If I were a Great Plains farmer who’d endured a genuine dry spell like the metaphorical one I’ve experienced over the past seven years, I’d be short on wheat, deep in debt, and unwashed. I’d be staring at the sky and into the mirror, wary of locusts and meteorites and plagues. Fortunately, none of that applies to me. Fortunately, I live in a figurative world. And right now, I’m just grateful that that metaphorical drought has almost ended.
I’ve hung in there—and reached (finally!) the end of my own personal water shortage—for lots of reasons: resolve, persistence, stubbornness, pride, the need to exercise my imagination, an addiction to writing, thick-skinned-ness, self-confidence, serendipity, and maybe last but certainly not least, luck. The result: This summer my new YA novel, tentatively titled FAST BACKWARD, will be published by Koehler Books.
I’m excited. Although I’d previously published ten successful books with traditional publishing houses, there were times during that knocking-my-head-against-a-wall period when I wondered if it would happen again. But those attributes or flaws or whatever you might call them (noted above) kept me going. I never considered quitting. I cranked out stories and revised others I’d been working on for years. I now have at least half a dozen that I believe are publishable, and I still hope to get them in front of publishers, and ultimately, readers. They’re YA and middle grade, realistic and fantasy and sci-fi, prose and poetry, contemporary and historical. I might even have a picture book or two in the mix.
I’m particularly proud of FAST BACKWARD, a story I’ve been working on for three years or more. It’s World War II–era, so it required a good deal of research (contrary to some folks’ opinions, I wasn’t around to observe the events as they unfolded), including a fact-finding trip to New Mexico. It also required a lot of thought and what-if-ing and organizing and revision and more revision and more research and a self-enforced ritual of routinely planting my rear end in a chair to get the words I wanted down and in the proper order.
Whenever I get a request to do an online (or in-person) author visit to a school or classroom, it’s because a teacher or her (or his) students (or both) have read one of my books and want to dig deeper into it. They want to get the story behind the story. Where did you get the idea? Why did you make the story end this way? Will there be a sequel? Where did you get the characters’ names? Do you have a favorite character? How long did it take you to write it?
And then the old standbys: What’s your favorite book you wrote? Do you ever put yourself in a story? Have you met any famous (interpretation: real) authors? What is (fill in the name) doing now? (This is one of my favorites because it tells me that for this young reader, that fictitious character has come alive.) Then there’s the kid who believes she or he has come up with a subtle approach to finding out how old I am. It goes something like this: “You told us SOMEONE WAS WATCHING was published in 1993 and that it took you four years to write it and get it published, so how old were you when you started writing it?”
But kids don’t want to know only about me and my books they’ve already read. They want to know what I’m working on now, and what’s it about, and when it will be published. During my “dry spell,” I could tell them what I was working on and what the various stories were about. They’d get excited. They’d ask when that book about the alien creature, or the murder mystery, or the girl who’d gone missing, or the girl with powers, or the other girl with powers, was going to be published. “When can I buy it?” they’d say. “When will it be in our school library?” And I had to tell them I didn’t know. I had to tell them I was trying hard to make it happen, but much of the decision-making process was out of my hands.
Now I’m thrilled to be able to tell them I’ve got a book coming out in six months or less, and even to a kid that doesn’t seem like forever. I can tell them it’s got time travel in it, and war, and atomic bombs, and prejudice, and empathy, and two smart and brave and generous kids who take it on themselves to try to save the world.
I’m looking forward to working through the rest of the editing back-and-forth, and seeing the cover, and launching the book out into the world. And getting questions—fresh ones—from young readers.