CL had the privilege of sitting down with author, Cailean Geary. At just 18 she has already published her first book, Kelsey Shining Bright and is working toward her undergraduate degree at the University of Notre Dame. Here is what Cailean had to say to CL:
When did you conjure up the idea for this book and what sort of processes did you take while writing, editing, re-editing and publishing?
I first thought of the basic concept during the fall of my freshman year of high school. I was inspired by my uncle, who was a talented and resilient trailblazer for the deaf community. He died in a car accident when I was very young and I wanted to write something in his honor. My love for creative writing and the fascinating subject matter drew me into a period of research and writing that resulted in this manuscript.
I worked on the book for several years. I had files of pictures for inspiration, read numerous books about hearing loss, watched videos, and did a lot of brainstorming and organizing on paper. One exciting point was when I met with a Sign Language interpreter so she could review the manuscript and we could discuss the accuracy of the portrayal of a deaf character.
I read several blogs and websites of both authors and editors for tips about contacting publishers. It was a long time, and several rejections, before I received an offer of publication. It was so hard to wait for an answer and I almost couldn’t believe the positive response from Apprentice House! I was also invited to visit and meet the Intro to Book Publishing class at Loyola University Maryland. It was definitely strange being a guest speaker when I’d only been in college for a month and my audience consisted of upperclassmen. I talked about my writing process, heard some of their reactions and thoughts, and met with the editing team and book designer. The Apprentice House staff members who worked on my book were really bright, dedicated, and enthusiastic. I was so impressed by their commitment and willingness to hear my own thoughts and ideas as well. We talked about the changes we wanted to make and our vision for the final product. I brought along several images of book covers that I liked, as well as a picture of a girl who looked very similar to how Kelsey appeared in my head. We did agree, though, that the cover would feature ‘Kelsey’ but would not show a face – I wanted readers to be able to imagine Kelsey themselves, using some of her characteristics described in the book as guidance. I thought that would be more personal.
The editing team wanted to have the final draft completed by early November so the book could have a spring release. I would sometimes sit in the dining hall with my laptop and a binder of the marked-up manuscript pages and work on the edits. Other days, I would start late at night, after I finished my homework in my dorm’s lounge. I met the deadline of November 5th – my birthday! I literally emailed the edited manuscript to my editor, Kristen, changed my clothes, and ran out the door to meet my friends for my birthday dinner!
How has being a published author affected your college career and your future career goals?
Undergoing keen revisions in a short amount of time was difficult to balance with the demands of my first semester of college, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way – except maybe with a few more hours of sleep! One funny moment was when I went to office hours for one of my professors and noticed the book on his desk while we were talking. He had purchased a copy and wanted me to sign it for his daughters! I think this whole process has definitely made me more confident in myself and my capabilities. I was very proud recently when the school that I attended grades six through twelve selected Kelsey Shining Bright for the summer reading list, and I’m looking forward to visiting soon to talk to the girls. I also was invited to speak to and meet with a group of sixth- through eighth-grade girls in a New York City school in June. It was so great to answer their questions and encourage them to read and write. I hope that I and my characters can be positive influences for lots of young girls. Though I’m not exactly sure yet of what I want to do career-wise, I know that I love learning, weaving things together, and creating – I want to be dynamic and purposeful in whatever I do.
What insight and/or advice would you give to other aspiring young writers?
Write short stories whenever you get the chance! It’s a great way to start brainstorming, and it’s relaxing, too. The fun of writing is that you have so much freedom. If I wanted to star in a play, win an ice-skating competition, go to horseback-riding camp, be a bridesmaid, or attend boarding school, all I had to do was write a story. I could experience those things vicariously through my characters. Have fun with it, and think about the things in stories you love. When you’re ready, share it! It’s interesting to see how people respond to your work and find what struck them.
How do you think your book would appeal to those of all different ages, including college students?
The book is multifaceted, so I think everyone can find at least one aspect they can relate to or understand: from bullies to sports and friendship to pancakes. The story is interactive as well, with the Sign Language providing a visual for the reader. I wanted people, no matter what age, deaf and hearing alike, to learn something from it, whether it’s a life lesson or just something interesting. Part of the reason that the book took me years to write was because I wanted it to be very detailed. Kelsey can’t hear, so her world is painted slightly differently. Every detail – such as the name of her school and the street she lives on – was thought out.
Do you think you will publish another book, or will you look into work in another field? How do you feel about your experiences in college already?
I definitely want to publish another book – or twenty! I have several ideas right now that I have sketched out in my notebook, but I am not actively working on anything at this moment. When I’m home from school, I will think about what’s on the table. I definitely want to be an author as an adult, but I would like to have another career as well – there are just so many things that I want to do. Several people, when they first heard that I was publishing the book, asked me if I would ever drop out of, or put off, school to continue writing. I would never consider it! My college experiences have already opened my mind and challenged me to heights I could never see before. I took a break from writing past summer. Besides being busy with work and moving, I wanted to have time to learn more and reflect. I was in something of a transition stage, and I see it reflected in my writing. Soon, I will be ready to be serious again about a second novel. In the meantime, several friends and I formed a creative writing group online, so I have still been writing!
If you were to speak to a college English or writing class, what would you say are the most important steps one needs to take to become a published author?
The first step sounds easier than it is – write about something you love. If your heart isn’t in it, there won’t be any spirit. After you have finished, take a break before you begin revising. Once you have your masterpiece, give copies to people, whether it be a page, a scene, or the entire work. The writing process can be so frustrating and tedious; occasionally, I wouldn’t look at the manuscript for weeks at a time. But if you love it, you will stick with it because it’s worth it. I promise that you will reach a point when the story just writes itself. There were times when I read a few pages and was surprised that those were words I had typed. I was absorbed in the voice of my protagonist – she was real to me. That’s when I knew I was done.
I would also recommend following blogs of authors, agents, and editors. And finally, I don’t think you can write a book without actually doing some reading yourself – do some research with actual books, not just with the Internet. Learn to think a little differently and more keenly. It’s challenging, but it’s rewarding.