Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"I discreetly bolted out of the ballroom" Valerie Patterson on the sale of her first novel

Remember how my roommate for the SCBWI L.A. conference, Val Patterson, came to my book signing there and I said that I hoped to come to one of hers one day? Well, hot dang! She sold her first book two days later!

I asked Val if she would give us the story behind the sale, because there's nothing juicier than hearing about that magic moment from another writer.

1) Tell us the story, briefly, of how you came to write/sell The Other Side of Blue.

I began writing The Other Side of Blue--it had a different name then--in an independent writing class with National Book Award recipient Han Nolan at Hollins University, as part of the MFA in Children's Literature program. During that semester I also wrote a short story, "Death in Blue Woad," a medieval mystery with a teen protagonist, which later was published in a Sisters in Crime mystery anthology. I've long been fascinated by the color blue, perhaps because of growing up near the Gulf of Mexico. I also have long been intrigued by art and artists, though my own artistic ability consists of (finally) being able to draw a convincing three-dimensional apple. Han encouraged me to continue both pieces, possibly as novels.

I worked on The Other Side of Blue on and off for a couple of years, including in a great class with Alexandria LaFaye. I put Blue aside to finish my creative thesis, an historical novel. I also wrote another middle grade novel, which was supposed to be funny, and it partially succeeded. However, it's one of those novels in drawers most writers have!

Greenhouse Literary agent Sarah Davies' interest in the novel prompted me to buckle down and finish it. During that intense period, the book took on new dimensions for me. Sarah agreed to represent me, and I spent some time revising the novel. When Sarah thought it was ready, she sent it out for consideration. Sarah is remarkably adept at understanding just how writers feel. She's part cheerleader, task master, and confessor--and all literary godmother. I'm thrilled to be working with Clarion editor Jennifer Wingertzahn to make the novel the best I can.

2) What was your lowest moment on the journey? Did you ever lose faith that your novel would find its way into the world?

I've had what I consider the normal angst of any writer who hasn't yet published a novel. I first won an SCBWI Work In Progress grant ten years ago this month, so I've been on a long journey of development as a writer. The book for which I received the grant also sits in a drawer, but I believe nothing we write is wasted even if a particular book or story is never published. I've certainly had dark days in which I had to remind myself that, even without publication today or tomorrow or next year, the writing journey is worth it.

3) What was the best moment? Did it match the dream sequence in your head?

The best moment is indeed the stuff of fantasy. During the national SCBWI conference in LA earlier this month, I was listening to Connie Epstein give the annual market update when I felt my cell phone vibrate. I saw it was Sarah Davies and I discreetly bolted out of the ballroom.

She had called to tell me I had an offer for The Other Side of Blue. I'm sure people milling outside the ballroom thought I'd had sad news, as I was standing there crying but they were definitely happy tears. Receiving an offer of publication while attending the SCBWI National conference is definitely a dream come true.

4) Any advice to those still awaiting their first sale?

Yes, NEVER NEVER NEVER give up. Keep writing and learning.

Anything else you'd like to share?

Yes, just a thank you to everyone--and the list is very long--who has touched my life as a writer from family, friends, writing group members, students and faculty at Hollins Children's Lit program, SCBWI, and you, Sara. I hope my story inspires other writers to stay on the journey.


  1. thanks Sara!!! You're right. I do love to read these stories.

    Can't wait to read Val's book.

  2. Oh, yay!
    I was at the ophthalmologist when my agent called me -- I had a brief and surreal conversation about eye exams -- and then I had to go back and sit tamely in the waiting room when I wanted to jump around and boogie. What a great thing to experience!

  3. I love reading these success stories! And oh, wasn't it fun to imagine her "discreetly bolt[ing] from the room"?

    So...can I be your roommate next year?


  4. Congratulations! And you didn't say, if you re-entered the ballroom, but if you did so discreetly you have a lot more restraint than I do!

  5. Yay, Val!!!!

  6. Thanks Sara and Val! It is truly inspiring to hear about those awe inspiring moments. It gives me hope . . .

  7. Thanks for the story! I'm in that rut right now, but my mantra for today is "be determined," so things WILL work out...eventually. ;-)

  8. I love hearing those stories. Thanks for sharing...

  9. congrats, valerie! revel in it! and thanks for interviewing and sharing, sara!

  10. I love hearing these stories, too. Congratulations, Valerie! And thanks, Sara.

  11. yeah Val, I've been trying to email. I'd heard about your book sale and decided to google you and found this! I'm so excited for you!


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