I interviewed my dear friend, Pitch Wars 2018 mentee, and upcoming 2020 debut author Lorelei Savaryn about her authorly journey, being a mom who writes, and the lessons she’s learned along the way. Check it out below!
We met through Pitch Wars for a different project. And ultimately, you got into PW and you got an agent for this new project. Could you talk a little bit about why you persevered?
LS: I think I persevered for a few reasons. The first is, I love writing. I can lose track of time pretty easily when I write and something about it fills me with an energy I don’t really get anywhere else. So it was natural for me to go looking for another story when my I realized I’d have to set my first manuscript aside.
The second reason is, I knew I could do better than my first manuscript if I tried again. I learned so much by writing that first story, receiving critique, and digging into resources on the craft of writing, that I really wanted a chance to apply that to a new work.
And third, I fell in love with a new story idea. The concept of REVERIE came at me fast and furious, and I wrote the entire first draft in 16 days the month before we moved, and for part of that time, we were also visiting family out of state. I snuck writing in stolen minutes, or set aside hours while my husband watched the kids and ended up with a 43,000 word story ready to submit to Pitch Wars 2018.
I always assumed I’d get there if I kept at it. I read a lot of posts on perseverance, and I figured if I kept working to improve, one day, sooner or later, I’d have written a book I could hold in my hands and find in a bookstore. And now, I have! My debut novel REVERIE will release from Penguin Random House’s Philomel imprint in fall 2020! (woohoo!)
Yes!! I’m so excited! Can you tell us what inspired you to write an MG, and REVERIE specifically?
LS: It’s sort of funny looking back, I thought my first manuscript was an adult fantasy. I ended up revising it down to a YA before finally setting it aside. But when I thought about what I wanted to write next, a few things stood out. The idea of writing something that might appeal to my children was very intriguing for me. I also have been heavily impacted by the books I read during my middle grade years, and I thought it would be amazing if I could write something of value to add to that canon. And when the idea for Reverie came into my head, it was so clearly middle grade that there wasn’t really a doubt as to what my next step would be. Once I started writing, it turned out that writing middle grade felt like a Cinderella’s shoe perfect fit, and this is where I plan to stay for a good long while.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention there was a bit of strategy involved as well. When thinking about what my next project would be, I started paying attention to agent MSWL’s and what they were saying editors were looking for. I saw a lot of interest in middle grade, especially with a creepy edge to it. I wasn’t going to write something specifically geared toward the market if I wasn’t excited about it, but I also wanted to sell my book, and I made sure to keep an open mind in the event I had an idea that might do well on submission based on the demand at the time.
And interestingly enough, my oldest daughter deserves the credit for a couple of the seeds that helped shape this novel. She told me a story about a girl who had dreamed about a frozen, frigid place, and then she woke up and the nightmare had followed her into her real life. There was also a rumor going around at her school about a river with trees that snatched kids and made them disappear. Both of those snippets found their way into my story, and the world of REVERIE was constructed around the idea of dreams and nightmares moving from the space inside our heads into actual, physical experiences that could be shared.
What’s your favorite thing about being a writer?
LS: The idea that I can cause people to see images in their mind with the words I choose, and that the stories I tell can evoke emotional reaction or connection on a deep human level is something I almost can’t even wrap my head around. But it’s also something I’m completely drawn to. I’ve been immersed in books that have changed me and made me feel things, and I finish those stories feeling so grateful for the authors who spent so many hours penning those words. The idea of developing my craft enough that I can evoke those things in the minds of people who read my words is such a humbling concept, but also something I would be honored to contribute to this world.
I also love the quiet immersion of building a world and people and a tale out of absolutely nothing. Where I can be sitting at a coffee shop with dozens of other people around me, but I’m also lost in building something that never has existed before. That’s some kind of magic right there.
Do you have any advice for carving out writing time as a working mom and an author?
LS: I think there are so many ways to make being a working mom and an author work. A lot may vary based on a given person’s situation, but I’m happy to share what has been beneficial for me!
There have been several different seasons to my mom/writer life. Sometimes I’ve written in the evening after the kids have gone to bed, or during my lunch break. Other times we’ve hired a babysitter for a few hours here and there so I could work. Sometimes my husband takes care of the kids for a stretch on the weekends so I can do the same. Sometimes writing is done in small snippets here and there- while dinner is cooking, when the kids are playing nicely together, if I get the little ones to simultaneously nap (and if don’t need a nap myself!) And honestly, sometimes putting on a movie for the kids to give myself some time to work has also done the trick.
It’s really been about being flexible for me at this stage of the game, and about making writing a priority and using the time I can find well. Someday, when all the kids are in school, I imagine having leisurely hours to work at my craft each and every day. But that time isn’t now, and I didn’t want to put my dream on hold until that day comes. So I’m making it happen.
Was there ever a time where you felt like your writing dream would never come true? How did you get out of this feeling?
LS: I think the most demoralizing moments for me were when I’d get strings of rejections during the querying process. As a writer, you pour so much of yourself into a manuscript, and when you keep hearing “No, this just isn’t right for me” from industry professionals, whether you get a form or a personalized rejection, just plain stings.
I think deep down, though, I believed I would absolutely have my dream come true if I didn’t quit and if I kept working to get better. But that didn’t mean my journey wasn’t free of tears or moments of complete deflation. I think those moments are to be expected when pursuing something as difficult as working to get published. But it’s what you do after those moments that counts. Sometimes that might mean taking a break for your mental health, other times it might mean sending out more queries or digging into craft or working on a new story. But finding your own path to taking the next step forward can’t help but bring you closer to your goal.
Do you have any advice for authors in the query trenches?
LS: There are so many resources out there for querying writers, which is amazing! I’ve found Twitter to be helpful, as well as reading the queries and feedback on Query Shark, as well as blog posts from agented authors who share their own successful queries.
If I could offer one specific suggestion it would be this: Look for patterns in feedback. If you’re sending out 20 queries and getting only form responses, something in the query isn’t working. If you’re getting personalized rejections and you see a pattern, use that to tweak your opening pages. If you’re getting requests but no offers of rep, again, pay attention to any patterns in any feedback an agent offers. Feedback can be so subjective, so I wouldn’t suggest doing a deep revision of a single person’s opinion, unless it resonated with you in a significant way. But patterns of feedback can show a bigger issue that might stand in the way of your book getting published.
Actionable feedback is like gold when you’re a querying writer. My other related piece of advice would be to be thankful and polite to the industry professionals who offer it to you. They aren’t obligated to spend their time sending feedback to the writers who query them, and it’s a small industry. A polite word of thanks to anyone who goes out of their way to help you is, I think, appreciated and leaves people with a good impression.
What’s something you know as an agented author that you wish you had known before?
LS: Patience is still the name of the game! I feel like querying writers are told this all the time, but getting good at waiting will benefit you long after you sign with an agent.
After signing, there’s notes for revisions, the time it takes for your agent to put a sub list together. And then there’s the actual waiting of going on submission. In my case, I got a book deal less than a week after going on sub, but in many cases many amazing books take months and months to find their editor match. After that, there’s more waiting still! Waiting for notes from your editor, waiting for contracts to arrive and be negotiated, waiting for marketing and publicity info, waiting to announce, etc. Being patient during the stretches of silence is a great skill to cultivate as soon as you can. And having some writer friends to chat with when the waiting gets hard doesn’t hurt either :).
You were chosen as a Pitch Wars mentee last year. What’s something you learned as a mentee that you could share with us here?
LS: I learned so many things it’s hard to narrow it down! But one thing that definitely stands out is that I learned how to dig in and do deep, intense revisions on a deadline. There was definitely strategy and trial and error involved in finding the balance that allowed me to complete multiple rounds of revision in 4 months time. Now, having a 2 book deal, deadlines have become part of my professional life and I feel like my experience revising in Pitch Wars prepared me well to manage the demands of regular life and my writing life.
I also learned how to write based on theme and character arc, instead of based only on plot. One of my mentors, Juliana L. Brandt, has a super helpful plotting doc that I use in all my writing now that really walks you through the process of outlining a story in this way.
Do you have any books you’d like to recommend?
LS: I feel like this year has been filled with so many good books! Right now I’m just devouring HOUSE OF SALT AND SORROWS by Erin A. Craig. It’s creepy and gothic and reads like a gorgeous dark fairy tale. I also just read THE MAGIC OF MELWICK ORCHARD, which is a middle grade novel with a touch of magic and a ton of heart.
LS: And, of course, I am thrilled to offer my debut novel as a suggestion! REVERIE is a dark middle grade novel with family love at its heart, featuring a circus built of children’s dreams and nightmares, a sinister ringmaster, a missing brother, and a sister who faces down her own demons to find him. You can follow me on Twitter for updates as things progress!
Thank you, Lorelei! And yes, you DON’T want to miss her stunning, heartbreaking-and-heartmending debut, REVERIE! You can add it on Goodreads here!
Lorelei Savaryn holds a B.A. in creative writing from University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and works with teachers and elementary students each day as an instructional coach. She lives in Illinois with her husband and four children. Reverie is her first novel, which she revised as a 2018 Pitch Wars mentee.