It’s been a little over a week since I got to announce the news that BEFORE I DISAPPEAR is going to be a real book. I’ve spent that time finishing up my first round of revisions and generally reflecting on the twists and turns in life that led me here. Every writer has their own individual publishing journey. Just like we all have our own unique stories to tell. Here is mine for anyone interested in these things.
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be an author. Stories were a big part of my childhood. My dad joined the Army when I was four months old, embarking on an adventure that lasted 30 years. Whenever we moved, my mom and dad would use stories as a way to immerse us in the languages and cultures of our new host nations. I have vivid memories of writing poem after poem to my dad when he was deployed. Stories became my way of connecting with people and sharing thoughts and feelings that were often hard to say.
I wrote my first novel in the third grade. It was called Witches Don’t Wear Polka Dots. I remember shyly showing it to my teacher. Her name was Ms. Murray. I was so nervous because it was my first year in American school, and I was still catching up in reading. Ms. Murray told me that my book was wonderful, and then she took my chicken scratch pages home with her. A few days later, she handed me back my words typed up on the most beautiful stationary. It must have taken her hours. I still have those pages, and I will treasure them just as I treasure that act of kindness from a young teacher to her shy student.
School became my focus for a long time. I still wanted to be a writer, but I felt like I had to do all these other things first. Like there was some preordained order of steps I had to follow. It didn’t occur to me that I was a writer because I was WRITING. All the time. In between papers and exams. While sitting at the reception desk at the office where I worked. I did it for me. Because I loved it. It wasn’t until later that I realized this probably meant I should do something about it.
Then a few big things happened. I had a baby, and I wrote a book that I loved more than all the others. I decided to go for it. I found an agent, Caryn Wiseman of ABLA (who is my amazing agent to this day), and we tried to sell that book. We got such strong feedback, but the timing was off. The book didn’t sell. I was disappointed, but I had so many other stories I wanted to tell, so that’s where I focused my energy. I wrote a draft and was working on revisions. Before I could carry them out, the idea for BEFORE I DISAPPEAR popped into my head. I knew I wanted this new story to be my first book. I went for it again. I wrote a draft and worked with my agent on several rounds of revision until I had the story I had originally envisioned. It took time and sweat and blood and tears, but it was worth it. Because now that story is going to be a real book.
It’s especially meaningful to me that my book ended up at Feiwel and Friends. This imprint has a very special place in my heart. The first book they ever published, Nancy Tillman’s On the Night You were Born, is the very first book I read each of my four boys. I have read it so many times I could recite the lines in my sleep. It all feels very full circle.
I guess the thing I’ve learned on this journey is that the only thing you can control is what you actually DO. Write what you love, never stop believing in yourself, and surround yourself with people who lift you up. Lift them up in return. The rest will fall into place on its own.