Taking Writing Risks, New Adult Novel Sold to FSG, and More!

2015-08-28 13.57.12

So in Publisher’s Weekly today there’s this small announcement.

Best-selling Magonia author, Maria Dahvana Headley’s THE MERE WIFE, a ferocious, sexy, and politically topical literary adaptation of Beowulf set in present-day New York, to Sean McDonald at FSG at auction by Stephanie Cabot at The Gernert Company (NA).

And then there is me shrieking with joy all over the universe. Because this is the book I wrote on the mountaintop in September. The one everyone who follows me on social media kept seeing wordcount updates about. The one that made me look like I had gone a little nuts? This is that book.

So, this is a story about the long game, and about the short game at once.

I thought of a part of this idea when I was at the MacDowell Colony in the woods 8 years ago. The first little chunk of it I wrote two years ago at my sister Molly Cathline’s house, when she had a newborn baby, Jasper, and he and I together wrote through the night. The rest, I wrote in Italy on Mt. Subasio in September. As in, like 80,000 words. Pell mell. Inspired by hunting hounds and fellow artists, late night conversations, a gorgeous black cat named Neroni, a waterfall with a pool for swimming…(See photo.)
This book is two gorgeous artists colonies and a newborn. Both extremes of writing life.
I didn’t know what would happen. I didn’t know if it would work. It is the weirdest, most rapturous, most fire-filled thing I’ve ever written. It’s about monsters and love and war and revolution and parenthood and fury and marriage and poverty and hunger and loss and being caught in the suburbs. I think this is the thing I’ve been working up to writing for 20 years. All this time Beowulf has been in my skull, rattling, wanting to be translated not as a literal translation but as a shapeshift.
I felt wild-eyed and joyful just for having managed to get that book out onto the page in the 3 weeks I had to do it. And then..my amazing agent Stephanie went forth and sold it. There were lots of magnificent people & editors involved with that sale and auction and I’m not tagging them here, though they know they have every drop of my gratitude. The acknowledgment section on this book is going to be long, and I owe a lot of magnificent folks in the field long pours of champagne, and me praising them to the stars. I couldn’t be more grateful and more fortunate to have so many extraordinary people who believe in me and in my work.
The book ended up landing at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, which, in a rather beautiful turn of events, is the publisher my 8-year-old self first imprinted on . My mom bought me Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle In Time trilogy (best birthday ever) and and I was OBSESSED with their weird grabbing of myth and lore from everywhere, combining of SF with Fantasy with Real Life – suffice it to say that they’re a huge part of what made me this kind of writer. I thoroughly remember the feeling of 1) There are living authors who are girls, WHAT?! and 2) Look at who published her! Look at those romantic sounding names! They sound like an imaginary kingdom! I want to meet that kingdom!
Precisely 30 years later? I’m part of that kingdom.
It’s not every day things turn out like this.
I want to say thank you to everyone who cheered me on, too – which is lots of you! You gave me this satisfaction. Which is epic. I can’t wait for this book to come out! Probably Spring 2017 – and in the meantime you can read the Magonia paperback which comes out from HarperCollins in June, and the Magonia Sequel which comes out Fall 2016, and no doubt countless other things. I’ve had a pretty glorious few years productivity wise, and I’m not slowing down.
Just to be clear: I’m going to keep writing YA books, AND adult books too. And short stories! And editing things! For me, it turns out that the best version is full speed in several directions at once. I used to think super intense focus was the only way to be a writer. I think now that focus on several dear to my soul projects is MY only way to be a writer. This has been an amazing few months. Magonia was listed on the Publisher’s Weekly Best Books of 2015 last week. Unnatural Creatures hit #1 on the NYT Bestseller list in September. I have 3 short stories up in different magazines right now, and all of it, every single one of these projects? Is exactly what I want to be doing. They are all strange birds. I am a strange bird myself.
If you’re reading this and you’re wondering how to move forward as an artist, the best advice I can offer is that you go as hard as you can in the direction of your first experience of creative joy. All of these projects are direct reflections of my first moments as a writer, translated through years of experience and work. Be as weird as you are. Push your own strange glee. Do the work you love. Do work for the people you love.
This is what living the dream as a writer looks like. It’s a complicated dream. I’ve been broke as I’ve ever been at points over the past 3 years, and dear friends have helped me out financially, emotionally, everything-ily. People paid my health insurance. People fed me dinner. People listened to me freak out over the wires, and if you think iIm immune to self-doubt, I’m not. It’s been a very intense period of my life, and it was a lot of reinventing. People picked me up off the floor and told me they loved me and that they knew working this hard was going to work. Magnificent editors of mine in other parts of my career, at HarperCollins, at many magazines that’ve published my short stories? They also told me I could do this, and were classy as anything about the fact that I was writing all over the place, in all kinds of styles. People on Twitter told me i could do this. People on Facebook told me I could do this. You gave me strength when I was scared and uncertain. Some of you are strangers and some of you have known me professionally, and some of you have known me since we were in 2nd grade together and had my face in a book and my mouth running off anyway, and man, i’m grateful to all of you.
I was at the brokest and most panicked when I I applied to this Italy colony, (Arte Studio Ginestrelle, in case you’re wondering, and you can apply too!) but I dug my heels in and decided to write something that was a leap.

The leap was worth it.


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