Young bibliophile, c. 1974.
As you can tell from the picture on the right, I've always loved curling up with a good book. I've always liked to write too, but never imagined that I could actually do it for a living. It seemed presumptuous. I mean, seriously, getting paid to do something as fun as writing? Work was supposed to be hard and boring, right?
In 2001, I had this idea for a novel, so I wrote it. It was fun to write, but it was horrible. I was blissfully ignorant at the time, though, so I sent it out. (That is the kind of crap that gives "slush pile" its name. I'm sorry to all the first readers who had to wade through it.) After some rejection, I put it away. But I still thought about it now and then with a dreamy "what if" sigh that usually accompanies such things.
Then a conversation with a friend in 2004 reignited the spark. I joined The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and took some classes through The Institute for Children's Literature. I pulled out that crappy manuscript and revised it. I read a few books, joined a message board for published and pre-published young adult and children's writers, and found a critique group. (Hey, Feathered Pens!) It all helped, but my writing still wasn't where it needed to be, so I ramped up the education.
I went to several workshops--about two a year--through the Highlights Foundation. After several attempts and many revisions, Highlights for Children magazine bought some of my work. "Aleck's Amazing Talking Dog," an article about how Alexander Graham Bell taught his dog to say "mama" and "how are you, grandmamma?" when he was young, was published in their November 2006 issue. It won an SCBWI Letter of Merit. My short story, "Thankful After All," published in November 2007, won a pewter plate from the editors. While it was a dream come true, what publication really did was make me hungry for more.
After more encouragement--Writers for kids are some of the most generous people on the planet!--I applied to the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and got in! I graduated in 2011, equipped with all the tools I needed to be a professional writer, including some serious student loan debt. Worried that I'd be the fattest starving artist in history, I started querying. A few months later, I signed with the wonderful literary agent, Sara Crowe. A few months after that, Sara sold my first YA novel, 45 Pounds, to Sharyn November at Viking. Yes, 2011 was a pretty awesome year!
That original manuscript is still locked away. Maybe I'll revisit it someday; maybe I won't. I wrote several other book-length manuscripts before I wrote 45 Pounds. Some I'll revise eventually. Some I'm chalking up to "writing practice." New ideas are sprouting, too. Overall, writing is still fun, but some days it's work--just plain hard and boring. Those are the days when I feel like a professional.
In addition to my own writing, I also teach writing, spend every moment I can with my family, and procrastinate cleaning more than I should.
K.A. (Kelly) Barson earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She and her husband live in Jackson, Michigan, surrounded by kids, grandkids, unruly dogs, a cat, and too many pairs of shoes. She feels most like herself when her hair is purple.
Book launch party, July 2013.