Boost My Bio—Pitch Wars 2019

This is a departure from my typical blog posts—it’s in response to an online event called Boost My Bio for a contest called Pitch Wars that connects writers and mentors in preparation for an agent showcase.

Meet Brie (me, not the cheese, although I love cheese—see #8 below)

1.

I write contemporary YA, and while my stories often deal with some heavy topics, my goal is to leave readers feeling positive and hopeful.

2.

I’m currently revising my YA novel SHATTERPROOF:

Seventeen-year-old Adele Marshall (and her boyfriend, Charlie) was afraid she had mono; now she would give anything for that to be the diagnosis. How can she have cancer?! 

Once treatment begins, Dell is forced to contend with side effects from chemo (please make it to the bathroom before puking) and multiple infection-induced hospital stays. As she progresses through one failed regimen after another, she is faced with a series of losses, from finding clumps of hair on her pillow to letting go of dreams that may not be realized (good-bye, senior prom). 

But with the hardships come opportunities to see people at their best—from an unexpected confidant and an outpouring of support from her school and community to the unwavering love from the people always by her side. They give her the strength to face her future, determined to make each moment count. From an impromptu 4th of July celebration to her first time wiggling her toes in the sand, Dell discovers life isn’t about her battle against cancer—it’s about everything she’s fighting for

3.

For my job that pays, I’m an editor at an oncology-focused advertising agency, which means I spend a lot of hours thinking about cancer. Sad, often, but inspiring too. Back in 2011, I read a memoir by a cancer survivor that, in part, led to the idea for this book.

4.

I believe in kindness. Once I finish revising my current manuscript, next up is a story about Rae, a 16-year-old girl whose father died suddenly, and her struggle to cope. At her lowest moment, an act of kindness lifts Rae from her depths of despair and sows a seed of hope.

Besides writing, my other passion project is a kindness crusade I started on Twitter. It began as a way to connect with others who share my passion for doing good, and I would love to see how far it can reach. If you’re curious or interested in participating, please check out my tweets for more information.

5.

I have a (one could argue overzealous) love for musical theatre. I’m a season subscriber in two different cities (for two years it was three cities). I see so many shows, I had to create an Excel file to keep track of what I’ve seen and which shows I’ve seen most often (the current total is 271 shows, and I’ve seen Les Mis 7 times).

Last season’s shows

6.

I’m a Friends fanatic.

7.

My husband and I have quotes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer engraved on our wedding rings.

8.

As a child, I was a ridiculously picky eater. Now I’ve eaten (and enjoyed) ostrich, kangaroo, turtle, duck, and rabbit (ie, I’m a foodie).

9.

I’m unabashedly obsessed with pumpkin.

10.

I’ve been writing on and off for about 25 years. After a several-year hiatus when I adjusted to life as a parent, I’m grateful to be a part of the writing community again. I’d love to make your acquaintance, so please give me a look on Twitter, and keep on writing!

How parenting has made me a better writer

Accepting criticism

Curious about what I’ve been writing, Ellie once asked if I would read it to her. Figuring a book about cancer isn’t appropriate for a six-year-old, I read her one of my old middle grade novels. Because I hadn’t looked at the manuscript in a decade, the flaws were painfully obvious, but Ellie was hooked by the story of a girl who is put-upon by her brother. She was engaged until the very end, when the sister teaches the brother a lesson and they declare a truce. But the parents never know how horrible he was to her, and Ellie was offended by this lack of justice. Crying actual tears, she told me my book was terrible and that was why no one wanted to publish it. I’d like to think agents will be kinder than that.

Reading aloud

Years ago, having heard the recommendation to read your work aloud, I sat alone in our guest room and awkwardly listened to the sound of my own voice. Whether it was helpful or not, it was definitely uncomfortable. But once you have a kid, you get pretty used to hearing yourself read. And when I started recording myself reading my current novel aloud, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it not only felt more natural but also turned out to be quite enjoyable. Despite the criticism of my brother-sister saga, Ellie frequently compliments my reading prowess—I pride myself on my inflections and voices (my favorite is Roald Dahl’s The Witches).

Mind over matter

I’m not a fan of bugs. But I didn’t want Ellie to acquire my fear. So once I became a parent, I forced myself to think of insects as fascinating specimens of nature. Seven years later, Ellie picks up every bug she finds in the house and escorts it back outside. She doesn’t hesitate to put her face right next to a cicada or hold a cockroach in her hand. I’m not quite that brave, but I’m far less afraid than I used to be. The mind is a powerful thing. So when I was at a writing conference last month, preparing to pitch my book to agents, feeling the nerves creep up on me, I gave myself a little pep talk. Reminding myself that agents are people like everybody else and that they were there to help aspiring authors like me, I was able to calm myself down and go in with only mildly sweaty palms.

Writing in the midst of life

After graduating college early, I devoted a year to writing. I decked out my office, bought a new desk, and attended my first conference. I wrote a middle grade novel that…wasn’t really about anything. While I had all the time in the world, I lacked experience, the kind that would make my stories mean something.

Enter life.

I met Shawn (my husband-to-be), moved to another city, got a full-time job, and started becoming a grown-up.

I still wrote—until we had a baby.

Although I occasionally found a burst of motivation and a pocket of time in which to put it to use, my focus lay elsewhere.

Now almost seven, Ellie has grown more independent, and I’ve reclaimed enough brain space to yearn for a creative outlet. So when the time for New Year’s resolutions came around this past January, I decided to recommit to my writing. Seeking time that would be free from distractions, I set my alarm for 5:15, prepared to chip away at my work-in-progress an hour at a time.

Then a funny thing happened: I loved that time so much, I found other opportunities to write. Working in a crowded dance studio waiting room or hearing My Little Pony in the background might not be ideal, but I wrote within the realities of my life today.

I was surprised by how quickly I finished the first draft of Dell’s story. Partly, it’s because the idea stemmed from something I do every day. Undoubtedly, I would not have written a story about a girl with cancer if I hadn’t taken a job at an oncology-focused advertising agency.

Similarly, when Shawn, Ellie, and I starting performing random acts of kindness throughout the year, it was because I wanted to offset the pile of gifts I knew Ellie would get at Christmas with regular reminders to be grateful for what she has and to do things for those who might not have as much. I didn’t anticipate these experiences making their way into a book, but my next YA novel centers on exactly that.

I named my blog Writing in the Midst of Life because I recognize that I have to carve out moments for writing now. But it’s not just about finding time to write; it’s about what drives my stories—what I think about, the questions I need to answer. Life gives my writing its heart.

Why I write: it starts with a question

At the heart of my best work is a question I’m compelled to answer for myself.

Sometimes it’s a challenge of craft. With my short story “Going Up,” I wondered if I could write a piece in which characters interact without speaking. I used different fonts to represent the distinct thoughts of eight people sharing an elevator and to illustrate how we can find connection simply by opening ourselves up to those around us.

Other times, the question is a matter of perspective. In “The Apple Tree,” I wanted to find out if I could surprise readers by revealing the true nature of the relationship of the narrator—a father—with his daughter.

And lately, with Dell’s story and others that are percolating, I find myself striving to delve into characters’ pain with the goal of pulling something positive from their struggles.

When I think about my projects, I ask myself, “What is this story about?” I don’t mean the plot—that’s the superficial answer. Because there’s a bigger issue I’m grappling with, what the story is about is why it means something—why I have to write it and, hopefully, why others will want to read it.

I think great stories answer questions we all have in some form or fashion. That’s why they resonate. I want to answer the questions that keep me up at night, in a way that lets me sleep tomorrow. Writing is cathartic—I’ve experienced this many times as a reader, and by using it to face my own emotional demons, I’ve seen that it’s true on the other side as well.

Not everything in life has a happy ending. But if I can write books that celebrate hope, gratitude, kindness, and love—in spite of, and often in the midst of, hardship—I am encouraged to live my life the same way. Because ultimately, happiness is what it’s all about.