My novel has two main characters—Hiroshi, a Japanese boy who emigrates to the United States, and Susan, his American cousin who has forgotten her Japanese side.
When I started writing my debut novel five years ago, I was writing for all the Hirsohis and Susans who had ever come through my classroom door—who struggled with language, culture and defining themselves. I was writing for the 10-year-old me, who had moved from an Air Force base in Germany to Texas (talk about culture shock…). I was writing for any kid who has ever felt different.
Then I joined a critique group, and something shifted. Now when I wrote, I pictured how my critique partners might react to this scene or that snippet of dialogue. As I revised and revved up for the agent quest, I tried imagining what agents would think of my title, my chapter endings, my prose. Would they keep reading? Would they request the full manuscript?
Then I signed with Erin, and the manuscript went out on submission. Now it was the editors I was hoping to impress. When the consensus was “too quiet for today’s market,” I never thought to replace the word “market” with “kids.” Kids? What kids?
When Erin and I finally decided that a massive revision/rewrite was in order, I reconnected with my inner 10-year-old. I dusted off my memories of the Hiroshis and Susans who had long since left my classroom. I read excerpts to my own children as I revised, and I paid attention to their reactions. And in the end, this is the manuscript that finally sold.
When I got The Call, I told my students the happy news. My classroom is full of 4th grade Hiroshis and Susans—they are all immigrants or children of immigrants. I told them what the story was about, and immediately Hira’s hand shot up. Hira came to the U.S. from Pakistan two years ago. She is quiet, smart, and a voracious reader.
“Mrs. Lorenzi, I have a connection,” she said.
A connection? Already? And it’s not even a book yet! I thought.
“I know just how Hiroshi felt,” Hira said. “You know, when he felt different. Because he couldn’t speak English, and neither could I when I first came here. But now I can. And I think Hiroshi will, too.”
Of all the grateful, giddy moments since getting The Call, this one moved me the most. A child had made a connection to my story. It was an amazing feeling. And I am humbled to think that other kids might also connect with my characters one day.
When I receive my revision letter, I will certainly be revising with my editor, Emily, in mind. I’ll strive to answer her questions and fix what needs fixing and make the manuscript as strong as it can be. And in my mind’s eye, Hira will be sitting right next to her. I’ll be revising for both of them—one who will champion my book, and one who will see herself in its pages.