March YA Debut Authors on Luck, Hope, and Kindness

For many of these authors, luck is what happens while they keep their heads down, do their homework, and always show up prepared.

Before we sent out this Q&A, we spent a lot of time wondering about what makes people persevere through bleaker times, whether it's a political climate, family illness, heartbreak, or other personal loss. The authors who make their YA debuts this month seem to have given it a lot of thought, too, but the takeaways are to do the work, carry on, and keep looking ahead.

 

John Cariani, Almost, Maine, Feiwel & Friends

What’s your relationship to luck?
I don’t really think much about luck. I think about a quote from Hamlet: “The readiness is all.” Be ready and you’ll have a better chance at being lucky.

What makes you hopeful?
Kindness. People naturally want to help people and be good to people, and I witness this daily as I ride the subway to and from work. People are always helping one another. And being jerks to one another. Because that’s what being human is.

How has the process of getting published surprised youwhat has it been like?
I have new respect for anyone who has written a book. And I was surprised by how meditative the whole process is. And by how labor intensive.

 

Mintie Das, Brown Girl Ghosted, HMH/Versify

What’s your relationship to luck?

Seneca was the one to originally say this, but I heard it from watching Oprah—luck is preparation meeting opportunity. I am grateful for my life and aware of the privileges that I’ve been given. But I also know how hard I’ve prepared to be able to handle the opportunities I’ve been given.

What makes you hopeful?
People, especially young people. There’s so much hate going on in the world right now, but in the midst of it all there are people showing such remarkable kindness. Brave people daring to show their humanity and use their voices for change. A lot of that is being led by young voices determined to be heard and, more than that, determined to do something.

How has the process of getting published surprised youwhat has it been like?
Being published is a dream. But being published by an imprint that believes in allowing more voices in the room, from working with an incredible editor like Margaret Raymo, who really understood what I was trying to say, to having Kwame Alexander throwing his weight behind the book—it’s better than being Molly Ringwald at the end of Sixteen Candles.

Read: February YA Debuts on Love and Inspiration

Nina de Pass, The Year After You, Delacorte

What’s your relationship to luck?
To me, luck is a strange kind of magic. There is a line where my main character Cara is told “Don’t confuse luck with circumstance—they are not the same thing.” This is important to me—in my opinion, some of the people who have every advantage in the world are not lucky. That said, a couple of years ago my sister gave me a bracelet that says, “Make your own luck” and I think you have to do a little of this too. Or, at least, you have to open the door so opportunity can get in. The rational part of my brain knows that you can’t have a book published without actually writing the thing, so by writing it, I opened the door. However, I can’t help feeling like I’ve been sprinkled with the magic lucky dust—it really has been a wonderful, extraordinary year.

What makes you hopeful?
Big love stories, small acts of kindness and déjà vu.

How has the process of getting published surprised youwhat has it been like?
It has been totally surreal. Alongside my writing, I work full-time for a literary agency, so over the years I have seen lots of authors have their debut novels published—I thought I knew what to expect. I have been so taken aback by the generosity of all the people in the book world who have taken the time to support me and this book. I continue to be amazed by the kindness and encouragement of those around me—my publishers, family, friends, colleagues—and all those I have met or spoken to recently: readers, bloggers, reviewers, booksellers, and other authors.

Read: The complete list of the 2020 Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz winners

 

Mary Cecilia Jackson, Sparrow, Tor Teen

What is your relationship to luck?
I believe that we make our own luck. Writing a book is rife with challenges—the nagging self-doubt, the ever-present snarky internal critic, the daunting prospect of sending your work out into the world. Even after lots of rejection on lots of manuscripts, I refused to give up. I listened carefully to criticism, even when it was harsh and difficult to hear. I learned to practice patience and immerse myself in craft, and I revised and rewrote for almost two years after I signed my contract. If I’ve managed to be successful, it’s not because I was lucky. It’s because I did the hardest work of my life.

What makes you hopeful?
So many things! When I was querying agents, I always tried to have at least five queries “out there,” so that if I got a rejection (or two or three), I’d still be able to remain hopeful and continue to believe that one of those would be “the one.” During the final, most difficult revisions on Sparrow, I read gorgeous epic fantasies that helped me escape my own head. I felt so close to those authors during those long weeks, because I knew that they also must have had moments when they were bone weary and anxious and disheartened. And yet here I was, holding their books in my hands. Reading always gives me hope. Truly, the whole beautiful and wide literary world makes my heart sing.

How has the process of getting published surprised youwhat has it been like?
When I was querying and doing manuscript consultations and workshops at writing conferences, I heard so many horror stories about “loss of creative control.” People told me, “Once you work with an editor, you can kiss your story goodbye.” I think this is a huge misconception about traditional publishing, because nothing could be further from the truth. I can attest that there is absolutely no loss of creative control; in fact, everyone involved is passionate about your book and deeply respectful of your authorship.

Read: Natalie Portman on Fables and Feminism

 

Lindsay Sproul, We Were Promised Spotlights, Putnam

What’s your relationship to luck?
I got my money back on a scratch-off ticket yesterday, so I guess that’s lucky? But actually, I feel lucky to have the opportunity to tell my stories, because I know many people don’t have that chance. And when I think of luck, what I think of most are the people in my life—my partner, my family, my students—who give me these stories in the first place.

What makes you hopeful?
I’m teaching a queer literature class this semester and while I know we have so far to go, the next generation of queer kids give me so much hope about the future of the LBGTQ+ community. Just like me, some of my students have been through so much because of their sexual identities, but I find hope in the idea that there are more and more safe spaces. I also hope this will lead to more stories.

How has the process of getting published surprised youwhat has it been like?
I wasn’t expecting to write six different endings to my book! The editing process surprised me. My editor was much more hands-on (in the best way) than I anticipated. Another reason to believe in luck, I guess!

Kimberly Olson Fakih
Kimberly Olson Fakih

Kimberly Olson Fakih (kfakih@mediasourceinc.com) is Senior Editor, Picture Books, at School Library Journal. She previously was the children's book review editor at Kirkus Reviews.

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