The world may be a mess, but kids & books continue to give me hope. Sharing and celebrating some *PUBLISHING NEWS* about a novel I wrote during these turbulent times…
In March, I fell into one of the worst creative slumps of my life. Riddled with anxiety and depressed about the pandemic and politics, I could barely bring myself to write, draw, or read much of anything. I’d weathered fallow periods in the past—during the sleep-deprived blur of days following the birth of my daughters, for example—but this was different. I worried the creative well was dry for good.
Then one day, the Muse reappeared (in the form of a spider no less, descending from the rafters of my office, dangling inches from my face). I am, admittedly, a superstitious person, and writer friends like Susan Lubner taught me to take these signs to heart, especially when delivered via arachnid ;) I captured the spider, set her free outside, then returned to my desk. After that, something changed. I felt as though the Muse had come to deliver a message: “Get back to work.” So I did.
I returned to an idea that I’d been tinkering with in the months prior to quarantine—a feminist re-imagining of Ovid’s myth of Arachne, the original spider girl. I had been attempting to write it as a contemporary fantasy, but it wasn’t working and I knew it.
I began anew, returning to my research with fresh eyes. This time, I didn’t outline or set impressive word-count targets. Rather, I spent time batting the original myth around, like a cat with a ball of yarn, unraveling it, bit by bit, trying to see what it was truly made of. And, more importantly, what it could become. Because I knew there was something special there, something I wanted to explore, to expose, to express.
I started writing again, slowly at first, just a few poems here and there—images and sensory things, like the taste of ripe fig, or the stench of a dyer’s vat. I was looking for a way into the story, into the world, into the characters. And then one day, something clicked.
I often equate the sensation of being inspired—that magical stirring when one is spurred to create—as being swept up in a river. There’s a liquidity, a momentum, a rush that quite literally sweeps me up and carries me off in new directions. I become obsessed, invigorated, desperate to take the thoughts in my head and the feelings in my heart, and dash them upon the page before they lose their luster and disappear.
What happened next sounds cliché, but here’s the truth: the floodgates opened and Arachne’s story poured out of me. For the next several weeks, I existed in a fevered fugue state, writing as though the Muse herself were goading me. Daytime hours were mostly occupied with the sudden, unexpected task of homeschooling two very active children, but at night I retreated to my office, working until the wee hours, typing like a madwoman. It was a euphoric experience, and one that I wish I could replicate on demand. But alas, most books are more of a slog than a sprint. (In fact, I am writing a new book right now, and the drafting process feels like trudging uphill through molasses. Still, I love it.)
What emerged in late spring 2020 was the first draft of SPIN, a Young Adult novel-in-verse. It was a big departure from my previous work, but I was immensely proud of it. However, I understood it might not resonate with anyone else. I showed it to my trusted critique partners, wondering if the spark I felt while writing had translated to the page. Or, if quarantine had just pushed me over the edge toward total madness all together.
Thankfully, my CPs saw something in that early draft worth fighting for. They helped me hone and polish it, until it was ready for more eyes. I sent the manuscript out into the world and was lucky enough to find an amazing agent who shared my enthusiasm and vision for Arachne’s story. Alli worked with me to make the book shine even brighter, and then she found the perfect home for it with Julia McCarthy at Atheneum/S&S, which is nothing less than a dream come true.
When writing verse novels, I pay a lot of attention to the caesurae in my poems—the breaks between scenes, the breaths, the gaps which allow the reader room to absorb and process the story. Often times, these pauses are just as important as the words themselves, similar to the silence between notes in a piece of music. In some ways, that dark and fallow period at the beginning of March was a gift—an extended caesura, if you will.
Shapeshifting-spider-Muse aside, the only way out of my slump was hard work. But before I could do that work, my brain needed rest. I needed unstructured time to soak up new ideas, to sift, to simmer, to play.
So, why do I tell you all this? Well, writing and selling SPIN was a bright spot in a very challenging year. I want to share my happiness, and express my gratitude to those who helped turn a draft into a book, and a dream into reality. And also, I want to encourage my fellow creators—whether you’re slogging or sprinting, or merely in need of a well-deserved pause—I’m cheering for you. Keep going.