I was particularly drawn to share Annie’s writing odyssey today after hearing the inspiration for her debut YA novel came during a visit to Chicago (I took a similar trip recently – which inspired my current WIP!) And then when she described her book, and it had references to Amelia Earhart, I was hooked! Annie’s story is filled with the typical ups and downs, but what I love most about her journey is how dedicated she was to giving her MC an authentic YA voice. She knew from the very beginning where she wanted her story to go and followed that inspiration. I always love to hear that!
Many thanks to Annie for sharing her odyssey today…
Amy: Why did you choose to write a YA novel?
Annie: I’ve always been drawn to YA as a genre, and even when I was writing more general fiction (literary short stories), my characters were primarily young adults. When I was in grad school I wrote a series of YA short stories inspired by Shakespeare and realized I put way more time and effort into those than I had in many of my other stories—YA was what got me excited. When I started THE CHANCE YOU WON’T RETURN, I knew this was going to be YA; I wanted to capture Alex’s voice in this particular moment of time when her family life changes forever, not from a distant, older perspective.
Amy: How many completed manuscripts did you query before one garnered interest?
Annie: This was actually the first completed manuscript I queried. It went through a few rounds of revision beforehand, of course.
Amy: I love the premise behind THE CHANCE YOU WON’T RETURN and its inclusion of Amelia Earhart. Where did the story idea come from?
Annie: Thanks! It happened when I was in Chicago for the summer. I was walking around and the line “My mother thinks she’s Amelia Earhart” popped into my head. I was really intrigued about what this meant for the narrator and her home life. At first I tried to make it a short story, but soon realized it had to be longer.
Amy: Did your query for THE CHANCE YOU WON’T RETURN come easily or did it go through many drafts?
Annie: SO many drafts! Some people can easily craft a query or summary, and I’m definitely not one of them. I took my query to my writing group so they could help me with it (thanks, guys!). I read query examples online and cover summaries of novels I liked. I think I even tried to persuade my husband to write it for me.
Amy: Did you have critique partners for THE CHANCE YOU WON’T RETURN? If so, how critical were they to your writing process?
Annie: I had a critique group consisting of friends from my MFA program, and they were a huge help in the writing process. I think I showed them the first three chapters about five times (and of course had them read my query). They gave very helpful feedback, and were also great to have around for general moral support and writerly gossip.
Amy: How many agents did you query for THE CHANCE YOU WON’T RETURN? Did you receive immediate responses or did you have to wait a while for replies?
Annie: I queried about 15-20 agents before signing with Taylor Martindale of Full Circle Literary. Some were pretty quick rejections. I had a few agents request partials or fulls, and most of them responded within a few weeks with constructive feedback. (I have to say, I really appreciated when agents gave feedback. Even if the book wasn’t right for them, it always gave me something to think about for revision.) Some I never heard from, but that seems to be a standard policy for some agencies. No matter what the response, I think it’s good to live knowing that you have work out for submission—any moment could be a positive response.
Amy: Can you give a short summary of your call with your agent, Taylor Martindale? How did you know she was a good fit for you?
Annie: I queried Taylor when she was with the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. She liked the book but had some suggestions for edits, including a pretty major shift to the ending, and said she would like to see a revision if I was interested. Her suggestions made my next draft so much stronger, which was a good indication to me that she was someone I’d want to work with.
During “the call,” Taylor confirmed the vibe I got from her via email—she was knowledgeable and professional, enthusiastic about her work and her client’s books, and she made me feel immediately at ease. I still feel all of that today—Taylor’s emails always make me smile, even when we’re talking business.
Amy: What was one piece of advice you got during your early writing stages that has stuck with you to this day?
Annie: One professor mentioned to never create writerly rituals, like only being able to write in coffee shops or at night or with a special pen. Those rituals give you excuses to not write when you’re not in a coffee shop/when it’s daytime/when you only have a pencil. You’re the one who does the work, not the rituals.
Amy: Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?
Annie: I don’t think I ever thought about giving up writing in general. It’s something I’ve always done for fun, way before I thought of it as a potential career. But I’ve definitely gotten discouraged and thought, “Maybe this just isn’t meant to happen.” One time in particular was when I was working at a job I hated and received an email informing me I hadn’t gotten a residency I was really hoping for. I spent the rest of the day wanting to cry in my cubicle, then went home and actually cried.
One thing that helped was remembering a reading I went to, during which the wonderful Shannon Hale showed the audience a giant roll of rejection letters she’d received from literary journals. Knowing that even Shannon Hale was rejected made me feel like I was at least in good company. Rejection is a big part of writing (even for wildly successful authors), but you have to keep going.
Annie Cardi lives in Brookline, MA, where she spends her time baking, creating alternate lyrics for tv show theme songs, and writing YA fiction. Her debut novel, THE CHANCE YOU WON’T RETURN, is forthcoming from Candlewick Press in April 2014. Her writing is fueled by copious amounts of coffee and chocolate.