We’re happy to welcome two debut Oklahoma YA authors to Cynsations today! Casie Bazay’s novel, Not Our Summer (Running Press Kids) released on May 11, 2021 and is a #1 Oklahoma Bestseller. Ginny Myers Sain‘s novel, Dark and Shallow Lies was published by Razorbill/Penguin on September 7, 2021.
When you look back on your writing journey, what are the changes that stand out?
I began writing with the intent of getting traditionally published shortly after leaving the teaching profession to stay home with my kids in 2010. I’ve loved to write for as long as I can remember, but when I first started writing a book, I had very little confidence in myself as a storyteller. All I knew was that I had this very big goal and I wanted to do my best to achieve it. I didn’t tell many people I was writing a book at first because I was afraid of what they might think or that I might never succeed. However, one of the biggest changes in my journey began when I made the decision to put myself out there and connect with other writers. I started attending conferences and soon joined an in-person critique group in my area. Seeking learning opportunities and sharing my work with others was not only validating, but also hugely instrumental in helping me grow as a writer.
With each book I’ve completed (I’ve written five now), I’ve gained more confidence in myself as a writer, and since getting a book deal and an agent (yes, in that order!), I now enjoy giving back to the writing community by sharing about my journey, offering writing tips (often in blog posts or tweets), and hosting the occasional query critique giveaway. This past year, I was also a mentor in Author Mentor Match. I think one of the most significant changes throughout this whole journey to publication has been learning to see myself as a writer. I definitely own that title now.
Could you tell us about your new release?
Not Our Summer released May 11, 2021 from Running Press Teen/Hachette. It’s a young adult contemporary novel about two estranged cousins, who, upon the death of their grandfather, are asked to travel to several specific locations around the U.S. in order to receive their inheritance. Recent high school graduates, Becka and K.J., had their own ideas about how to spend the summer, but now are left to deal with these trips, each other, and the repercussions of a decades-old feud between their mothers.
The amazing locations the girls travel to, including the Grand Canyon and Key West, serve as a backdrop to the family drama and swiftly changing relationship between K.J. and Becka. Their contrasting personalities and the fact that they’ve grown up very differently make each trip a struggle. K.J. lives in a trailer park with a single mom (who isn’t the best of parents), while Becka has a little more financial and familial stability.
As the trips progress over the course of the summer, they begin to better understand each other and even get along. However, when Grandpa drops a bombshell in one of the letters he’s left for his granddaughters, everything changes. It’s now up to the girls on how to proceed: continue the precedent set by their mothers or take the necessary steps to change the family dynamic and begin to heal the divide they’ve lived with for their entire lives.
Not Our Summer has feisty girls, fun destinations, and plenty of family drama. Readers often describe it as both humorous and heartwarming and have also said that it has inspired them to travel to some of the locations in the book or come up with their own bucket list of places to travel.
Fun fact: I have traveled to most of the locations that K.J. and Becka travel to in the books!
Reflecting on your personal journey (creatively, career-wise, and your writer’s heart), what bumps did you encounter and how have you managed to defy the odds to achieve continued success?
Writing for publication is definitely not for the faint of heart. Over my ten year journey, I’ve dealt with rejection time and time again, multiple doses of Imposter Syndrome, and plenty of frustration.
With the first book I wrote and queried, I received over 150 rejections from agents and editors. I could have quit after that, but I didn’t. Even though it took me three years to finish that first book, once I did, I realized I could do it again. So I wrote another. And then another. And then another. Not Our Summer was my fourth completed novel.
In all, I received over 350 rejections while querying all four of those books. But I pressed on because I’d heard the stories of other writers who had done the same and eventually found success. Joy McCullough, whom I’ve followed on Twitter for some time, is one such writer. I knew that timing and a little luck were definitely part of the recipe, but I also believed that luck favors those who keep writing, continue improving their craft, and continually put their work out there through querying and contests.
Eventually, I found my “yes” through the #pitmad Twitter pitch contest. My editor, Britny Brooks-Perilli favorited my pitch in September of 2019 and the rest is history!
What are you working on next?
Right now, I’m working on my sixth book, a YA thriller which takes place at a ranch camp for troubled teens. When a camper turns up dead at Birchwood Ranch, everyone is a suspect. It’s set in the mountains of southeastern Oklahoma (a place that happens to be very special to me) and it’s told through four (somewhat unreliable) POVs. I’m only about a third of the way through the first draft, but so far, it’s been a lot of fun to write!
Ginny Myers Sain
What first inspired you to write for young readers?
I come from a family of writers, but I’ve spent most of my career working as an acting teacher and director with high school students who are intent on pursuing careers in the professional theatre. Working in the theatre, you really get to know each other on a deeper level.
Those kids just really opened up their hearts and their lives to me, and I fell so in love with that age group. I was so inspired by their passion, their loyalty, their love for one another, their bravery, and the intensity of their creative energy. And I felt I knew them really well. I just heard their voices in my head so clearly. So there was never any question that, when I started writing, I wanted to write for YA readers.
Please describe your pre-publication craft apprenticeship. How did you take your writing from a beginner level to publishable?
As soon as I started thinking seriously about writing, I joined SCBWI, and that was one of the best decisions I made. Not only was I able to attend so many incredible regional and national conferences where I had the opportunity to learn from some of the best writers, agents, and editors in the business, I also met an amazing and supportive group of writer friends that have encouraged me every step of the way.
For me, working with a wonderful critique group has been instrumental in keeping me focused and inspired, and I’m so grateful to those writer friends who have been there for this whole journey. But, really, the main way I improved my craft was by reading widely and writing. Before Dark and Shallow Lies, I wrote two other books, and even though neither of those was picked up by an agent, I learned so much about story structure and character development just by working on those projects to completion.
What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?
La Cachette itself is not a real place, of course, but the town was very loosely inspired by two actual places. The first is the tiny town of Cassadaga, Florida, which I was lucky enough to stumble upon during a road trip. Cassadaga really does bill itself as the “Psychic Capital of the World.”
I was standing there in the little town square on the steps of the Cassadaga Camp Bookstore when a question popped into my head…”How do you keep a secret in a town full of psychics?” So that question became the seed of the story. However, Cassadaga was a bit too accessible for what I had in mind.
I needed a place that was more cut-off from the world. Somewhere a little harder to get to and to escape from. So my mind went back to a little place in far south Louisiana called Pilotttown, which served for more than a hundred years as a home to riverboat pilots on the Mississippi River. I’d seen the remains of it once, from the water, back before Hurricane Katrina destroyed what was left of it. It was built on stilts along the edge of the river, and you could only get there by boat. No roads. So that became the inspiration for the geographical location.
In terms of publishing, how did you navigate the process of finding an agent and, with his or her representation, connecting your manuscript to a publisher?
I was lucky enough to find my amazing agent through a slush pile submission. I was in the middle of querying lots of agents, and although I’d been through the same process with two previous books without any luck, I was feeling pretty optimistic because my full request rate for this book was very high, right off the bat. I actually had another agent express interest first, but at that point I had the full out with about seven agents, so I asked for a week or so to let them all know I had someone who was interested.
One of those agents who had the full was my agent, Pete Knapp at Park and Fine. He’d only had the full a week or so when I emailed him to let him know I had another agent interested. He promised to read the manuscript that very weekend and get back to me ASAP. But it was 4th of July weekend (2020), so I didn’t really believe him. He was true to his word, though, and got back in touch to set up a phone call that next week.
In the end, I think I had four agents that were interested. I spoke to them all on the phone and then was able to choose the one I felt would be the best fit. Right from the start, Pete’s enthusiasm, his extraordinary vision for the book, and his very clear submission strategy put him over the top. From there, I really just left it in his very capable hands. We did one very quick round of revision together and then it went right out on sub. The book was out on sub less than a week and was published less than a year later. So, it took a while to land that agent, but once that happened, things moved very, very quickly.
What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers?
Finish the book! I know so many writers who have so many wonderful projects that they’ve literally been working on for years and years. Or they have a half dozen manuscripts in various stages scattered across eight million folders on their desktop. But the thing is, you can’t publish a book that isn’t finished. Finish the novel. Even if it’s rough. Even if it starts to feel like a slog. Even if you know it’s not great. Just finish it! Then you can go back and clean it up and make it brilliant. But you can’t polish something that doesn’t exist. Just finish something. I promise you will learn so much just by taking a project all the way to the finish line. And it feels so good!
I guess that’s really advice for any writer, but for children’s-YA writers specifically, I’d add to read what you’re trying to write. I had a zoom meeting with a new writer last week, and she was working on what she thought was a middle grade novel. I asked her if she’d read a lot of middle grade and she said, “No. I don’t really like kids’ books.” And I had to stop and ask her how on earth she thought she was going to write one. I can’t imagine trying to write something I didn’t truly love to read.
Casie Bazay was born and raised in Oklahoma where she continues to live with her husband and two children today. As a child, she participated in many sports and activities but developed a strong love for animals, the outdoors, and writing, in particular. She attended Oklahoma State University, earning a degree in elementary education with middle school endorsements.
After teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th grade science, math, and English for ten years, she switched gears in order to begin writing professionally–freelancing for mostly equine publications and also working as a freelance editor. However, her primary writing passion is creating heartfelt stories for young adults.
When she is not writing, reading, or transporting her two children to various activities, Casie enjoys being out in nature as much as possible. She also has a fondness for chocolate, sappy movies, and a hot cup of tea and considers a combination of the three to be an evening well spent.
Casie is represented by Janna Bonikowski at The Knight Agency.
Ginny Myers Sain is the author of Dark And Shallow Lies, her debut YA novel from Razorbill/Penguin. Although she comes from a long line of writers, her first love has always been the theatre. She has a degree in theatre and has spent most of her career teaching acting and directing plays and musicals.
Ginny currently live in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with her teenage son and a very cowardly doberman named Shipley. When she is not working in the theatre or writing, you’re likely to find her listening to true crime podcasts, taking pictures of alligators, eating tacos, or planning a trip to Walt Disney World.
AJ Eversole covers children’s-YA writing, illustration, publishing and other book news from indigenous authors and illustrators for Cynsations. She grew up in rural Oklahoma, a place removed from city life and full of opportunities to nurture the imagination. She is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and writes primarily Young Adult fiction. She currently resides in Fort Worth, Texas with her husband. Follow her on Instagram @ajeversole or Twitter @amjoyeversole.
Gayleen Rabakukk teaches creative writing classes for the Austin Public Library Foundation, is an active member of the children’s literature community and former assistant regional advisor for Austin SCBWI. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.