She claims to have “been writing really terrible short stories” since she was very young, but when Anna Waggener’s novel Grim is published by Scholastic Press in June it will make all that bad early work worth it. The Oklahoma City native recently sat down with fellow English major Graham Sutherland ’13 to answer a few questions about her accomplishment.
Q: Was there a time when you really started writing creatively?
A: I always wanted to be a writer. I think that got instilled in me pretty young because of how much I read. I started writing longer works as I got older. When I got into late middle school and high school, I started doing more novel work. I realized that novels interested me most because of the extended storyline and the ability to stay with characters.
Q: Didn’t you win the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards contest a couple years ago?
A: Yes, I won that my senior year of high school for a novel that became Grim. The contest is only open to middle and high school students. I’d won for a short story the year before as well. My school was an arts and IB school, so the Scholastic Art awards are really big there.
Q: What has the process been like since then?
A: The process from there was pretty slow. I mean, it’s been four years, so I think that says something. I did a month-long writing internship with Scholastic the summer after my first year at Mac, and then I didn’t hear back for a while. I turned in a new draft and heard snippets now and then that it was heading to the acquisitions meeting, but nothing much. Then in November of my junior year I got an offer. They don’t ensure that you’ll be published through the competition, but I’m really lucky that I decided to enter and they decided to pick me. I know that there are tons of amazing submissions that go into that.
Q: What was it like going through the editing process?
A: I struggled with it a lot because it was something I had written in high school. I went to [novelist] Professor Marlon James at one point and asked him if I should just rewrite the whole thing. He said if that’s what you want to do, then do it. I didn’t end up rewriting it, but knowing that I could helped the way that I went forward. 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. In the end, it was what both of us wanted, so that was good.
Q: Grim is a fantasy novel. Was it directly informed by your own reading?
A: 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 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.
Q: Can you summarize Grim?
A: 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 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.
Q: Do you plan to write another novel?
A: Definitely, and I hope to use my Honors Project as the next step. It’s also a YA fantasy novel. 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’lll have time to do this summer.
Q: Before the book comes out June 1, do you have a lot of publicity work to do?
A: I haven’t talked 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, such as building up more of a web presence.
Q: Since this is your last semester at Mac, is writing novels your after-college plan?
A: 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 and have that be my primary job, but practically speaking that’s almost impossible. I’m really interested in publishing in general and have done internships at Milkweed Editions and Coffee House Press, so in some ways that field is my safety route. It’s also a way of keeping me sane by having a world outside my own books. I can relate to this larger world of publishing and what it means to be in love with books.
Excerpted with permission from the English Department newsletter The Waverly (March 2012).