Today on the Barnes & Noble Teen blog, we’re excited to welcome piano protégé turned publishing protégé Coco Ma, who’s debuting with her first book this week at all of 19. She swung by to tell us about the inspiration (and perspiration!) that went into creating her debut fantasy Shadow Frost, the first book in a duology about a demon-slaying princess who’s own life is imperiled by a cunning assassin. Read on for more about her author’s journey.
Isn’t it lovely, all alone?
Heart made of glass, my mind of stone
Tear me to pieces, skin to bone
Hello, welcome home
My shadow dances along the wall of my dorm, a soft grey growing darker as dusk swallows the last of the sun’s fading golden rays. My speaker blasts Billie Eilish on shuffle, sitting precariously on the edge of the table in a perpetual balancing act, never more than an accidental nudge away from plummeting to the floor.
Crap. I realize that I haven’t done my laundry yet. And that unless I do it tonight, I’m going to be sockless tomorrow. Briefly, I entertain the outlandish possibility of running to the shops and just buying a fresh pair, but then I realize I’m barefooted because I actually ran out of socks yesterday. College student problems.
On the bright side, my debut novel, Shadow Frost, is publishing in two days from when I’m typing out this sentence (October 1st). It’s a YA-fantasy novel about a princess who decides to take on a single task to save her kingdom…by killing a demon that cannot be killed. It’s packed with badass royals, elemental magic, and quality banter galore. I’m so excited for you to read it! The cover is also velvet matte—the buttery soft kind—and it’s absolutely, breathtakingly gorgeous. Honestly, just get it for the cover. (I mean, what?)
I finished writing Shadow Frost when I was 15. I turned 19 last month and am proud to say that I’m also done with the sequel, God Storm.
A lot of people ask me how I manage to juggle novel writing, publishing, piano performances, and surviving as a graduate student at Yale. I still don’t really have an answer, but my best stab at it is probably a mixture of stubborn determination, discipline, and bribing myself with cake, books, bubble tea, and Studio Ghibli plushies. Spoiler alert! I am very easily bribed.
Anyway, all of this began when I was in tenth grade. I came up with the idea to write a collection of short stories for a school project. Except…the first story kept getting longer, and longer, and longer until I had over 50,000 words written and half of a story left to tell. Shadow Frost was the book that I never initially planned to be a book. Which, of course, later led to plot holes big enough to drive a truck through, but somehow, blessedly, here we are.
Nowadays, my youth and authoring success gives me an amazing platform to encourage and inspire other young writers and people with my story. In general, publishing is no easy feat, and publishing as a teenager posed a whole set of its own unique challenges and obstacles. But I’ve always been rather bull-headed about two things: achieving my goals, and proving people wrong. Mostly the latter. Especially when it comes to adults. Yes, I was a very fun child to raise, thanks for asking!
When I first started querying literary agents, a lot of people strongly suggested that I refrain from mentioning my age, because apparently my writing wouldn’t be taken seriously. How crazy is that?! During my first meeting with my now-agent, Richard, I specifically informed him that I wouldn’t stand to be treated like a kid in such a competitive and sometimes brutal industry. Imagine how amazing it felt when, without missing a beat, he replied, “Why would I do that? I’m speaking to you as an author because that’s what you are.”
(He then asked me if I wanted a third milkshake because I had just inhaled my second one in approximately twenty-three seconds. Richard, if you’re reading this, the answer is always yes, please and thank you in advance.)
To be really honest with you, after I read the physical ARC (advanced reading copy) of Shadow Frost, I wondered if I was ready for the book to be published. If I was ready to share it with actual readers (even though quite a few had already read the Shadow Frost e-ARC and loved it). I wanted to, of course, but already I was seeing things that I know I could have done worlds better now. Anxiety gripped my heart as I tried my best not to spend my days thinking about how other people were judging me as a writer.
But the truth is, I wouldn’t be anywhere near who I am today as a writer if not for experiencing the twists and turns of the publishing process firsthand. A lot has happened since I signed with Richard. Enough to make me realize that a year or two of extra revisions could never compare to what I’ve picked up by actually publishing Shadow Frost. More importantly, the things I picked up now allow me to reflect on my past work and recognize how I want to grow and improve as an author in my current work.
As a great man once said, “Jarvis, sometimes you gotta run before you can walk.” Sometimes you just have to make that leap into the unknown and brace yourself for the consequences of discovery…or else you might stay standing in the same place forever. So here is my message to all of you young writers, and any one else who has a desire to do something, to become something more—whatever your doubts, embrace the risk. Work hard, work smart. If you work harder and smarter than anyone else, you will succeed. Take it from me. After you do, though, don’t let its sweet song lull you into quiescence. Work even harder and even smarter, and never stop reaching for the sky for as long as you live.
Actually, screw the sky. Strive for the stars, and everything beyond. I know I will.
But for now, I really, really have to go and do my laundry. And you really, really have to go and read Shadow Frost!!! 😉
COCO MA is a Canadian author and pianist. She wrote her first novel, Shadow Frost, at the age of 15, and since she began playing the piano at the age of five and a half, she has performed on some of the world’s greatest concert stages and graduated with a pre-college diploma in piano performance from The Juilliard School in New York City. Currently, she studies at Yale University. When she isn’t practicing piano, writing, or studying, you might find her bingeing Netflix or eating cake. Lots of cake. Follow her on Instagram @cakeforcoco and Twitter @chaosforcoco!