Five Years After the Leap

yaddo coffee 2010

About five years ago, I was under deadline to complete the first draft of a contracted novel and stressing the hell out over how I would finish on time while working my full-time job as a senior production editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books. I had somehow sold my novel on proposal and agreed to a deadline that had seemed very doable at the time (in my haze and shock and delight, when the book was sold). But this was a serious, demanding day job that required eagle eyes and a very sharp mind, and I am a perfectionist at my jobs, so I could not phone it in. By the end of each week, I was exhausted and had little interest or energy in looking at any more words, even and especially my own. At the rate I was going, I would finish my novel in three years, and it was due in about four months. And to top it all off, after years of slowly working my way up in the publishing industry, the company had to consolidate offices and the children’s department moved into the same building with the adult imprints, giving us far less space than we had before. For me, this meant I had just lost my window office for a cubicle, which somehow made the job feel even harder.

I was facing a terrifying decision: Should I quit this day job so I could finish the book on time? Was that stupid? Too much of a risk?

While I was contemplating this and holding it in quietly in my new cubicle, I got a letter in the mail. It was from a famous artists’ colony up north that I had applied to on a crazy what-if whim, never expecting to get in: Yaddo. They had accepted me, to my shock, and given me a month-long residency.

I remember thinking this was a symbolic form of communication from the universe. My day job would not allow me to take four weeks off to go away to write. If I went to Yaddo for those four weeks, I could not have this job.

Was the decision made for me?

Is this stupid? I asked myself again. Is this too much of a risk?

I knew what I wanted. And, deep down, I knew that I would not be able to keep myself from taking what I wanted. It was a now-or-never moment, and if you know me at all you know I took the leap.

mansionfarther copy

Let’s be honest. It was stupid, and it was too much of a risk, but I did it anyway and gave my notice at HarperCollins a week later. By the next month I had become a full-time writer (who still did some copyediting freelance work on the side), without health insurance and without a net. I wrote my heart out for the novel that you may know as Imaginary Girls, and I did turn it in on time, and I did go to Yaddo, and health insurance did come later, as did other opportunities, wild and exciting, including other artists’ colonies and books to write and teaching opportunities, and I know, looking back, that I would have done it again.

My life has been a series of leaps like this: chasing dreams, chasing better situations, falling flat on my face, getting up again, thinking I would regret it more if I didn’t try. It’s been kind of romantic and, I’ll admit, very irresponsible. But I’ve had these five great years, and I’m grateful. No regrets? Well, mostly no regrets.

I remember going to my first Teen Author Drinks Night here in New York City and sitting at a picnic table in the outdoor patio of a bar, admitting to some authors that I had just quit my day job. This was my first time meeting all of them. Barely anyone knew me. I’d published one book before this that no one had read. I don’t drink, so I sipped a nonalcoholic glass of juice and ice I’d snuck at the bar, feeling like a child at the adults’ table. One author, a successful male YA author with many more books under his belt, said he didn’t quit his day job until he’d published three novels, and the undercurrent of the conversation was that I’d done the most idiotic thing in the world.

I asked myself: Did I just do something horribly stupid?

I had a growing sense that I did.

Then I remembered Yaddo. It made quitting seem a little less insane, and I know how insane that sounds.

As I write this post it is a little more than five years after I gave my notice at HarperCollins, and I am about to leave for another residency at Yaddo, just like I was then. I haven’t been back there since. Going back now, of all moments, feels strangely, frighteningly symbolic. I feel like a chapter of my life opened with that first Yaddo letter, and I am not sure if it’s now about to close and a new chapter is getting ready to start.

Yaddo is in Saratoga Springs, New York, a city I slipped into The Walls Around Us before I knew I would be going back. Did you know “Yaddo” is meant to be pronounced like the word shadow? One of the founders’ young children named the estate this nonsense word, before dying soon after, which makes it seem all the more like a dreamland to me.

That’s where I’m headed, as of early in the a.m. on Thursday, for the rest of December. I will be trying to stay offline as best I can. This will be easy, because there is no wifi in the rooms or studios. I will be trying to keep a quiet space in my brain. If I don’t answer emails, please wait for me to return to the real world in January.

Announcing Private Manuscript Consultations and One-on-One Mentoring

Image5_macroeditsI’ve been asked about this numerous times (thank you!), and so I am making it a reality:

In addition to the novel writing workshops I teach—such as the Young Adult novel writing workshop & retreat at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in California coming up in June (applications now open and due February 26, apply!) and the newly announced Highlights Foundation workshop on writing horror and dark & twisty YA and middle-grade novels co-taught with Micol Ostow in September (apply before May 1 for a discount, it’s going to be awesome!)—you can also soon work with me privately on your novel on your schedule, from anywhere in the world.

Starting in the second half of January, I will be available for private manuscript consultations, shorter 50-page critiques, and one-on-one mentoring, for select manuscripts and writers. This would be a way to work with me privately on your YA or middle-grade or adult cross-over manuscript and gain detailed, constructive feedback on a draft to help you move forward with revision. If you prefer, it could also be a way for you to work with me on a first draft over an extended period of time, with deadlines that will help you finish the novel and gain feedback along the way.

We would work together online, so you could live anywhere in the world, and these consultations will involve a phone call or Skype session (or, if you’d like, an in-person meeting if you can get yourself to downtown Manhattan).

For more details about what this would entail, fees, and what manuscripts and writers would be the best fit to work with me, please visit my website.

And of course feel free to email me questions!

The Calm Before the Who-Knows-What: 110 Days to Publication

walls arcs 400I write this to you from a quiet moment in my publishing life. It is December 5, the year 2014, and I am in the room at the rear of the café at a table beside the outlet where I can safely sit with my back against a wall. I am all alone in a room full of noisy people, which is both literal and symbolic at the same time. I write this nervously, of course, and with hope, always, about what the future might bring. My new book comes out next year, and next year is close. The pub date is March 24, to be exact, which I can see ahead on the calendar and which feels breathlessly about to happen and also at the same time safely still far away.

The moment is quiet still, because nothing has happened yet. There have been no trade reviews yet. It is too soon to do much promoting, or to weigh any reactions. I haven’t had to dress up at an event for this book yet and talk about it in front of people. Anything is possible at this point. The book comes out in 110 days.

There are 110 days to go, and the book is mine still, even though some people have been reading it and kindly telling me so on Twitter.

Today, someone tweeted me something I said a while back. I guess I said, “When I was writing The Walls Around Us, I decided to be simply and only myself.” And that’s true. I want to remember that, no matter what happens.

Everything is about to be up in the air next year. Where I’ll live. What work I’ll be doing. What will happen with my writing career. How this book will do out in the world. How that will determine everything else, including, though I’d hate to let that happen, my self worth.

I don’t know yet. I can’t know yet. We’re waiting on news about our apartment. I can’t do much to figure things out for next year because I’m about to go away and be offline for three weeks. The book I’m writing now is due next month, and it’s the last book on my contract. I don’t know what I’ll write next.

The best thing I can do for myself is have no expectations. To look ahead into the future and see a complete and total blank. When I get my hopes up, it’s dangerous. When I skew too negative, it’s far worse. When I keep myself busy, and try not to think about anything beyond next week when I’ll take the train upstate to finish my novel, it’s okay.

So let’s just be okay today.

I wanted to write to you from this moment in my life. From before.

If you, too, are on the edge of something and want to imagine someone sitting next to you in the noisy waiting room crowded with other people all going about their lives, I’m here. I’m feeling quiet. But I’m here.

p.s. I’m too tired to check my math. If it’s actually less than 110 days, don’t tell me.

Books with Bite Highlights Foundation Workshop with Me & Micol Ostow

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be teaching a new writing workshop in 2015—this time in the fall and co-led with a certain brilliant author I admire like crazy, Micol Ostow, author of the terrifically terrifying AMITY! So if you’re writing a horror or otherwise dark & twisty YA or middle-grade novel (spine-chilling horror! hauntings! ghost stories! psychological thrillers! dark magical realism! serial killers! suspense! Gothic tales! I could go on!) and if you’d like to go to the truly wonderful Highlights Foundation in Pennsylvania for a five-day intensive workshop next year, I hope you’ll consider taking ours!

I realize this photo isn't at all creepy, so it may not go with the theme of our workshop... But these are some of the cabins writers stay in at Highlights! Aren't they perfect?
I realize this photo isn’t at all creepy, so it may not go with the theme of our workshop… But these are some of the cabins writers stay in at Highlights! Aren’t they perfect?

The Books with Bite Workshop and Retreat at Highlights will run September 16–20, 2015, and if you like to plan your life way early, you can apply RIGHT NOW! For the full description of the workshop and the link to apply, please visit the Highlights Foundation website.

Plus, if you register by May 1, you will get 10% off tuition, so apply sooner rather than later… Writers will be paired with a mentor, either Micol or me, and will be workshopped in small groups, so spaces are limited. Admissions will be rolling, and we will be reviewing applications as they come.

…In fact, I heard we already got our first application this morning! Isn’t that amazing?

Feel free to ask me any questions here, in the comments, or via email.

And of course, if horror and dark fiction isn’t your thing, or if you’re closer to the West Coast, and you would still like to do a workshop with me, the deadline to apply for my upcoming June 2015 YA novel workshop & retreat at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in California is February 26. Djerassi applications are now open, and spaces are limited!

That’s my news for now! Now back to writing my own book!