Guest Week is in full swing! Today we’d like to welcome Trent Reedy, whose debut novel Words in the Dust (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic) has been racking up acclaim in the short time it’s been out.
“Infused with poetry, and wrought with hardship, the story gives a bleak, but ultimately hopeful, portrayal of girlhood in Afghanistan. It is full of hard truths, painful lessons, beautiful human interaction, and the promise of possibility.” — School Library Journal
Words in the Dust follows Zulaikha, an Afghan girl born with a cleft palate whose whole world changes when American soldiers come to her village. New challenges. New hopes. New decisions to make – all of which come at a price.
We are thrilled that Trent, a recent debut himself, has stopped by to share what inspired him to start writing, what about the debut process was the most surprising and where he finds himself now.
Learning as I Go
by Trent Reedy
When in the sixth grade I first told my mother that I wanted to someday be a writer, I received the first of that particular sort of response that I was to encounter for years, almost without exception, whenever I told anyone about my dream.
It always happened about the same way. Someone would ask, “What do you want to do with your life?”
“I want to write books,” I’d tell her.
Immediately she would put on a forced smile. “Oh. Well…you can do anything you want to do,” she’d say in a tone usually reserved for very small children who say they want to be a giraffe or President of the United States. She would then proceed in one of two ways. Either she’d inform me that it is very difficult to get a book published or she’d launch right into other careers that I might want to try, the implication being that I should try them because writing would prove impossible.
I don’t blame my mother or the others for their skepticism. In fact, I am grateful for their more practical concerns for my pre-publication livelihood. Their doubts encouraged me to strive for a more realistic idea of what it means to be a writer. They motivated me to polish and polish that manuscript. They helped me be better prepared for years of hard work and rejection. When the long-awaited call finally came with an offer from Arthur A. Levine Books to publish my first novel, Words in the Dust, the joy and wonder was even better than I had always dreamed about.
What I was not prepared for, what I had not expected, what I had not read about in all my long studies was the sheer volume of work that came after the carefully crafted and well revised manuscript had been accepted for publication. I knew that I would have to do some revisions for my editor, Cheryl Klein, and for copy editors, but I simply had no clue about the magnitude of these revisions.
First came Cheryl’s massive editorial letter, followed by the manuscript with what seemed like a hundred thousand little colored comment balloons in track changes on Microsoft Word. And that was only the first round! Several more full on screen revisions followed. Eventually, I even worked on a thick paper manuscript packed with hundreds of post-it notes and marks in colored pencil. This was all done in addition to the extensive revisions needed in order to accurately portray the Afghan wedding in the novel.
It helped that Words in the Dust is a very important story to me, sort of the last mission from my one-year tour in the war in Afghanistan. I was also motivated because writing is my favorite thing to do. Nevertheless I was amazed at how little I was prepared for working on a novel under contract. I was surprised again and again throughout the entire process.
Now, with Words in the Dust on store shelves for a little over two months, I’m once again ambushed by my own ignorance. My naïve pre-publication self assumed that a writer simply went to work at his computer every day, writing his future novels while he occasionally checked up on his existing novel’s sales. I thought there would be plenty of time for writing after my novel was released.
Instead, I have found myself scrambling to once again adapt to a reality that is very different from what I expected. Now, in addition to writing what I hope will be my second novel, I am also very busy with a number of different publicity activities. I have been blessed with the opportunity give a few newspaper, video, and radio interviews. I’ve had the chance to speak at a school and to different groups of people who are interested in children’s literature. I write guest posts for blogs.
It all makes for a surprisingly busy schedule, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m astoundingly grateful to all of my readers, to those who have helped spread the news about Words in the Dust, and to those who have helped make the realization of my dream possible. I’m a writer, just like I’ve always wanted to be, even if I didn’t always know what it would really be like to be a writer.