In January 2012 I sat down for the first session of an advanced fiction writing workshop. It was my first creative writing workshop I’d ever taken, and my first college class in five years. I had been seriously writing fiction since 2010, so I definitely felt like I belonged there, but I was still nervous. That everyone would hate my writing. That I would struggle with the deadlines. That I wouldn’t meet any good writing friends.
Before the class started I overheard one of the students talking to somebody across the room. She said she had just signed with a literary agent for a young adult novel and that she was super excited.
I was stunned. Thrilled. I could not believe I would have the chance by the end of the class to introduce myself to someone who actually had a literary agent. And not just for any book, but for a young adult novel, the same kinds of books I loved to write!
I had been querying agents at this point for about a year and a half, and while I had received some full requests here and there, I definitely had no takers yet. I believed in what I was doing, but January 2012 was about the right time I needed to find a really good writing friend, someone I could talk to about the work I was doing, and basically just shoot the shit. I introduced myself to this student after class, and then right before we enjoyed our first meal together in one of the university’s cafeterias, we both discovered we shared the same birthday — October 28. Yes, it definitely seemed like fate.
This person I met was Shaunta Grimes. And today, her middle grade debut novel The Astonishing Maybe has gone out into the world.
For more than seven years now, Shaunta has been one of my great inspirations. Somebody who has taught me so much. Somebody who has shown me great kindness and generosity, and someone who has shown me that, yes, the dream of becoming a traditionally published fiction writer is achievable.
I’ve written nineteen novels. I’ve queried maybe ten of them. I’ve gotten close to signing with agents over the years, only to hit one brick wall after another. Shaunta was always there for me during the successes and the struggles. She showed me what it’s like to be a great friend.
When I finally signed with a literary agent in May of 2017, she couldn’t have been more enthusiastic. And when she signed with her own literary agent two months later, I got to give her that enthusiasm right back. You cheer for your writer friends when something big happens. A short story publication. A full request from an agent. And of course, signing with an agent.
And you cheer for your friends when things aren’t going so well. Through Shaunta I’ve seen the ups and downs of the publishing industry. Of how you can think your career is about to be made, your expectations sky-high, only for the outcome to be not what you might have hoped. I’ve seen what real disappointment looks like.
And I’ve also seen through her that when you hit hard times, you get right back up again… and keep trying. The Astonishing Maybe is a book she talked to me about for months and months before you wrote it, and revised it, and sent it out to agents. I loved this story so much. And when it sold pretty soon after she signed with her agent, I couldn’t have been more excited for her. The story she’d been talking to me about for so long was finally going to be published for the entire world to read.
That was in July of 2017 (yep, the same month she signed with her agent!). And now, on March 26, 2019, The Astonishing Maybe celebrates its very special book birthday.
I’ve been writing fiction almost every day for nine years now. There have been times when I’ve considered quitting, just putting an end to all the pain and rejection. Especially in 2016 when twenty agents requested my latest novel… and then all said no. Especially when the dream always seems so very close… and yet still far from my reach.
But that’s what the best writer friends do, through good times and bad: they keep you going. They keep you on track. That tell you no, don’t quit, you have talent, you can do this.
Do. Not. Give. Up.
She’s been there for me for seven years now, and I truly can’t wait for the next seven. Because who knows what’s coming up in our writing careers? Who knows what we’ll both soon be able to achieve.
Writing is a lonely job. You need to find all the writer friends you can. Find the people who inspire you every single day, and hold them close to you for as long as you can.
Happy book birthday, Shaunta. Thank you for being such a wonderful friend, and for showing me that the dream is still possible.