Old Main, Room 210
Grim will be English Major Anna Waggener’s first novel. It will be released June 1st, 2012 by Scholastic Press. Anna sat down with Graham Sutherland and answered a few questions about her novel for the Waverley.
Graham Sutherland: Let’s start with the basics. Was there a time when you really started writing creatively? Is this something you’ve always done, or is this something that started in a moment?
Anna Waggener: I’ve been writing really terrible short stories since I was super young. I think the first evidence of that was this little booklet that I gave to my parents when I was five, with Snoopy drawn in it and some kind of a storyline. I had always wanted to be a writer. I think that got instilled in my pretty young because of how much I read.
I started writing longer and longer works as I got older. When I got into the second half of my middle school years, and on into high school, I started doing more novel work. I realized that novels were really what I was most interested in doing because of the extended storyline and the ability to stay with characters. So, that’s when I started doing longer work, and figuring out what that meant for the way I wrote and what I could do with it.
GS: So you started with long-form work pretty early then?
AW: I did, yeah. I had a lot of time on my hands (laughs) and I had a lot of encouragement. My grandmother had always wanted to be a writer, and was convinced that I was going to be a writer. I think with that determinism from her it made it really easy, since I was young and impressionable and she was always complimenting my work. It was always something that was fun for me to do and I didn’t mind doing it, I had a good time doing it.
GS: And you won the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards contest a couple years ago…
AW: Yes, I won that my senior year of high school. It’s only open to middle and high school students. I had won for a short story the year before as well, I think. My school was an art and IB school, so the Scholastic Art awards are really big there, because all of our art students would turn in work.
Writing was less so, but it was something that I was really interested in, so I would always turn in photographs and writing. My senior year I decided to turn in a novel that I had been working on.
GS: Is that the same novel as Grim?
AW: It is.
GS: So when did you start writing that?
AW: I wrote it for National Novel Writing Month the year I turned it in. So I wrote it in November , put it away for a while and then took it back out, edited it, and sent it in before the deadline in March . I heard back sometime in late April  that I won. The process from there was pretty slow. I mean, it’s been four years, so I think that says something.
I went out to do a quick, month long writing internship with Scholastic the summer after my freshman year at Mac, and then didn’t hear back about anything for a while. I turned in a new draft and heard snippets now and then that it was going to go to the acquisitions meeting, but would never hear back anything.
And then in November of my junior year at Mac I got an offer, [but] until then it was just up in the air. They don’t ensure that you’ll be published through the competition, but if I hadn’t had submitted, there’s no way that I would be where I am right now. I’m really lucky that I decided to enter and I’m really lucky that they decided to pick me. I know that there are tons of and tons of amazing submissions that go into that.
GS: What’s it like having something that big that you’ve done and having it go through huge editing processes? Did you ever get it back, or see a further edit, and say, “that’s not what I wrote”?
AW: I struggled with it a lot because it was something that I had written in high school. I went to [Professor] Marlon [James] at one point and asked him if I should just rewrite the whole thing. He hadn’t even seen it, but he said if that’s what you want to do, then do it. I didn’t really end up doing that, but having heard that and knowing that I could if I wanted to really helped the way that I went forward with it.
I was editing for the good of the book, and following what my editors suggested, but in a way that I hoped stayed true to what I wanted and not necessarily what they thought would be a good idea. In the end, it ended up being what both of us wanted, so that was good (laughs).
GS: Grim is a fantasy novel. Was it directly informed by what you were reading?
AW: I think it was. It’s a Young Adult novel, and I didn’t really read a lot of YA when I was in high school, except for Harry Potter. So I think it comes out of my literary fiction background mostly.
I read The Hobbit, and my dad read Alice in Wonderland and books like that to me when I was really young. It comes out of a morphing of those two things. My interest in mythology and religion, and the problems that religion can pose, also influenced me. It’s kind of a big conglomeration of a lot of things.
GS: Can you give us a quick summary of Grim?
AW: It’s about a single mom who gets in a car accident and wakes up in limbo. She is with someone who she realizes is a prince of the dead. All she really wants is to get to her kids, to see her kids again to make sure they’re okay. She knows she has this leverage over the prince, because he is willing to do what she wants, so she convinces him to bring them down.
So then, there are these three little kids, 17, 18 and 8, and they wake up in the middle of these woods one day without knowing where they are. They have to figure out who to trust, who is trying to hurt them and how to get wherever they’re going, because they don’t know. They also have sibling conflicts.
GS: Do you have any plans for writing another novel?
AW: I definitely am. I am, hopefully, using my Honors Project as the next step. It’s also a novel, also Young Adult fantasy. I’m hoping to have a workable draft to turn into my agent by the end of the semester. Then I have some other work that needs major revisions which I will have time to do this summer.
GS: So the book comes out June 1st, do you have a lot of stuff building up to that?
AW: I haven’t gotten a chance to talk to my publicist yet, and not knowing what their plans are has been a bit scary for me. I’ve just been trying to do what I can. Just in the past two weeks or so, I’ve been trying to build up more of a web presence than I’ve had before, which is hard and exciting and scary. That’s what’s on my plate right now, [that] and trying to get in touch with my publicist and seeing what Scholastic has in mind.
GS: Since this is your last semester at Mac, is this your after college plan then? Because if so, it sounds like you’re actually more prepared than a lot of people.
AW: It is and it isn’t. I got an advance for this book but it’s not enough to live off of. I would love to write. I would love to be a writer as my primary job, but practically speaking, that’s almost impossible. I’m hoping for the best, but also planning in the interim.
I’m really interested in publishing in general and I’ve done a couple internships in that field. In some ways that’s my safety route. It’s also a way of keeping me sane by having a world outside of my own books. I can re-relate to this larger world of publishing and what it means to be in love with books.