A few years ago, Heather placed first in a contest when I only finaled. We both found our agents around the same time and went through rounds of revisions. Her novel sold, and mine... um, still waiting. Jealousy? No. Kick in the pants inspiration? Yes. Heather's winning entry in that contest blew me away and motivated me to dig deeper into my craft. She's had her share of setbacks, but she persevered and encouraged me every step of the way. I hope her success story inspires you too.
Tell us about your book and your journey to publication.
I’ve been writing for children for over fourteen years. Whew! That seems like a long time, but in this business, it’s not really that long. I had mentored with a poet in college and had been a writer for TV, newsprint, and marketing, but I had to sharpen my children’s/YA writing skills. So I attended a trillion conferences, took various classes, and published some short stories for young children before I discovered I’m truly comfortable in a sixteen-year-old’s voice.
I wrote the first version of my Contemporary Realistic YA novel, currently titled RIPPLE, back in 2008. It was a very personal book that introduced teens dealing with some rarely discussed compulsions and struggles. I received some attention from it back then at conferences, but the comments on it were that it was long, wordy, and needed serious tightening. By the time I’d finished editing, TWILIGHT was out and paranormal was all the rage, so when I pitched it at conferences again, editors and agents wanted to know, “Is there a fairy in it? A werewolf? Living gargoyles?”
Alas, it was just about a girl with some real-life issues, which made it a tough YA sell at the time. I believed in it, though, so I thought I’d use my poetry-writing background and turn the crux of it into a short story in verse. That story, “Him,” won the 2011 Katherine Paterson Prize for YA and Children’s Writing through HUNGER MOUNTAIN, the literary journal of the Vermont College of Fine Arts. That same year I won first place in the Children’s/Young Adult Fiction division of the WRITER'S DIGEST Annual Writing Competition for a different short story. Contests are such a great way to get your work noticed, and 2011 was a very good year for me in that respect.
How did you get your agent?
After I won the Katherine Paterson Prize, several agents contacted me via email. The first was Heather Schroder, an extremely seasoned agent, who at the time was with International Creative Management (ICM) and has since started her own agency, Compass Talent. We set up a phone conversation, and I really loved how she just got what I was trying to do with “Him.” She really connected with my writing style and my work, so I knew she was a great fit for me.
I had already started working on a dystopian/fantasy-type novel when Heather contacted me, so she helped me work through several revisions of that. But again, the market shifted, and back came the popularity of Contemporary Realistic Fiction in YA. That old novel from 2008 had a shot now! So I revised RIPPLE to make the voice and the structure relevant for today’s YA readers, and Heather sold it to Penguin Putnam a short while later. It's scheduled to be released in Fall 2016.
What has been surprising or challenging about your experience?
I am an impatient human, and, I mean, like, really impatient. I want things done now and before now. So getting used to the publishing industry, which often moves at a glacial pace, has really taught me to take deep breaths, calm down, and curb my need for speed. I’ve even tattooed the reminder on myself. ;)
What's next for you?
I’m just finishing work on my latest novel and getting ready to send it to Compass Talent for review. This latest book is very different from RIPPLE in that it is less about romance (though there is still plenty in there!) and more about socio-political issues in the U.S., but I hope it is as well received.
Heather Smith Meloche’s work has appeared in SPIDER, YOUNG ADULT REVIEW NETWORK (YARN), and ONCE UPON A TIME, and she has placed twice in the children’s/YA category of the WRITER’S DIGEST Annual Competition. Her short story, “Him,” won the HUNGER MOUNTAIN Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing in 2011. She lives in Rochester Hills, MI, with her husband, two boys, and more pets than anyone should ever own.
Coming up on The Mitten blog: the conclusion of Dawne Webber's Beyond the Book series, a new 3 part craft series on developing voice, an interview with Buffy the Poetry Slayer, Ask Frida Pennabook, and another round of Hugs and Hurrahs. Send your good news to Patti Richards at pgwrites5
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