The Class of 2016

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Compiled by Jade Craddock

Last month saw the arrival of The Debutante Ball’s class of 2016 and yet again what an exciting line-up of new authors to look out for over the coming months as their debuts hit the shelves. We caught up with the Debs and asked them about being part of the process and what lies ahead. We wish them all the best as they start out in their journeys and we look forward to following them each step of the way. So welcome to Abby Fabiaschi, Aya de Leon, Heather Young, Jennifer S. Brown and Louise Miller. ♥

Abby Fabiaschi (I Liked My Life – St. Martin’s Press, Summer 2016)

When my kids turned three and four in what felt like one season, I resigned from a high-tech career to pursue writing. Most of the alpha males I worked with found it insane to ditch a lucrative post for something with a .2% success rate, but it wasn’t about getting published for me. I needed a lifestyle change.

We went from a full-time nanny to wholly unqualified me, carting the kids around and writing while they were at school. I re-appropriated where I derived my self-worth — from earnings to building a foundation for my family. I was thirty-three years old, but newly discovering the difference between being busy and being happy.

The only thing I missed was the camaraderie born on shared-purpose teams. Writing is isolating; I found it difficult to articulate my progress to people who couldn’t relate.

When my agent called to say the auction for I Liked My Life ended with a two-book, hardcover deal with St. Martin’s Press I was shocked speechless, and that’s not easy to do. More than ever I found myself in need of a community. I’d long been a fan of The Debutante Ball, which serves humor and hope to aspiring writers, so I applied.

Now my cup runneth over…

Just last night, I was frantic about a revision — I foolishly thought after the book sold the writing part was over — and Heather Young talked me off the proverbial ledge. We have a chat area labeled “I am crying” for exactly those moments. We’ve also discovered many of us our bourbon drinkers, which bodes well for the blog (but, as Jennifer S. Brown pointed out, maybe not so well for our liver).

Aya de Leon (Uptown Thief – Kensington, July 2016)

Aya de Leon author photo 2015 crop (2)

I have wanted to be a novelist since I was a teenager. However, my short attention span and extroverted personality meant I didn’t have the stamina to finish and revise a novel til now. So my creativity detoured me into spoken word, slam poetry, and hip hop theater. During that time, I was blessed with a strong community of poets/performers. But the transition to novelist was rough. Literary agents don’t generally represent poets and playwrights. So while I knew a ton of writers, I didn’t know many who were dealing with the literary establishment. The lonely, angst-fest of querying agents and publishers was such a shock to my extroverted system. I am so grateful to be a member of the Debutante Ball.

There are some significant parallels between writing and being a mom. I can be surrounded by women with kids a few years older than mine, and it feels like we’re on different planets. There was something about being with moms who could identify and commiserate with the same stage of motherhood that was the most reassuring. You’re not sleeping either? She’s throwing tantrums in the supermarket. Okay, it’s not just me. Whew!

The same is true for debut novelists. When I was in the agent querying trenches, I had one friend who was on her 2nd novel, and many friends who were years away from querying. I felt so alone in that in-between place. I felt like I was standing just outside the literary establishment, banging my head against the door. I found so much comfort on the anxious hashtag #amquerying. I missed it sorely when #onsubmission, because that process is so hush-hush.

My book Uptown Thief was such a mix, it could have landed any number of places: the novel is literary/ commercial/ urban/ action/ political/ upbeat/ erotic/ romantic. I thought it might be a little too gritty for the Debs, but I’m thrilled that my admission reflects a true commitment to showcasing diverse women novelists all dancing toward publication. I’m not totally sure what the year has in store, but I’m so grateful to know the four women I’ll be dancing with.

Heather Young (Once We Were Light – William Morrow/Harper Collins, Summer 2016)

Heather Young

What I’m looking forward to during my year on The Debutante Ball comes down to one word: community.

When I started writing, I did it in secret. I made up excuses to get out of lunch dates so I could stay home and write. I told people I’d been sick, or cleaning my closets, and that’s why I hadn’t returned their calls. I was afraid that announcing it to my friends would make my inevitable failure to succeed at it a public humiliation.

That was a mistake. Yes, once I started telling people I was writing a novel I had to endure five years of inquiries about “how is that book coming?” But by “coming out” as a writer I found … other writers. They were everywhere — at workshops and conventions and online. They did laundry and went to day jobs and wrote at night or when the kids were at school, just like me. Best of all, they were warm, positive, and supportive of one another, and after I met them, those lonely days when I’d treated writing like a secret drug habit seemed rather silly.

The Debutante Ball is, for me, an opportunity to broaden my writing community to include a new cohort of amazing writers, all making the unique journey to debut published novel. None of us knows what’s coming next – we hear rumors of copy edits, head shots, blurbs, marketing, marketing, and more marketing – but sharing the experience together might keep us sane. Hopefully, as we go along, we’ll meet other people, writers and non-writers, who will follow the blog and also become part of our conversation.

A book deal is the ultimate goal of most novelists, and I’m thrilled to be lucky enough to have one. But what happens after that book deal is often shrouded in mystery. For ten years the Debutante Ball has been one of the few places where that process is demystified. If my experiences, good and bad, can help continue that tradition, that’s a contribution to the writing community of which I will feel very proud.

Jennifer S. Brown (Modern Girls – NAL/Penguin, April 2016)

Jenny Brown, June 9, 2015.

When I finished my MFA, it was the late 1990s, and the internet was this thing I hooked up to with my screeching modem. Logging onto the web was not only an onslaught of flashing banners and pixelated graphics, it was a novelty. It had nothing to do with writing.

Flash forward a couple decades. I’ve written a novel, Modern Girls. Now the internet is something that magically appears when I open my laptop. I have an old-fashioned in-person writing group that helped me revise Modern Girls, but the internet enabled me to find a broader community from whom I learned the business of writing. One of my first post-collegiate jobs was in publishing, but we didn’t have a single computer in our department; the publishing office I knew is a fossilized version of what exists today.

Through the online community I learned how to write a query letter; where to find agents; how not to go into fits of despair while my manuscript was on submission. And then, the dream moment: my novel sold. As the reality set in, I was both thrilled and terrified. So, once again, I turned to the internet, where I found the Debutante Ball. Following the previous Debs’ adventures was both validating and informative. When the opportunity arose to become a Deb myself, I jumped at the chance.

Already I’ve found four fast friends in my fellow Debs (try saying that five times fast). As I venture into this crazy world of publishing, I look forward to having partners who will understand my joys and frustrations. And I hope, very much, that when I write as a Deb, it will be both validating and informative for those who come after me. As a writer, I’ve counted on the kindness of more experienced writers. I look forward to doing the same for future debut authors.

Louise Miller (The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living – Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, Summer 2016)

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Picture by Elizabeth Albritton

I wanted to be a Debutante even before the final draft of my novel The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living was finished. I was mid-revision, distracting myself on Twitter one night, when I first stumbled upon one of the Debutantes and followed the link on her profile over to The Debutante Ball blog. Here were my people! A funny, warm, generous group of women writers sharing everything they knew (and didn’t know!) about being a debut author. I followed the Debs faithfully, dreaming that someday I might sell my book, and maybe get to join them.

Fast-forward one year. I have had an extraordinary year, full of good fortune. I signed with my wonderful agent Alexandra Machinist at ICM, and then went on to sell my debut and a second book to my dream editor Pamela Dorman, whose eponymous imprint publishes so many of my favorite authors, including my literary hero Jojo Moyes.

After the adrenaline wore off (about a month later) I was surprised to find myself feeling a little lost. There is a lot of information out there about the querying process, and you can find tons of wonderful stories about debut novelists once their books have hit the shelves, but there isn’t much written about the time in between. The path from signing the agent-author agreement to having a physical book in your hands can be rocky at times. And the people you usually turn to–your writing friends–may not want to hear about your worries, especially if they have been experiencing rejection.

Then I became a Debutante. It’s been so wonderful to connect with other writers who are in the same part of the publishing process. Together we have already faced edits and cheered each other on as our deadlines approached. Some of us have tackled things like author questionnaires and blurb lists while others already have covers and pub dates. Collectively we share our experiences and resources. I feel so lucky to be a part of this group, and I hope that through our blogging we will make the path of the debut year a little brighter for our readers and the Debs of the future.


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