|When we went shoe shopping recently, we chose the same pair!|
What's the Pitch for Heart Behind These Hands?
Clair Fairchild is a teenage piano prodigy. When faced with the news that both her younger brothers are dying of a rare childhood disease, she must reshape her musical dreams.
How did you come up with the idea for Heart Behind These Hands?
While this is not a sequel to my debut novel, Crazy, the seed for the story is buried (unintentionally) deep in those pages. When I needed to assign a devastating disease to a minor character in Crazy, coming up with Batten disease wasn’t exactly random.
I taught at The John Crosland School (formerly Dore Academy) and The Fletcher School, both of which serve students with learning differences. At Dore, we had a student who was diagnosed with Batten in the third grade, and his younger brother met the same fate shortly afterwards. At Fletcher a girl was ironically diagnosed by the same doctor in the same month. This neurodegenerative disease robs children of all vision, mobility, cognitive and language skills. None of them is expected to make it far into their twenties.
The girl, Taylor King, has a family that has formed a foundation, Taylor’s Tale, that has raised many thousands of dollars for research. An older sister, Laura King Edwards, follows Taylor’s progress on her blog and has committed to running marathons in all fifty states to raise awareness. She has written a memoir, Run to the Light, documenting her first-hand experience watching the disease steal her sister’s life.
The first thing I did when I wanted to pursue a book with Batten as the villain, was to check with Laura and make sure my plans to write a fictional novel-in-verse depicting characters with Batten did not conflict with her memoir.
We’ve since read each other’s work and are celebrating that our books will both be released in the fall of 2018. We’ve started to discuss ideas about the marketing possibilities that may present themselves under these fortuitous circumstances.
What was your path to publication?
I began working on this book about ten months before Crazy came out. During that time, you were the first (as always) to read my first twenty pages and then I sent off the first draft to my agent, Julia Kenny before I went into debut book frenzy. She and I exchanged three rounds of drafts over the next year before she sent the first submissions out in early 2016. It’s been wonderful having an agent both willing and able to step into the editorial role.
We got some lovely, rosy rejections on that first round, and then a second round went out in Nov. 2016. It was met with silence. We both felt confident about the story and went into it with eyes wide open about the uphill battle that novels in verse can encounter. We even had some discussions about the fact that the country as a whole was in a particular, political funk at the time, because Julia said more than one of her clients was encountering the same eerie silence. If you find yourself in the same position, don’t dwell on these mysteries. Dive into the next thing as quickly as possible no matter how uninspired you feel at the moment. I did, and I’m better for it, and more than halfway into my third book.
The second most wonderful thing about my agent is that she temporarily cut me loose from the contract to explore small presses on my own, while offering her assistance to review any offers. I spent about a week considering whether or not to try self-publishing and I quickly realized I lacked confidence in handling the process. I started sending out queries in January, one of which was to Light Messages, a publishing house represented at a joint WNBA/CWC meeting in March. When I mentioned that I had submitted to them the editor emailed me the next day saying she hadn’t received it. She requested it, we clicked, and I signed the contract shortly thereafter. Note about querying: don’t be shy about following up. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, like a “misplaced” manuscript.
I get this question a lot, and all I can say is it seems to be the way I think, or I should say, have thought. I started out just writing poetry, and moving into novels in verse was like floating down river on a lazy summer day. However, now that I look upstream and see the wake of ambiguities among readers, librarians, students and most of all, publishers, I’m going to hang up the rubber raft for now. That being said, to keep the metaphor going, in my current work in progress, I’m slogging along the bank in bare feet which requires a different set of skills. I now must write in complete sentences and use a truckload more words than I’m accustomed to. And then there’s all that punctuation and capitalization that needs to be addressed! But it’s all part of the journey and who amongst us writers doesn’t love the challenge of a brand new learning curve?