Jasmine Warga was no different. But while she loved writing, she wasn’t sure she could ever be an author.
“I knew there were people who wrote for a living, but somehow it never seemed like a viable career choice. As the daughter of an immigrant, I had this idea that I should do something practical, so I was always saying that I wanted to be something and an author. There was always that ‘and an author’ attached.”
Warga wrote throughout college and continued to write when she moved to Houston to teach sixth-grade science. While she loved her students, she said she felt dissatisfied and stories became her outlet.
She contemplated getting an MFA, but worried about taking such a life-changing step when writing for a living seemed like an impossible dream. She took that risk though and enrolled at Lesley University.
“I gained confidence and realized it’s normal to have characters in your head and to want to spend hours alone in a room with them,” she said. “I learned that writing isn’t a worthless pursuit.”
Warga was in the final semester of her MFA program, when she lost someone very close to her. The experience left her terrified of death, but yet she couldn’t stop thinking about it.
“Then I got this girl’s voice in my head, and telling her story became a way to write myself out of a dark place,” she said.
After months of writing and revisions, Warga decided to query her book, “My Heart and Other Black Holes,” about a 16-year-old physics geek obsessed with planning her own death.
The querying process was stressful but exciting for Warga, who was thrilled that multiple agents saw something special in her story.
“I would’ve been in amazing hands no matter what, but finding my agent was really a gut thing. The second I got off the phone with Brenda Bowen, I knew I’d found my agent. That conversation changed everything.”
Warga knows the exact date Bowen sent her book to editors. “It was Tuesday, July 8, the day my little book — my heart — went out into the world.”
The next week she got the call: Her book was going to auction.
“I was so nervous because I was so close to the finish line, and it was a surreal experience to be this nobody from Ohio on the phone with editors in New York.”
On Aug. 15, Warga got to tell the world that her dream of publication — a dream she once wasn’t sure was worth pursuing — was coming true. HarperCollins’s Balzer + Bray had bought “My Heart and Other Black Holes,” as well as a second, untitled book. Since then, “My Heart and Other Black Holes” has also sold abroad.
Warga credits her success with being honest about what she wanted and then being honest in what she wrote.
“My book started out as this weird idea for a story, but it’s the most honest thing I’ve ever written. I say that because of how emotionally honest I was. I wrote it from a scary, dark place.”
But while the book may have come from a dark place, “My Heart and Other Black Holes” isn’t all doom and gloom. Warga describes it as a dark comedy that uses humor to explore the topic of depression.
“Mental illness is stigmatized, and so often for girls, depression is just dismissed as melodrama. There are lots of great books out there about females struggling with depression, and I wanted to add my voice to that. But I wanted it to be a book about depression that isn’t depressing.”
Advice from the other side
I met Jasmine at DFWcon in 2012 when she, like many of us, was just a writer pursuing a dream. What I love most about her success story is how honest she is about her struggles and self-doubts throughout the process of writing, querying and submission.
“Every step of the way I felt like I wasn’t good enough,” she said. “But every writer feels that way. As hard as it is to hear, once you’re on the other side, even after all your wildest dreams have come true, the self-doubt doesn’t go away.”
What advice does she have for aspiring authors?
“Make great art and fall in love with it. Don’t fall out of love with writing just because you’re not in love with publishing. They’re separate things. I had to realize that I’m a writer. This is my identity, and I have to separate that from publishing success. I may have had some success and I’m so grateful for the amazing people that helped me get here, but if it can happen for me, it can happen for anyone. You never know what could be next for you, so keep working.”
Laura J. Moss is a YA writer and MNN.com editor whose stories are regularly published on CNN, The Huffington Post and Yahoo. She’s a bitter muggle and an aspiring cat lady who tweets at @LauraJMoss and blogs at LauraJMoss.com.