My first published book, Secrets of Truth & Beauty, was a YA novel that came out in 2009. The book I wrote after that was YA, too. I called it Bottle Cap and it's the story of a mathematician in a family of artists. It didn't sell for a variety of reasons. One was market: those were tough years for contemporary realistic fiction. A bigger problem was the novel's voice: there was a slyly funny narrator living there, but she was buried in fleshy prose.
The failure to sell that book rocked me. I tried to write another YA. I thought I had an idea that was at least a little paranormal. I added superheroes and their requisite super powers. It wasn't going anywhere. So then I spun my wheels with a project I'd been working on before Secrets. I was certain I would never sell another book. It's okay, I told myself. Most people don't get to publish even one book. You should feel lucky.
I didn't feel lucky.
I went back to the superhero book, I had this idea that maybe there was something about the water in this town. Maybe it was the fountain of youth. I wrote, but it felt like such a strange book. I thought maybe it was actually a middle grade. I doubted every word.
I signed up for a workshop at The Telling Room with Monica Wood. It was about kick starting your writing. I feel stuck, I confessed. I don't trust myself. Monica was a gentle yet exhilarating teacher. I don't think the workshop was more than two hours long, but I left re-invented. Screw it, I told myself (though I might have used a stronger word). So what if it’s a weird book, it's the book you want to write. It’s the book that only you can write, and, anyway, know what else is a weird book? When You Reach Me is a weird book. Holes is a weird book. I was working at a high school and one of my students said, when trying to describe his favorite book, "You know, sometimes the best books are the hardest to explain." Yes! I almost hugged him.
I wish I could say it was easy from there. I got the draft out but it still needed a lot of work. My agent was amazing. I worked that book until I wasn't sure if it was good or bad, but I knew it was something new for me.
The Water Castle was published in 2012 and was received more warmly than I ever could have imagined back in those doldrum days.
This month is going to be interesting hearing all of our publication journeys. It’s important to remember that every person and every book takes a different path, and that having one book published doesn’t make the next book any easier to write or to sell. Even the notion of writing the book that only you can write won’t work for everyone. Sometimes you need to write the book that will put food on your table. But for me, I was writing nothing. No good words were going to come out until I sorted out The Water Castle. I just had to wait for the time and the place and the stars and my attitude and the amazing help of mentors like Monica Wood to get it right.
A postscript: I went back to Bottle Cap. I opened a new file and did a complete rewrite. I started from word one, page one, and unearthed the wry voice that wanted to get out and tell Veronica's story. The book, now called Very in Pieces and very much YA, will be out this fall from Harper Teen.