A couple of weeks ago, I was thrilled to announce the sale of my YA novel Becoming Jinn and its sequel to Feiwel and Friends (Spring 2015, Spring 2016). Many have asked for my “backstory”: how I started to write, how I found my agent, and all that good stuff. It’s been a long journey filled with highs, lows, new friends, and old. I truly feel like my genie character Azra has granted my wish.
Fate. Destiny. Meant to be.
Inevitably, a dinner party with my best friends ends with a discussion of fate. There’s not a meal that ends without one of us employing our catchphrase “meant to be.”
Me, I’m a believer. Would my husband and I have ever met if we didn’t attend the same college? But of course. How, you ask? (Dismissive hand wave.) If something’s meant to be, it will be. Something so right you feel in places that don’t have names.
Such is the path that led me to this writing thing I am still stunned I now get to call my career.
Words have consumed my life since I uttered my first one (which, apparently, was not all that interesting since neither Mom or Dad remember what it was).
Thanks to my parents, who read to me, turning the pages until I was able to turn them myself, I’ve been a reader my entire life. But it was my fourth-grade teacher snatching my beloved Superfudge out of my hands and replacing it with Little Women that made me the reader I am today. To ensure I’d finish, even if it were a challenge to my reading level, she demanded a book report. What at the time was mean and more than a little scary is now an awe-inspiring display of her attentiveness and commitment to her students. She pushed me to push myself. Her confidence in me gave me confidence in myself. My library card became one of my prized possessions. It still is.
What I didn’t learn until recently is that I’ve also been a writer my entire life. A couple of years ago, I was helping my parents pack up my childhood home in anticipation of their move to “somewhere that doesn’t snow” (seriously, that was their only requirement). The move meant they (in the form of their garage) would no longer be the guardians of my childhood. Contained within the boxes of memorabilia that were now mine to store in my small city condo were the clues to the child I was and the answer to the adult I would become.
Stapled together and topped with covers drawn in my unartistic hand was manuscript after manuscript. Books I wrote as a kid. Books I have no memory of writing. And amid the stacks of handwritten report cards, going all the way back to kindergarten (this is the one time I’m glad my father is a borderline hoarder), was one from my sixth-grade teacher. As oxymoronic as it might have seemed coming after the failing grade for penmanship (the only “F” I have ever received, which, to this day, is well-deserved) was the note: “Lori will be an author.”
My adult life hovered on the fringes of this destined path. From journalism major to newspaper reporter to newsletter writer to high-tech copyeditor, I began to veer further and further away from those stapled manuscripts. That is, until the economy tanked.
My career as a freelance copyeditor hit a serious lull. To fill the downtime, I started to write. Over the years, I’d written a sparse chapter or two of probably ten different stories. When life (fate?) gave me the time to dedicate to writing, I returned to an idea inspired by the true story of my friend’s cousin who was carjacked at a fast-food drive-thru.
The original date on the initial chapter I wrote for that story was 2005. I returned fingertips to keyboard in the summer of 2010 and finished in the summer of 2012. That adult manuscript, my first novel, was actually my first four novels. Where it ended is virtually unrecognizable from where it began. I rewrote the start. I rewrote the end. It tipped the scales at a whopping 150,000 words before I rewrote the start and rewrote the end — again. (And my dear, patient husband read every single version, balancing honesty with encouragement in a way that still astounds me.)
Even though in every other part of my life, I’m a planner — to a fault at times — writing a novel was the one thing I decided to do without a single bit of planning, research, or guidance.
But every word I wrote, every page I rewrote, every chapter I deleted taught me how to write. I learned to write my second novel by rewriting my first. And in the end, it left me with a first manuscript, Jumping Ants, that I love with characters I still miss spending the day with.
I don’t regret a single day of the two years it took me to get there. But I wasn’t about to do it again.
Before querying my finished adult manuscript, in the summer of 2012, I attended a novel planning course taught by author James Scott at Grub Street in Boston. It was a week-long intensive course during which I must have glowed from all the light bulbs that were going off inside me.
I left with the tools I needed to write my next novel. And in two months — twenty-two months fewer than with book one — I had a finished draft of my young adult novel, Becoming Jinn. As I wrote about genies, I began querying my adult manuscript.
While my beta readers loved it, I received just a smattering of requests for fulls. Praise for my writing was high, but unfortunately so were concerns about marketability and target audience. If I knew then what I know now, would I have written an adult manuscript with a male protagonist instead of a female? Probably not. But I wouldn’t have Max, whom I adore. And I wouldn’t have my agent, whom, well, ditto.
For my agent is one of those who requested the full on my adult manuscript. Her appreciation of my writing style and my voice were what encouraged me to persevere and finish writing Becoming Jinn. They were the right words at the right time.
As I was writing Becoming Jinn, I discovered the wonderful writing community on Twitter. It opened up a world I didn’t know existed. Support. Education. Humor. People who are, have been, or will be in your shoes who are there to both commiserate and celebrate with you. All the ways to make my writing better that I learned about through Twitter did make my writing better. Even more importantly, through my fellow writers, I gained the confidence and encouragement to keep plugging away: starting with the first contest I entered run by Dee, Kat, and Summer, followed by ones by Brenda and Cupid; through blogs where people generously hosted the posting of log lines, pitches, and first pages for public feedback (K.T., Authoress, First Five Pages Workshop); to writers kind enough to help my query-writing-challenged self (Fiona, Monica, Lauren) and to others simply there for moral support and cheers along the way (Jen, Dee, Chelsea, Kathryn); and ending with auctions where generous authors donated their time (Jenny Lundquist, Jodi Meadows, Sara Bennett Wealer) to critique my first chapters.
When I entered a contest in January 2012 with my hot-off-the-presses YA novel, my first page, honed from all of the above, was one of the winners. An agent wanted my full. Which was fantastic. I hadn’t even started querying it. I knew from querying my adult manuscript that the slush is deep and floating to the top is hard. But still, what if the agent liked it, wanted it, and no one else had the chance to see it? I would have been thrilled. But then again, I felt that pull. That indescribable feeling that perhaps something — something else — was meant to be.
One particular agent who had liked but ultimately passed on my adult manuscript called to me (not literally, just in my head). She’s part of the reason I kept writing my second novel when I was experiencing so much self-doubt based on my first. I wanted the chance to send my YA novel to her.
I sent a handful of queries to agents who had responded positively to my adult manuscript, plus a few other agents who specialized in my YA genre.
The agent who would become my agent, wanted the full. Through the contest I won, I met a truly kindhearted woman and amazing critique partner, Nat. She loved my first page, loved the idea, and was gracious enough to read the entire thing even though she didn’t have something to swap at the time. And read it she did. In one weekend. Her enthusiasm was and continues to be infectious, and I will forever be in her debt.
My agent waited patiently while I spent a week revising based on Nat’s targeted feedback. And, well, as these stories go, she loved it. She was as glad as I was that she requested my adult manuscript, which led her to request Becoming Jinn. While there was interest from other agents and while my agent outlined a series of “substantial” (and, yes, they were!) revisions she wanted, I knew from the moment I finished writing my second novel who I wanted my agent to be. Speaking with her clients, who couldn’t invent better stories (and, let’s face it, they’re authors) of my agent’s professionalism, dedication, and intuitiveness, confirmed what I felt in a place that doesn’t have a name.
I felt it the first time her name popped up in my e-mail inbox when she requested my initial manuscript. Fate? Pure luck? Just a name that looks good in my Chalkboard 12 font?
Whether it was meant to be or not may be a topic better suited for my next dinner party, but I couldn’t be happier to be represented by and collaborating with the savvy, speedy, and sassy Lucy Carson of the Friedrich Agency.
Her spot-on insights into my characters and my story made Becoming Jinn a better novel. I have no doubt this is why she was able to sell Becoming Jinn and its unwritten sequel within two weeks of being on submission. Thanks to Lucy, my always first reader and husband Marc, and everyone else who helped and supported me along the way (and to all of you who slogged through this very long tale!).
For those who like the stats, here are some of mine:
Writing Becoming Jinn: Two months
Revising before querying: One month
Querying to offer of agent representation: Three weeks
Revising before submission: Seven weeks
Submission to sale: Two weeks
Wait to publication: Two years, but I’m sure it’ll fly by!