‘The Accidental Novelist’: A Guest Post by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

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.

This post has been written by Kirstin Cronn-Mills, author of the YA novel, The Sky Always Hears Me And The Hills Don’t Mind, which is a finalist for the 2010 Minnesota Book awards in the Young People’s Literature Category.
For more information, visit her on her blog and website.
Thank you for being here Kirstin!*
*Actually I’m elated to have her here. SQUEE! More about that later..

AUTHOR BLOG TOUR: Guest Post by Angela Morrison

Bee asked me to expand on my experience writing SING ME TO SLEEP in my guest post. I wrote the first draft in a month, and she wanted to know if it was NaNo project or something like that.
Nope. It was more like an I’ve-got-a-deadline-and-I’m-in-a-total-panic project. IGADAIIATPP? Do you think that will catch on?
So here’s the whole story. September 2008. We were living in Singapore–high rise apartment, only our youngest left at home, my husband gone almost the whole month. TAKEN BY STORM was six months away from release. The ARCs were out. Book one in my contract with Razorbill down. Book two to go.
I’d met with Razorbill back in June on my way through New York. We were in transit that summer from Switzerland to Singapore and took a nice long holiday in the States. My editor told me they loved my pitch for the second book in Leesie and Michael’s stormy saga, but they weren’t sure if the time was right for a sequel. This was almost a year before we got that starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and all those great blogosphere reviews. We didn’t know B&N would support it like they did.
Razorbill decided they wanted to treat STORM as a stand-alone and asked me to write a second unrelated novel. That way if STORM wasn’t well received, the second novel wouldn’t be doomed. They’d taken a huge risk in me. I understood why they’d want to spread the risk.
They suggested I go ahead with the dramatic, bite your fingernails, break your heart story I’d planned for Michael and Leesie. But simply write it for different characters.
I refused. That was Leesie’s story. I’d save it for her and hope. (I’m still hoping. I wrote UNBROKEN CONNECTION this fall and am waiting to hear if Razorbill will sign it up for 2011. Hope with me, okay?)
They weren’t interested in my two other completed novels. So I had to come up with something totally new. I developed several ideas from my story files and morning pages. (If you don’t know what morning pages are, go buy THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron right away–especially if you are a writer.)
The choir story stood out. I’d always wanted to set a novel in this world, but I didn’t have a story. A recent tragedy and the strength and love the family of Amabile Choirs in London, Ontario showed throughout it gave me a story that wouldn’t let go. I developed an outline and pitched it to my editor.
She pitched back. She suggested Beth have a boy back home to add to the conflict. And she thought Beth’s lyrics should be woven throughout the novel.
We both started getting excited.
She came up with the “Phantom of the Opera” hook to sell it to her boss. I agreed to try to work with that to develop the love triangle.  “Beauty and the Beast” kind of took over when I wrote it. But “Phantom” certainly plays a role.
We had a good working draft of an outline by the end of July. Great. And then I waited for the green light on the project. All August.
Time was ticking. I knew they needed a draft before the end of the year.  Could I do it? TAKEN BY STORM took forever to write. But it gave me the chance to hone it. How could I do justice to this story with such a short time frame for my creative process?
My editor got the go ahead from her publisher the end of August. I started writing. And didn’t stop.
Beth’s voice was just there telling me the story. I wrote every day–except Sunday. All day and into the night.
I write my rough drafts by hand. When I get stuck, I type up all the rough pages. My handwritten drafts are really rough–usually just dialogue. When I type them, I add description, emotion, and action. I usually struggle with those RD pages. I push myself to draft five new pages every day before I got to work on the computer typing and revising what I’ve already written.
Because the new creation phase is the hardest part of the writing process for me, I make myself as comfortable as possible–crawl back in bed, prop myself up on feather pillows, and write big and sloppy on pale pink unlined paper. I have a flat kidney-shaped lap desk that works great. I usually do this for an hour–maybe two–and then I’m empty.
But during that month I drafted SING ME TO SLEEP, I’d write roughs all day. Instead of five pages, I’d write ten to fifteen. One day I drafted thirty pages.
My hand began to ache. I bought a brace and kept writing.
By the end of September, I had a draft done–300+ pages. It was full of holes, though.
I plunged into research and revising. I shaped it up enough to send it to my critique pals, and my friend, Joyce, whose son’s story had inspired mine. I got valuable feedback. A few more weeks of revising and it was just before Thanksgiving. I had a polished draft to send to my editor. She read it on the train on her way home for the holiday. And cried her eyes out.
With SING ME TO SLEEP, more than anything else I’ve ever written, I feel like I was simply the instrument of the story. The midwife carefully ushering it into the world. I know I had help from unseen hands. And earthly hands, too.
I feel blessed that all those hands let mine share this story.
Thank you Angela for sharing this fantastic story with us. Your journey is truly inspiring and we wish you all the best in future *can’t wait for Unbroken Connections, btw*