Authors on the Verge: Meet Deva Fagan, middle grade novelist

FORTUNE'S FOLLY by Deva Fagan
FORTUNE'S FOLLY by Deva Fagan

This week, we have Deva Fagan. Deva likes searching for patterns, which is how she explains both her degree in mathematics and the echoes of old fairy tales in her stories. She lives in Maine with her husband and her dog.

Here’s a little bit about FORTUNE’S FOLLY coming out in just two weeks (Henry Holt).

Ever since her mother died and her father lost his shoemaking skills, Fortunata has survived by telling fake fortunes. But when she’s tricked into telling a grand fortune for a prince, she is faced with the impossible task of fulfilling her wild prophecy—or her father will be put to death.
Now Fortunata has to help Prince Leonato secure a magic sword, vanquish a wicked witch, discover a long-lost golden shoe, and rescue the princess who fits it. If only she hadn’t fallen in love with the prince herself!

Now let’s start the interview. When you received your offer, what happened?

Deva Fagan
Deva Fagan

I stopped checking my email compulsively and my intake of tea (administered in a hopeless attempt to achieve serenity) went way down! I called my husband, we went out to dinner, and my mom sent me flowers. One of the best parts was “virtually” meeting my wonderful editor via a series of emails.

So now that you have a contract, what’s it like to be on the other side–on the verge of publication? What does it feel like to be official?

I still don’t quite believe it! I am only partly joking when I say that until I actually met my editor and agent in person, I was convinced someone was faking their email addresses and pulling a practical joke on me. On the other hand, since getting my contract I’ve met so many wonderful people (especially my fellow debut authors) and learned so much it’s been quite exhilarating.

Tell us a little bit about your path to publication.

I actually sent in my first query ever when I was about 16, for an absolutely horrible scifi novel that is now in my trunk. I wrote off and on in the following years (including writing Fortune’s Folly for NaNoWriMo in 2003) but only really got serious in 2004. I spent a year or so shopping around some other projects to agents, but it wasn’t until I started querying for Fortune’s Folly that I got any sort of remotely positive rejections. After more revision, I sent out a new batch of queries on Jan 1 2007. Within 3 months I had gotten my agent and sold the book! It was nice to have everything happen so fast, after years of working and waiting.

And here’s our favorite question. How many rejections did you receive IN GENERAL (not just for this book) before you landed your first major publishing contract?

  • 0-10
  • 11-25
  • 26-50
  • 51-100
  • 100+

Tell us about one of your most heart-breaking rejections and about one of your best.

They are actually the same: my very first full-manuscript request from an agent. It was heart-breaking because I let myself start to hope that I was going to get an acceptance, and then it turned out to be a rejection. But it was also my best rejection so far, because it gave me positive feedback, and suggested changes that I later took and which almost certainly led to the eventual sale.

How long did it take to sell your books, from putting the first words on the page to receiving an offer?

  • 0-3 months
  • 3-6 months
  • 6 months to 1 year
  • 1 year – 2 years
  • 2 years – 3 years
  • 3 years+

Prior to selling your books, you were …
Working a full-time job in the writing industry.

Now that you’ve sold some books, you plan to …
Not change a thing

What are some of the new things you worry about now that you have a contract?

My biggest struggle right now is with balancing the work of being an author (maintaining a website, social networking, promotional work) with being a writer (producing more books). I also try every day to remind myself that there’s no set measure of “success” (such as X sales or Y award or a $Z advance) that will mean I’ve “won”. I need to find joy in the moment, in writing and reading and meeting other people who love books too.

Describe a typical day in your writing life.

My day starts with me waking up at an unholy hour of the morning to do my writing. Since I work at a computer for my day-job, I find I need to do my writing first, or else I am too burned out to look at the computer when I get home. Then it’s off to work, a run or a walk with the dog, errands, dinner, time with my husband (we are addicted to Netflix!) and finally reading time and bed.

Describe an Ah-ha moment you might have had that influenced your writing in a positive way.

It took me a long time to realize that my great weakness is starting projects before I had the characters “alive” in my mind, because I got carried away by the plot and setting. Just last year I wrote an entire draft I then had to toss out and re-do from scratch once I finally found the “real” characters! I think recognizing what your weaknesses and strengths are, and what process works for YOU is key to successful writing.

Any advice for aspiring authors?
I believe persistence and determination are the key to getting published. Also, don’t focus only on what you might be doing wrong; find your strengths and make the most of them. Books sell because of what they are doing right, not because they are avoiding doing anything wrong.

Any inspiring quotes you live by?
“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” – Madeleine L’Engle
“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” – Albert Einstein

What is one of the biggest myths in children’s book publishing that you wish aspiring writers would just forget about?

That you need connections. I knew no one in the industry prior to getting a contract. That’s not to say that networking is bad if you want to go to conventions and so forth. But I personally found it was much more important to “connect” to other writers seeking publication, both for feedback and especially for moral support.

Aside from WRITING FOR CHILDREN AND TEENS<—shameless plug, are there any other books on craft you recommend?

I found a lot of useful ideas in Story by Robert McKee and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass.

Finally, Snoop wants to know: How do you feel about rabbits?
I’ve loved rabbits ever since I read Watership Down as a girl. Bigwig is one of my all-time favorite fictional characters. I’m also a big fan of Annie’s Mac n’ Cheese, which has the coveted Rabbit Seal of Approval.

(Snoop gasps. That’s my favorite, too!)

This concludes our interview with our latest author, Deva Fagan. We wish her much success with her debut novel FORTUNE’S FOLLY. To see what Deva is up to these days, visit her website at http://www.devafagan.com or her blog at http://devarae.livejournal.com.

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