Author Interview: Corey Ann Haydu on Finding the Joy in Writing

By Bree Rae

Today, I am excited to welcome the critically-acclaimed middle grade and young adult author Corey Ann Haydu to Cynsations. Corey Ann is the author of many books for middle grade and young adult readers including her Edgar Award nominated young adult novel Eventown (Katherine Tegen Books, 2019).  Corey Ann’s latest middle grade novel, One Jar of Magic (Katherine Tegen Books, 2021), released February 9, 2021 with a Kirkus starred review.  Welcome to Cynsations, Corey Ann!

When and where do you write? Why does that time and space work for you?

Oh, how times have changed! For most of my writing life, I was a writing-in-the-café girl. It was, I used to say, a big part of what I loved about being a writer. The fantasy of it, with the coffee and the clickety-clack of my keyboard and being surrounded by all of Brooklyn’s other writers and artists.

I used to hear other authors caution against being drawn in by that fantasy, that it wasn’t real, but for so, so long, it really felt real to me. I loved those long mornings at the café, meeting up with friends and eavesdropping on strangers and having the baristas know my name and maybe even what I was working on that day. I drew real energy from it, and it was the way to be an extroverted writer.

Then, of course, came the pandemic, and we have had to say goodbye to dreamy café days. I am still just aching for them to come back. But until they do, I have settled into an entirely new routine that I’ve worked to convince myself is just as magical. And that is the early morning writing session.

At first, I started waking up at 5 a.m. to write because my daughter, who could no longer go anywhere, couldn’t tolerate my working, so I had to get in my writing before she woke up. Slowly, she’s come to accept my writing time and teaching time (more or less), but the early morning wakeups have remained.

I have a room in my apartment that is half office-half playroom, and I tuck myself in there for a few hours before the rest of my family wakes up, and I sort of watch the sun come up through the corner of my eye.

It is a different kind of magic than the bustling café magic. It’s quiet and dark but it’s also clear-headed and feels a little like a secret I have with myself. My old writing style was about being a part of the world, and this is about being a little separate from it, being a little outside of reality. I don’t know if it’s affecting the work, though I imagine it must be subtly shifting the energy from frantic and breathless to quiet and focused, and there is, luckily, room for both I think.

But, wow, do I miss my cafes.

Corey Ann’s workspace.

What are you working on next?

I always have a few different projects I’m playing with. In terms of contracted work, I’m working on a novel in verse that covers five generations of girls in a single family. It’s a challenging and exhilarating project because it’s so new on so many levels for me.

I also have another middle grade novel I’m working on that is inspired by the myth of Daphne and Apollo. The book is called Tree, and I am just getting to know my two main characters and their complicated friendship that turns a bit toxic. But I’m also working on ideas that don’t have homes yet, and may never reach readers. I am co-writing a romantic comedy with a friend, and I’ve been on a years long mission to teach myself picture book writing. I like a challenge, so I’m never in one place for long, though magical, sad middle grade is always where my heart lives and that will probably never change.

Still, I like thinking about all the different ways to tell a story, and experimenting with matching up different stories with different storytelling techniques, different age categories and genres. I hope I get a chance to do it all, honestly!

Corey Ann’s chapter books are published by Katherine Tegen Books.

How has your writing evolved over time?

When I was first starting out, my view of what I could and should do was limited. I was a writer of contemporary YA novels. That felt like something I could manage, and I understood who to be in that context, and for me that felt safe and natural. But over time, I let myself imagine that I could be another kind of writer, and that I didn’t have to limit myself.

It was in graduate school when I first started opening that door, experimenting during writing prompts with magic and middle grade. It reminds me a little of when I moved from my former life of being an actress into being a writer. I had told myself for a long time that I was an actress who liked to write, and that seemed to be true enough. But as I started to move further and further from acting and embrace my writing side more, doors began to open.

I found the same thing with my writing journey in general, the less stuck I got in my idea of who I had to be, the more willing the world was to listen. I found my clearest space in magical middle grade, a place I never imagined when I first began writing.

Corey Ann’s newest middle grade novel, One Jar of Magic, was published in February by Katherine Tegen Books.

What’s interesting is that thematically, I’ve barely moved an inch. My writing centers so much around ideas of perfection, the expectations we place on ourselves and that society places on us, and trying to find acceptance in spite of a lack of perfection.

I also write about codependence a lot, in not so many words—in the ways we want to save each other but ultimately need to worry most about saving ourselves. So, often I’m writing something brand new and I find myself in a familiar space, unpacking familiar ideas, but in completely different ways. The evolution in my writing is about the how, not the what.

I think I’m telling the same stories I did when I was journaling about my life at eight years old—I’m just finding different spaces in which to do that writing, different angles to take to try to unpack all the same things I’ve been trying to understand my whole life. To me, that’s what writing is about—the work of trying to understand what confounds you, what escapes you, what is hard for you to grasp in your heart and relationships and life, and taking a million different routes to try to do that work of unpacking.

Do you have any tips for debut authors about balancing the roles of author and writer?

Eventown was a 2020 Edgar Award Nominee.

This is such a lovely question, and for me there’s only one answer: find joy.

This isn’t just a self-care sort of ask, though of course, sure, find joy for yourself, so that you feel good in your writing, regardless of how you operate in the world as an Author. But the joy needs to be on the page, and that’s the biggest reason to search for it and hold on tight to it.

Writing is work, absolutely, it is breathless, big, beautiful, brutal work. But it isn’t a boss telling you that you have to turn something in by 5 p.m., and it isn’t the dishes getting dirty in the sink or your kid crying for something in the early morning. It is work from a different space than the utilitarian space so much of our day’s work comes from.

And because of that, the driving force of it, for me, has to be joy. And since joy is a really huge, all encompassing word I’ll say that for me joy is about engagement and curiosity, excitement and comfort, love and need.

Work approached with joy has energy, and more than that, it centers what matters. For me, the enjoyment of the work is what matters. The day to day love of storytelling is what matters. The rest of it doesn’t come naturally for me. I don’t have a great love of social media or networking or even a real understanding of how those things work. And I find it hard, that those are things that are part of being an Author. Which isn’t to say to ignore all of that. But if there’s not much joy there for you, either, that’s okay.

Joy is sustaining. If a long career is what you’re after, the joy is what can get you there, because it lets you keep working, even when things aren’t going well, even when your last books didn’t find its readers or you wrote something your agent didn’t like or you got your fiftieth rejection.

Keep the joy safe, keep it away from reviews and rejections and conferences and awards. The joy is that spark of a new idea or that epiphany about where things are going or getting to sit down with a latte at five in the morning, before anyone else is awake, to write something emotional and true that feels like you finally said the thing you’ve been trying to say for years. Live there. Visit the author places, but live in the joy.

Cynsational Notes

Corey Ann Haydu is the author of many critically acclaimed middle grade and young adult novels, including Eventown (Katherine Tegen Books, 2019), Rules For Stealing Stars (Katherine Tegen Books, 2017), Ever Cursed (Simon & Schuster,  2020), and OCD Love Story (Simon & Schuster,  2013). She is also the author of the Hand-Me-Down Magic chapter book series (Katherine Tegen Books, 2020). Corey is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and The New School’s Writing for Children MFA program, and has been working in children’s publishing since 2009.

In 2013, Corey was chosen as one of Publishers Weekly’s Flying Starts. Her books have been Amazon Book of the Month Selections, Junior Library Guild Selections, Indie Next Selections, and BCCB Blue Ribbon Selections. In 2020, she received an Edgar Award Nomination for her novel Eventown.

Corey is also a proud faculty member of the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, her daughter, her dog, Oscar, and a wide variety of cheese.

Bree Rae is a life-long Oregonian who holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is a recipient of the Oregon Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators 2020 scholarship prize for the Middle Grade and Young Adult novel category.

When she’s not writing, you can find her on Instagram @BreeRaeWrites or on Twitter @BreeRaewrites.