Good morning, and happy it’s-not-Monday-anymore! After yesterday’s dreary weather, I’m looking forward to the impending return of the sun.
Adding to the general awesomeness is today’s Inspirational Women interview with the lovely Rebecca Yarros. Rebecca and I met in sixth grade, and we went to school together for three years. During that time, it became clear that she loved to write — her passion, drive, and ability were all blossoming into a real talent. I remember being impressed by her writing when we were in honors English together during our freshman year of high school; however, in all my teen angsty/insecure glory, instead of being proud of her, I was jealous. (Hey, adolescence is the seventh ring of hell. I’d like to be absolved of responsibility for all ridiculous behavior from 1993-1999 on the grounds of hormonal/angst-induced insanity.)
We lost touch after I moved away, but we reconnected on Facebook when I was in grad school. Rebecca is now a devoted Army wife (and her husband is a helicopter pilot, which is seriously badass) and the superhero mom of four boys.
She has also taken her gift — that tremendous talent for writing — and used it to pursue her dream of writing a book. After a ton of hard work, many late nights, and lots of proverbial blood, sweat, and tears, he’s now the proud author of a Young Adult novel, Aeolian. It hasn’t been an easy process, but she’s been incredibly determined in pursuing her dream. (You can read more about Rebecca, her blog, and her book on her website.)
Here’s her story.
Q: What inspired you to take action towards your dream of writing a book?
A: LILLIAN!!!! First, I love you, so thank you for asking me to answer your interview. You’ve always been one of the smartest, ambitious people I know, and I’m delighted to still be able to call you a friend 13 years after our sleep-over days. The fact that you think I’m inspirational blows me away.
I’ve always loved writing. I can remember taking short stories to slumber parties and jotting down plot ideas and characters in whatever notebook I had space in. Books have always been my favorite place to spend my time. Where else can you experience someone else’s perspective or life? On my bucket list, which I rewrite every New Years, “Publish a book” has always been in my top 10. But as to when I finally said, “Yes, I’m going to write a book,” it actually came down to the Army. When my husband deployed his first two times to Iraq, I read about a book a night, trying to keep myself distracted. I can’t sleep when I know he’s on mission; it’s the most hellacious form of insomnia. The third-go around, this time to Afghanistan, I decided to write instead of read. I lost myself in the world I created and wrote until my eyes crossed from exhaustion. By the time he came home from deployment, I nearly had “Aeolian” finished.
I finally went for it because I realized that if I wrote a page a day while he was gone, by the time he came home, I’d have a book. Once I looked at it as a manageable goal, and not some Titan-like feat, it became a reachable possibility. Plus, I have a kick-butt husband who told me to go for it.
Q: What have been the high points and the low points?
A: Low points… oh geeze. Writing means rejections, and a lot of them. During the query process, trying to find an agent, it seemed like I was getting rejected every day. There were lots of “Sorry this isn’t for me,” or “while well-written, it doesn’t fit my list” emails. It got to the point where I would start hyperventilating when my email dinged. Honestly, about a month before I was signed by my agent, I debating shelving Aeolian for a while and concentrating on my second book. It’s hard to get back up after each rejection and put yourself back out there again. I sent out 32 queries over 11 months and received two full requests from awesome agents, one of whom I am blessed to have signed with. Looking back, I was on the smaller end of the spectrum, since I know lovely authors who query hundreds of agents over multiple years looking for representation. It’s definitely an industry that demands thick skin.
The high points? Hearing that my husband loved the book rocked my world. Then again, I think he’s contractually obligated to say that. Two of my first high points were when I received my first full request from an agent, and later that day, a Hollywood producer. It happened in person, so I didn’t get to squeal and jump up and down, but man, I wanted to! It happened again when my agent, Jamie Bodnar Drowley, requested the full about a month later. I may have broken into a 30-second happy dance while in my pajamas, but my kids will never tell. Another HUGE high point was when Jamie called, offering me representation. To know that an industry professional believes in you and is ready to back you, validate your work and go out on every limb for you is humbling. But my favorite high point definitely came when Jamie told me that she was ready to submit Aeolian without any changes, and we received two full requests from major publishing houses on the first day of pitching. Jason had to bring home dinner because I couldn’t concentrate on bringing my feet down from cloud nine long enough to contemplate cooking.
The highs have been worth every single moment of the lows and then some.
Q: What obstacles have you encountered, and how did you push past them?
A: Finishing a book can be pretty daunting, especially since I was cake-decorating full time and raising our four boys while Jason was gone. I pushed myself through at least a page a night, whether that was editing or writing. Once I formed the habit, it was easier to keep.
Another obstacle might sound silly, but it was telling people that I was writing a book. It seemed like admitting what I was doing with my time would open me up to fail. If everyone knew I was writing it, then everyone would know if I couldn’t manage to finish it, or find an agent. It was the public aspect of admitting my dream aloud that caused me to stumble a bit at first. I pushed through this by telling my husband I was writing “Aeolian” once I was about half way through the first draft. Once I had his support, it was easier to be vocal about it, especially to my parents. They had just finished putting me through college and I didn’t want to admit to them that instead of getting a job with that History and English degree, I was going to write. Luckily, my parents rock and never once doubted me.
Q: Do you have a support network and/or personal cheerleaders who have helped you in this process? What have they done to encourage you and help you move forward?
A: I’d like to thank the academy… No, but seriously. My husband. He’s read the book over and over by now, checking out my rewrites, looking for typos. He’s read every version of my query letter, and the poor man could play memory with what agent works for which agency. He gets up with the kids when I’m up writing past two a.m., and he’s there to supply rejection brownies or dance with me in the kitchen when the big moments happen.
There have been so many of my friends who have taken the time to Beta read Aeolian for me, who have watched it shape up from the first draft and who listened to me talk-through my plot hole insanity. My sister, Katie, and my good friends, Thea, Andrea, Emily, and Kate Davis, these women were instrumental. Melissa Seligman, Molly Lee, and Nola Sarina (who’s my full-time critique partner and general shenanery expert), all gave me wonderful professional feedback that I so desperately needed.
I also have a fantastic critique group that came out of the Backspace Writer’s conference and without cheering each other on and giving condolences on rejections, it would be such a lonely process. Plus, sometimes you just need someone to tell you that paragraph sucked, and that’s not something you want to hear from your mother. Sean, Monika, Michael, Lauren, Malia, and Alicia, you guys keep me sane.
Q: If you could give advice to women who are either trying to find the courage to pursue their dreams or are at the beginning of their own journey, what would it be?
A: Don’t be afraid. It’s not you against this huge mountain, it’s you against yourself. If there’s something you’re reaching for, then it’s always a matter of how badly do you want it? What are you willing to sacrifice to get it? What’s holding you back and why? If it’s in your heart, and taking up your soul, then it’s only a matter of conquering it one step at a time. Don’t be afraid to admit that you have a dream that others might call foolish, or silly just because it’s not profitable, or what they would choose. It’s called a dream for a reason, and there’s no reason to go through life without striving for it. A life not spent in pursuing what we dream of is a life wasted. Go get ‘em girls.