Welcome back to day 2 of my YA Author Blog Takeover fest! I hope you enjoyed yesterday’s post. If you missed it, you can click here and read all about Kim Richardson, author of the Soul Guardian series.
Today, we have the lovely and talented Susan Rocan. Give it up for Susan! *applause* *whistle*
To the questions, “What draws you to read and write YA? How did you get to where you are now?” here is my answer:
I began writing for children, and eventually YA, when my daughter’s 3rd grade teacher told me my daughter had mentioned I was a writer. She asked if I’d written anything for kids. I had to admit, up to that point, I hadn’t. She was disappointed and said if I ever did write any children’s stories she’d love to have me talk to the kids about creative writing. That got me thinking, what were kids reading? I went through my daughter’s library and found Goosebumps books. After reading a couple, I thought, I could do that, so I came up with some short ghost stories.
Later, when my writer’s group and I were brainstorming for chapbook ideas, I came up with the idea for ‘Withershins’. Originally, my character was older, but my writer’s group suggested that the way I had written her, she sounded much younger. I shifted her age down a few years and made it YA. In between research and writing ‘Withershins’, I read other YA books, especially those of local Canadian writers. I loved them all and got a good feel for the genre.
My writer’s group said that ‘Withershins’ was the best thing I’d ever written and pushed me to send it off to be published. After polishing it the best that I could, with the help of the group, I began to research publishers. I began locally, because the content was focused on the area where I live. One of the first places I inquired about was Great Plains Publications. They were not doing fiction, at that time. I went on to Turnstone Press. Although they were not doing YA, Carmen Diaz, who was the editor at the time, said she loved my story and sent it to her friend, a Children’s Lit professor at the University of Manitoba. Carmen then met with me and discussed some of the problems the professor had found with the book. Number one, it was too long. Number two, if I were to split it in two, the character’s situation had to come to a satisfactory conclusion at the end of the first book and a compelling reason to return in the second.
I took the manuscript home and tried to bring the page count down to 250 pages. It was impossible to pare it down that much. I would have had too many scenes to remove, so I made the decision to cut the book in half. The next problem was trying to decide when my character should return and figure out the why and the how. Once I was satisfied that it would work as a stand-alone, I started sending it to other publishers. I researched them on-line and sent the manuscript to places I thought would be a good fit, but only Canadian publishers. It kept being returned. If there was a comment attached, it was generally, “It’s too long”, or “It’s not what we’re looking for at this time.” The only publisher that was interested relied on government funding and that was only received if the author was Métis.
Ten years later, I was about to give up when I saw in the newsletter put out by the Manitoba Writers’ Guild that Great Plains Publications was looking for YA stories. The company always specialized in historical non-fiction and was looking for YA fiction with an historical theme. Perfect! I submitted ‘Withershins’ and it was accepted! I worked with their editor to get it ready for publication. It was a fairly painless process.
‘Withershins’ was published in 2008. Shortly after, I submitted the manuscript for the second half of the story, entitled ‘Spirit Quest’. Once it was accepted, I began working with Anita Daher, an author I admired for her YA and children’s stories. I was delighted and worried that it wouldn’t measure up to the standards she was used to. She liked my story, but was concerned that I did not have a compelling reason for my character to return to the past, which had been so challenging for her in the first book. It took several months of agony, and a lot of back and forth emails between Anita and me, trying to figure out what to do. In desperation, I turned to my writer’s group and asked the question, what would compel Michelle to return? One brilliant mind said, “a death.” Those two simple words got the wheels turning, and the rest is history.
The morals of this story are: Never give up on your dream and never underestimate the power of a writer’s group/critique partner/beta reader. Their help can be invaluable in helping you prepare a manuscript for publication.
From Goodreads: Most people have heard of Withershins- the ritual where one runs around a church three times at midnight. Some claim you will be transported to the Netherworld. What happens to Michelle is quite different. She finds herself trapped in the past, forced to survive without modern conveniences. A native shaman tells her she is the chosen one, but Michelle has no idea why. As she struggles with life in a primitive time, she learns more than just how to survive. Despite facing illness, death, and bigotry, she learns patience and even falls in love, as much as she tries to avoid it.
In this sequel to Withershins, Michelle returns to the past to save her friends. Michelle is happy to be home after her time-travel adventure. Then, while delving into a family secret, she discovers the terrible fate that befell her friends in the distant past. Desperate save them, she returns to 1846 to try to change history. There she struggles with hardships and racism, and learns more about her First Nations heritage.
Thank you so much, Susan, for taking the time to talk to my readers. What an awesome post and an incredible story of perseverance. I guess it just goes to show you, if you have patience and belief in your writing, you will be published.
Everyone, please feel free to leave your comments and questions below. Susan will be popping in to answer whatever questions you may have for her so don’t be shy.
Also, you can find Susan at the following links: