Today’s featured author, Kelly Loy Gilbert, caught the writing bug early (in kindergarten!!!). And as she shares in her interview, she continued to write through high school and college. This made me start to question whether or not writing is really in our blood – something we are born with. Perhaps the passion comes early for some of us, as in Kelly’s case, and for others when we are older. One thing is for sure, the drive and ambition is the same for all of us: reach as my readers as possible and have them respond to our work.
Many thanks to Kelly for sharing her writing journey today…
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
In kindergarten. We had these pasteboard-type covers and a comb binding machine, and we were encouraged to draw or write stories and “publish” them into a physical “book” we could share with others. I was hooked then, and kept notebooks full of fiction ever since.
Was CITY ON A HILL your first completed manuscript?
Definitely not! My first “finished” “manuscript,” in that it had a beginning, middle and end and was made of words, was in third grade. It was called “Raven of the River” and was written in my favorite thin-tipped Crayola marker. In high school I wrote seven or eight completed novel manuscripts–a few I tried submitting to publishers, which thankfully for the world never went anywhere–and then wrote one manuscript in college that was closer to being ready (I shopped it around to agents but it never went anywhere) and then one during my MFA that’s still in the works. The last one was the one that got me signed with my agent.
How long did it take to complete?
A little under a year. That was too fast–I’d never try to pull that off again.
Did you use critique partners for CITY ON A HILL? If so, how did they affect your writing process?
This was actually the first thing I ever wrote where the only person who really saw it was my agent; other than that, it was entirely in my own mind. There was no real reason for that other than that I didn’t happen to have anything set up with a writing group or anything at the time, but it was an odd, immersive process to be living for so long in a world that no one else saw. I love exchanging work with other writers if the goal is to push one another deeper into her own work.
When you first wrote your query for CITY ON A HILL did it come easily or did it go through many drafts?
I was lucky; because I was already with an agent, I didn’t have to write a query for it! The last time I wrote a query, though, it took days and days and I enjoyed none of it. (I still freeze up a little when people say, “What’s your book about?”) I like long, patient conversations with moments of discovery–elevator pitches have really never been my thing.
What was your call like with your agent, Adriann Ranta? How did you know she was a good fit for you?
It was incredibly nerve-wracking! But I’d spoken to her already once before and knew she was smart and thoughtful, and I trusted her vision for the project. She answered all my questions and seemed truly passionate about her job and her thoughts on fiction, and she was incredibly insightful.
As most writers know, publishing is a very difficult business. What was the one thing you think you did to garner agent interest?
I was querying a project that I think was kind of a tough sell–quiet, character-driven literary fiction–and I felt lucky to get as much interest in it as I did. I went over the query countless times to make sure every word was in place, and I think having an MFA/publication credits helped. I also had much better luck with submissions where I included sample pages or chapters; having the beginning of a manuscript really polished seems key.
Was there ever a time you thought about giving up on your writing dream? If so, what motivated you to keep writing?
Constantly. I’m married to someone who’s finishing up a PhD in a STEM field, and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where every time I’d go sit in a coffee shop to write about the lives of pretend people I’d wind up next to two twenty-something guys discussing how their IPOs for the companies they founded were about to net them multiple millions of dollars. Writing doesn’t normally pay well (which is why most writers I know have day jobs), and when you’re facing rejection over and over and comparing yourself to people who, by some metrics, are infinitely more successful than you’ll ever be, it gets incredibly difficult to justify to yourself.
But, really, I had to let go of the idea that everyone was judging me. Most people love to see other people achieve their dreams and so I don’t know where I even got that feeling from anyway, but even if it really existed (which I don’t think it ever did), who cares? My best friend posted a quote on Facebook once that was something about how when you reach rock bottom, that’s when you really should keep going because the world needs to hear the story of your crawling out of it. We write because the craft and the stories matter to us, and that’s the best reason in the world to always keep going and to continually seek an audience for those stories.
Kelly Loy Gilbert is a writer who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, new daughter, and massive collection of books. Her debut novel CITY ON A HILL will be released by Disney-Hyperion in Spring/Summer 2015, and she’s represented by Adriann Ranta. She’s a member of the NaNoWriMo Associate Board, the YA Buccaneers and the Freshman Fifteen and has written for the The Kenyon Review, The Toast, and Brain, Child. For more on Kelly check out her blog or follow her on Twitter.
ONE LAST NOTE: A special shout-out to the amazingly talented Roselle Kaes who created the new logo for Writer Odyssey Wednesday. I am so thrilled to be able to share her beautiful art. For more on Roselle go to her website: http://www.rosellekaes.com/