Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Yes, Write what you Know, but also, Write what you DON'T KNOW: Some backstory to EVERNEATH

Wanna hear something crazy?

EVERNEATH was not my first attempt at a book. It wasn't even my first finished book.

I completed EVERNEATH about 7 years after my first attempt, which was a really stupid chick-lit novel, about a woman who has a baby and thinks her life is over. (Kid C had just been born, but that totally didn't have anything to do with it.) The main character sat in a corner and cried a lot, occasionally sneaking sideways glances at the nuclear device across the room, otherwise known as a baby.
Me, wondering about a return policy.

I never finished the book, because in my mind, there was only one logical conclusion: The device goes off, everyone dies. And who says chick-lit has run its course? 

I was writing what I knew, and what I knew was Post partum depression. Of course, at the time, I didn't know it was "post partum depression". I thought it was "Why didn't everyone tell me my life would suck after children? Is this like the best kept secret, because misery loves company?"

I got help.

Three years later, I had two children, and I thought for sure any attempt to write would be lost among diapers and baby bottles. 
If we'd had a third, I totally could've fit all three in here.
But then, like most people, I adapted. I found minutes here and there, stuck between the couch cushions, behind the toaster, hidden in my husband's sock drawer. The more minutes I found, the more I strung them together until I had a routine. (Also, I stopped cooking. Never looked back). 

And out of that routine, I wrote my very first book. And completed it! I loved my little book, and I knew my little book and I were going to go far. 

No, it wasn't EVERNEATH. 

Again, I wrote about what I knew. My first book was about a snarky, blond-haired, teenage school reporter, who also happened to moonlight as an alien-hunter. Besides the teenage part and the alien-hunter part, the character was me. Or at least, my voice. So easy to write. Just like writing this blog. 

I revised and revised and soon I found an agent. Then we revised and revised, and submitted my book. 

And here's where everything stalled. Kiersten White had a great post on this the other day, where she likened the process to two diverging lines at Disneyland. You never know how fast... or how slow... your line is going to go.
Everyone wants the same thing: to get on the boat! And get published.

I watched as some of my friends, who were at about the same point in their careers as me, shot to the front, hopped on the ride, and proceeded directly to the moon, where they lassoed the stars and brought them from the heavens to replace their porch lights.

While my book floundered. 

I met Richard Peck at the SCBWI L.A. conference almost two years ago, and he asked me what I was doing while I was waiting to hear back from editors. 

I answered enthusiastically, lying out of my arse. "I'm writing the next book, of course!"

The problem was, every book I wrote sounded exactly like my first book: same plucky teenage heroine, who kicks-a while simultaneously making witty comments.

Sam said to me one day, after reading some of my work, "You're never going to be able to write a different character."

And I was all, "But I want to write about a strong female!"

Sam: "Are snark and pluck the only things that make a female strong?" 

To me, them there were fightin' words. Partially because I like to fight, but partially because he was right. 

I thought of the opposite of that first character. Maybe a dark-haired, broken girl, who sometimes doesn't have the right things to say. Maybe her strength isn't as easy to pinpoint at first. Maybe it comes from somewhere besides the funny bone. Maybe it comes from a dark place. 

Maybe she wasn't always like this, but she'd been through something unspeakable.

The question was: what had she been through?

And that's how EVERNEATH was started: as an exercise to prove my husband wrong (which is reward enough in itself), a challenge to test myself, a concerted effort to WRITE WHAT I DON'T KNOW.

The more I pushed against my own boundaries as a writer, the more I realized that maybe this wasn't just an exercise. I fell in love with the book, and after my first book crashed and burned in submission hell, I couldn't wait to go through it all again with EVERNEATH.

And that love would be tested. Without going into too much detail, at one point I had to choose between my faith in EVERNEATH, and my first agent. Never underestimate the importance of finding an agent who is passionate, PASSIONATE, about your book.

Maybe there's no better test for your bond to a book. I parted ways with my original agent (yes, I died a little) and found my better half Michael Bourret, who saw the same quiet strength in Nikki that I saw. And he just might be a brother from another mother.
Michael Bourret. He likes me and my book, just the way we are.
So, yeah, my particular Disneyland line hit a few twists and turns, and the occasional land mine, but in the end, it was MY line. I own it. 

Those of you who are in line (and aren't we all?) own your line. OWN YOUR LINE. Write what you know. And sometimes, write what you don't know. See where it takes you. Try not to pay attention to other lines.

You'll never shed your skin if you don't stretch it. 

So, what are your lines like? Any twists and turns you'd like to share?  


  1. I can't even pick the right line at the grocery store, let alone Disney. I'm screwed!

  2. You are preaching to the choir. If I see a woman in line, with a full cart, five kids, and 846 bajillion coupons, I will inevitably stand behind her.

  3. This is pretty much the most amazing blog post I've ever read. Ever. I mean it. Thanks Brodi.

  4. Thanks so much for your post, Brodi--I love hearing about other people's lines.

    I think one of the most frustrating parts about the line is that you never really know how long it will be. I can see benchmarks along the way--I plan to query for the first time in the Spring (yay!)--but I have no idea what the next 12 months will hold for me. Will I get an agent who loves it and sells it? Will I find a loving agent, but not a loving editor? Will I get rejected at all turns? Will someone come along and ask me to please move to the back of the line?

    This time next year, will I have given up on my firstborn and be looking at sending her sister out into the world?

    Anyone have a working crystal ball? I'm good at enduring, but I'd like to know how long I havta.

  5. Robin- That's the rub, isn't it? And even more annoying is, the space between milestones can be endless! Even when you think you're on your second-to-last milestone. (Like, having an agent who sent your work on submission).

    I think anytime a debut author is published, it's a small miracle. And miracles only come to those who stay the course, right? Right?!

    Every writer has a story to tell about their line. Just think, you're creating the story you're going to get to tell.

  6. (Boy, I hope my story is short and uninteresting....) :)

  7. Ha ha ha! I hope that for you too.

  8. Thanks for posting this! I have a tendency to forget how long it takes to get into publishing and how many years of work it takes. I guess I'll have to practice being patient.

    Okay. I'm done practicing. Can I start whining now?

    By the way, I love Kid C's hair. Does he still have the awesome curls?

  9. Jenilyn- Nobody ever said whining wasn't allowed in line! Kid C still has curls, but we have to keep them under control, or the girls go wild. Because, as he often points out, girls dig curls.

  10. You are an inspiration, Brodi. Also, you look the same as you did when you had your first child, what is your secret to not aging?

    I'm so glad you found an awesome agent for you the second go round, and have this incredible book deal. I hope my long, long, long line can end happily too.

  11. Sara- the secret to not aging is to show pictures of you with your second child, and tell people it's your first. (I couldn't find any pics of the first. :)

    Here's hoping for a satisfying end to your line!

  12. Thanks for this post Brodi. I needed to hear about another mom stringing the minutes together. I just had my fifth baby a few months ago, and the minutes are hard to find.

  13. Fabulous! I've long thought that "write what you know" can be rather limiting. Great story behing your sold story -- thanks for sharing!

  14. Ah, I see. ;) Well, either way, you look good.

    And thanks. I need all the extra hope I can get.

  15. I loved your first book, which you already know. What you may not know, however, is that I'd love a copy of your manuscript of Echo if you decide not to publish it. I wouldn't give it to anyone; I'd just read it every now and then. Have I pulled enough on your heartstrings, er, pride strings, er ...?

    I'm sure I'll like Everneath too and I'm so excited for it come out. I'm glad you stayed in your line because you're a phenomenal writer and the world deserves to know what I already know about you! :D

    As far as my line is concerned, it has more forks in it than any other line in this world. I'm continually having to decide which branch to take. Sometimes, they're just a detour and bring me back to the original line. And other times, they take me on a whole new path. I still have no idea where the end of my line is and I don't think I'll know any time soon. I know I've crossed paths with many a people, for better or worse, and I've even gone under water for a long time, struggling for some air. But, without my line forking, twisting, turning, going in the dark, trying to drown me, etc., I wouldn't be who I am today. And, for the most part, I like me. Although, I do wish I was a little less pessimistic, cynical, and negative.

  16. For some reason, I feel like I picked the scenic route. I'm having a grand time along the way, but I can't help wondering if I'll ever get to the end. Sometimes I get so close I can see the leather seats of the ride and smell the excitement in the air--then my line takes a detour through the flower garden.

    I admit... occasionally I stomp on the lilies.

  17. I here because of Sara Larson (lover her!) and your blog rocks! Great story of perseverance. I'm still in line....but I'm still in line!

  18. Kim- I know the minutes are hard to find, but they're there! Keep on winding.

    Sonia- Thanks for stopping by.

    Jenni- Some of my best friends are pessimistic, negative and cynical. Don't change! And Thanks for you support over the years. I was always grateful to you for reading, and loving that first book.

    Jenn- that's the thing about these lines... when you look like you're the closest to the actual ride, you might still be a ways away! Or, you might be seconds away. Argh.

    Elle- Thanks for reading and saying hi! Friends like Sara are good to have along the way.

  19. I'm not the only one who gave up cooking??? Yay! I don't have to feel so guilty now. :) I love your story. It's so inspirational. Thanks for sharing.

  20. P.S. Do you think it will work if I tell my husband, "Brodi doesn't cook, either!"

  21. Kasie- It will totally work! Also add that despite not cooking, my kids are still alive. That should impress him. :)

    Thanks for reading.

  22. Love to read you stuff!! I usually stand in line behind the lady with 15 nutcrackers and every clearance item you can find and then she starts putting stuff back. Your'e amazing.

  23. crazy cool post. full of things to remember, the next time I'm taking a gamble on choosing a line!

  24. Elizabeth- I always follow the nutcracker lady. Even at the grocery store!

    Elissa- Thanks! It really is all a gamble. :)

  25. Great post, Brodi. It's the first time I've heard your backstory.

    "You'll never shed your skin if you don't stretch it."

    So we're snakes are we? Or dragons? I like dragons. ;)

    But that's wisdon. Stretching can hurt like heck, and you really have to make yourself vulnerable by subjecting yourself to criticism. I have a friend who's written two books. But no one--and I mean no one--has ever read them. She's afraid to let anyone see them. She won't risk the stretching, so she's stuck forever in the skin she has.

  26. Awesome post. My line is waiting patiently while I cook. (What's up with that? Ah, there is the time for the bread that is literally in the oven right now. :D) It is inspiring to hear that it can happen even if you aren't driving in a straight line!

  27. Donna- And if we don't shed the skin, it becomes itchy, doesn't it? Tell your friend to shed that skin!

    Keersten- Exactly! Your line isn't supposed to be straight. You can even cook bread in your line!

  28. You can even bring some of that bread to the original poster. :)

  29. Thanks, Brodi. Just what I needed. I think I'm having PPD over my literary babies. Maybe book-baby number three will be the charm.

  30. I never even cooked in the first place, so does that mean I'm ahead of the game?

    This was a great post for me, Brodi, as I'm currently writing something waaaaaay out of my comfort zone. The challenge is only against myself, but hey, I'll take any win I can.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  31. Elena- Ha ha! Third will most definitely be the charm. It's the rule of the fates.

    Amanda- You are way ahead of the game. Way to stretch yourself!

  32. Great post! I think ultimately we always write a combination of what we know and what we need to find out...

  33. Awesome story! Maybe someday I'll write something I don't know (cause it sounds much more exciting than what I do know :)

  34. Faith- I love the way you put that. :)

    Melissa- That's why I write! It's so much more fascinating than my real life.

  35. Congratulations on finding a kick-ass agent and getting your book out there! I'm also a Greek mythology headcase. Just check out my blog if you don't believe me ;-) Hope to see you around the blogosphere et al.


  36. Christopher- Thanks for finding the blog!

  37. Amazing post Brodie! It was great to meet you at the social last week.
    I look back and see that I've come a long way in the line I'm in, but the line ahead of me reaches past where I can see. What really discourages me is when people tell me that no one ever sells their first novel, so get it over with. How can I do my very best on my first novel if I think it will go in the trash bin? I do realize though that any writing I do makes me improve. And really, I don't mind standing in line for a long time, as long as I'm moving forward. :)

  38. Christy- So good to meet you too! And as for the first novel stuff, yes chances are you won't sell your first novel, but there are enough notable exceptions (Stephenie Meyer) that you should believe it's possible!