I was a writer, sure — I’d been paid for my journalism work since I was 18. And at 22, I went to NYU to study screenwriting. I was all about structure, plot, pacing, 120 easy-breezy pages. Not a huge commitment. Not too much to tackle. I did the program over four years (the limit!) while I was working at People, where a 400-word story was a longer feature. That, I could hack. Hack being the operative word.
Amazingly, while I was at NYU, working on my thesis script, it did get some interest from Hollywood. It was a fun, high concept story about a young brown girl with a big deadline — one not unlike me, really. And Monsoon Wedding had just come out, and was a massive hit. So my sister (my writing partner then) and I worked with the development exec for more than a year, perfecting that script. And then a terrible film called Bride & Prejudice — also about a young brown girl, but one quite unlike me — came out, and flopped. And that, sadly, was the end of any interest in that script.
All the while, other writers I knew were working on novels, toiling away, rewriting, polishing — and eventually selling. I stalked this very blog, and celebrated with newly published pals. As I raised a glass to their succes, I heard it countless times: “With your media background, you could easily sell a book.” But still, I insisted. I just don’t have one in me.
That’s when my husband finally called bullshit. A writer himself, he pretty much forced me to apply to MFA programs. But I was pregnant. And then we had a newborn. He didn’t care. We’d make it work. And I’d get serious about writing. My daughter was eight-months-old when I started the program. And in it, I wrote. I discovered that I didn’t just have a single book in me — I had many. Most were a mess, and some will never see the light of day.
But I’ll be forever grateful for that two years at the New School, where I learned to take myself seriously not only as a writer, but as a — dare I say it? Novelist. And while I’m still working on that one story about a brown girl with a big deadline, while I was at school, I met Dhonielle — my partner in crime, and my co-writer on the book that will become my debut, Tiny Pretty Things. D and I bonded over Patsy’s pizza, Vampire Diaries, and most importantly, the fact that we never saw ourselves in books as kids or teens. And still don’t, really. I fret that my daughter and son would have the same experience growing up — lots of windows in books, but no mirrors. I wonder how much that has to do with me always claiming that I didn’t have a book in me?
In any case, when D told me stories about working at a cutthroat ballet academy, we knew it was a world we needed to explore. And we knew it was just the right way to bring some diversity to YA, but in a fun, high concept way. So that book became the cornerstone of a company we call CAKE — one that we hope will bring a lot of flavor to YA and kids books.
And one that proves to me, once and for all, that I definitely have a book in me. Maybe a whole library full!