(as originally posted on Shawn’s school website Fall of 2009)
(She is still in shock about it).
The story is a young adult fiction novel told in first person narration by Grace, who is fourteen when the story begins. She discovers that she has a strange connection to Ben, a talented musician at her school, who seems to know a lot more about her than he should. While she tries to sort out her feelings for Ben, strange accidents start happening to her. She realises that her family and some others around her know the secret behind the accidents, but to her frustration, they aren’t explaining.
Can I read it?
In the initial draft stage there were several beta readers who helped with fine-tuning the novel by identifying trouble spots. For example, time errors, incorrect names, confusing (or boring!) spots, and places where more information was needed. This was a HUGE help! I have a couple bound copies that are editing copies (they still have mistakes in them). To whet your appetite, here’s a draft bit of the first chapter that was part of my initial query letter: If this part grabs you, then hopefully you’ll enjoy the rest. Ask if there’s a hard copy available or get on the list for the next available copy.
Some trivia tidbits for you:
*the working title was Charites (pronounced KAYR-ee-tess) which is the Greek word for the Three Graces of Greek mythology. (That’s them dancing in the detail from Botticelli’s painting Primavera). Unfortunately, no one could figure out how to pronounce it! The book needed a better title that also identified this theme, but is accessible to readers. Charites: Grace Awakening or just Grace Awakening clearly identifies the themes of the book. The (future) publisher has some say in the title though, and it could change again.
*the story takes place in Calgary and Salmon Arm. You’ll recognise SAS!
*the secret relates to Greek mythology; many names and incidents are allegorical
*the theme explores five Greek words for different kinds of love; there are 5 characters each representing one kind of love (The five words are eros, philia, storge, agape & thelema. A sixth, xenia is also represented)
*the names of many of Mrs. Bird’s favourite teachers, old friends and some students appear in some form or other; there are also a few tributes to her favourite authors.
Now that the book is ‘finished,’ while she is revising and improving it, she is looking for an agent or a publisher. She has sent out query letters and samples to a few agents. Even small publishers in Canada get 1000-2000 queries every WEEK, even if they only publish 30-50 titles a year. Odds are against publication. One must expect rejection! If an agent thinks the novel is promising, s/he will ask to see the whole manuscript. If the agent likes the manuscript and thinks it is marketable s/he will sign a contract to represent it, and start submitting it to publishers. Now we are waiting to hear back from them. Mrs. Bird also has a second manuscript started that she set aside when Grace took over her life. That one is a short YA novel (to be approx.150 p.) about a boy from a town like Sicamous. It’s about half done at the moment, so hopefully that one will be finished this year.
I have never seriously tried to publish a book before, so I am finding the the whole process fascinating. I am happy to share the experience with you for your edification! Some of my response will be great, and some will be discouraging. I invite you to participate in the journey:
EXCITING NEWS! May 14th the first agent wrote asking to see more of the manuscript! Cross your fingers! (May 14th was 7 months to the day of when the novel was started).
Latest NEWS! (not quite as exciting but hopefully useful) Jun 1st: the agent wrote back to say that although she is still interested in the concept, she wants more sparkle and punch and some streamlining. I was told that if any professional gives concrete suggestions, a writer must treat these as GOLD and consider them very conscientiously. Since she said that she would be interested to see it again after some revision, I’m not counting this as a rejection yet. I will go back to re-read, talk with the beta-readers and my teacher-editor-friend Vikki, and see where I can tighten things up without losing all the bits that become important later on in the story. I have been told this pruning process is the most difficult part of writing, because we are attached to all our scenes.
June 21st: the re-edit is completed and after a final check should be going back to the agent in the next week or so.
Interesting news: June 22nd. A “Dear Author” form letter came today from another agency returning my query because they have such a huge backlog of submissions and such a shortage of staff that they could not even LOOK at any queries “for several months.” Wow. It took them TWO MONTHS just to get to my query on their pile in order to send it back!
Sept 28- After several attempts with a mixture of file types, the re-tooled and edited first four chapters went back to the agent who’d asked to see more if I tightened it up.
Oct 23- While at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, I met with an editor/publisher who was interested in the pitch, and asked to see the query package. She has it now.
Nov- the agent who first asked to see more back in May, wrote to say that she had decided she did not connect to the storytelling, and would not represent the book. It was a nice encouraging letter.
If you’re on Facebook, please join the Grace Awakening group so you can follow what’s happening with the publication process.
Why did you want to write a novel?
Mrs. Bird has loved telling stories since she was a little girl. She was in grade three when she first started writing down her stories and sharing them during show and tell. When she was eight, she won her first writing prize (a flower arrangement) for a poem about her mother. When she was ten she submitted a poem to a children’s poetry anthology, and had it turned down because it was “too mature;” the magazine recommended that she submit it to an adult or religious anthology instead. This was her first rejection letter! (She still has it). This poem appears in the novel and reflects a theme of the book. (Proof that this novel has been in the works for most of her life). Throughout high school she considered a career as a writer or journalist, but she had so many awesome teachers at OKM that she decided she would prefer to get an English degree and teach high school students. In college she won a short story prize and used the prize money to buy her husband’s wedding ring. She has published articles for newsletters and magazines (reviews, genealogy lessons, etc), and has written reams of poetry over the years. In 1992 during her first teaching practicum at Blackburn Jr Sec. in Prince George, she wrote a 300 page (unfinished) novel because her grade eight and nine practicum classes overwhelmed her with memories of her rather intense adolescent first love. When her first practicum was over, she shelved the story, partially because she was too busy with university, her family, and her teaching career, but mostly because she was still pondering on the thematic components. Parts of this first novel survive, but a lot of it was lost due to degradation of the computer disk it was stored on. She expects that someday she will dust it off again, and attempt to turn it into something worth reading by the general public, possibly as a humorous pre-teen novel. On the other hand, many of Grace’s and her Auntie Bright’s experiences will seem vaguely familiar to some friends from youth.
In the past couple of years Mrs. Bird has been encouraged by the BC writers who presented to her classes at Jackson to consider re-visiting this dream, and this fall, upon her introduction to Stephenie Meyer’s publishing experience, she was finally so inspired that she was forced to quit procrastinating and actually get serious about crafting her novel. After reading The Twilight Saga she realised that would be a good idea to use a different framework (i.e. mythology) to hang the original story upon. (This is the “use a germ of truth and then put it somewhere new” method she encourages students to use for classroom writing). She started Grace Awakening in mid-October 2008 and ‘finished’ it in early April 2009. She averaged about 25 pages a week for 23 weeks. (After some re-writes and editing it’s about 150,000 words which is something like 500 pages).
The novel that she thought she was writing when she started is not the one she ended up with. The new characters had something else to tell her about. She’d often sit down to type knowing the basics of a scene, and then have the characters take it somewhere that she didn’t expect. (e.g. “Oh crap Grace! You’ve killed him! Now what do I do?”). The characters took on their own lives and ruled the plot, making it true that “I don’t write stories, I just take dictation for my characters.” Interestingly, as she went along she kept finding more and more connections with Greek Mythology, as if they were working into the story by themselves. (Like- did you know Mount Ida is the name of a significant mountain -actually 2 mountains- in Greek mythology? Interesting coincidence that we have one here in Salmon Arm, isn’t it?) Writing each scene has been like visiting with friends and learning about their experiences. Hopefully when you’re reading, you feel the same way.
I was recently approached for an author interview by a student from South Carolina. You can read the interview here.
© Shawn L. Bird Grace Awakening 2009 Salmon Arm BC