I didn’t set out to write young adult novels. I was raised around literature of all kinds, but it was poetry that called my heart. My grandmother and father both recited poetry to me when I was young, so “writer” meant “poet” to me until I was finished with my master’s degree (my thesis was a manuscript of poetry). After my master’s degree, I went to graduate school again and wrote academic things, then I had a baby, then I got a full-time job, and then there was no time for writing!
Then, about 15 years after my high school graduation, a classmate called me and told me a secret. She and I had a very difficult relationship when we were young, and I hadn’t spoken to her since we graduated. In the course of the conversation, she told me why she’d been so mean to me from eighth grade on: she had a crush on me.
My brain said two things to me after that confession: “wow, that explains a lot!”, and “wow, that would make a good novel.” So a novelist was born.
I wrote 10 pages of SKY in 2002 and took them to a workshop on writing children’s literature. People liked them–I was rather surprised. Then they sat on my shelf for a year, in part because I thought, “I’m a poet! I don’t write young adult novels!” In 2003, I began again, and had the novel drafted by the end of 2004. At that point, I realized I really *was* a novelist. Not a very good one, maybe, but a novelist all the same. In May of 2005, I found an agent, and he took SKY out (at the time, the title was TANGIBLE PEOPLE), but it was soundly rejected. Back to the drawing board, and in the course of revision, the title was changed to CONTENTS MAY EXPLODE UNDER PRESSURE. I also started a new novel in early 2005, so I worked on both at the same time, though I mostly focused on the new novel. In early 2007, I parted ways with my agent. Then, in the summer of 2007, I submitted the new novel to Andrew Karre at Flux (they take unagented submissions), and waited to hear back from him. When he contacted me, he told me he didn’t think my second novel was quite right for them, and he asked if I had more. I sent him CONTENTS, and we shaped it together. It was purchased by Flux in May 2008 and published in September 2009. A long journey!
As you know, the novel is called THE SKY ALWAYS HEARS ME AND THE HILLS DON’T MIND, which is not the title it went to Flux with. As I was revising for Andrew, I wrote that line in the text (on the first page, actually), as Morgan’s first justification of why she shouts her problems out on her hill. As I wrote it, I thought, “Oh, they’ll make me throw that line out. It’s too cheesy, too silly.” When Brian Farrey (the current Flux editor) told me it was the title of the book, I was floored! Then I moved it away from the first page, so the title wouldn’t be “given away” too soon (I like it when titles are mysteries, so to speak, until the middle/end of the book). What also surprised me about the title was how long it is–originally we’d been thinking about two-word and one-word titles. It was a big jump to ten words!
In part, I wrote the book for the real-life Tessa, to let her know that it was OK to have told me her secret, and it would have been OK for her to tell me way back in high school. It would have been surprising and strange, especially since we thought there weren’t any lesbians or gay men in Central Nowhere (they were there all the time!), but still OK. The book is not “I kissed a girl and I liked it, and I did it just so boys would watch me.” The book is “I kissed a girl and I liked it for real, and now I don’t know what to do with those feelings.” Had it really happened in high school, the real-life Tessa and I would have worked it out together.
There you go–how SKY came to be, and how the book got its title. Thanks for allowing me to guest post.