Almost four years ago, in October 2010, I exchanged emails with another writer I found on the Absolute Write writers forums. For those who don’t know, the Absolute Write online forums are a huge and helpful, if slightly daunting resource, for aspiring writers. Whether you’re writing picture books or poetry, memoirs or thrillers, that website has online discussions where hundreds of writers and would-be writers can share advice. Anyway, I was writing for young adults, and another author, with a random screen name, reached out to talk about finding critique partners. I offered to read for her if she ever needed it, and a month later a short story arrived in my inbox.
That random screen name turned out to be one Kate Boorman, and since that date four years ago she and I have exchanged literally hundreds of thousands of words, back and forth and back and forth between Edmonton, Canada, where she lives, and New England, where I’m located. While we both started out writing paranormal Young Adult — think mermaids (for me) and reincarnation (for her) — our writing paths diverged and she began writing creepy alternate history while I tried my hand at a book for younger kids.
We met in person when Kate came east for an SCBWI conference two years into our online friendship. Her husband’s advice: “Take a photo of her license plate and email it to me before you get in her car!” But there was no need for fear: I was only weird in the ways Kate already knew about. I should mention that Kate is nearly six feet tall, blond, and quite amazing looking. I am five feet three inches, if my hair is puffy. This is us together, though not standing up, as it is hard to get us both in the frame:
Kate and I signed with our agents around the same time, and sold our first books around the same time. Each milestone was shared and celebrated. Every setback involved phone calls and virtual cocktails. Sometimes we refer to each other as Amos and Boris, after William Steig’s wonderful picture book about a whale named Boris and a mouse named Amos who become best friends, though they will always live far away from each other.
We dealt with hard family stuff as well as hard professional stuff together, and through it all we kept sending pages upon pages back and forth, through endless drafts and constant revisions.
“Do you have time to read this one scene?”
“HELP ME FIX THIS!!!”
“Okay, what about this?”
“OMG I HATE THIS STUPID BOOK”
These are subject lines of our emails back and forth. It should be noted that I was writing about four silly boys and cat barf and Kate was writing about a gruesome secret history and bravery and kissing. But it never really mattered. Somehow we could still offer useful advice, or at least a listening ear.
Today Kate’s book WINTERKILL comes into the world. It is awesome. It’s for young adults (though I personally think that the beautiful writing and awesome world-building work for adults as well), and it’s a creepy and gorgeous alternate history about western expansion gone terribly wrong. While I didn’t write a single word of this book, I did get to watch it be born, from a rough first draft to a beautifully designed and edited (HOLLA AMULET!) final product. So I get to be proud of this book, in a way. Not in an “I made it!” way, but in an “I know the author and I helped!” kind of way. Which is really stinking cool.
Kate is working on the next book in the WINTERKILL series, and I’m working on the sequel to THE MISADVENTURES OF THE FAMILY FLETCHER. She’s still got kissing and murder and spooky creepy things, and I still have cat barf and boys. And we are still sending emails back and forth, page after page, day after day:
“What do you think?”
“WAIT WHAT IF…”
“I can’t do this! ARGH!”
Writing is largely a solitary business, and I’m awfully lucky to have found a whole community online, so that there are a number of talented, sympathetic, super-smart friends all around the country who offer help and amusement as needed. But most of all, I’m lucky that an incredibly tall writer from Edmonton emailed me all those years ago. Happy book birthday to WINTERKILL, and its amazing author! Here’s to the next 1,000,000,000 emails!