A Twisty Path to Publication–with Dragons

Post #5: Morris Award Finalist Blog Tour Week
YALSA’s Morris Award honors the year’s best young adult novel by a debut author. The Morris Award winner for 2014 will be announced at the upcoming ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting in Chicago. Writers’ Rumpus is honored to host a week of posts about the Morris Award Finalists.

EKJohnston

E. K. Johnston, author of THE STORY OF OWEN, a finalist for the Morris Award

GUEST POST by E.K. Johnston, author of The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim

It would probably be easier to start off this blog post if I could say “I have always wanted to be a writer.” It’s a nice opening to a post about the path to publication, and one that’s relatable. But, sadly, it is not the truth. I have not always wanted to be a writer.

The first thing I clearly remember wanting to be (that wasn’t, you know, a dinosaur or a professional basketball player), was a marine biologist. We had spent a year living in Australia, and my science teacher was half of the marine biology department at the high school, and the other half of the department had invited my family camping on a coral reef island over the Christmas holiday. Think Survivor, only with better meal planning and no evictions. Anyway, I loved it, and if we had stayed in Australia, there’s a good chance that’s the path I might have taken, but instead we came back to Ontario, which is not exactly the same as the Great Barrier Reef in the interesting fish department.

The second thing I wanted to be was an archaeologist, and this one stuck. I decided in grade 11 (two years before I needed to make the decision), that I was going to go to Wilfrid Laurier and study Near Eastern Archaeology, and nothing my guidance counselor said could talk me out of it. And that is what I did.

And I loved it. And I was good at it. And then I went and got an MSc in Forensic Archaeology and Crime Scene Management in the UK, and then I came home with two less than practical degrees and ran full steam into the 2008 economic recession.

I spent some time teaching in South Korea, which did not work out, and then moved in with my brother and soon to be sister-in-law. I was preparing myself to buckle down and do something I didn’t like because I needed money to pay back the student loans I’d accrued getting the education I wasn’t yet using. My parents told me I had to give up all the writing I did for fun (I was big into fanfic, and had been since high school), along with my dreams of a PhD in archaeology, and become a grown up, and I was going to do it…but then a friend reminded me that I had been putting off NaNoWriMo for years. It always fell during final papers at school, but now I was OUT of school, and she said I should write a book.

I decided to listen to my friend, and that November, I wrote 85,000 words of a novel that will probably never see the light of day, but it was so. much. fun.

I got a job as an archaeologist in Alberta, which was not my first choice, but the money was good and it was what I went to school for (sort of), so I moved across the country and spent 10 months wandering around in the forest (slight exaggeration: I also spent some time in the office, and ten very memorable days at 40 degrees below zero on the wide Saskatchewan prairie). During this time, I continued to write fanfiction, and through various online communities met a few other authors whose association improved my writing dramatically. I also got a Twitter account, which meant I could more effectively stalk make friends with Actual Published Authors.

At some point that winter (probably while sitting in a Starbucks, writing Sanctuary fanfiction), I had a vision of a dragon slayer falling from the Burlington Skyway bridge. I’d say “and the rest was history,” except it really wasn’t. I still didn’t want to be a writer. I wanted to be an archaeologist. But I planned the book and moved home to Ontario to give academic archaeology one more shot (spoilers: I missed), and then when NaNoWriMo 2011 came around, I wrote The Story of Owen, Dragon Slayer of Trondheim.

In April of 2012, Andrew Karre, then Editorial Director at Carolrhoda Books, put out an open call. Since this time he hadn’t specifically said “no dragons” (as he had done the previous December), I sent him and five agents the manuscript. And that’s when it became history. I sent the email on Tuesday, and by Friday morning, I was re-querying the agents I’d emailed with the line “Andrew Karre has expressed interest in this book” added in. There were phone calls and there were nerves, but by Easter, it was all in order, and I was going to be published.

At that point, I had to admit a few things to myself. The first was that archaeology and I were probably on a break for an indefinite period. The second was that I was very sad about it. The third, though, was that while I didn’t want to be a writer, it turned out that I was a writer. Handily enough, this was also the thesis of the only “how to be a writer” guide I have ever read: the first 100 or so pages of David Eddings’ and Leigh Eddings’ The Rivan Codex. Moreover, I had always been a writer. My training came in learning to research and write papers on Iron Age Moabite landscape use for fortification and burial (amongst other things), but if nothing else, I learned how to write a lot on a short deadline.

Now that we’ve come all this way together, I’ve thought of a better beginning: I have always been a writer. That’s how I started my path to publication, and that’s how I’ve navigated it. Looking back, the people I met and learned from were so CLEARLY signposts, but I didn’t know it at the time. The path hasn’t always made a lot of sense, but I have learned some truly amazing things on my way through (Operation Overlord. Look it up), and it’s been quite a bit of fun.

Further up and further in.

StoryofOwen_coversmallTHE STORY OF OWEN
Dragon Slayer of Trondheim
By E. K. Johnston
Carolrhoda Lab. Young adult; ages 12 to 18)

Finalist for the William C. Morris Award. The William C. Morris YA Debut Award, first awarded in 2009, honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature.

Check out all the other stops on the Morris Finalist blog tour! Links here.