I have always told stories.
My dad says that when I was in Kindergarten, I would tell him scintillating tales of crayon snatchers and mean lunch ladies. Long-winded tales that lasted all the way from the school parking lot to our driveway. Sometimes at dinner during those years, my spaghetti would go ice cold because I’d be spinning a narrative instead of eating.
Some might say I was a little kid who never stopped talking, but I think it was the beginning of my love of story. And, well, maybe I just had had a lot of them.
The storytelling continued throughout my scholastic career, including my penning a play for the fourth grade about chickens going on strike right before Easter, writing stories condemning vandalism for the middle school newspaper, and contributing enigmatic poems about emotional nakedness to my high school’s literary magazine. Yeah. I know, right?
As a young adult, I thought I was going to tell my stories as a documentary filmmaker, but somehow in between my undergraduate film degree and my acceptance to an MFA program at a California film school, my life took a turn. A big one. I met a boy. With him, I ended up living a very different life that included cooking professionally in Alaska during the summer and wintering in a tiny town in the North Cascade Mountains. It was not what I, the consummate city girl, had ever pictured for myself, but it was an adventure. I mean, can you picture me on a moose hunt? It was all very Hemmingway-esque.
All along that detour, I drew comics and wrote fiction, and in 1999 I sold a short story to Cricket Magazine. It was about a girl fly-fishing for the first time. After that sale, I figured I’d go for it and write a novel, which I completed in 2000. It was about a woman living in a fishing town, go figure. During that time, I joined a wonderful creative writing group in my town – and ended up meeting with them every Monday night for the next six years. More unpublished books followed, but it wasn’t until several years later, when I had taken a gig substitute teaching elementary school, that I found my writing’s niche – Young Adult.
I really enjoyed teaching and working with the students. Soon though, I realized that many of the older girls had a hard time finding good books. They had already read all the great ones and needed more. There was no Twilight then, no Hunger Games. So, I set out to write a book my students could read. One of the students, Emily H., got me really motivated. She read a few chapters of my first YA manuscript and encouraged me to keep going. She actually stopped me at the crosswalk she was guarding and said, “Hey! Did you finish chapter 5 yet? I have to know what happened to Amber’s dad.” It was awesome to have a teen reader like Emily. I’ll always be grateful for her help.
That first YA manuscript, AMBER HICKENBOTTOM, went on to final in this contest called the Golden Heart in the summer of 2005. It didn’t win, but it made the finals again in 2006, along with a new YA I’d finished, HAUNT ME. It must have been YA destiny, because HAUNT ME won the Golden Heart award for Best Young Adult Romance Manuscript. I was on my way!
A few months later, my dream agent sold my very next novel, Never Cry Werewolf, to HarperCollins. Things had changed in my life, and that sale came along just in time because the next morning, I was moving from the cocoon of my small town. I left my mountain home with my head up, finally an author with a real-life book contract.
Never Cry Werewolf debuted in hardcover in the fall of 2009 and was even published in Romanian! My second book, The Clearing, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in spring 2010 and was on the short-list for the coveted Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award. Harcourt will be publishing my third book, Wherever You Go, in November 2011.
At this point in my writer’s journey, I still can’t believe that I get to do what I love: tell stories that encourage teens to be who they are and to believe in themselves. I’m writing the books I wish I could have read when I was a teen — I couldn’t have plotted this literary happily-ever-after any better.
I hope you have the courage to go after your dreams, too. And remember, say what you have to say… and never worry about the cold spaghetti.
Love and Light,