Yes, Write what you Know, but also, Write what you DON'T KNOW: Some backstory to EVERNEATH

Wanna hear something crazy?

EVERNEATH was not my first attempt at a book. It wasn't even my first finished book.

I completed EVERNEATH about 7 years after my first attempt, which was a really stupid chick-lit novel, about a woman who has a baby and thinks her life is over. (Kid C had just been born, but that totally didn't have anything to do with it.) The main character sat in a corner and cried a lot, occasionally sneaking sideways glances at the nuclear device across the room, otherwise known as a baby.
Me, wondering about a return policy.

I never finished the book, because in my mind, there was only one logical conclusion: The device goes off, everyone dies. And who says chick-lit has run its course? 

I was writing what I knew, and what I knew was Post partum depression. Of course, at the time, I didn't know it was "post partum depression". I thought it was "Why didn't everyone tell me my life would suck after children? Is this like the best kept secret, because misery loves company?"

I got help.

Three years later, I had two children, and I thought for sure any attempt to write would be lost among diapers and baby bottles. 
If we'd had a third, I totally could've fit all three in here.
But then, like most people, I adapted. I found minutes here and there, stuck between the couch cushions, behind the toaster, hidden in my husband's sock drawer. The more minutes I found, the more I strung them together until I had a routine. (Also, I stopped cooking. Never looked back). 

And out of that routine, I wrote my very first book. And completed it! I loved my little book, and I knew my little book and I were going to go far. 

No, it wasn't EVERNEATH. 

Again, I wrote about what I knew. My first book was about a snarky, blond-haired, teenage school reporter, who also happened to moonlight as an alien-hunter. Besides the teenage part and the alien-hunter part, the character was me. Or at least, my voice. So easy to write. Just like writing this blog. 

I revised and revised and soon I found an agent. Then we revised and revised, and submitted my book. 

And here's where everything stalled. Kiersten White had a great post on this the other day, where she likened the process to two diverging lines at Disneyland. You never know how fast... or how slow... your line is going to go.
Everyone wants the same thing: to get on the boat! And get published.

I watched as some of my friends, who were at about the same point in their careers as me, shot to the front, hopped on the ride, and proceeded directly to the moon, where they lassoed the stars and brought them from the heavens to replace their porch lights.

While my book floundered. 

I met Richard Peck at the SCBWI L.A. conference almost two years ago, and he asked me what I was doing while I was waiting to hear back from editors. 

I answered enthusiastically, lying out of my arse. "I'm writing the next book, of course!"

The problem was, every book I wrote sounded exactly like my first book: same plucky teenage heroine, who kicks-a while simultaneously making witty comments.

Sam said to me one day, after reading some of my work, "You're never going to be able to write a different character."

And I was all, "But I want to write about a strong female!"

Sam: "Are snark and pluck the only things that make a female strong?" 

To me, them there were fightin' words. Partially because I like to fight, but partially because he was right. 

I thought of the opposite of that first character. Maybe a dark-haired, broken girl, who sometimes doesn't have the right things to say. Maybe her strength isn't as easy to pinpoint at first. Maybe it comes from somewhere besides the funny bone. Maybe it comes from a dark place. 

Maybe she wasn't always like this, but she'd been through something unspeakable.

The question was: what had she been through?

And that's how EVERNEATH was started: as an exercise to prove my husband wrong (which is reward enough in itself), a challenge to test myself, a concerted effort to WRITE WHAT I DON'T KNOW.

The more I pushed against my own boundaries as a writer, the more I realized that maybe this wasn't just an exercise. I fell in love with the book, and after my first book crashed and burned in submission hell, I couldn't wait to go through it all again with EVERNEATH.

And that love would be tested. Without going into too much detail, at one point I had to choose between my faith in EVERNEATH, and my first agent. Never underestimate the importance of finding an agent who is passionate, PASSIONATE, about your book.

Maybe there's no better test for your bond to a book. I parted ways with my original agent (yes, I died a little) and found my better half Michael Bourret, who saw the same quiet strength in Nikki that I saw. And he just might be a brother from another mother.
Michael Bourret. He likes me and my book, just the way we are.
So, yeah, my particular Disneyland line hit a few twists and turns, and the occasional land mine, but in the end, it was MY line. I own it. 

Those of you who are in line (and aren't we all?) own your line. OWN YOUR LINE. Write what you know. And sometimes, write what you don't know. See where it takes you. Try not to pay attention to other lines.

You'll never shed your skin if you don't stretch it. 

So, what are your lines like? Any twists and turns you'd like to share?