Fiction Novels

The Big Revision

Though Dreamweaver Road, my young adult novel, was a short summer project that came out fully formed in just a few weeks, Cairo in White was what I call a breach baby (other authors more delicately call this a “labor of love”). The novel began as a short story during one of my undergraduate creative writing courses, just the first chapter of what would become Cairo in White, but when I tried to move on from Zahra’s story, I couldn’t. I was intrigued by her struggles and her culture, but more than that, I felt like I knew her. So I embarked on the novel-length journey, discovering Zahra’s daughter, Aisha, along the way, and wrote the first draft while completing my BA in Women’s Studies and working at a mixture of part time jobs. Amazing, I thought as I wrote up my first query and emailed it to agents during a Chemistry lecture I should have been listening to, the tough part is over!

Not quite. Though many agents responded to my query and asked for partials or the whole manuscript (this was before the big online book boom that has made it so difficult to find an agent or even get a response from one), it was evident that Cairo would need a solid revision. I was lucky enough to have one agent generously respond with a page of notes on how to do so, and I dove back into grammar changes, new scenes, and character traits in the eight months between undergraduate work and graduate work. Then, after resubmitting the manuscript to that agent and getting another page of generous notes and tips, I did the whole thing again.

As you can imagine, when this latest set of line edits and small changes didn’t make the cut, I decided to take a year off and write something else. And by something else, I mean a novel, a novella, a book’s worth of short stories, and many other poems and nonfiction pieces that made their way into literary magazines. Not only did I learn my craft by practicing with these stories and poems, but the boost of confidence I got when accepted helped me fill the hole left from the time spent on the giant novel wasting away on my computer.

During my last year at Johns Hopkins, a friend of mine who had read Cairo at the beginning of the program encouraged me to use it as my thesis. Am I ready to look at Cairo with fresh eyes? I asked myself. Am I really willing to spend a sixth year on this novel? Then I printed the entire manuscript, opened a blank Word document, and started from the beginning.

Right away, I knew the Cairo I was writing was not the same Cairo I had spent so many years revising. Since I had not even looked at the document for a year, I didn’t feel attached to my poorly constructed sentences or feel the need to keep the extra characters that had performed the same function in the story but had seemed so important in the last draft. I cut scenes, one point of view character, entire side plots… I was giving my novel a complete makeover, and it felt great!

Within weeks after typing my last word, I had a contract in my inbox from a wonderful publisher who loved my writing and believed in what I was doing with it. I finally understood (thanks to a wonderful class called Sentence Power) how to construct my sentences, and I could see my characters and their actions as either essential or nonessential parts of the whole. Even if I hadn’t gotten a contract, those six years would still have been worth it because I finally wrote a version of the book that I was proud to call my own. That, after all, is why I began writing in the first place.


Fiction Novels Young Adult Young Adult

On Blurbs, to My Future Self

Once I signed my book contracts for Dreamweaver Road and Cairo in White this fall, I remember thinking to myself, “Now the rejection part of the process is over!” Dreamweaver Road had been picked up almost immediately after I wrote it, but Cairo in White had been a labor of love for almost five years before the complete overhaul this summer that led to its acceptance (perhaps my next post will involve the dreaded re-write).  I’d had more agent rejections over the years than I could keep track of, to the point where I had a whole folder of them; another form rejection was like a crushed up, dirty soda can in a landfill. And, of course, that’s not counting the rejections from poems and stories along the way, which have built up in my Submittable “Declined” folder like the ledger of a failing business. Thank goodness for all of the wonderful literary magazines that did publish my work along the way, or like many writers in the early stages of their careers, I might have given up.

So you can imagine my surprise when, after my first round of asks for blurbs for my two novels, I experienced much the same result. Many writers were too busy with their own writing to spend time on mine; some writers, even professors who were friends with my professors, just never answered. I got several who claimed they couldn’t blurb it because it wasn’t quite the same genre or age or  style of what they wrote, advising me to ask my friends at Hopkins (Note: These are friends who are in thesis with me, at work on novels that are obviously not published yet). 

What was it Blanche said in A Streetcar Named Desire? “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” I have learned over the past few months that writers I’ve met or known for years may not be kinder with their time than someone a friend has advised me to Facebook message. Someone I expected would be too busy writing beautiful poems in fields may actually be eager to read the work of a budding fiction writer. There is no shortcut to figuring out which connections fall into which categories; unfortunately, like the writing itself, you just have to get rejected. 

I am lucky to be blessed with several friends and mentors who, as opposed to those mentioned above, give and give and give. So a note to my future self: be generous with your time. Guide new writers, even if it takes up an hour you would have normally spent staring into that white screen. If you absolutely can’t blurb someone’s book, take the time to give the writer guidance about a better fit. After all, hopefully by then you will have a larger network of amazing friends and colleagues who will consider a recommendation from you important, and will take a chance on someone unknown. 


Kelly in October of 2013 

Novels Young Adult

Dreamweaver Road, A Young Adult Novel

I am excited to announce that I just signed a publishing contract for my new young adult novel “Dreamweaver Road.”  The novella should be available to order in time for the holidays.  The story is a fiction story about a sixteen year girl named Zoey with magical powers.  She does not know the extend of her abilities or how she got them.  Her best friend is kidnapped by a wizard named Danger and she starts a quest to find him. On the way she meets Angela, a witch who can see the future through dream.  The story includes Zoey’s sidekick,  a cat named Mother Shipton; Will, a man who claims to be immortal; and Red, a dragon with a grudge.  Zoey’s friends help her discover the rest of her powers, as well as the forgotten past that earned her such a dangerous enemy.

While I have had many poems and short stories published, this is the first of my novels to be published.  You can check my website to see updates for Dreamweaver Road.


Fiction Nonfiction Poetry Speaking Engagements

New Creative Writing Blog

I am excited to share news about my upcoming novels, poetry, and speaking engagements. Please check back often.Kelly Ann Jaocbson Blog