How an Idea Became a Novel
The idea for WHEN REASON BREAKS started when I took an author-centered graduate course in 2004 at Central Connecticut State University, taught by Dr. Melissa Mentzer. I had never studied Emily Dickinson in any depth before this class. All I knew was what most people knew: she was a reclusive poet who wrote a lot and became famous after her death. Since Dr. Mentzer required three 20-page papers and ten one-page reading responses of her graduate students, I became well acquainted with Dickinson during the semester.
During that time I had “flashes” of scenes in my head. I envisioned a scene of a young woman racing through the woods to save someone’s life. I continued to see this scene and others, but I never wrote them down. My goal was to get a master’s degree, not write a novel.
Flash-forward three years. In January 2007, my daughter was born in Guatemala, which meant the adoption process was about to pick up speed. I was also in the midst of completing my master’s thesis while working full-time as a 7th grade language arts teacher. Again, my focus was elsewhere, although I still thought about Dickinson and the woman running into the woods.
That May, I graduated from CCSU. In August, I took a vacation alone to Rockport, Mass. While there, I reread some biographical information about Dickinson and outlined the characters and plot of what would become WHEN REASON BREAKS. Still, no writing yet. That October, I flew to Guatemala to bring my daughter home. Life became even more wonderful and hectic! No time for anything except daughter, dog, job, and trying to remain sane.
In the summer of 2008, my friend Sonya told me about Vanessa, a clairvoyant and Reiki master. I have had readings done sporadically during my life, but it had been years and I wanted another one. I did not tell Vanessa anything about myself. One of the first things she talked about was writing. Whether you believe in these types of things or not, for me, it was the nudge I needed to get me thinking that I could actually do it. I could write a novel. Did I go home and start writing? Of course not.
Months later, one night that December, I was at my parent’s house. I was mentally and physically exhausted from my duties as full-time teacher and full-time mom. I remember putting my daughter to bed and falling back onto my own bed, fully dressed, ready to collapse. As soon as my head hit the pillow, I sprang up, grabbed my notebook, and scribbled what would become part of Chapter 1. I don’t know where it came from. I hardly remember writing it. I just did it. Now that it was started, I knew I would finish it–eventually.
I chipped away at the manuscript over the next year, writing when my daughter was asleep or when she was in daycare and I was home sick or on a school vacation. One day, while surfing on the Internet, I stumbled across the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award writing contest. It was what I needed–a deadline (January 2010). I decided I would finish the novel and submit it. The novel made it to the quarterfinals, and my friends wrote glowing reviews of the excerpt that was available on Amazon.com. It was all very exciting! The reviewer at Publisher’s Weekly who stopped it from going further provided me with some much needed constructive criticism. At first, the critique stung, but then I used it to begin a major revision.
At the same time, I was working on a new certification, and in March 2010, I started a new job as a high school reading teacher. (Yes, I’m kind of an overachiever.) The revision was done by the summer of 2010 and I started using Query Tracker–a great online source for writers–to email agents. I queried dozens of agents and started to get both positive and negative responses.
On Aug. 19, I emailed literary agent Laura Langlie at 8:40 p.m. Five minutes later, she responded, saying she wanted to read the full manuscript. She’s known for her lightning-fast responses! On Aug. 23, Laura sent me this email: “Hello! Congratulations on having written such an engaging manuscript! I’d like to talk with you.” (Insert screaming and happy dance here!)
Laura suggested some further revisions, and when those were completed, she started to send the manuscript out to editors. And then we waited…Anyone going through this process will probably tell you there’s a lot of waiting, but it was all worth it. More than two years and two major revisions later, my novel found the perfect home: with editor Mary Kate Castellani at Bloomsbury Children’s Books USA, to be published on February 10, 2015!