Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Pragmatist: An Introduction

Well, hello there!

Now that I have your attention...

I am so excited to join PubHub! And I hereby promise to do my very best to make this worth your while. (Is there a merit badge for blogging? Cuz I want that.)

Like many YA writers, I always knew that I loved to write, and books were hugely important to me when I was young. But I got a late start as a novelist, because I let two things get in the way: 1) pragmatism and 2) doubt. I told myself that becoming a professional writer wasn't realistic and that I should focus on studying things that might actually get me a job. I majored in English, I went to grad school for children's literature, and eventually I started working as an editorial assistant at a publishing house in Boston. I loved that job. I loved working with authors and artists and book designers (and sometimes even sales reps!) If I was being really honest, though, I felt a little pang of envy every time I went to a book signing or an author event. I had stories that I wanted to tell. So I took a leap.

I decided to pursue an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults (wordy, right?) at Vermont College. It's a low-residency program so I was able to keep working as an editor while I attended, and this was a good thing for a lot of reasons. But it also meant that I was living a bit of a double life. While I was at school, I immersed myself in writing workshops and faculty lectures and story ideas; while I was working, I had to focus on the pragmatic stuff, like sales and budgets and finding books by other writers that my company wanted to publish. And after I graduated, I had some finished stories that I really loved but I wasn't sure what to do next. I still had doubts. I still didn't think of myself as a writer.

When the Boston Public Library announced that they were appointing a Children's Writer-in-Residence, I jumped at the chance to apply. The grant came with a monetary prize but also (and in some ways, more importantly) required the winner to spend 20 hours a week at the library, working on a project, and also to hand in a finished manuscript. "This is exactly the motivation I need," I told myself. So I came up with a proposal for a novel about a girl who runs away from an orphanage and joins up with a traveling carnival sideshow. I didn't stop to think about whether I could actually *write* that book. And then I won the grant.

And then I had to write the book.

As most of you know, there's nothing quite like trying to write a novel if you want to unleash every doubt you've ever had about yourself. And there's nothing quite like finishing a novel to make you think, "Maybe I be a writer after all."

This is glossing over some of the dirty details, of course, but I won't bore you with those. (As least, not in my very first blog post.) That carnival book eventually got published as Wonder Show, my first young adult novel, and was named a Morris Award finalist in 2013. My second novel, Some of the Parts, will be published next February, and I have two picture books coming in 2017.

I still have a lot of stories to tell, and most days, I can call myself a writer without cringing or qualification. That's not to say that pragmatism and self-doubt don't ever take over. But I've learned to put those voices in little boxes.

I label them like this: BE QUIET and NOT TODAY.

I've learned so much about writing and doubting and how to harness my pragmatism (hint: it's really useful during the revision process). And I can't wait to share all of that with you.


  1. This is my first time here and you've done a great job of enticing me to come back. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This line resonated with me: As most of you know there's nothing quite like trying to write a novel if you want to unleash every doubt you've ever had about yourself.

    1. Thank you for reading, Cathy! The good news is that those doubts can be laid to rest. I hope to share more about *that* part of the process in future posts.

  2. I second Cathy's comments. Great intro!

  3. I've never been able to get into the whole carnival story, but after reading this I'm curious and you can be sure I'll pick up a copy. Congratulations and I hope you keep kicking butt!

    1. Thank you, Cristina! I hope Wonder Show can make a carnival convert out of you. ;)