creativity

Research is a writer’s best friend

Art by CJ Bown of the Arcade in Central Park that hangs in my apartment

I’m under contract to write the third novel in my Emerson Page trilogy. I’ve struggled to find my footing with this one. I’ve written out over half a dozen concepts and nothing felt genuine. It all felt like a forced narrative. This has been going on for months.

I had a hunch that the book should begin in the Arcade near Central Park’s Bethesda Fountain. I wasn’t sure how or why, but that space has called to me for years. I have a huge photograph of it hanging in my apartment, and it’s one of my favorite pieces of art. For months I’ve been looking for interesting aspects of the arcade and the fountain, hoping to find some link to Emerson’s story. Nothing.

So I went back to the primary source—Greensward, the original plan for Central Park written by Olmsted and Vaux in 1858. Bethesda Fountain and Terrace, along with the Arcade, are considered the heart of the Park. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay Nature had an enormous influence on the design of Central Park. Both Olmsted and Vaux admired him. My protagonist, Emerson Page, is named after Emerson.

From there, I did more research on Emerson, Olmsted, and Vaux and found a number of links to the muses of Greek mythology who figure prominently in Emerson Page’s story. All the pieces I’d been struggling to find fell into place one by one and before I knew it, my outline of the third book was humming after so many false starts.

If you find yourself stuck in your writing, I highly encourage a detour into research and into primary sources. The answers to our present challenges often have roots in the past. Our job as writers is to uncover them and bring them into the light.

creativity

This blog is also a podcast

Photo by Will Francis on Unsplash

WordPress and Anchor make it easy to turn a blog into a podcast so I did it! Curating a Creative Life is now available on Anchor, iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music and Audible, Castbox, RadioPublic, and Stitcher.

I wanted to expand this distribution to make this blog more accessible to more people in more places. From the blog, you can click the “listen on Spotify” icon at the top of the posts that are on the podcast, go to the links above or search “Curating a Creative Life Through Writing” on any of the platforms where it’s available, or go to this website for all of the direct links: https://anchor.fm/christa-avampato.

If you’d like to turn your WordPress blog into a podcast, here are the step-by-step instructions. Happy listening!

writing

The query letter that helped me attract a publisher

I believe in generously sharing my journey, especially when it comes to my writing. People often ask me, “how did you get a book published?” When Emerson was first published, I had been querying agents without much success. Most never responded and any others that did respond were rejections. My favorite rejection was a response I received 5 minutes after I sent my query letter, and it had just two letters: “No”. That was the entire response. I am a pro in rejection.

I eventually found my first publisher by live pitching the book to them at an event I attended when I lived in D.C.

My new publisher that will republish my first novel and the other two books in the trilogy I got via query letter. I didn’t know anyone there. I’d never met them, they didn’t know my work prior to my query, and I sent it to the general submissions inbox that was listed on their website. The query process is often harrowing (or at least it was for me!) but it does work.

Here is the timeline from query to contract with my publisher:

  • October 29th – sent query
  • November 16th – I got a request for the full manuscript
  • February 1st – I was invited to a meeting to talk about possible publication.
  • February 11th – Met the acquiring editor via Zoom
  • February 14th – They made an offer to publish the whole Emerson Page trilogy

In the spirit of generosity, I wanted to share the letter I wrote that led to my publisher requesting the full manuscript. I hope as you’re crafting your query letters, this letter will help you!

Dear Editors,
My novel, EMERSON PAGE AND WHERE THE LIGHT LEADS, is a young adult adventure novel that draws inspiration from Greek and Celtic mythology. Given your interest in publishing stories that push the boundaries, I thought Emerson’s story would be a fit. Per your submission guidelines, please find a brief synopsis and my bio below. 

Synopsis
Fifteen-year-old Emerson Page is committed to fulfilling her mother’s legacy— gain access to a fantastical underworld hidden below Dublin, Ireland where an ancient book authored by the Greek muses is being held hostage. A world-renowned anthropologist, her mother gave her life to protect this book because it contains the secrets to unlimited human creativity. In the hands of someone who wants to build a better world, this book is a priceless gift. In the hands of someone who seeks to control humanity, it’s a dangerous weapon.

With her two best friends and her service dog, Friday, Emerson sets out from her home in New York City in a race against a formidable enemy—a former family friend turned traitor with powerful gifts of his own who seeks the book for himself. Emerson and her friends face near-impossible physical, mental, and emotional struggles on their journey that push every limit they have. All the while, the clock is ticking. The window between this ancient world and their home is only open for twenty-four hours.

Publishing history
This is my second novel. Thumbkin Prints published my first novel, EMERSON PAGE AND WHERE THE LIGHT ENTERS, in 2017. It received strong reviews and was featured by Kirkus Reviews and Midwest Book Review among others. It won several awards including: 2017 Nautilus Book Award for Young Adult Fiction (Silver), 2018 Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal in Young Adult Adventure and the Wind Dancer Films Award, was one of 25 finalists out of 1,200 submissions the ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Competition, winner of TopShelf Magazine Award for young adult mythology / fairy tale, was #1 on Coverfly’s THE RED LIST for 2019 Adventure Book Manuscripts, and remains at #5 on THE RED LIST two years later. I was also chosen as a featured speaker at the Virginia Festival of the Book in 2018. Unfortunately, Thumbkin Prints closed its doors due to recent financial hardship. Thankfully, all rights for my novel reverted back to me when they closed.

Bio
I write stories about women and girls who are underestimated and determined to rise. I have a career and life that melds my passion for storytelling, business, and scientific research in the field of biomimicry. A proud graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, the Darden School at the University of Virginia, and Arizona State University, my work focuses on collaboratively building products, services, and experiences that create a better world. I also have a deep love for discovering history’s hidden narratives, secrets, and perspectives.

I’ve been an invited speaker at SXSW, Games for Change, New York University, Columbia University, Cornell Tech, City University of New York, the Brooklyn Brainery, and Wildlife Conservation Society. My non-fiction writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Royal Media Partners publications, Pipeline Artists, The Biomimicry Institute’s Ask NatureThe Henry Ford magazine, Inside History, and Natural History Magazine. I was a producer for the PBS television series Live at 9:30 and am now a producer for Carnegie Hall’s digital media initiatives.

I began my career managing Broadway shows and national theater tours. I spent over a decade as a product leader in the technology industry. Now I’m the Founder of Double or Nothing Media, a company that provides product development services and the business strategies to bring those products to life. Powered by joy and curiosity, I live in New York City with my rescue dog, Phineas, and am equally inspired by ancient wisdom and modern technology. I share my never-ending curiosity on Twitter @christanyc, Instagram @christarosenyc, and my personal website, Curating a Creative Life, at christaavampato.com.  

Thank you for your time and consideration of my work. I look forward to hearing from you. 

Sincerely yours, 

Christa Avampato

writing

A Publisher Bought My YA Novel Trilogy—Here’s Everything I Did Wrong

A month ago, I sold not one book but three! I signed a contract with a publisher for my Emerson Page trilogy. This is an especially sweet personal triumph for me because:

· The first book, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters, was previously published in 2017 by an independent publisher that went out of business

· I’ve sent out 77 queries for the second book over the last 2 years and 5 months

· I only have a working title and logline for the third book — not even an outline much less a manuscript

· I don’t have an agent

By conventional publishing wisdom, I did many things wrong in this latest query process. And still, the story won in the end. The acquisitions editor had an immediate connection with me, Emerson, and her story. I want to share this story with all authors in every stage of their careers, people in the business of publishing, and book lovers who wonder how this process unfolded for me. I’m just one specific example, and I think it can help others on their journey to know how this happened.

These are the pieces of advice I received many times over that made me doubt myself. I’m glad I bet on myself, Emerson, and readers, and that I kept going.

1. “You cannot query agents and independent publishers at the same time.”
I did. I received some kind rejections from agents and publishers who accept direct queries, a few discouraging rejections, and radio silence from the majority of them. I would have loved to get an agent from this process. I thought the success of the first book might help with that. It didn’t. In the fall of 2021, I decided to look at independent publishers one more time to see if there were any others that might be a fit for me and Emerson. I’m so glad I did. That’s how I found with my new publisher.

2. “Since the first book in the series was already published, no one else will pick it up, much less the other two books in the series.”
In my query letter for the second book, I mentioned Emerson’s first book, the awards it won, and the reviews it received but I was very careful to explain that the second book could stand on its own. This was a delicate balance because I wanted those I was querying to know about my publishing experience but I didn’t want to sink the property with a previous publication.

In a wonderful turn of events, the publisher asked if I was interested in finding a home for the first book as well. If so, they wanted to consider acquiring it along with the second book.

3. “The first book came out in 2017. That’s too long ago. Move on.”
I heard this a lot, and it hurt. Due to the pandemic and my health issues last year, I felt like I missed my chance and that this one novel was all that would ever see the light of day. When I wrote Emerson’s first book, I always saw the series as a trilogy. It’s how the book is built. It’s in the DNA of the story architecture. There are a lot of Easter eggs planted that come to life in the second two books. You don’t need any of the other books to enjoy any one of them, but together they do create a complete, rich world that’s hopeful and places an emphasis on the power of creativity, two themes that we need now more than ever.

4. “You’ve been querying for this second book for over two years. Shelve it and move on.”
This was another common refrain I heard. In October 2021, I almost believed it. I decided I’d send out one more round of queries. If that didn’t yield anything, I’d have to accept that this book just wasn’t meant to be. Maybe someday the rest of her story would be sent out into the world, but now was not the time. That last round of queries included my new publisher. As Anne Lamott said, don’t quit before the miracle.

5. “Publishers don’t want YA books with magic in them.”
This advice is everywhere and yet there are so many books and television series that defy this and that audiences love. This world could do with more magic and light, especially in these dark times.

6. “Do not pitch a book you haven’t written.”
At my meeting with the publisher, I explained that I saw this as a trilogy. I told them my working title for the third book, its logline, and how it completes Emerson’s arc in her coming of age story. I was very honest that I hadn’t even outlined the book much less written it. That didn’t phase them one bit. The offer I received was for the entire trilogy.

7. “If you really want this story to get out into the world, you’re going to have to self-publish and do everything yourself. And don’t expect too much to come from it. That’s the only option for this story at this point.”
I know a lot of people who have had success with self-publishing and enjoyed that process. In my gut, I knew that route wasn’t the right thing for Emerson. That’s why I kept querying. I wanted to find a partner who loves her and her story as much as I do. Having that partner to help make her story shine as bright as possible was important to me, and I found that partner with my new publisher.

This is not a story that tells you to never give up and to keep pushing through no matter what. I knew what I needed and wanted to do with this particular story and character. There are plenty of projects that I’ve shelved. Some I pick up again and some I don’t. There is no one way to get a story out into the world, and I’m so glad there will be much more from Emerson Page in the near future. Stay tuned and receive updates by signing up for my email list.

creativity, writing

Write every day: My feature on biomimicry is in The Henry Ford Magazine

Screen Shot 2020-06-29 at 9.10.27 PMI’m so excited to share that the feature I wrote about biomimicry, Making Mother Nature Our Muse, has been published in The Henry Ford Magazine‘s latest issue which is all about sustainable design.

The Henry Ford is an innovation museum in Detroit, Michigan, that I’ve admired for years. I’m so pleased to be able to speak to their members through this piece.

Big hat tip to Lex Amore at the Biomimicry Institute, Jennifer LaForce, the wonderful editor of the magazine, and James Round for his beautiful illustrations.

You can find my stand alone feature here: Making Mother Nature Our Muse by Christa Avampato

The whole issue is fantastic and is available for free online here: The Henry Ford Magazine—June-Dec 2020

creativity

Write every day: Nature writing activity

“When you write, you lay out a line of words…Soon you find yourself deep in new territory.” ~Annie Dillard

On Sunday I took an online nature writing class and we did an exercise I wanted to share with all of you. Not only is it helpful for science writing, but it can really help with any piece of writing—first draft to tenth draft! Here’s how it goes:

1.) Place a small item in the middle of a piece of paper. This can be anything – a leaf, an acorn, a shell, a coin, a photograph. Anything at all.

2.) Begin to map the ideas, associations, and memories that come to you observe and think about this item. Follow trains of thought for as long as you’d like, connecting the flow of ideas with arrows or lines to form a type of web or mind map if you’d like. There are no wrong answers. Take 10-15 minutes for this.

3.) Choose one point on the web that is outside of the center, a few steps removed from your item, and write for 5 minutes with that point as your starting place. (You don’t need to write directly about your item, but you certainly can!) Now choose a different point on the web and begin writing from there. (You can do this as many times as you’d like).

4.) Finally, spend 10-15 minutes writing a reflection that begins with the center of your web, with your natural item. Drawing both on your web and on your previous shorter writings, see where your imagination takes you.

creativity

Write every day: How my writing is helping me cope

“All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story.” ~Hannah Arendt

As a fiction writer, I create worlds and characters who are as real to me as anything and anyone outside my door. They’re my friends. They’re my lifeline right now. As always, they’re helping me write my way out. This doesn’t mean I’m not scared or worried or anxious. I am all those things. My writing gives those emotions and feelings and thoughts some place to go, it gives me a tool that helps bear the burden so my own heart and mind and shoulders don’t have to bear them alone.

creativity

Write every day: Sundance Episodic Lab

I hope you’re all well and safe in these ever-changing times.

I have some good news in the midst of a lot of difficulty: I made it into the second round of the Sundance 2020 Episodic Lab program with a TV pilot that I wrote. I’ll know by August if I’ll be invited to their Lab in October. Just making it to the second round feels wonderful.With all the tough news in my city of New York, this is a bit of light and I’m so grateful.

Special thanks to John Bucher, Script Pipeline, Ruth Sabin, ScreenCraft, Ed Freeman, F.J. Lennon, and Ken Lacovara for their invaluable notes on my scripts and their endless stream of encouragement for my writing.

 

creativity

Write every day: The upside of coronavirus for writers is time

In the worst situations, I acknowledge how difficult things are and also try to find some kind of value. In New York City (where I live), coronavirus is a serious issue. We all take public transit and it’s a crowded place. A virus that has community spread is not an issue to be taken lightly here. My inbox is filling up with cancelled events, happenings that I was really looking forward to in the coming weeks and month. I understand—it’s for our safety and I know event organizers don’t take these decisions lightly. As a producer, I feel their pain.

To keep myself motivated, I’m reminding myself that coronavirus, for better or worse, is giving me a lot of dedicated time at home and that means I have a lot of time to write, read, and research. I set some very ambitious writing goals for myself this year to complete a number of large projects. I’m committed to making good use of this time. I’m reading a lot, writing a lot, and doing everything I can to keep up the spirits of others during this time.

Has the coronavirus impacted your daily life, work, and writing? How are you doing? Let me know in the comments.

creativity

Write every day: Sometimes the publisher finds you

This week I had an interesting turn of events: a publisher contacted me about the possibility of writing a new book. It’s a book I’ve been thinking about writing for a while so I already had a lot of thoughts about the topic and the book. It was one item on my very long to-do list of writing that shot to the top of the list because of this inquiry. The publisher asked me to pitch my idea for the book so I did and we’ll see what happens. Could be something. Could be nothing. It taught me a lot.

Many times, this is where the story ends and it may just seem like a wonderful stroke of luck to get an email like this from a publisher. It is and it isn’t. The serendipity springs from a lot of hard work over a very long time, much of it a labor of love. First, the book idea is based on my long career in product development that had had very high highs and very low lows. It’s also a result of my work as a writer (also with its peaks and valleys), and most recently in going back to graduate school (for the second time). The publisher’s note to me happened after they saw that I shared a post on LinkedIn with a relevant hashtag about some of my recent writing of a TV pilot script that was entirely unpaid and that I don’t even know will ever get off the ground.

This recent interaction taught me that we have to make our own luck, that we have to talk about the work we’re doing to find people who share our interests and passions. Many times, we talk into the void. Sometimes, that void ends and we find an audience. Working in secret and staying quiet about our work is a completely fine and personal decision. If we want our work to have impact, to inspire and reach other people, to build a better world, then sharing it (when we’re ready) is key. The creative world is weird. The publishing world is weird. Life and career is a wild ride, and I think it’s absolutely worth the price of admission.

Do you have a story about how sharing your work led to an unexpected opportunity? I’d love to hear it.