The Ten Year Itch: The Road Map of my YA Novel

Last night I saw Avatar.  I went in thinking this could be interesting and walked out thinking, AMAZING.  James Cameron spent 15 years writing and working on Avatar and waiting for technology to catch up with what he really wanted to achieve with a movie of this magnitude. 

I’ve spent the past 10 years working on Sissy.  By no means am I comparing myself to James Cameron.  That would be ridiculous.  Terminator 2 still boggles my mind.  But his 15 year endeavor makes my 10 year project not so foolish anymore.  There were definitely times I wanted to never look at this manuscript ever again.  

But Avatar has inspired me to remember the road I took to get here with Sissy so that whenever I think, “This book is taking forever,” I can instead think how an amazing movie like Avatar took the length of a teenager’s life to create.  I hope this helps other writers to understand that some projects stay with you, even when you want them to go away.  It’s your story to tell, no matter how long it takes.

  • 1998.  My sophomore year at NYU, living in University Hall, one of my roommates gets prank phone calls where the caller just says, “She used to call me sissy.”  Then hangs up.
  • I take one NYU short story class at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study.  I wrote a 10-page short story using that quote, “She used to call me sissy,” as my opening line.  It was about a younger brother who gets rough housed by his older sister who eventually runs away to New York City.  He goes to find her.
  • As an intern at the Flea Theater, my supervisor Lizzie Simon (a true genius) asked me to bring some writing and I gave her Sissy.  She organized a radio reading on a Columbia radio station she hosted with actors from the Flea.  I was 19 at the time.  Still have the radio recording on a cassette tape.
  • In my fifth year at NYU to get my MFA (2001), I read about Random House Delacorte Press’ Young Adult Novel Contest.  I decided to finish my then 20-page short story and submit the book.
  • I get a phone message from an associate editor at Random House.  She is interested in talking to me about Sissy.  I am 23.
  • The associate editor tells me they are interested in possibly publishing Sissy after rewrites based on her notes.  She tells me to spend 3-4 months working on rewrites, specifically making my 3 narrative voices more distinct.  I take 2 weeks to rewrite.  The manuscript is ultimately rejected.  I cry my eyes out.
  • My then-boyfriend, now husband’s manager is looking for a young adult novel to adapt into a movie.  I email her Sissy.  She calls me with notes like, “You have to think what would Hilary Duff do,” and “No one will ever buy this book.”  I was 25, naive, and believed her.  I cried so much I had to call in sick to work. 
  • Sissy sits in my desk drawer untouched.  Forgotten about for several years.  Like a relationship that went south, I blame myself.
  • 2009.  Living in LA instead of New York.  I organize my best friend’s bridal shower book.  Email her group of friends, one of whom is a literary agent and graduated from NYU’s Department of Dramatic Writing as well.  She emails me that she started at a new agency and is looking for new clients.  She remembers I had a YA novel.  Could she read it?  I warn her that it’s not that great and that it had a remote possibility of getting published but ultimately had gotten turned down.
  • I send her the manuscript.  She sets up a phone call to discuss.  She loves the book and wants to sign me.  I say YES.
  • April 2009, weeks before my 30th birthday, I sign a contract with the Lynn C. Franklin agency and Michelle Andelman is officially my agent.
  • April-December 2009: rewrites and phone calls with Michelle.  Lots of great notes, encouragement, difficult decisions, many nights writing after work and on the weekends, and tons of new pages.  
  • 2010… hope to finish a polished draft and submit to publishing houses.  Michelle is positive.

2 Comments on “The Ten Year Itch: The Road Map of my YA Novel

  1. Michelle’s not the only one who’s positive. I’m sure I’ll see SIssy in bookstores sometime soon. And at that point, we’ll definitely pass one to my very, very wrong manager.

    • You’re right. There are a ton of supportive and positive people in my life who are cheering me on as I work. Especially you: cooking dinners, cleaning around the house, grocery shopping, discussing plot points and characters. You make it possible for me to work on this book day in and out.

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