I began my first novel the day my youngest began full days of school. Come June, he was a first-grade graduate and I had a 100,000 word monstrosity in my hands. It was awful—a rambling, poorly plotted mess—but the important thing was I loved the process. I did query a few agents on this adult fiction project, but quickly decided my efforts would be better spent improving my skills.
In the fall, as my son trudged off to second grade, I, too, was back in school. I was lucky to be living in L.A. at the time and to have access to the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. For the next three semesters, I took evening classes in writing novels. I learned craft, met fellow writers, and wrote my second novel. Still not good enough, but better. I also queried agents on this project, but, again, took the rejections as a sign that my writing wasn’t quite there.
My husband’s job moved us to Des Moines in 2005. Once settled, I took classes via the University of Iowa’s Summer Writing Festival, started a critique group, began a (now-abandoned) middle grade book, and wrote my third novel in the women’s fiction genre. Two important things happened during this time. One: Based on requests for partials and fulls, I knew that third book was viable. (The McCloud Home for Wayward Girls has since sold and will be published in August of 2011.) Two: I recognized that my books contained a teen daughter who was—well—a page hog. I decided to try my hand at young adult.
When spinning ideas for a fresh concept in the YA paranormal genre, I remembered an episode from the TV show Unsolved Mysteries. In the segment, a very young boy claimed to have memories of flying around pre-birth and choosing his mother. I combined that image with the symbolism of storks and childbirth and created my Stork Society, a clandestine organization of women who have the supernatural gift of pairing the undecided of hovering souls with the right mother. I can honestly say that I was fueled while writing this novel. Despite a tennis-related injury to my right arm that had me hunting and pecking with my left, I had a first draft of Stork in five months.
Now here is the don’t-do-as-I-did portion of this story. Thinking I had the system figured out and that it took MONTHS to go from query to partial to full (indeed an agent had had a full of my adult project for three months already), I e-mailed an impulsive few queries within forty-eight hours of typing the end on a first draft. That same day, Jamie Brenner of Artists and Artisans requested the full. Uh oh. It was typo-ridden. I deliberated for hours. I knew the concept was fresh, and I liked the voice I’d created, but I also knew it needed polish. The what’s-to-lose side of my personality won out, and I attached the file and pressed send.
On Wednesday, I received two e-mail updates from Jamie. One said: “I love, love, love your writing.” Two hours later, another message said: “Truly clever writing.” On Thursday, we arranged a phone date. On Friday, she offered me representation. We sold Stork to Candlewick Press in May of 2009. By May of 2010, we’d sold Frost, the sequel to Stork (again to Candlewick), and The McCloud Home for Wayward Girls to Penguin’s Berkley Books imprint. As to future projects, I have one more book in the Stork trilogy to write. I also have a time travel YA that I’ve already begun.
My advice to aspiring writers: work on craft, find critique partners, don’t dwell on projects that aren’t sparking interest, and experiment with different genres, all of which is valuable experience. Also, tell everyone you know about your publishing dreams, how many unsold novels you have on your hard drive, etc. That way—on those long, dark, blocked days—you won’t give up. Verbalizing the goal and making it public just makes it that much harder to abandon. If there is one quality that published writers share, I’d have to believe it is doggedness. Shape your unformed dream into concrete resolve and then start pounding keys.
Wendy's novel STORK is released on October 12, 2010.