Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Greeting from Kelsey Sutton: The Writer Who Kept Going

Hi, everyone! I am so excited to get the ball rolling for Secret Life, and to meet new readers, and to help and be helped as we all struggle along on this journey. So, that said, here we go. A post that will tell you way too much about me.

My name is Kelsey Sutton. I am a writer. (I know. I've shocked you, haven't I?) There has never been a time when I was not writing. As a child I would come home from school, pull out my plastic bin full of markers and paper, and arrange everything around me in a circle. I would then fold some paper in half, staple the side three times, and proceed to fill the white spaces with words and pictures.

Since a main focus of this blog is transparency - revealing parts of our journey that aren't usually shared - I'll go all the way back. The first novel I ever finished was so thick it could have served as a doorstop. It was about Victorian vampires. It was 2008, and I was sixteen years old. I've always been a huge fan of Libba Bray's, so I decided I wanted to follow in her footsteps in every way. Logical, right? So I did research on how to get a book published. I discovered what a literary agent was. And I promptly wrote a query to send to Barry Goldblatt, Libba's agent.

Understandably, that awkward, snail-mail query received no reply. As the days turned into weeks I reconsidered my approach. I concluded that maybe this manuscript wasn't the one I wanted to show the world. So I took another year and wrote a completely new novel, a contemporary-suspense kind of story. It was 2009 and I was seventeen.

By this time I had realized that agents accepted e-mail queries, and Barry Goldblatt wasn't the only one in the world, so I sent off a new query to a list of them. Beth was among that list. After a long, enlightening journey, I again shelved a manuscript. Time passed. I graduated high school in 2010, and immediately afterwards ran off to California and wrote another novel. Then I came back to my beloved Minnesota and got responsible, enrolling in college and finding a job. I would dive back into querying soon after this.

Unfortunately, I didn't know enough about the process when I first started to keep track of the numbers. I do know the lists of agents were long, and the rejections piled up. I queried for over two years and shelved two manuscripts. Which, yes, seems easier than what others have gone through. What most of the world doesn't know is that during this time - okay, something I've never put online before - is that I was very much a teenage nomad. I was moving from place to place, trying to work two jobs and pass my classes, basically just focusing on getting by. Surviving. Though I love my mom and we still talk often, she wasn't in the picture much. So, in many ways, writing saved me. In circumstances that could have driven me to a much darker place, I put all my efforts into the stories. Into publishing.

I hesitate to put this out into the world, because I don't want it to seem like I had it all bad. I have fabulous friends, and a great family, and everything has turned out okay. The reason I share this now is for those writers - as young as I was or older - who are dealing with difficulties that make dreams like writing feel impossible. Whether you come from a solid home or you're spending some nights in your car, don't give up. It may take months, or years. But sometimes having that goal, that thing to work towards... that can make all those hardships endurable.

Anyway! Enough with the seriousness. Violin player, you may cease.

It was in the beginning of 2011 - soon after I got back from California - that I queried Beth again. I was eighteen years old, with a story that was new and strange and exciting. I had written it during a time when I was living with people I didn't know that well, in a place that was a little frightening, during a time when absolutely nothing was certain. That third query I sent out - the one that ended with me signing a contract - looked something like this:

Dear Beth, 
I am seeking representation for SOME QUIET PLACE, a young adult paranormal romance. The novel is complete at 88,000 words.  
The very definition of humanity is the quality to be humane. Ironic, since Elizabeth Caldwell appears every bit human, yet sorely lacks in the latter. As a child she somehow lost the ability to feel any emotion. While her best friend slowly dies of cancer and her father comes home in drunken rages, Elizabeth searches for the truth.  
Among her other abnormalities, Elizabeth has the ability to see the unseen. Emotions are personified beings. They’ve all stopped seeking her out, save one: beautiful, stubborn, adoring Fear. Fear wants the truth just as much as she does. There’s a stranger in town that might know something. 
It soon becomes evident, however, that there’s something more pressing out there besides the mysterious stranger and the haziness of Elizabeth’s history. Creatures are fleeing Edson in terror, and people have begun to discern that something is amiss with Elizabeth. Will she have enough time to put the pieces together? What’s coming for her? And is finding out the truth really the key to survival? Secrets are buried for a reason… 
I can be reached at 000-000-0000, and my e-mail address is kelseyjsutton@gmail.com. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you. 
Best, 
Kelsey

Beth quickly got back to me. The subject of her e-mail read, RE: Query: SOME QUIET PLACE. The rest, as they say, is history.

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17 secret replies:

  1. These stories are so encouraging. Thank you for being so honest and open! :) xx

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    1. I'm glad you find it encouraging! I was worried it would be too Debbie-downer. LOL.

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  2. Thanks for sharing your story. It's always great to hear success stories and your book sounds wonderful.

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    1. Thank you so much, Jamie. And thanks for reading.

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  3. Sounds like a wonderful story, Kelsey! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Hi, Rlynn-Solomon! Thanks for stopping by :)

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  4. I empathize with your story, Kelsey. Right now I'm working two jobs while taking college classes full-time and it's a staggering task. Writing is the light at the end of the tunnel for me (plus graduation/future employment.) I'm glad to see that everything worked out for you in the end. :)

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    1. It really is impossible, but somehow we do it. And we conquer :)

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  5. Can't wait to read this, Kelsey! I loved hearing your writing journey. I've been writing off and on since high school, but like you, sometimes life gets in the way, takes us places we didn't think we'd go, gives us hardships, that pull us off the writing path for awhile. I am so excited to be back on it and have Beth in my corner. :)

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    1. I can't wait for you to read it, either ;) And yes, signing with out lovely Beth feels like... a reward, really, after everything we've been through!

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  6. Hi Kelsey! I already love your regular blog so it's great to see you here as well. It really does seem like everything happened so soon for you, but then, counting up the manuscripts you shelved (3 or 4, I'm not sure) that is actual an insane amount of work. I'm so glad you kept writing though, because I am very excited to read SPQ :) Congratulations!

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    1. Aw, thanks, Z. Haha yeah, I hear that a lot - that it seems like everything happened fast. And once we submitted to my editor at Flux, it did. But everything leading up to that was a compile of at LEAST forty queries and two shelved manuscripts. And once I did sign with Beth, we went through endless revisions. Then several editors asked for MORE revisions. So once SQP does actually land in your hands, it will be a completely different, shiny book from what it was in the beginning.

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  7. I read this at work today and I was really floored by your determination. A lot of people I know in the creative writing program at my school, and even a good chunk of my writer friends, admit that they find it really difficult to keep going with their projects and produce something creative on a regular basis. I think you're right on the money when you say that writing became something to keep you sane-- it's not only a devotion to what you're doing because you love it, but also the determination to never give up on it when everything else is insane. You go! :D

    Over the summer I was between jobs (and also moving between three houses, haha!), and I totally agree with you that when everything else in your life is nebulous and crazy uncertain, writing keeps you grounded. I fell in love with SQP's cover a few weeks ago on another site, and now that I know the story behind it I can't wait to get my hands on it! Congrats!

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    1. You almost made me tear up with this comment :) Thank you. And I can't wait to hear what you think of SQP when it's out in the world! Keep writing.

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    2. Aww, thanks! :) I definitely will. Good luck on your writing, too!

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