Well hello. Fancy meeting you here. What’s goin’ on? How you been? Say hi to your mother for me.

The most frequent question I get when people find out that I’m about to be published is “How long have you wanted to be a writer?” I usually say something vague like, “Oh, I don’t know, always,” not because I’m trying to be evasive but because I honestly don’t recall. I have a terrible memory, and things that have been routine for only a few weeks can seem to me to have always been going on. Obama’s near the end of his second term, right? I mean, it feels like he’s been President forever.

So, I don’t know how long I’ve wanted to be a writer. Feels like always. But I can pretty much pin down how long it’s been since I started practicing writing, which is not the same as actually writing but is one of many steps along the way to being halfway decent at it. I’ve probably been practicing since I was about twelve or thirteen, although I always think it’s eleven because, as I’ve said previously on my personal blog, that’s how old Mallory is in The Baby-Sitters Club series and she’s always tinkering with her novel. Ah, impressionable youth.

Speaking of being impressionable, I probably spent the first four years I was writing just ripping off the style and sometimes content of whatever I was reading at the time. I remember doing a lot of work on a Gone With the Wind-style Southern melodrama for a while, that’s for sure. And it gets more embarrassing. Three words (and an ampersand): Lois & Clark fanfic. Yeah. By the time I got to my senior year in high school, though, I was working on original, albeit terrible, stuff. I finished my first novel that year, though. I won’t besmirch this pristine blog by discussing it further here, but here’s a list of my trunk novels if you ever want a tiny dose of literary schadenfreude.

I wrote another novel after that, but, again, let’s not talk about it. The third full-length novel I wrote was All Unquiet Things. I worked on it on and off for three years, from my sophomore year in college to my senior year. That incarnation of the novel was much different than what I sent to my editor a month ago–not a single word of it remains, and thank God for that, because it was also awful. I’ve been saying that a lot, which might make it seem like I’m being humble, but God knows that’s not it–it just happens to be true. The first version (it would be wrong to call it a draft) of All Unquiet Things was a learning novel, just like the other ones. What made AUT different? What made me go back to it a year later and start afresh? Joanna’s already said it: Neily.

If you count that first version (which I do), I’ve been writing AUT for almost seven years now, and the only constant has been Neily. He was there from the very first moment, and though he has become a deeper character, more layered and complex, along the way, his core self hasn’t changed since he walked into my head, slumped down in a chair and said, “Here I am. So what happens now?” Okay, he didn’t really say that. I don’t hear voices. But that’s what he would say if I did.

The relationship a writer has with a main character, especially one whom she’s been writing for years and years, is a strange and slippery thing. You know they’re a creation of yours but they don’t feel like they are. They might be realer to you than many of the people you actually know in real life, probably because you understand them inside and out, feel their feelings and can predict (or control) their behavior, which of course you can’t do with flesh and blood humans other than yourself. The lines between you and your character can sometimes become blurry, which is not to say that they’re based on you, but that, to really write them, you have to get inside their head, or more accurately you have to let them get inside yours. You also know them in a way that no one else will ever know them, because everyone else has to read about them, but you can see and feel everything they’ve gone through, are going through and will go through that’s not on the page.

Long story short, I couldn’t let Neily go. I couldn’t leave him with the story I’d written, because although I was sure the novel wasn’t good, I knew that he was good and worth salvaging. Some things came along for the ride–Carly, Carly’s father, the town of Empire Valley (although it didn’t have a name back then, and it had slightly different geography), Brighton Day School (although it also didn’t have a name)–but a lot of things didn’t. That’s a good thing. When I began writing All Unquiet Things the first time, the plot involved another girl, but by the time I was knee deep she didn’t seem necessary. Upon further reflection, she was absolutely vital, so Audrey was born, and not only that but she got her own voice. The book became a real, honest-to-God mystery instead of what was basically a soap opera with mysterious elements. New characters revealed themselves, and the more I wrote the more aware I became of the emotional resonance it was acquiring.

I actually wrote the manuscript as my graduate thesis at the University of Chicago; it was finished in June 2007 and I became a Browne & Miller client in March 2008. Joanna and Danielle worked with me to iron out the kinks and get the book in tip-top shape for submission, and we accepted a two-book deal with Delacorte in September 2008. Working with Joanna is the most lovely and satisfying professional relationship I’ve ever had; she’s brilliant and thoughtful and so supportive of my work. She’s also a great friend, and I couldn’t imagine walking this road with anyone else.

So that’s us, The A Team. This is going to be an awesome year, and beyond, I can tell, and this blog will be here to capture all the magic.

I love it when a plan comes together.