I get emails from you guys all the time about how you don't think you can do it. You walk into the library or Barnes & Nobles and you never believe your story will sit on those shelves.
When you're stuck in that funk the important thing to realize is you're not alone. With every book you've ever read there was likely a time the author didn't believe that story would ever sit in your hands. As writers we all struggle with self-doubt - the important thing is to not let that self-doubt control you and stop you from going after what you love.
Today I want to share an interview with Kristen Ciccarelli, an incredible author who I was lucky enough to meet when she selflessly volunteered her time to help me with a twitter contest.
Kristen has an amazing story that is proof of why you should never give up on your dreams. I loved learning from this interview and I know you will, too!
TA: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
KC: I spent most of my childhood writing stories, from about age 6 all the way up to 18. It was something I did because it made me happy. But it was never something I thought I could be, the way my mom was a nurse or my grandmother was a farmer.
And even though I loved it, it had these negative associations. I thought writing was childish. I thought I was supposed to be ashamed of it. Math and science? Those were things you took seriously. Writing and art? Those were useless.
So when it came time to go to university, I put my "childish things" away in order to grow up. It was only when I was in the thick of growing up (when I was crying at my desk everyday and deeply unhappy with my life choices) did I realize that something was wrong.
So I abandoned my grown-up plans and let myself want to be an author.
TA: What do you love the most about writing?
KC: I love how it's new every time. I love how there are always things to learn. With every page, every draft, every book--you have to start again.
One of the reasons I've changed jobs so many times is because I get bored quickly. I’d learn all there was to learn about a thing, and then I was done. I needed to move on or I’d start getting fidgety and dissatisfied.
But with writing books, that’s the whole point. You start new every time. You give it your all, and when you're done, you're done. You move on to the next exciting story. I love that.
TA: What draws you to YA Fantasy? What is your favorite thing about the genre?
KC: I’m drawn to weird and impossible things--which is what fantasy is particularly good at.
I mean, only in fantasy do you find armored bears swearing fealty to twelve-year-old girls. Or teenagers binding the dead with bells. Or shieldmaidens who go up against witch-kings and defeat them. Totally weird and impossible. Not to mention cool.
I also think fantasy does transformation better than other genres. At the heart of all good stories is a transformation; a character starts out one way and ends another. And the reason fantasy does it best is because it doesn’t just use metaphor, it is metaphor.
Harry Potter doesn’t just go from being an excluded boy to a boy who belongs, he goes from living in a closet beneath the stairs to being the wizard who saves his friends (and world) from the most terrifying villain who ever lived. That’s transformation.
TA: What is or has been your biggest writing struggle? How did you learn to overcome that struggle?
KC: I think my biggest writing struggle has less to do with writing and more to do with self-esteem. I hit a point in my life last year where, because of a series of unfortunate events that culminated in
a) the book that was really important to me being irrevocably broken and
b) my agent leaving publishing (sending me back to the query trenches).
I stopped believing in myself. That had never happened before. Through all the rejections and trunked manuscripts and total rewrites and endless revisions, I’d never given up on my own self.
But that’s exactly what happened. I watched myself falling further and further away from my goal, while all my friends climbed higher towards it, and I convinced myself that no one would ever want my books and I would never be an author.
The only reason I overcame the self-pity was because of my Pitch Wars mentors. No matter how many times they told me they loved my book, that it was good, that an agent was going to want it...no matter that they were smart, savvy, successful authors who were pouring themselves and their expertise into helping me make my book better...I didn’t believe them. Over and over again I refused to believe them.
Until one day I realized that by not believing them, I was essentially saying they didn’t know what they were talking about. And that was completely nonsensical, not to mention annoying.
So I decided to do an experiment. I couldn’t change my negative thoughts--those were habitual by then. But I could choose to trust that Traci and Renee knew what they were talking about
TA: A lot of our readers are on the querying journey. What was your querying journey like? Do you have advice for writers in the querying trenches?
KC: Oh gosh. Querying is the worst. There’s just no way around it. For all of you in the query trenches right now: I feel you. I’ve been there. (Twice, in fact.) Just like so many others. And it hurts.
You have to think of querying as a rite of passage. Everyone must go through it. But you have to try not to give up on yourself in the process. (Much easier said than done!) And if you do give up on yourself, you must keep going.
This is what my most recent querying journey looked like (my first querying journey is a much sadder story)
February 2015: My agent leaves publishing, refers me to lots of her agent friends.
Feb-Aug: All her referrals reject my book; all my cold queries are also rejected; I keep querying; I rack up a lot of rejections (trust me, a lot).
August: I feel like I’ve exhausted all the agents and am about to give up on my book.
September: I get into Pitch Wars.
Sept/Oct: I revise my book 2.5 times with my mentor’s guidance.
November: The agent round arrives and I get a TON of requests; an agent calls to offer rep the day Pitch Wars ends; over the next 10 days I get five offers total.
November: I sign with my agent Heathery Flaherty, who makes me ridiculously happy.
Dec/Jan: I revise my book again. It goes out on sub the last week of January.
February 2016: It sells in a 3-book deal a week after going out.
That manuscript? I was ready to trunk it just a few months prior. Can you imagine if I had?
Don’t give up on yourself.
TA: If possible, can you tell us about your current WIP?
KC: My current WIP is the sequel to the book I was just talking about, and since I’m not sure how much I can say about it yet, I’ll tell you instead about the first book, ASKARI, instead: it’s a YA high fantasy about a dragon hunter who must slay a deadly dragon and bring her father its head, or she’ll be forced into a political marriage. There are dragons, and forbidden stories, and cool weaponry, and romance. It comes out in Fall 2017. You can read the big, fancy announcement here (or check out the exciting news below!)
TA: That is incredible! All of this has been! I'll wrap it up with one final question - I always tell my readers one of the best ways to become a better writer is to read. What books are you reading right now?
KC: Two books I’ve fallen in love with lately:
1. If you haven’t read Renee Ahdieh’s THE WRATH AND THE DAWN, you are missing out! It’s a retelling of 1001 Arabian Nights and it is delicious. Not to mention epic. Also, full of revenge and danger and a bright, fierce love. Most of all, the heroine will charm the heck out of you. (The sequel is out now too!)
2. Traci Chee’s THE READER comes out this September. It’s lush and gorgeous and so very magical. Traci builds worlds like a master architect and peoples them with such intriguing characters--pirates and gunslingers and most especially, a young girl with an important secret: a book she doesn’t know how to read. A book that others will kill for.
That's it for the interview!
Don't stop, don't give up, and when you're down lean on your fellow writers!
If Kristen's story inspired you at all, let her know in the comments!