Today, I’m so excited to kick off YA Open Mic, a monthly series that aims to peel away the formality of bios and offer YA authors a platform to share personal stories. The stories can be as funny or as serious as the authors like, but we’re hoping each one comes from a place of emotional honesty. There’s something incredible about reading the experiences of an author you admire and realizing, Someone else understands. We’d love this series to do that for you.
A new YA Open Mic will post on the first Thursday of every month, and each will feature YA authors with books out that month. To kick things off, I’m so honored to welcome 10 phenomenal authors, including Marie Lu and Julie Kagawa, to the blog.
Marie Lu, author of The Rose Society
I was born in the Year of the Rat. Coincidentally (or….not?), when I was three years old, a rat bit me. On my eyelid. Yeah, I know. According to my grandmother, she’d just put me to bed and turned off the light—when she heard me scream. She flipped the light back on to see an enormous rat on my face, panicked (of course), and had me rushed to the hospital. Sure enough, a couple of days later, I had a seizure and ended up in an induced coma. I woke up four weeks later, with no permanent damage, hollering for a giant bowl of noodles. That’s how my uncle knew I was fine. My husband is firmly convinced that I survived rabies or something like it, and we’re both still waiting for my ratty superpowers to manifest. Any day now, guys…any day now.
Mary Elizabeth Summer, author of Trust Me, I’m Trouble
I’m a little afraid of my dad reading my book. He read the first one, and I know he’s proud of me and all, but in the second one, the protagonist has a same-sex love interest. I am a lesbian, and I came out years ago. I married a woman, had a kid, the whole nine yards. So it shouldn’t scare me that my dad is reading my book. But my dad is pretty religious and conservative, and I never let us talk about the gay thing (partly because we have so little time together that I don’t want to waste it being mad, but mostly because I don’t want to know if he’s still disappointed in who I turned out to be). Maybe if I’d let us talk about it, I’d find out that he’s actually okay with it now. But I don’t want to risk it. I’m 37, and even my dad’s potential disapproval is something I try to avoid. I guess that never really goes away. Which is why I’d rather my dad not read my book. I’m afraid it will open that door.
Mindy McGinnis, author of A Madness So Discreet
For many people, creativity and depression go hand in hand. Becoming a published writer has been an interesting experience in so many ways, but the most touching is meeting people who get it. I’ve never been ashamed of dealing with depression, but in writing communities I have the support of people who know that a casual “cheer up,” or teasing “get out of the wrong side of the bed today?” can do much more damage than good. If it were as simple as cheering up, believe me, I’d do it, and if I could pinpoint the cause to something such as the geographical location of where I wake up, I’d change it.
Much like the inspiration for our books or songs, most creatives can’t tell you where our depression comes from. The only source is the jumble of chemicals in our brain that mixed badly on any given day, a toxic soup we can’t easily toss out to whip up a new batch. The writing community has been invaluable to me in so many ways, both as a support group for mental illness and to help maneuver the ups and downs of a forever undulating industry that, in some ways, feeds the beast.
But in the end my creativity and depression feed off each other. So I wouldn’t trade it—or the community I’ve found.
R.C. Lewis, author of Spinning Starlight
It took me a long time to be okay with not meeting narrow expectations. More than okay—to realize I didn’t actually like them. Broad expectations like “Be a decent person” are great, but the narrower kind…the idea of fitting neatly into a category used to appeal to me. Not so much anymore.
When I was little, teachers said I’d be a doctor, because I was school-smart and that’s what school-smart kids aspire to, right? The fact I’m a junior high math teacher would be a disappointment to some, a waste of my potential. Shows what they know. Still, I don’t fit. Math teachers think it’s weird I write novels; many authors think it’s weird I teach math. But my favorite people defy expectations—one of my best friends is an author of dark, intense novels. In real life, she’s the funniest person I know. Both aspects are 100% her.
The only place I have to fit is in my own skin.
Julie Kagawa, author of The Iron Warrior
In the Spring of 2008 I was brainstorming with my literary agent about book ideas. I was as yet unpublished, and my last manuscript had made the rounds among publishers with no luck, so we had decided it was time to put it on the back burner and try something else. What else did I have? my agent asked. What did I see myself writing next?
Well, I answered, I do have this idea for a book…about faeries.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
It’s bittersweet, to see The Iron Fey come to an end. Back when I first started The Iron King, I had no idea what would happen, that it would spawn a massive, magical world with characters who are beloved not only by me, but by scores of readers and fans. Meghan, Ash, Puck, Ethan, Kenzie, Keirran, Grimalkin…they’ve become so much more than words on paper. They have entire histories, past lives, fears, triumphs, failures and legacies. And the world of the Iron Fey has grown beyond all my expectations. It’s sad to say goodbye, but I do so knowing I left the characters in the best place I could. And as long as their stories are read, they have achieved a little bit of immortality.
Marcy Beller Paul, author of Underneath Everything
I have two scars on my face: One on the crease of my chin from the time my cousin wrestled me into the corner of a coffee table. The other above my left eye from the edge of a waterski. But I don’t have any scars from the night of that first snowfall in New York when I rang my friend’s doorbell and got yanked back by my purse strap before I was buzzed in, my face smashing into the concrete steps on the way down to the street, where I ended up on my back with my attacker standing over me. No trace of that swollen-shut eye, that black and blue cheek, that bruised lip.
It’s the kind of thing that should change you. But my face is the same. So am I. After that night I still went out by myself. I still walked to my friend’s place on West 80th street. I still carried a purse, though not the one I’d stupidly clutched against my chest that night (he’d pulled at the broken strap while I was on my back, but ran when I wouldn’t stop screaming). Even now, as I write about it, I don’t feel different. I don’t feel weak and scared. I don’t feel strong or brave. I just feel like it happened and now it’s in the past.
My mom says she’ll always regret not bringing me to the hospital for my chin. She’s upset that I have a scar. I’m upset that I don’t have a scar from that night in New York. I’m afraid that it didn’t change me.
Robin Talley, author of What We Left Behind
I met Julia on the Internet. On OK Cupid, specifically. Her profile said she loved HGTV, especially the show Income Property. I was obsessed with Income Property, and her profile photo was adorable, so I messaged her. We messaged back and forth for a while and then decided to meet for a drink. I was late for our first date—the DC bus system’s fault, not mine, but I still felt awful about it—but she waited for me, and we got a table. Within ten minutes, I was starting to get this buzzy feeling, and it wasn’t from my barely touched Amstel Light. After half an hour, I was thinking, This is the best OK Cupid date ever. No, this is the best date ever, period.
Our wedding was three years later. My nephews were the ring bearers, and they were early for their cue. Our friend who was officiating told them to sit down and wait their turn, and everyone laughed. Julia and I wrote our own vows—she’s a poet and I’m a novelist, so hers were a lot better than mine—and at the end we both stepped on the glass, but I was wearing open-toed shoes, and I cut my foot. My cousin, who’s a nurse, bandaged me up. At the reception everyone played board games and ate chocolate and a guy named Frank played show tunes on the piano.
Our first kid will be here soon. I wonder how long it’ll be before our kids understand what it means that there was a time, before they were born, when their moms weren’t allowed to get married. Ten years? More? The whole idea will seem like something from another world. I love that so much.
E.K. Johnston, author of A Thousand Nights
I learned that it is possible to be two things at once. It wasn’t an easy lesson, by any means. It seems like the world spends a lot of time telling you that you will have to choose. In hindsight, I should have known better, but I guess sometimes you have to push through it yourself. When you get there, though, you will find other people who learned the same lesson. We weren’t built for only one thing. We are built for AND.
Muskoka reminds me of this, because it reminds me of my other favourite place on earth: the Jordanian desert. At first, the two places seem very different—climate, water, flora—but I like them for a lot of the same reasons: They are so big. They are so quiet. They are so full, if you know how to look.
Randy Ribay, author of An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes
I was driving home after school one Colorado spring day when for no reason at all I decided to take a slightly different route. That’s when I saw greatest sign in the world at the end of someone’s driveway: “FREE PUPPIES.” Of course, I pulled over immediately. Thankfully, I wasn’t too late. There was a litter of fluffy golden retriever pups in the grass, tumbling and pouncing and bounding all about. But one was by herself just sniffing and exploring the new world at the edge of the lawn. That’s the one I took home. I named her Sky.
Nearly thirteen years later, when surgeries could not fix her failing health, we had to put her to sleep. I lay on the floor of the vet’s exam room holding her paw and pressing my forehead to hers as her life slipped away. I cried until my face grew numb because I was alone once again. My entire life I had felt like an outsider, but Sky had been my constant. Despite the overwhelming sadness, though, I also felt blessed to have spent so many years with her, to have been her friend—to have decided one random spring day to drive straight where I should have turned.
Lindsay Smith, author of Dreamstrider
Most writers, I think, are perfectionists. We can see these worlds inside our heads, and yet the act of transferring them to the page is an imperfect one. It’s frustrating and painful, and it stops a lot of would-be writers from ever finishing a single draft. I didn’t truly grow as a writer until I let go of that control. There is something both humbling and inspiring from seeing my book on the shelves, and accepting that it is imperfect, but that it is also the best work I was able to create at that point in my life and in the time I had to create it.
I don’t know why I continue to feel the urge to chase “perfect.” Some of the best times in my life come from things going wrong. Maybe not best—but most memorable, most enduring. I find this especially true when I’m traveling—getting locked in a pub’s bathroom for four hours in Scotland; the time my husband terrified a Tokyo taxi driver when we were hunting for an owl café by showing him a Google Image Search of dozens of owls. The first hymn at our wedding was an atonal, plodding mess. My husband and I looked at each other and laughed. “Pressure’s off,” he said.
I try to attack writing the same way. Get through the garbage. Find your feet. What follows still won’t be perfect, but by then, I’ve already made my peace with imperfection. And I can tell the best story I’m able to tell at this time.