Congratulations to our guest blogger Amelia Brunskill on her first novel! Amelia was part of StoryStudio’s Novel in a Year program, and we thank her for sharing her story.
The idea kept coming up and I’d kept pushing it right back down. An idea for a story: a mystery about the death of a twin, from the perspective of the remaining twin. I pushed it down not because it was necessarily a bad idea, but because I’d largely avoided creative writing after receiving some withering criticism from my ninth grade English teacher.
It didn’t go away though, this idea. So eventually, I started writing it down. I went into it sideways, imagining it as a graphic novel—somehow believing my interdisciplinary art degree meant I had the necessary skillset for that. Yet what started as an outline morphed into a mountain of narrative text, culminating in roughly forty thousands words with something like a beginning and something like an ending.
Although I was very proud of myself for having typed so much, what I’d written was far from being a novel. It was instead a novella-length, skeletal, fragmented thing. I did not know what I was doing and it showed. So, bravely suppressing memories of my unimpressed English teacher, I decided to take a creative writing class.
I can’t remember now how I decided on StoryStudio. I’d like to think it was a decision based on substantial research, but honestly it may have been primarily about proximity (I can walk there from my apartment). In any event, I signed up for the Fiction I course. In this course, I had a wonderful instructor, Molly Backes, and I was surrounded by thoughtful, motivated writers. I workshopped my first chapter and received, from both Molly and my classmates, supportive and constructive feedback.
I signed up to take another class with Molly the very next session. The class specifically focused on writing for young adults and in it I was exposed to the wider world of young adult literature, and I workshopped my second chapter. Throughout both classes, I used what I’d learned to keep rewriting the manuscript, which gradually fleshed out, slowly transforming into a book with scenes, dialogue and character development.
Now, here is the unrealistic—yet true—part. While I was taking the second class, I had lunch with a friend at work. When I mentioned I was working on a novel, he responded by telling me that he had a literary agent himself and he offered to connect me with her. He did, and she and I exchanged polite emails. A few months later, I sent my manuscript to her. To our mutual surprise, she ended up offering me representation.
Despite this most auspicious of beginnings, this agent would eventually gently dump me. Fortunately, in the meantime, I’d applied and been accepted to Story Studio’s Novel in a Year program. Rebecca Makkai was the instructor, and the amount I learned and the community I built in this class make it the best money I’ve ever spent.
After this class ended, I embarked on querying for a new agent. At first, things looked promising. My query letter—polished and refined with help from many of my former StoryStudio classmates—netted me a number of requests for the full manuscript. Soon though I became familiar with the flow of a rejection email: the polite opening, initial compliment and then the inevitable “unfortunately.”
Then, a full year after I started querying, long after my initial hopefulness had faded, I received another email from an agent. I read it with jaded eyes, believing I knew full well how this one would go, but it did not follow the usual pattern. Instead, she told me how much she liked it and she requested to set up a phone call.
Reader, she became my agent.
This time, things went smoothly. We did a quick round of edits, and then my novel went on submission. Within two months, she had an offer from an editor at Random House. My book, The Window, is now due to come out in Spring 2018.
In many ways, I was incredibly lucky in this process. Yet, there were still plenty of times when I was all too ready to assume that my beginner’s luck had run out and that this novel should simply go into a drawer. But throughout the journey, I kept going back to StoryStudio.
StoryStudio not only helped me become a much better writer, it also helped me become part of a community of writers. In addition to the support of my instructors, I’ve maintained regular contact with friends from my classes, especially the Novel in the Year course. We have read each other’s work, celebrated our successes and comforted each other through the inevitable disappointments and setbacks. And each time StoryStudio’s list of classes comes out, I read through it—excited to explore new ways to improve and expand my writing.
Many thanks to all of my classmates at StoryStudio, everyone who works there and special thanks to my teachers: Molly Backes, Rebecca Makkai and Abby Geni.