Thursday, July 5, 2018

Meet Our 2018-2019 Mentors: Young Adult!

Meet our mentors from our Mentorship Program 2018-2019

Here’s what our Young Adult Mentors – Jillian Anderson Coats, Kelly Jones and Kevin Emerson have to say.

Tell us a little bit about what you are working on now and your current projects.

Jillian: My newest book, R is for Rebel, came out in February and deals with coercion and resistance in a fictional occupied country. Both books I’m working on now have sold but have not yet been formally announced, so it’s still hush-hush for the time being. One is middle-grade, one is YA, and both are historical or historically-flavored secondary worlds.

Kelly: Are You Ready to Hatch an Unusual Chicken? (the sequel to my middle grade novel Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer) is coming out November 2018 from Knopf Books for Young Readers (look for the launch at Third Place Books Lake Forest Park!) I’m getting ready to revise my fourth book, tentatively called Sauerkraut, about a kid who’s haunted by the ghost of his great-great-grandmother, who needs his help with a project. And, while I’m waiting for edits, I’m playing with even more ideas…

Kevin: I am wrapping up revisions on the third book of the CHRONICLE OF THE DARK STAR trilogy, a middle grade sci-fi series. The first book, LAST DAY ON MARS, continues to reach more and more readers. I’m so thrilled with the traction the series is getting, and I cannot wait to bring this final installment to readers, though it has been very tricky to wrap up the various character and plot arcs. Also, I’m getting ready to launch ANY SECOND, a contemporary YA thriller, which comes out in November. This story stars two teens recovering from an attempted suicide bombing at their Seattle mall, and uncovering a copycat plot at their school. It’s a deep dive into a lot of harrowing issues that surround us these days, like domestic terrorism, intolerance, and school violence, but it’s also a deep personal dive into living with anxiety and recovering from trauma. That makes it sound heavy, I know, but so far I’ve been pleased that early readers describe it as fast-paced and un-put-downable.

How does being a mentor influence and inform your work and why do you do it?

Jillian: Being a mentor reminds me how each person brings different strengths to the writing process, regardless of how many books they have out or how long they’re been writing, which means we can all learn from each other. Many talented people took the time to offer me advice, solidarity, and feedback when I was developing my craft, and I hope I can do the same for someone else.

Kelly: When I was a kid, I knew I loved writing, but I never met an author, and had no idea how I could become one. At every stage of my career, I’ve looked for people who might help me figure things out – not just how to write, but how to live a writing life that would be both productive and happy, where I could stretch and grow and imagine, not just worry about proper semicolon usage and live in fear of dangling participles. People who remind me why I do this, not just how to do it.

Every time someone helped me along the way, I promised to pay it forward. And whenever I’m able to help someone else, that’s what I ask in return.

Kevin: I enjoyed getting to step into the role of editor, and trying to learn from the editorial that I’ve received over the years. It has been a valuable and informative exercise to break down story from the outside. And it’s so fun to brainstorm and problem solve about plot, character, and craft, and to see a story improve.

What are some challenges you have encountered in your writing/illustration journey? How did you manage to survive through them and achieve success?

Jillian: One of my biggest challenges has been a constant feeling that I’m behind everyone else and struggling to make up lost ground. In the past, I spent way too much time comparing myself to other writers, and I’ve put a lot of effort into following my own path instead of being hard on myself for not having achieved more sooner.

Kelly: So many challenges!! So much hiding and licking my wounds, often for years at a time. The easy answer is that every time I sent my work out into the world, it was met by challenges. And, every time I met a challenge, it was other writers and readers that pulled me through to the other side. They knew why it mattered. They’d been there before. They thought it was worth doing anyway.

One example is my second book, the young adult historical fantasy Murder, Magic, and What We Wore. I started that book in 2005, worked on it until 2008, queried widely, received mostly form rejections. Except for one revision request, from an agent I really wanted to work with. She loved the world, but thought it would be a much better plot if I turned it into a romance.
I emailed a writer friend, practically in tears. I’d put so much work into this book, and I wanted this next step so badly!

My writer friend wrote back, and reminded me of all the times I’d told her that the entire reason I’d written this book was to write a girl spy story that was about work, not love – that wasn’t a romance. Her reminder of my own words, not her feelings on my goal, and her perspective gave me the courage to step away and say thank you, but no.
That book sat in a drawer until 2014, after my first book had been published, when I needed another idea. I pulled it out, saw how terrible the draft was (despite So Many Revisions before!), and ended up rewriting the idea from scratch. My editor loved the new version, and was perfectly fine with it not being a romance; it was published in 2017.

It wasn’t easier to rewrite an idea than to write a new one. But I’m so proud of myself for staying true to the heart of that story, even though it added a good five years to my journey to publication.

Kevin: Over ten years and eighteen books I think I’ve had nearly every problem you can have: bad covers, lack of publisher support, wayward drafts that required heavy rewrites and delayed pub dates, editor changes mid-production, rejections-rejections-rejections, the whole Goodreads thing, lame events, lame events where I spent a lot of money to get there, lame events where I was made to feel like a total unknown, remaindered books, fighting to not get a book cancelled… the biggest cost of all of these was to my sense of self confidence and self worth. I’ve learned that self-care is really important. Also, while I was good enough to get published way back when, one of the reasons my books are doing better now is that I am writing better books. I had to get better not just at the business side, but at craft. I hope I’m still getting better. But through everything, I have been able to keep the whole thing in perspective: no one owes you anything. Getting a book published is a significant achievement in its own right, regardless of how the book sells. Any readers who contact you, or good reviews you get, really are special fortunate things, and need to be weighed just as heavily as the disappointments, ideally more so. Also, one of the biggest reasons why I have been able to keep this perspective is my family of author colleagues and pals. It’s important to seek out community, your tribe of people who feed your soul and support you, and you do the same for them. It’s not easy, as writers are mostly reclusive by nature. But when you find those people who are right for you, you really need to nurture those relationships. It makes you all better, and happier.

What advice would you give to your beginner self who is just starting out to make a creative career?

Jillian: I would encourage baby writer me to become more involved in the writing community earlier on. When I was starting out, I had a serious case of imposter syndrome, and I didn’t feel like I would be welcome around “real” writers or taken seriously until I had a publishing contract and a book of my own. All I did was deprive myself of potential mentors, good advice, and solid friendships, as well as a community of people who faced similar struggles and celebrated similar joys.

Kelly: To find friends who are also serious about doing creative work. Most of my good friends in the creative world weren’t published when I met them – we figured it out together, and we continue to support each other. It isn’t just those further down the path who can show you the way. And, even introverts like me really need friends and colleagues who understand why a perfectly nice email can make you jump for joy, or sob with despair.

Also, to pick at least one person in your life whose job is only to be your cheerleader, without any constructive feedback whatsoever. My partner and my mom have strict instructions not to tell me what they really think. I only want to know that they believe I can do it, no matter how hard it is. That way, someone else believes it, even when I don’t.

Kevin: I would advise my debut-author self to hustle four times as hard at self-promotion, networking, and making connections with librarians, booksellers, and other authors. I caught on to that eventually, but in the beginning, I sort of thought that my publisher would take care of it. By the time I realized that they wouldn’t, it was too late. Also, like I said above, seek out other writers who you connect with. Also, most of the authors I know who have actually made writing their full time career are writing in more than one genre or for more than one age group. They work on their own ideas but also seek out chances for collaboration, work for hire, and so on. They pitch and submit on proposal and usually have more than one thing under contract at once. You can never predict how a book is going to sell, so it’s important not to bank on the back end. If that ends up working out, it’s a bonus.

For more details of the mentorship program check here.

Jillian Anderson Coats is the author of The Wicked and the Just, one of Kirkus’s Best Teen Books of 2012, a 2013 YALSA Best for Young Adults (BFYA) winner, and a School Library Journal Best Books of 2012 selection. It also won the 2013 Washington State Book Award for Young Adults. Her newest book is R is for Rebel, a middle-grade novel about coercion and resistance in a reform school in a fictional occupied country. She is also the author of The Many Reflections of Miss Jane Deming, a 2017 Junior Library Guild selection and one of Kirkus’s Best Historical Middle-Grade Books of 2017.

Kelly Jones worked as a librarian and a bookseller before becoming an author. Her first book, the middle grade contemporary fantasy Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer, was an Indies Introduce Pick, an ALA Notable Book, an SLJ Best Book, and a Kirkus Reviews Best Book. Her second book, the YA Regency fantasy Murder, Magic, and What We Wore, made the 2018 Amelia Bloomer List of the best feminist books for young readers and received a starred review from School Library Journal. You can find her at her website:, or on Twitter and Instagram: @curiosityjones.

Kevin Emerson is the author of numerous middle grade and YA novels, including the Chronicle of the Dark Star series, and the forthcoming ANY SECOND. His recent release, LAST DAY ON MARS received starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist, and was selected for ALA’s LITA List for science fiction and the TLA Lone Star List. Kevin is a former K-8 science teacher and teaching artist with Writers in the Schools and Richard Hugo House. He has won a spelling bee, lost a beauty pageant, and once appeared in a Swedish TV commercial. Learn more at

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