My Peculiar Path to Publicationby Guest Author Guest Blog. Posted on March 2, 2012.
Our guest blogger this week is a novelist, poet and educator Maureen Doyle McQuerry. She will speak at the May Write on the River Conference on two topics: Writing the YA novel, and a special workshop for teen writers. She will be team-teaching with local writer Stephen Wallenfels. Here, Maureen joins our current discussion on this blog (from Steve Daniels and Steven Barnes) about what it takes to gain mastery, and when it is or is not too late to begin!
I’m too old to be writing YA fiction, I tell myself as I look at my twenty-something colleagues. Maybe too old to be debuting anything at all. And yet, in my fifties, here I am with a YA debut novel, The Peculiars, coming out May 1st.
The path that brought me here has been anything but straight. I take comfort from the fact that most writers I know have convoluted journeys, working for years to hone their skills before being accepted by a major publisher. Many of my writing friends are also late bloomers.
If Malcolm Gladwell is right, in his essay “Late Bloomers,” there is reason for this: “The Cézannes of the world bloom late not as a result of some defect in character, or distraction, or lack of ambition, but because the kind of creativity that proceeds through trial and error necessarily takes a long time to come to fruition.” Sometimes it’s not just a difference in the type of creativity that creates a late bloomer, but a difference in opportunity. Life in all its messy glory gets in the way.
I came to writing novels through the door of poetry. As long as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. As I child I loved stories and loved the words that made up stories. I was the kid who got invited to slumber parties just so I would tell ghost stories. I hated slumber parties, but I loved telling stories that kept everyone awake all night. I was an only child and only children spend a lot of time in their heads, good training for being a writer. I thought writing books might be the finest thing a person could do.
Along the way, near the end of junior high, I fell in love with poetry, the images, the metaphors, the sound of language. Soon I was writing my own poems, and for many years that’s what I did, published poetry in literary journals. Poetry fit into the cracks and crannies of life, between full time teaching, raising a family, all the busyness of life. It was the still place I could come to. And it was training. In poetry every word counts, the sound of language matters as much as what is said, it is a genre of subtext and nuance. And the discipline of writing: submitting, learning from rejection and rewriting, time and time again, prepared me for the work of building a novel. But deep in that still place inside, I hoarded that desire to write a novel. So I began a fantasy story that I thought my own kids would like. I wrote at night after everyone had gone to bed. I wrote early in the mornings. I squeezed out time.
I queried agents, and had some interest, but no offers. I queried publishers. The next step seemed too good to be true, too easy. After 10 or 12 queries, my manuscript was accepted by a small literary press looking for work in the mythopoeic tradition. I was thrilled. What I didn’t realize was that small meant little marketing and distribution. There was no budget for it. Small meant lots of encouragement from the editor/ publisher, but no regular editors and copy editors. The book and its sequel came out. There was a small, very small readership. The economy struggled and so did the small press.
Sometimes life conspires to help us in unexpected ways. A major turning point was my mother’s eventual death from Alzheimer’s. Caring for her forced me to change my life. I cut back on work hours. I wrote to keep my sanity. I wrote a story about our family’s immigrant Irish roots in NY. Next, I wrote about a girl with impossibly long fingers, set in 1888 and added a Steampunk twist.
I found an agent who loved the immigrant story. But it in the end, it wasn’t the one she sold.
As the small press struggled, my agent pitched and sold those same fantasy novels to Abrams/Amulet, and the small press was gracious enough to give me my rights back. The two fantasy novels could move on to a bigger audience. Abrams also bought the Steampunk story about the girl with goblin fingers.
The May debut novel, surprisingly it’s the YA story about the girl with the impossibly long fingers, the girl who is trying to find out if differences on the outside mean she’s different on the inside as well. She wonders if she’s doomed to become who her parents were. The fantasy novels will come out next.
The journey has taken much longer than I would have liked. But I cherish these words from an early review by Arlena Lockard, which brings my writing journey full circle, poetry to Peculiars: “McQuerry’s lexis as a poet lends itself to her writing, masterfully crafting the stunning visuals aboard an aerocopter’s (flying carriage) maiden flight as well as the intimate sentiments Lena experiences as a young lady in search of herself.”
Even though the journey was long, nothing was lost along the way.
Maureen Doyle McQuerry’s YA Steampunk novel The Peculiars will be released by Abrams/Amulet in May 2012 followed by the YA fantasy duo Beyond the Door and Time Out of Time. Maureen has presented at writing conferences including: PNWA, Willamette Writers, and Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. McQuerry and Steve Wallenfels are founding members of www.YA-WA.com, Washington State’s Young Adult literature website.