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#PitchWars 2017: Mentor Bio + Wish List

Welcome, mentee hopefuls! I could not be more excited to be mentoring YA for the second time this year in the greatest contest on Earth, AKA Pitch Wars. (If you’ve stumbled upon this post and are looking for all the contest details, please visit the Pitch Wars site.) Last year, I teamed up with mentor extraordinaire Rachel Lynn Solomon (and yeah, okay, you should check out her awesome wish list, too), but this year I’m flying solo and ready to fight to the pain for all the YA awesomeness. Before I get into what I want to see in my submission inbox, first a bit about me:

MENTOR PROFILE

Photo: © Carly Gaebe / Steadfast Studio

My debut novel is See All the Stars, a YA contemporary suspense about four best friends, one beautiful boy, and a deception that ruined everything, coming in summer 2018 from S&S/McElderry Books. I’m beyond excited to share my first book with all of you, so you’d better believe when fun stuff like cover reveals and pre-orders are happening, I’ll be shouting it out on Twitter. I’m currently working on two psychological thrillers–one for teens, and one for adults–and I’m represented by the inimitable Erin Harris at Folio Literary Management / Folio Jr.

When I’m not writing, I’m probably editing: I edit chapbooks for Black Lawrence Press, I edit for private clients through Copper Lantern Studio, and I’m also a Book Coach through Author Accelerator. That’s right–editing is literally my job, and you can read more about my editorial work right here. I’ll be bringing that editorial acumen to my mentee’s manuscript, so that’s definitely one of the reasons you want me as your mentor.

Speaking of which, you’re probably wondering about my mentoring style. I approach my mentees’ manuscripts with the same dedication, passion, and savvy red pen with which I edit my clients’ manuscripts. (OK, red pen is a metaphor–we’ll do edits electronically cause it’s 2017!) We’ll start with an editorial letter, which will provide global (big-picture) feedback on your manuscript. We’ll also do a second round of fine-tuning edits. Be ready to dig in deep and really revise. I will push you in a positive and guided way to do the work necessary to shape your manuscript into the best version of itself for the agent round and querying.

What else do you need to know? I hold an MFA in Creative Writing from Syracuse University and have studied with book editors, copyeditors, and literary agents through NYU’s Center for Publishing. I also write poetry (my debut poetry collection is also coming out in 2018!), love to cook, can kick your butt at Eurogames like Seven Wonders and Dominion, and spend a lot of time snuggling with my two adorable cats. You can follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest @ kitfrick.

WHAT I WANT

I’m looking for YA in two specific genres, so lean in close:

Thriller/Mystery/Suspense

Contemporary with Magical or Speculative Elements

First, let’s talk about what I’m looking for in YA Thriller/Mystery/Suspense, which is really an umbrella for several sub-genres, so let’s get specific. No matter what classification you’d choose for your manuscript (murder mystery, psychological thriller, contemporary suspense, etc.), I’ll be asking the same key questions: Are there twists and turns I didn’t see coming? Is the suspense well-crafted and sophisticated? Does the narrative use emotion, character, and setting to create page-turning tension? Is there a mystery at its core? Does it keep readers guessing until the end? Yes? Then gimme, gimme, because I need to read it!

Here are a few recent YAs that do suspense really well. If you can see your manuscript on book shelves with any of these titles, you should probably send it my way:

The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn (everything by Stephanie Kuehn)
One Of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus
With Malice by Eileen Cook
Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
We’ll Never Be Apart by Emiko Jean
Far From You by Tess Sharpe

FYI I am not looking for YA horror, which can certainly be thrilling, but it’s not for me. So if your YA is a horror story, check out the wish lists of mentors looking specifically for horror.

Now, let’s talk about what I mean by YA Contemporary with Magical or Speculative Elements. YA contemp is a big genre with many, many sub-genres, and I’m looking very specifically for manuscripts that introduce a magical or speculative element into an otherwise real-world, contemporary setting. Think magical realism (with the caveat that I’m not super comfortable using that as a genre classification unless it refers to Latinx literature) or “contemporary with a twist.”

Here are a few recent YAs that do what I’m talking about. Because this genre is a bit slippery to define, I’m going to use each of these books as a case study to exemplify what I mean, which I think will be more effective than trying to describe it broadly as a genre.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Popular high school senior Samantha Kingston dies in a car crash on the way home from a high school party–until she wakes up the next morning. During the course of the novel, Sam lives the last day of her life seven times, making a series of mistakes and changes.

The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman

When Ari’s boyfriend Win dies, she goes to the Hekamist who lives behind the high school in her Cape Cod town to buy a spell that will erase her memories of him. (Think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.) Every wish comes with a cost, and Ari’s sets off a terrible chain of events among her and her friends.

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

The months after his father’s suicide have been hard for 16-year-old Aaron, but he’s trying hard to get back his happiness. When Aaron’s girlfriend leaves town for a couple weeks and he starts to develop feelings for Thomas, the new kid in his Bronx neighborhood, Aaron turns to the Leteo Institute, whose revolutionary memory-alteration procedure holds the promise of fixing everything.

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

Violet has clawed her way to the brink of a breakout career in ballet. Amber has been locked inside the walls of a juvenile detention center for years on a manslaughter charge. Ori is the girl who touches both of their lives, whose own story may be over before it’s even begun. Questions of guilt and innocence become tangled and unwound in this contemporary ghost story, where supernatural elements intersect with the worlds of teen ballerinas and juvie.

FYI I am not looking for contemporary fantasy, urban fantasy, or light sci-fi. If you’re not sure how to categorize your manuscript, ask on the #PitchWars hashtag, ask peers who read and write in those genres, or @ me directly on Twitter!

For manuscripts in both genres, I’ll be looking for:

  • Gorgeous writing that draws me in; a voice that grabs me from page one; an immersive, evocative setting
  • Three-dimensional characters with flaws and fully-realized personalities
  • Complicated character relationships & friendships, especially among teen girls (toxic / fiercely good / nuanced / intense / obsessive / withstanding / destructive)
  • Risk-taking (with narrative structure / by exploring moral gray areas / by getting gritty and dark / by trying things not often seen in YA)

Diversity in all its forms needs to be well-represented and thoughtfully researched. That applies to all representations of diverse characters, #ownvoices or otherwise.

I’m beyond excited to read your mysterious, thrilling, evocative, twisty, risk-taking submissions!

Want to stay in touch beyond the contest? Signing up for my brand-new newsletter, These Little Secrets, is the best way to get insider access to book stuff, plus monthly editorial tips and a behind-the-scenes look at the writing life–things of interest to Pitch Wars mentee hopefuls! The first issue will go out this winter, but signing up now gets you immediate access to exclusive content from my books. 🤩

And that’s a wrap! Don’t forget to check out the wish lists of the other amazing 2017 YA mentors. (I mean, don’t do that, they’re the competition!) But really do.

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Emily Bain Murphy :: THE DISAPPEARANCES

I’m excited to share the fourth interview in the Debut-to-Debut Series! I’ve been talking to a fantastic group of debut young adult novelists this spring and summer, and that will continue throughout 2017, 2018, and 2019—the year leading up to, during, and following my own debut. I’m so excited to share these books, and insights into these authors’ experiences, with you. You can find all the interviews in the series collected right here.

I recently corresponded with Emily Bain Murphy about her debut young adult novel The Disappearances (HMH Books for Young Readers, July 2017).

From the jacket:

What if the ordinary things in life suddenly…disappeared?

Aila Quinn’s mother, Juliet, has always been a mystery: vibrant yet guarded, she keeps her secrets beyond Aila’s reach. When Juliet dies, Aila and her younger brother Miles are sent to live in Sterling, a rural town far from home—and the place where Juliet grew up.

Sterling is a place with mysteries of its own. A place where the experiences that weave life together—scents of flowers and food, reflections from mirrors and lakes, even the ability to dream—vanish every seven years.

No one knows what caused these “Disappearances,” or what will slip away next. But Sterling always suspected that Juliet Quinn was somehow responsible—and Aila must bear the brunt of their blame while she follows the chain of literary clues her mother left behind.

As the next Disappearance nears, Aila begins to unravel the dual mystery of why the Disappearances happen and who her mother truly was. One thing is clear: Sterling isn’t going to hold on to anyone’s secrets for long before it starts giving them up. 

KIT FRICK: One of my favorite experiences as a reader was discovering the many Variants developed by the residents of the sister towns to counteract—and sometimes even enhance—the ordinary things that have vanished from their lives. If you could try out one Atoning or Enhancing Variant yourself, which would it be and why?

EMILY BAIN MURPHY: Ooh, such a good question! Let’s see. I do love the idea of being able to walk around in a rainstorm and feel as dry and warm as sitting in front of a fireplace. But I guess I’d have to choose the Tempest Variants. I would absolutely love to know what it feels like to have water turn to road under the soles of my feet—especially if it was on a glassy lake or ocean where you could see down to the bottom.

KIT: The Disappearances is set in the small town of Sterling against the backdrop of World War II. While the story’s premise is fantastical and brimming with magic and mystery, the setting itself feels very realistically conceived. Tell us a bit about the research and/or imagination that went into in developing Aila’s world—both the historical world of the 1940s and also the unique small town setting.

EMILY: Thank you, that’s so nice! Oh yes, there was so much research—everything from looking at 1940s advertisements on Pinterest to reading Life Magazine features on teenagers’ lives in small-town America during World War II. I looked at slang, fashion designs, car models, which songs were playing on the radio, and what world events were appearing in newspaper headlines on the days I’d mapped out the story. I also interviewed my grandfather, who was stationed on a naval supply ship in the Pacific during World War II. He had so many good anecdotes about everything from stopping at a pineapple factory in Hawaii on the way out, to how the mail system worked, so I’d know how often Aila could expect to receive letters from her father. I’m glad the details rang true for you—and I am glad that because of this book, I got to glimpse a little of my grandfather’s life that I might not have otherwise.

KIT: Tell us something about The Disappearances that isn’t apparent from the book cover or flap copy. We want the inside scoop!

EMILY: I killed off three characters and a sport I invented, as well as my entire original ending. What’s interesting is that my own journey of discovery for the plot actually mirrored Aila’s, in the end. It involved multiple rewrites and even more research once I “discovered” the mystery, but I’m so happy with how it turned out, and I think it’s kind of a fun twist you’d never know from reading the flap copy.

KIT: What gives you the most joy about your life as a YA writer right now? Tell us about something that brings you satisfaction at this moment in time.

EMILY: The most joy I have right now is when I hear reader feedback about what The Disappearances means to them. If it touched something in them, or made them feel happy or hopeful, or just gave them a little piece of joy for a few hours—that is so meaningful to me. Also, holding this book in my hands and seeing it in the bookstore is such an incredible feeling, after years of work spent and pieces of my heart poured into it, and some dark days spent in the query trenches wondering if it could ever really happen!

KIT: The publishing journey is unique for every author, but it’s safe to say that the road to book publication is filled with surprises, twists, and turns for all of us. What has surprised you most about the process of putting a first book into the world?

EMILY: I’d say the greatest surprise has been the deep friendships I’ve found in the book world, and how wonderful it feels to have other people who know exactly what the debut experience feels like, in all of its highs and lows. Also, it’s surprising how vulnerable you feel when the book first starts to go out to readers—and how differently people can experience the exact same words written in the exact same book!

KIT: Drawing from your own unique experience, what advice would you to give to future young adult debut authors, or debut novelists in general?

EMILY: Persevere!! Get that first draft down, and don’t worry that it’s a mess. You will find the real gold in it when you’re revising—and go into it prepared to revise A LOT. Every time you revise you can shade in the details, and make themes more prominent, and deepen your characters or your plot. I’m such a perfectionist, so reminding myself of that actually helps to lighten the burden and gives me more freedom to just write. My other advice? Celebrate every small achievement. It’s not silly—it’s how you’re going to sustain through the long haul. And celebrate other people, too! Choose to lift up and cheer other writers who are seeing success instead of giving into (very human) feelings of bitterness or jealousy. You’ll be so much happier overall—and someday, it’s going to be your turn. If you persevere—see point one again. 😉

Thank you so much for having me, Kit!

Emily Bain Murphy grew up in Indiana, Hong Kong, and Tokyo, and has also called Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California home. She loves books, Japanese karaoke, exploring new cities, and anything with Nutella. Her debut YA fantasy, The Disappearances, releases from HMH Books for Young Readers and Pushkin Press in 2017.

Murphy is represented by Peter Knapp at Park Literary & Media. She currently lives in the St. Louis area with her family and is at work on her second novel.

Website | Twitter | Instagram

Kit Frick is a novelist, poet, and MacDowell Colony fellow. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, she studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA from Syracuse University. When she isn’t putting complicated characters in impossible situations, Kit edits poetry and literary fiction for a small press, edits for private clients, and mentors emerging writers through Pitch Wars. Her debut young adult novel is See All the Stars (Simon & Schuster / Margaret K. McElderry Books, summer 2018), and her debut full-length poetry collection is A Small Rising Up in the Lungs (New American Press, fall 2018).

The Disappearances is out now and is available wherever books are sold. Allow me to recommend your local indie, in addition to Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Stop back soon for future posts in the Debut-to-Debut Interview Series. I’ll be talking to Rebecca Barrow in August and more fantastic authors in the fall, winter, and beyond!

Featured

Don’t Quit Your Day Job, Change It

On this, the year anniversary of leaving my day job in academic administration to write and edit full time, I’m in the mood to share some advice on the topics of job-leaving, budgeting, and freelancing as they apply to those who wish to become self-employed as writers and editors. Over the course of the past year, I’ve been asked time and again about making the transition from salaried employment to self-employment, about being a freelance editor, and about becoming a soon-to-be-published author. The questions have come from friends interested in making a similar transition in their own careers, from writers eager to ditch the doldrums of their office jobs, and from the generally curious. And I’m happy to talk about all of it!

So, I want to share what’s worked for me, with the caveats that there’s no prescription for success, and this is hardly a one-size-fits-all situation. There are, however, a few general principles I think can be universally applicable within the writing and editing sphere. That’s where my experience lies, and while some of the ideas in this post may translate to other professions, I wouldn’t be best positioned to make that assumption. (I.e. if you’re not a writer / editor, YMMV.)

Let’s start at the beginning. One of the things I heard constantly—and still hear—as a writer is this: Don’t. Quit. Your. Day. Job.

I think this is good advice for most, at least until you’ve reached the point in your career as a published writer where you know you can support yourself long-term with royalties, talks, school visits, and whatever other sustaining income your career brings in beyond the initial boost of advance money. Or unless you have other financial resources, or a partner’s income, that can support you fully. If this is your situation, fantastic, and you do you.

But you said you left your day job! you’re probably thinking. I thought this was a post about how to quit my day job! Right. This isn’t a post about not having a day job. This is a post about becoming self-employed and transitioning into a work situation that’s compatible with your writing and hopefully even makes you happy. If you want to both write and edit, and your writing income is not going to sustain you 100% financially, this post is for you.

Let’s talk first about timing. I made the transition from salaried to self-employment several months before my first book sale. It would have been far more fiscally conservative to wait until I had guaranteed writing income lined up to pair with my editorial income, but I knew I had enough in savings to float me for my first year (more on that in a minute), so to me the risk was worth the possibility that I wouldn’t sell a book right away, that I’d have to rely solely on my editorial income at first, and that I might need to re-evaluate my plans. Ask yourself how much of a risk you can afford and will be comfortable with taking. I’m not here to tell you to stay in an employment situation that you’re eager to leave until you’ve sold seven books and hit the New York Times Bestseller list. That’s not what I did, and while that’s probably safe and sound advice in many ways, that may never happen for me or you, and it’s not the only path. Know your financial situation, and map out the timing accordingly.

Now let’s talk practicalities. While I did leave my full-time administrative job, I didn’t leave my day job. I changed my day job, and I structured it so it would be more like three-quarters-time as opposed to full-time to accommodate my writing. I ramped up my existing editorial freelance work (which I’d been building up over the course of several years) and that work became my new day job, which I consider to be a companion to—but distinct from—my writing. Now I work from home in my lounge pants, but I still have non-writing employment to sustain me. In addition to the fact that I genuinely enjoy editing, and that my editorial work is necessary income, being an editor also shields me from the anxiety of feeling like absolutely everything in my professional life hinges on writing and publishing books. Instead, my career has multiple facets, and frankly this is a much better situation for the anxiety-prone, like me.

So, if you’re a writer looking to leave your day job, and you want to become self-employed as a freelance editor to support or supplement your writing habit, here are six principles I’ve derived from my own journey. I hope they’ll help you along yours.

First, be an editor. What I mean is, acquire the training and experience necessary to become an editor before you hang a sign. Many writers are good editors; many are not. The two do not necessarily go hand-in-hand, and—truth time—don’t assume editing is something at which you’ll naturally excel because you’re a talented writer. There’s a reason I edit instead of any number of other things I could be doing as a freelancer: because I’m trained, experienced, and good at it. (I would, for instance, be a horrible freelance publicist, and I wouldn’t have the first clue about being a freelance web designer.) So, if you’re not already trained and experienced as an editor, pause here first. If editorial freelance is the path you want to pursue, acquire the necessary training and experience first. If putting in the (likely several years) of time and work necessary to get to the point where you can strike out on your own doesn’t sound appealing to you, know that editorial freelance is not the only way to supplement your writing income. This may seem like obvious advice, but I see a lot of folks claiming to be editors who don’t really have the know-how or ability to do good work, and I don’t wish to contribute to a false impression that any writer can or should also become a freelance editor on the side.

For me, the path to becoming a freelance editor meant internships at a mid-sized press then a Big 5 publisher, entry-level employment as an editorial assistant, then close to a decade of experience as an associate editor and later senior editor at a small press. In addition to that, I got my MFA in creative writing; I took classes with copyeditors, book editors, and literary agents; and I began to work with private clients. For much of this time, I was also working in academic administration to pay the bills. This is just one path to becoming an independent editor. There are many, but the point is, gain the training and experience you need to edit well and edit with confidence before you call yourself an editor.

Second, establish recurring client relationships or permalance work before you leave your full-time job behind. This is more of a tip than a hard-and-fast rule. Just as you can leave your full-time job before selling a book, you can also leave your full-time job without any editorial work in the pipeline. For me, however, knowing that I had a solid permalance (i.e permanent or long-term freelance) situation—the editorial position with the small press mentioned above—that would support me at least partially was both a practical and psychological cushion when I made the leap. So, this will likely mean a year or more of busting your butt to balance your full-time job and your writing with simultaneously dipping your toes into the editorial freelance waters, making contacts, and building client relationships.

And you know what? Being over-extended like that sucks. But what sucks even more is leaving your job and having zero client work or connections, which unlike a book sale, are things you do have a good deal of control over. So, if you can hustle to line up one or more permalance gigs or recurring client relationships before you leave, I highly recommend it.

Third, know what you want, but be open to possibilities. When I left my full-time job, I knew that I wanted to work with private editorial clients. I established my practice, Copper Lantern Studio, to do just that. (Developing the services you will offer and establishing your business is a whole other post. For starters, you can check out my website and those of other independent editors to get an idea of services and rates that are out there.) But unlike a salaried job, private client work isn’t on a steady pay schedule. Some months, I’m inundated and have to turn down projects. Other months are less busy. So in addition to the work I take on through Copper Lantern, I’ve kept my eyes open for other possibilities throughout the year. I picked up a second permalance position through a book coaching company, and I work seasonally as an admissions reader for the university where I used to work full-time. (It’s not editorial, but I find the admissions work to be fun and engaging, and it’s a great supplement to my editorial jobs.) I’ve also established relationships with other editors with whom I occasionally share work when one of us is too busy to take on a project.

The key here is simply to keep an open mind about where your work will come from and be willing to diversify the kinds of work you take on, at least initially. Later, you may be able to be more choosey and to streamline and specialize, but right out the gate, know that a steady stream of private client work will take time to build up.

Fourth, know your resources, make a budget, and save up. This is a big one. When I left my full-time job, I had enough in savings so that if I brought in no income beyond the relatively minor amount I had already lined up, my husband and I would be okay for a year. This was in combination with his salary, and my ability to go onto his benefit plan. Knowing your personal financial situation and its abilities and limitations is important. I knew that my husband and I could not get by for long on his salary alone; we’d tried that once before, in reverse, with my comparable salary when he was finishing graduate school, and it was a short-term solution, at best. So, I knew how much I needed to have in savings for us to be okay for a year before I left my full-time job.

Is a year a magic number? No, in fact a year is probably on the conservative side. You could budget for eight months, or six. The point is to know the extent of the resources available to you personally (which may be in combination with your partner, or family, as applicable), make a budget, and save to the point where you are personally comfortable, whether that’s to reach six or eight or twelve months out. This strategy allows you to get your footing, build up your clients, and not run yourself and your family into the ground when you’re not a wild millionaire freelance success right out the gate (which—truth time again—you won’t be). But that’s okay because you’ll have savings and a budget beneath your feet.

Fifth, approach your transition to freelancing as a one-year (or six month, or eight month) plan, with long-term potential. To put it in bookish terms, since I know that’s where your heads are at anyway, think of your move from full-time employment to self-employment as a stand-alone novel with series potential. When I left my full-time job, I knew I could go back. Not to my specific job, that was gone, but to my field, and probably even my same employer. I didn’t want to make that reverse move, but I knew that if, despite all my strategizing and budgeting and saving, it just didn’t work out beyond the year I’d planned for, I could go back to what I’d been doing before, and financially, the year would be basically a wash—no harm, no foul. I wanted my plan to work out long-term, but in terms of my finances, I could only guarantee that I had one year during which this career change would work.

Which brings me finally to the sixth principle, plan to reassess. As the year-mark (or whatever month mark to which you’ve budgeted) approaches, reassess. Are you making the amount of money you need to be making? Do you like the work you’re doing? Are you happy? The second two questions are entirely personal, but in terms of making the amount of money you need to be making, I figured out pretty quickly that even with my two permalance jobs, my out-of-the-box seasonal admissions work, and my work for private clients, I wasn’t going to be matching the salary I’d left behind with my full-time employer through freelance work alone. For year one, this was fine because of my budget and savings. For the two years ahead, this was still going to be okay because in addition to my editorial work, I also sold two books—the first half of my “write and edit full-time” plan. Within a few months, I knew what my advance would be and when (ballpark) I could expect those payments. I was able to adjust my budget accordingly. So between the book income and the editing work, my one-year plan became a three-year plan, with good long-term prospects.

The one year anniversary take-away?

I know now that, as a freelance editor, matching the salary I left behind would necessitate working full-time as a freelance editor. Not three-quarters-time balanced with writing, but full-time and probably realistically more than full-time. And if you want to be a full-time freelance editor, that’s perfectly fine, but if your goal is to balance that editorial work with your writing, as mine is, there probably aren’t enough hours in the day, at competitive freelance rates, for you to do as much editing as you’d need to in order to make a salary that you’d consider livable. (This of course depends in part on the cost of living where you are, what you consider a livable salary, etc. I’m in NYC, so my cost of living is high, and that’s something I personally have to take into account. YMMV.)

I know also that book income will necessarily be a key part of my long-term financial plan. This doesn’t mean I’m going to get a two-book deal every year. Of course not. It means I need to budget so that the income I do bring in from writing stretches to years I don’t sell a book, and that I need to continue to be scheduled and meticulous about my writing time, prioritizing it along with my editing. It also means that in the future, I may need to apply rule number three—be open to possibilities—to my writing as well as my editing by taking on write-for-hire or ghostwriting projects or other paying opportunities in addition to my credited work. I’m fine with this, because getting back to my earlier questions, I love the work I’m doing—both as a writer and an editor—and I’ve never been happier.

I hope the advice here resonates, and that you find it useful. Of course, making the transition to self-employment is just the beginning. Your continued success as a freelancer will be contingent upon a number of factors, including your ability to develop good client relationships, your capacity to effectively get the word out about your business, and your facility for managing logistics such as contracts and payout schedules. I certainly advise speaking to other freelancers within your network about how they manage these aspects of running a small business before you begin. Arm yourself with knowledge, resources, and a plan. Finally, know that luck also plays a role, in addition to, or despite of, all your strategizing. There’s no way to prepare for that particular X-factor, but it’s good to remind yourself that good or bad, luck is also in the mix.

Dream big. Plan big. And keep your eyes open.

Featured

On getting my first book deal and kicking imposter syndrome to the curb

For years, I wasn’t brave enough to admit I was a writer.

I went to college to study the craft. Five years later, I returned to school for my MFA. I gave readings and attended writers’ conferences and residencies. I wrote. For all intents and purposes, I was a writer. But when chatting at parties, when introduced to friends of friends, when asked that inescapable, horrible question, So, what do you do? I would say, “Oh, I work in [insert day job here]. I also write.” Writing was a tacked-on thing, although really, it was everything.

There were a few reasons why it was hard for me to disclose my writing life to anyone outside of my family, close circle of friends, and network of writers who “got it.” For one, it didn’t pay the bills, and isn’t that what people are really asking at parties? Oh, you’re a writer who doesn’t make money? Fascinating. So, what do you really do? For another, I dreaded the inevitable follow-up questions. Have I read you? Where can I find your books? It felt exhausting to explain. “Yes, I have poetry published in literary journals you’ve probably never heard of. I have two chapbooks out with fantastic small presses you probably haven’t heard of either. No, the books aren’t on Amazon. No, a chapbook isn’t the same as a chapter book. No, my poems do not usually rhyme.”

It was on me, 100%. Imposter syndrome loomed large, and I was not ready to take ownership, especially over my fiction. Poetry was hard enough to explain to the world at large, but at least I had poems out there to prove my existence. See, I write! I am! In prose, I had zero publication credits in a genre wherein it is actually possible (if rare) for a writer to become a household name. When it came to my creative identity, I was a little bit lazy and a little bit distrustful and a little bit shy. But I kept writing.

Then this spring, something amazing happened. After a year of writing and revising and three months of querying my first contemporary young adult novel, I signed with my agent, Erin Harris at Folio Literary Management / Folio Jr. Over the course of the spring and summer, Erin and I worked on three full rounds of revision and then several more “lightning rounds” of touch-ups, and when we both felt the manuscript was ready, Erin put it on submission to publishers. As summer turned to fall, another amazing thing happened. Ruta Rimas, a Senior Editor at Simon & Schuster’s Margaret K. McElderry imprint, acquired my debut novel and a second novel in a two-book deal:

Deal Announcement

Finding a home for my books with Simon & Schuster is especially meaningful because my career began with that very NYC publishing house. My very first [insert day job here] was with S&S, where I interned during college, and then worked as an editorial assistant for a year and a half. So this book deal is a special kind of homecoming.

No, you probably haven’t read me yet, although you can find some of my poems right here. And yes, while in deed my young adult books will be on Amazon, I hope you’ll consider supporting your local bookstore, too. For the moment, you can add See All the Stars on Goodreads, which is pretty exciting!

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It took leaving my day job to throw myself into writing and editing full-time, which also happened this spring. It took some external validation from fantastic people with careers representing and publishing books. And most of all, it took a big vote of confidence in myself. I can do this. I am doing this.

Hi, I’m Kit. I’m a writer.

More specifically, I’m the author of See All the Stars, which will be out from S&S/McElderry in 2018, and a second young adult novel, also forthcoming from S&S/McElderry, in 2019.

For those who know me already, consider this our re-introduction. For everyone else out there, I look forward to getting to know you! You can find the very occasional blog post here, as well as book news as it happens, and I hope you’ll also follow me on Twitter @kitfrick for regular posts about writing, editing, reading, and being alive.

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The thank yous:

My fiercely talented agent, Erin Harris, has been the best guide a writer could ask for throughout this strange and wonderful process. I’m so lucky to have landed with my editor, Ruta Rimas, whose enthusiasm for my debut nearly had me in tears, and I cannot wait to work with the entire McElderry team.

An endless world of thanks to the beta readers, writers, and friends who provided invaluable insight, encouragement, and cheer along the way: Nora Fussner, Brittany Cavallaro, Rachel Lynn Solomon, Karen McManus, Lily Ladewig, Ivy Blackman, Tabitha Martin, Elle Jauffret, Kayla Olson, Rachel Simon, Stephanie Kuehn, and the entire PitchWars mentor group, Ladies Social Wine Club, and Black Lawrence Press families. And finally to my family, especially my husband Osvaldo Oyola, my parents Pat and Tony Frick, and to Sally, Sonia, Lissette, and Angel, who believed in me and my creative path. I’m excited to see where it leads.

Kayla Olson :: THE SANDCASTLE EMPIRE

Welcome to the third interview in the Debut-to-Debut Series! I’ve been talking to a fantastic group of debut young adult novelists this spring and summer, and that will continue throughout 2017, 2018, and 2019—the year leading up to, during, and following my own debut. I’m so excited to share these books, and insights into these authors’ experiences, with you. You can find all the interviews in the series collected right here.

Earlier this month, I corresponded with Kayla Olson about her debut young adult novel The Sandcastle Empire (HarperTeen, June 2017).

From the jacket:

Before the war, Eden’s life was easy. Then the revolution happened, and everything changed.

Now a powerful group called the Wolfpack controls the earth and its resources. And even though Eden has lost everything to them, she refuses to die by their hands. She knows the coordinates to the only neutral ground left in the world, a place called Sanctuary Island, and she is desperate to escape to its shores.

Eden finally reaches the island and meets others resistant to the Wolves. But the solace is short-lived when one of Eden’s new friends goes missing. Braving the jungle in search of their lost ally, they quickly discover Sanctuary is filled with lethal traps and an enemy they never expected.

This island might be deadlier than the world Eden left behind, but surviving it is the only thing that stands between her and freedom.

KIT FRICK: Tell us a little about the research you did for The Sandcastle Empire. For instance, digital, medical, and mechanical innovations, and environmental resources such as silk and water, all play an important role in the world building for the novel, which is set in a post-revolutionary near future. What kind of research was necessary in order to construct Eden’s world, and what was born out of pure creativity?

KAYLA OLSON: Ooh, I don’t remember anyone asking this question before, and I’m glad you asked! Much of the future tech in my book was inspired by sifting through TEDtalks—silk technology, for example, is a real thing (watch this incredible video by Fiorenzo Omenetto to see what I mean), and the Havenwater bottles were inspired in part by Michael Pritchard’s Lifesaver filter (here’s his TEDtalk, “How to make filthy water drinkable”). I was also fascinated by Rachel Armstrong’s ideas on how to make architecture that grows itself. I loved the idea of future technology being the opposite of the flash and shine we often associate with it; for a book that had strong environmental themes as its foundation, I looked specifically for solutions to current problems that have sprung up out of nature. The world I built for The Sandcastle Empire was a world where these ideas had caught on—and then proved to be both beneficial and problematic to society.

KIT: The novel imagines a world in which a group comprised of members of the lower socio-economic class—known as the Wolfpack—are now in power following a violent revolution, and the surviving members of the once wealthy elite, including Eden, must struggle to resist their captors’ hostile control. There is a notable reversal at play here, wherein the oppressed have become the oppressors, and vice versa. Tell us a little about the role that class and the distribution of wealth played in your development of the novel.

KAYLA: As I started to envision a world where multiple cities, all along the coastlines, were attempting to recover from simultaneous disasters, it seemed like the sort of thing where emergency response teams might have a hard time keeping up—especially if more floods happened before the cities could recover from the previous ones. In this situation, I imagined how scarce the resources for food, shelter, and clean water might become, and how there are people out there who might try to take advantage of that sort of thing by charging extremely high prices for the essentials necessary to survive—and how those who couldn’t afford the resources would be, rightly, enraged. From there, it’s a question of How do we survive? How do we keep our families alive? So the desperate do what they feel they have to. The role reversal, at its heart, is a matter of fear taken to the extreme—a handful of power-hungry, persuasive individuals who slip in to the movement to take advantage of the desperate who truly do want justice, and end up twisting things for their own personal gain.

KIT: Tell us something about The Sandcastle Empire that isn’t apparent from the book cover or flap copy. We want the inside scoop!

KAYLA: Unless you’ve listened to the recent interview I did with Sarah Enni on her podcast (here, if you’d like to check it out!), you’re probably not aware that one of my initial idea sparks for The Sandcastle Empire came from thinking about pirates…and the thing that put pirates in my head at all was a Wii MarioKart track, ha! (Shy Guy Beach, specifically—there’s a pirate ship off in the distance.) I happened to play that course on the same day my little guy did a pirate ship craft at our local library’s story hour, and for some reason, that tiny little coincidence—two pirate ships in a single day!—sent my brain down quite the rabbit trail. That spark of inspiration ended up being pretty subtle on the page, but I might not have come up with the idea at all if not for being in such a pirate-y headspace that day.

[Insert Kit squeeing here because Shy Guy Beach is my absolute favorite MarioKart track ever! Excellent piece of trivia!]

KIT: What gives you the most joy about your life as a YA writer right now? What is bringing you satisfaction at this moment in time?

KAYLA: My editor sent a few finished copies my way recently, and it was so surreal to hold them! Even better, though, was the moment I showed my husband and little guy their names in the dedication and acknowledgments—I’d kept both a surprise, and I’m glad I did. I’ll never forget how excited they both were.

KIT: The publishing journey is unique for every author, but it’s safe to say that the road to book publication is filled with surprises, twists, and turns for all of us. What has surprised you most about the process of putting a first book into the world?

KAYLA: Having been on said twisty, turny road* (*and by road, I definitely mean roller coaster) for a long time now, I felt reasonably prepared for many aspects of publishing, but there have certainly been surprises along the way. One that stands out about the actual process of putting a book out there is that I was not prepared to love my copy editor so much, let alone the entire process of doing copyedits! I was afraid of getting paired with someone who wouldn’t get my voice/style, but the person they gave me was the perfect match. I just wanted to hug them by the end of the draft—I never realized how satisfying it would be to delete commas! I was also beyond impressed at one note that said, “You used this phrase 100 pages ago; okay?” I sincerely hope I get paired with the same person for my next book!

KIT: Drawing from your own unique experience, what advice would you to give to future young adult debut authors, or debut novelists in general?

KAYLA: There are only twenty-four hours in each day, innumerable things that will vie for your time, and only one of you—don’t despair if you are unable to clone yourself. Make lists to keep track of things (I highly recommend creating a bullet journal!), give yourself more hours than you think you’ll need to fulfill your various commitments and deadlines, then prioritize the truly important and not just the urgent. Do your very best work—but when it comes down to it, if your mental/emotional/physical health is suffering, take a step back and breathe.

Kayla Olson lives in Texas, and can usually be found in near proximity to black coffee, the darkest chocolate, Scrivener, and an army of Sharpie highlighters. Her YA debut, The Sandcastle Empire, is a near-future sci-fi thriller about a global war that erupts in the wake of environmental change (HarperTeen / June 6, 2017); when main character Eden escapes to the only neutral ground left in the world, Sanctuary Island, she quickly discovers the island might be deadlier than the world she left behind—but surviving it is the only thing that stands between her and freedom.

Website | Twitter

Kit Frick is a novelist, poet, and MacDowell Colony fellow. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, she studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA from Syracuse University. When she isn’t putting complicated characters in impossible situations, Kit edits poetry and literary fiction for a small press, edits for private clients, and mentors emerging writers through Pitch Wars. Her debut young adult novel is See All the Stars (Simon & Schuster / Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2018).

The Sandcastle Empire is out now and is available wherever books are sold. Allow me to recommend your local indie, in addition to Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Stop back soon for future posts in the Debut-to-Debut Interview Series. I’ll be talking to Emily Bain Murphy in July, Rebecca Barrow in August, and more fantastic authors in the fall, winter, and beyond!

Karen M. McManus :: ONE OF US IS LYING

Hello, friends! Welcome to the second interview in the Debut-to-Debut Series! ICYMI the first time around (and you can check out Katie Bayerl’s interview right here), I’m talking to a fantastic group of debut young adult novelists throughout 2017, 2018, and 2019—the year leading up to, during, and following my own debut. I’m so excited to share these books, and insights into these authors’ experiences, with you.

This month, I corresponded with Karen M. McManus about her debut young adult novel One of Us Is Lying (Random House / Delacorte Press, 2017).

From the jacket:

One of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.

Pay close attention and you might solve this.

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.

Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

KIT FRICK: When Simon walks into detention and doesn’t walk out, his four detention-mates become suspects in his murder. One of Us Is Lying is written from the points of view of those four high school students: Bronwyn, Addy, Nate, and Cooper. Tell us a little about writing a multi-POV novel. What was your writing process like for developing four distinct point of view characters?

KAREN M. McMANUS: When I got the idea for One of Us Is Lying, I thought about the mystery first: What would happen if five students walked into detention and only four walked out? How could you kill somebody in a closed room like that? And why would you do it? The concept was interesting to me, but it didn’t really come to life until I started imagining the characters that would populate that room.

I knew from the start that I wanted it to be multi-POV, which was something I’d never attempted before. There was something almost magical about that part of the process, because all four of them sprang into my mind fully formed. I wrote the first couple chapters in a frenzy to get them onto the page. I’ve revised those pages a lot since, but the initial characterizations still ring true.

As I continued to write, I had separate music playlists for every character, and I used them to help switch my perspective while writing. I also tried to give each character pet expressions and thought/speech patterns that were specific to them.

KIT: One of my favorite parts about One of Us Is Lying was trying to keep up with the novel’s twists and turns! Where did you draw your inspiration for your twisty, suspense-filled debut?

KAREN: Growing up, I loved Agatha Christie—all those red herrings and dun-dun-DUUUN moments. When I was querying, I comped One of Us Is Lying to Pretty Little Liars and Murder on the Orient Express, which is an odd combination, but accurate.

As I was writing, I thought a lot about layers—how each of the characters were hiding something from the outside world, but they were also hiding things from themselves. So even once their secrets are exposed, you don’t know everything about them.

KIT: Tell us something about One of Us Is Lying that isn’t apparent from the book cover or flap copy. We want the inside scoop!

KAREN: Cooper is named after a guy I worked with for about a month when I first graduated from college. I was temping at a paralegal firm with a bunch of other recent graduates, and we were all in one big room answering phones all day. Cooper was from Alabama, and every time he picked up the phone, he’d say “This is Kew-pur” in a great southern drawl. So when I imagined a southern baseball player, his name had to be Cooper. It’s funny how people you barely know can stick with you like that.

KIT: What gives you the most joy about your life as a YA writer right now? Tell us about something that brings you satisfaction at this moment in time.

KAREN: I love hearing from readers who are enjoying the book! I got the most amazing email a while back from a teacher who’d picked up an ARC at a convention. She said the copy was falling apart because it had been passed around so much, and once it was her turn to read, students checked in with her every day to see where she was in the plot. She thanked me for helping create a lifelong love of reading in her classroom, at which point I basically dissolved into happy tears.

KIT: The publishing journey is unique for every author, but it’s safe to say that the road to book publication is filled with plenty of surprises and the occasional curve-ball for all of us. What has surprised you most about the process of putting a first book into the world?

KAREN: I was surprised by how much I came to enjoy revising. Okay, enjoy might be too strong of a word, but I didn’t hate it nearly as much as I normally do. Drafting has always been my happy place, while revisions were something to suffer through. I could never tell if my changes were actually making the story better. Working with my editor cut through that murkiness, and I could see the book getting stronger with each round, which was satisfying.

KIT: Drawing from your own unique experience, what advice would you to give to future young adult debut authors, or debut novelists in general?

KAREN: It’s the same advice I give to querying authors—make friends! Publishing a first novel is a rollercoaster of highs and lows, so support from others at the same stage of the writing/publishing journey, or a little further along, is invaluable. I think a lot of first-time authors have imposter syndrome, and secretly believe that they crashed a party everyone else was invited to. Connecting with debut friends helps ease that self-doubt.

Karen M. McManus earned her BA in English from the College of the Holy Cross and her MA in journalism from Northeastern University. Her debut young adult novel, One of Us Is Lying, releases from Delacorte Press/Random House in May 2017, and will be published internationally in 18 territories. Karen’s work is represented by Rosemary Stimola of Stimola Literary Studio.

Website | Twitter

Kit Frick is a novelist, poet, and MacDowell Colony fellow. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, she studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA from Syracuse University. When she isn’t putting complicated characters in impossible situations, Kit edits poetry and literary fiction for a small press, edits for private clients, and mentors emerging writers through Pitch Wars. Her debut young adult novel is See All the Stars (Simon & Schuster / Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2018).

One of Us Is Lying releases today—May 30, 2017—and is available wherever books are sold. Allow me to recommend your local indie, in addition to Amazon.

Stop back soon for future posts in the Debut-to-Debut Interview Series. We have a fantastic line-up of debut authors scheduled for June, July, August, and beyond!

Katie Bayerl :: A PSALM FOR LOST GIRLS

I could not be more excited to share with you the inaugural post in the Debut-to-Debut Interview Series. Interviews will be posted sporadically throughout 2017, 2018, and 2019—the year leading up to, during, and following my own debut. I hope to connect with a wide-ranging group of debut young adult novelists through this series and to share their books and experiences with you: fellow writers, fellow debuts, fellow readers, fellow YA enthusiasts.

This month, I corresponded with Katie Bayerl about her debut young adult novel A Psalm for Lost Girls (Penguin / Putnam, 2017).

From the jacket:

Tess da Costa is a saint—a hand-to-god, miracle-producing saint. At least that’s what the people in her hometown of New Avon, Massachusetts, seem to believe. And when Tess suddenly and tragically passes away, her small city begins feverishly petitioning the Pope to make Tess’s sainthood official. Tess’s mother is ecstatic over the fervor, while her sister Callie, the one who knew Tess best, is disgusted—overcome with the feeling that her sister is being stolen from her all over again.

The fervor for Tess’s sainthood only grows when Ana Langone, a local girl who’s been missing for six months, is found alive at the foot of one of Tess’s shrines. It’s the final straw for Callie.

With the help of Tess’s secret boyfriend Danny, Callie’s determined to prove that Tess was something far more important than a saint; she was her sister, her best friend and a girl in love with a boy. But Callie’s investigation uncovers much more than she bargained for: a hidden diary, old family secrets, and even the disturbing truth behind Ana’s kidnapping.

Without further ado…

KIT FRICK: A Psalm for Lost Girls is told through three voicesThe novel’s primary narrator is Callie, who must navigate the aftermath of her sister Tess’s tragic death and her hometown’s fervor to petition for Tess’s sainthood. But we also get pieces of the story through the diary entries that Tess left behind and through an omniscient voice privy to the experience of Ana, a local girl who is—possibly miraculously—found after six months missing. Tell us a bit about your writing process for developing a first person primary narrator, a second narrator who speaks to us only through her journals, and a third-person omniscient point of view. Did you always know your book would include all three, or did any evolve through the revision process?

KATIE BAYERL: I’d like to say it was all part of my master plan. The novel began as a (third person!) short story in the voice of Callie, the skeptical, grief-stricken sister. Once I realized it was a novel, I knew I wanted to include Tess’s voice too, but it took a few drafts—and a failed attempt—before I found a way to make it work. (She’s dead at the outset of the story, after all.) Ana Langone, the missing child, appeared in early drafts as a nameless child who’d been miraculously healed, and as the novel took shape, I realized there was more to her story.

I can see now that the three voices were all there in the beginning, but writing this novel felt like carving a statue out of stone. It took a lot of chipping away before the story emerged in its full form. In the end, I think the three girls provide important, complementary perspectives. Callie is the raw emotion and grit, Tess offers heart and humor, and Ana’s third-person narration adds an ethereal, suspenseful layer. I’ve come to think of them as a holy trinity of sorts, a metaphor that feels appropriate.

KIT: Religion—particularly Christianity and the phenomenon of sainthood—plays an important role in the novel. For some in the book’s setting of New Avon, Massachusetts, including Tess and Callie’s mother, religion provides both a comfort and a sense of purpose following Tess’s death. But for others, particularly Callie, the town’s zeal to petition for her sister’s sainthood is a source of pain and outrage. Tell us a little about your interest in saints, psalms, and miracles, and the research you did when writing your debut.

KATIE: I grew up Catholic in an era when the saints were hardly discussed, and I was pretty fed up with the Virgin Mary as the only available female role model. (The way her story was told, it seemed like the poor woman never had a unique thought of her own!) I began combing through other faiths for more spirited female icons. That search—and the friction it caused with various adults—was a huge part of my teen years.

It was my study abroad semester in the Dominican Republic that put sainthood into a new light for me. I encountered another conception of sainthood there—a blend of Catholic and West African traditions known as santería—that knocked me flat. That’s when I first realized that lady saints didn’t have to be bland or docile. They could be powerful, flawed, complex. I was hooked. From that point on, everywhere I’ve traveled I’ve hunted for images and stories of lady saints. The idea for this novel was born during one of those trips—to the site that commemorates the “child saints” of Fátima, Portugal.

I read quite a bit about saints and miracles as I worked on the novel—most of it for inspiration or to sort out specific details. The two books that most influenced my thinking were The Miracle Detective by Randall Sullivan, a journalistic dive into how miracles are investigated by the Catholic church, and Muses, Madmen & Prophets by Daniel Smith, an historical take on voice hearing and its many interpretations.

KIT: Tell us something about A Psalm for Lost Girls that isn’t apparent from the book cover or flap copy. We want the inside scoop!

KATIE: I became a ruthless cutter and shed many favorite scenes along the way. The darling I mourned most was Tess’s visit to a psychic named Miss Edna who tries to help her come to terms with her gift. It was a tragic scene in a lot of ways but also cracked me up.

KIT: What gives you the most joy about your life as a YA writer right now? What is bringing you satisfaction at this moment in time?

KATIE: I’m really enjoying how enthusiastic my family and friends are about this book! For so long, writing was this weird thing I did that I really only talked about with other writers, but now that the book’s out there, my parents, aunties, cousins, and friends are all out hitting the streets, telling everyone who will listen about my book. It’s adorable.

KIT: The publishing journey is unique for every author, but it’s safe to say that the road to book publication is filled with surprises, twists, and turns for all of us. What has surprised you most about the process of putting a first book into the world?

KATIE: The time it took? If anyone had told me how many years lay ahead of me when I first started pursuing writing seriously, I might have given up on the spot. In hindsight, I needed that time to develop my craft . . . but I truly had no idea how much I had to learn or what a strange, winding process it would be—at every single stage.

KIT: Drawing from your own unique experience, what advice would you to give to future young adult debut authors, or debut novelists in general?

KATIE: Throw away your timelines. Time is irrelevant. You’ll get to where you need to be. Just focus on the step ahead of you, and do the work that your story is asking of you. Do your story proud.

When Katie Bayerl isn’t penning stories, she coaches teens and nonprofits to tell theirs. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has taught creative writing in schools and a variety of community settings. She currently leads the VCFA Young Writers Network and teaches classes for teens at GrubStreet. Katie has an incurable obsession with saints, bittersweet ballads, and murder. A Psalm for Lost Girls (spring 2017, Putnam) is her first novel.

 

 

Kit Frick is a novelist, poet, and MacDowell Colony fellow. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, she studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA from Syracuse University. When she isn’t putting complicated characters in impossible situations, Kit edits poetry and literary fiction for a small press, edits for private clients, and mentors emerging writers through Pitch Wars. Her debut young adult novel is See All the Stars (Simon & Schuster / Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2018).

A Psalm for Lost Girls released on March 14, 2017 and is available wherever books are sold. Allow me to recommend your local indie, in addition to Amazon.

Stop back for future posts in the Debut-to-Debut Interview Series in the coming months!