When does a book start? That’s something I’ve been asking myself lately.
I suppose I could say that this one started when I was eight. I lost someone (my father), and the world shifted, changed. Until then, I’d been a sunny kid. My favorite color was yellow. Now I was someone defined by loss. I was that-girl-whose-father died, too.
I was resilient, and though I was often alone, I beat back the darkness. With my flashlight under the covers, I found not only feeble light, but fortitude. Companionship. I knew the SF section of the local library as well as I knew the patterns of peeled paint over the radiator beside my bed. I’d walk through, touching my fingers to the spines. When I was thirteen or so, I read a book called Alien Earth by Megan Lindholm. It was the story of an alien spaceship, and her love for a man. That man’s name was John Rafferty–Rafe. I loved that book, that alien, that man. The name Rafferty lodged in my brain. Maybe that’s when it all started. Thirteen or so, Alien Earth, Rafferty.
Or did this book start when I was fifteen? My best friend Nicole and I taught ourselves 3d modeling on some freeware graphics program. I made spaceships. Over and over again, staying up until two or three in the morning. My ships always had glass domes for the ceilings. Inside were forests, trees. Nature’s best oxygen factory. Maybe the book, this book, my book, started then.
Or maybe it started later, much later. In graduate school, I took a class on James Joyce. Because I was an MFA student, I was allowed a few excesses–creative projects rather than scholarly papers. I rewrote Joyce’s “Evangeline,” setting it on a generation ship. There was a girl, and her mother was dead, and her brothers did not care about her. And the ship was about to land, and she had to make a choice. My professor gave me a B on that project, my only B in graduate school. “The science fiction is implausible,” he said. I asked him if he’d let me rewrite it. He said no. But it lodged in my brain and began to make its home there. Maybe that’s when it all started–when it all truly began in earnest.
Or maybe it was Israel, that fateful Birthright Trip when I started to think of my religion in a whole new light. I’m Jewish, but my name is not, but I do not believe, but neither do many Israelis. What does “cultural Judaism” even mean? Can a religion be a culture? And what is a girl’s place in all of this? A feminist’s? What happens in diaspora, when belief becomes diffuse?
That’s part of it, but that’s not all of it. I tried to write fantasy for awhile. Tried to get an agent on a book with a merman. Failed and failed better, over and over again. Then someone told me about Beth Revis. “What do you mean,” I asked, “That teens will soon be reading books about space?” Before that moment, I’d been told it was impossible, that teens don’t read science fiction, so maybe it’s all Beth Revis’s fault. I stood in the shower that day and remembered my “Evangeline” story. And all of those high school generation ships. The pieces started to come together.
That same week, I read a blog post about how stories where kids’ parents die are so done, so over. As a woman who had once been a girl whose father had died, I got angry. Those books had been my lifeline. The myth of the orphan kid is not always just a myth. I knew then that my genship girl would lose someone, too–would lose everyone. She would know what it was to be different, to be The Girl Who Is Alone. That was the day I began furiously typing. Maybe that’s the day the book started?
Or maybe it began with my agent Michelle, who saw snippets of my writing online and saw promise. Maybe the book really began not with drafting, but with the months where we edited and worked together and she challenged me in ways I had never been challenged before. It was hard, but it was wonderful, too. Maybe my book began with a phone call, when Michelle said to me, “I want to work with you. But how do you feel about revisions?”
Or maybe it began two weeks ago, when this happened:
University of Florida MFA graduate Phoebe North’s STARGLASS, in which a girl is drawn into a rebel group’s assassination plot aboard a generation spaceship but realizes that doing her duty isn’t so easy when she begins to fall for the boy she’s supposed to kill, to Navah Wolfe at Simon & Schuster Children’s, in a two-book deal, by Michelle Andelman of Regal Literary (NA).
Or maybe the beginning is yet to come. Because when I was a little girl, I lost someone. But then I read books. Books by Megan Lindholm and Anne McCaffrey and Mercedes Lackey and Frederick Pohl and Douglas Adams and LJ Smith and Cynthia Voigt and so many others that I can’t even count them. And they helped me so much–made my world bright again, gave it texture and life and vibrancy. Maybe someday a girl will read something I wrote and it will help her, too. Maybe pieces of my words will lodge into her brain. Maybe maybe maybe . . .
Because a book isn’t singular. It’s not an event with a clear beginning or a distinct end. It’s not a monologue. It’s a conversation. And I’m so, so honored to have been given the chance to join in.