Monday 30 April 2012

Guest Post: The Evolution of Taste by Kate Evangelista

Kate's debut young adult novel, Taste, was released today! She's also here to share the story of its evolution. Here she goes!

I was a high school teacher when the beginnings of Taste first came to me. At the school I taught at, there was this practice of ringing a bell in the afternoon to signal that all remaining students on campus must be at the guardhouse to wait for their parents to pick them up. I always wondered why they did this. What was it about the campus during the afternoons that students aren’t allowed to roam around after a certain time? The practical reason would be that the nuns who ran the school were at prayer and need absolute silence. But the writer in me would not leave it at that. The practice of ringing the bell sparked my imagination. I began thinking of more supernatural reasons as to why students didn’t need to be on campus past a certain hour. This is why the beginning of Taste shows Phoenix waking up in the library to the ringing of bells.

One would think that because of my burst of inspiration, I would have begun writing Taste, but that wasn’t the case. Being a teacher took over every aspect of my life. I only had time to sleep, and there was barely enough of that. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed teaching. Every time I saw understanding in the eyes of my students after a lesson, I was elated—I actually helped someone learn something. But, deep down, I knew teaching wasn’t for me. Every time I woke up in the morning, I would ask myself: Is this what I want to do ten years from now? And the answer was always no. It took me a couple of years to get around to writing Taste. I finally realized that being a writer, sharing the stories of the characters in my head, was my life’s work.

Now, when inspiration strikes, I don’t wait years before I act on it. I know this is a cliché, but time really is too short to waste on doing something you don’t find fulfillment in. Okay, I’ve digressed from the main point of this post. Bear with me because it might happen again at some point!

Anyway, when I finally sat down and started writing Taste, it was still titled Lunar Heat. I was going for a play on words that involved the Lunar Garden in the story. For those who’ve read Taste, you know where the Lunar Garden is. At the time, I didn’t know anything about writing. Sure, I could write, but formatting, proper grammar, and pacing was beyond me. I didn’t even understand how to properly use the first person narrative. But the lack of know-how didn’t stop me. I kept writing until I had a first draft ready.

When the first draft was complete, I made the mistake of asking my friends to help edit. What I love about friends is that they will never hesitate to compliment you on everything you do. For a writer, this is a good ego boost, but it doesn’t necessarily help you grow within your craft. Unless you have a friend who is willing to give you constructive criticism about your work, stay away from letting friends edit your work. That’s one lesson learned in this process.

The first draft was around the time I started doing my research about the writing process. I even had the guts to submit Lunar Heat to agents without the manuscript even being close to ready. This endeavor ended in a pile of rejection letters. Save yourself the agony and make sure to learn a thing or two first. I wish someone had told me that at the beginning. But, of course, like with many of us, we learn things on our own. So, I started following blogs that had anything to do with writing. And one of them actually featured an ad for a writer who was looking for a critique partner. I didn’t know what a critique partner was, but I took a leap of faith and answered the ad. This leap led me down the path of many emails exchanged between many critique partners. Some of them I still keep in contact with. One of them even became my sister in writing. Check the dedication of Taste and the acknowledgement section to understand what I mean.

Armed with new knowledge about writing, I set about editing Lunar Heat to the ground. When you think you’ve edited your manuscript enough, that’s a sign that you need to edit it some more. But one thing I learned through this process is that you don’t need a perfect manuscript. There is no such thing as a perfect manuscript. Those are mythical creatures. Why is this? Because your future editor will still ask you to change many things within the story. What you need to do is get your manuscript to a point where editors will see the potential in the story and want to help you make it better. How do you know when you’re there? When you start getting request for partial or full submissions.

After editing for about a year—yes, you got that right, a year—I began submitting Lunar Heat to agents. And after six months, I finally got “The Call”. I thought to myself, finally, I have an agent, next stop, publishing. So, I eagerly waited for my agent’s editorial notes for Lunar Heat. Yes, folks, more editing. When he was satisfied that Lunar Heat was ready for submission, we changed the title to Taste and he sent it out to editors. Long story short, and saving you from all the heartbreak that comes with this part of my life, after five rejections from editors, my agent lost confidence in submitting Taste. It was downhill from there. Another lesson learned, you never want an agent who losses confidence in your writing. Nothing good comes of it.

So, after a year of nothing happening with my agent, I decided to let him go and start querying Taste to other agents and smaller publishing houses. My goal was to get Taste published so I could share Phoenix’s story with the world. This meant more editing. And when requests started filling my inbox from agents and publishers about full submissions, I thought to myself, here we go again. Another chance.

Finally, two months after parting ways with my agent, I received an email from Crescent Moon Press. They wanted to publish Taste! I was finally going to be a published author. My dream was coming true. And you know what I realized after my excitement and elation wore off? More editing to come.

Basically, Taste evolved the way it is today because of all the editing that’s been done to it. The biggest lesson I learned through writing Taste was to love the editing process. I realized that getting the story onto the page is important, but it is through editing where you find the diamond in the rough. Editing is where you find the real story, where your creativity is challenged the most. Some hate editing, and rightfully so, because it’s not the easiest process. You need to learn compromise and always remind yourself that all the notes and suggestions are for the good of the story. At least, that was what I kept reminding myself. Once I opened myself up to the editing process, I realized that there was so much more to learn when it comes to being a writer.

I guess, at the beginning of this post, I set out to show all of you how Taste’s story evolved through the years, but in the end, I showed all of you how I evolved. It’s funny how things work out that way. With Taste’s release on April 30, 2012 (which is so surreal, by the way, that I’m at this point already) I know that my journey to being a writer is just beginning. That I have more stories I want to share with the world. That I have so much more to learn and so many more people to meet.

I would like to take this moment, to thank Sophie for letting me take over her blog today.
Sophie, your continued support means a lot to me. We may live a pond away, but one day we will meet and the first thing I want to do is give you a big hug. Thank you for always being there. And Ireland is becoming a reality now more than ever.

Kate, you're a fantastic writer and person, and I'm so happy for all your success! It's a pleasure to have gotten to know you. Ireland, here we come!
To learn out more about Kate, her novels, and to find out where to purchase a copy of Taste, please visit her blog.