release.
Nightshade was published in October 2010 and hit the NYT bestseller list. I cried and danced. I kept writing. I kept teaching.
Writing and teaching managed to be both complementary to and at odds with one another. My students always inspired and energized me, but the time of preparation, instruction, office hours, recommendations, and meetings sapped the time I needed to write. When I’m drafting a novel, I want to immerse myself in it—an aspect of my process that required compromise in the face of my “real” job obligations.
Wolfsbane debuted on the NYT list. I finished writing Bloodrose and embarked on multiple new projects. I requested and received a reduction in my teaching load to part-time. For a year I thought I could do it all.
I discovered I could not.
The time and energy required not only by writing, but also in promotion, answering email, touring, was draining my enthusiasm for teaching. Not because I didn’t love being in the classroom, but simply because I was exhausted. I’d been stretched thin by my schedule and while those sacrifices were reasonable when I was trying to get my foot in the publishing door, I seemed to have landed in a room of my own and I wanted to live in it instead of feeling like a sub-letter.
I had a choice to make. To maintain my academic career and continue to write would mean I’d have to scale back my life as an author by a long-shot. I’d have to travel less and write fewer books. I would have to take time off from writing to focus on my academic work.
I could have made that choice, but my turning point had set me on another path. What I wanted was to be a full-time writer. A writer who could lose herself in her books without apology. Admitting that the writing life was the one I wanted was as frightening as beginning to write my first novel. It meant leaving a life of comfort and security, for one that is more unpredictable. It meant that my Ph.D. would still be put to use, but in an unconventional way that might draw questioning gazes from more than a few people.
But my life had turned, opening a new road that I wanted to walk. Turning back would only feel like defeat.
I write this piece amid the last semester I’ll teach at Macalester. When classes end, I’ll pack my bags and head to New York to chase a dream. And life will begin again, until the next turning point.
Andrea Cremer lives in Minnesota and teaches history at Macalester College in St. Paul. She is the author of the New York Times bestselling Nightshade series. She wants you to know that history is not boring and dreams are best lived.
Visit Andrea at www.andreacremer.com.
Follow @andreacremer on Twitter.
EDITED MARCH 17: WINNER OF A SIGNED COPY OF BLOODROSE ANNOUNCED…
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:
Kel Vorhis won a signed copy of Bloodrose! Congrats! I’ll email the winner to ask for a mailing address. 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:
- Intro to the Turning Points blog series
- Gayle Forman: on overcoming bitterness
- Sean Ferrell: on the Writer who never arrives
- Eileen Cook: on a “nasty” book and a teacher’s advice that inspired her
- Christopher Barzak: on how short stories changed his vision for his novel
- Saundra Mitchell: on deciding to quit and walk away
- Eric Luper: on not writing for trends
- Gretchen McNeil: on how “everything happens for a reason”
- Julia DeVillers on the life-changing fan letter she wrote when she was ten
- Daisy Whitney on the book that opened her eyes to writing YA
- Brandy Colbert on the book that inspired her to find her voice
- Courtney Summers on redefining failure
- Sarah Darer Littman on turning off the noise
- Léna Roy on how she came to call herself a “writer”
- Megan Crewe on not choosing the “right” path
- Jennifer Echols on her eighth anniversary of not being stupid
- Blythe Woolston on how she accidentally became a writer
- Karen Mahoney on the discouraging moment that kept her from showing her writing for years
- Steve Brezenoff on how facing both death and birth became a turning point for his writing
- Christine Lee Zilka on how she fought to keep writing after a stroke at age 33
- Kim Purcell on rewriting her book from scratch
- Camille DeAngelis on “the laughter of sanity”
- Timothy Braun on being true to yourself and your writing
- Jordyn Turney on being a young writer and taking yourself seriously
- Kate Messner on finding perspective with bad reviews
- Jaclyn Dolamore on making the impossible possible (giveaway open through March 14!)
Series images by Robert Roxby.