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Advice from ASU alumni who became authors

By

Emma Greguska

Nobody ever said getting a book published was easy. But over the years, an impressive number of Arizona State University graduates have done just that, many of them in the popular young adult (YA) genre.

And Professor Jim Blasingame, who had the pleasure of teaching some of those successful alumni, couldn’t be more proud. The recent recipient of a lifetime service award from the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE — the young adult literature arm of the national professional organization for teachers of English — Blasingame has always believed in the power of literature to shape minds and foster deep connections.

Now, several of his former students are sharing their own insights about the art of writing and the thrill — and sometimes exhaustion — of the publishing industry.

In addition to ASU’s renowned creative writing program, current students interested in exploring the craft for themselves may want to look into the online Bachelor of Arts in English degree, which was recently retooled, including a slimmed-down credit requirement (from 45 to 36) so students can make more efficient progress toward completion. The degree features classes that run the gamut — from literature to rhetoric and writing to research.

Would-be wordsmiths can also find a host of resources, including workshops, lectures and public readings, at the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, which recently announced its fall 2021 lineup of events; as well as events through the Center for Science and the Imagination.

Editor’s note: Authors’ responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Bill Konigsberg, MFA, creative writing, 2005

A native of New York City, Bill Konigsberg was a journalist before he was a novelist. He found empowerment in writing from the perspective of a teen, a time in his own life that was especially emotionally loaded. Today, there is a writing award named for him (the Bill Konigsberg Award for Acts and Activism for Equity and Inclusion through Young Adult Literature), and he is currently at work on a YA novel called “Two Boys in Love Forever,” as well as an adult literary novel called “Scrambled.”

Question: Why did you decide to study English/writing?

Answer: I always wanted to write fiction. I was told in college that it's nearly impossible to make a living as a writer, so after college I initially took other jobs that allowed me to write, specifically as a journalist. When I was about 30, I realized it was now or never, that if I really wanted to be a novelist, I needed to do something about it, and so I looked at MFA programs. The faculty at ASU is what drew me there. Ron Carlson was on staff, and he's an amazing writer, as was Melissa Pritchard.

Q: Why did you decide to write in the young adult genre?

A: I didn't even know that young adult was a genre before ASU. I was writing from a teen perspective automatically, because that was a loaded and important time in my own life, especially because that's when I first came out as gay. When I took a class in YA literature taught by Dr. Jim Blasingame, I learned for the first time that there was a whole genre out there that I could focus on, and I did.

Q: What was the first book you published, and how did it feel to be published for the first time?

A: My first novel was “Out of the Pocket,” published by Penguin in 2008. I was so excited to have a book out and to know that at any given moment, someone was reading my work. It took a while to get used to that sensation, to not feel a little exposed to the world by having something so personal available to anyone.

Q: Is there anything you learned as a student at ASU that has helped you during your career?

A: I learned so much about the craft of fiction writing at ASU. I also learned in a very real way how important it is to write every day, that it's not enough to call myself a writer and write once in a while; writing improves the more you do it, and it's critical to have a daily writing practice.

Q: What advice would you give to students hoping to embark on their own writing career?

A: Go for it! Write the book you want to read, and enjoy every minute of the process. The best thing about being a writer is the fact that you get to write, so don't get too far ahead of yourself and focus on getting published. Stay in the moment and savor the process.

Q: What are you reading right now, and/or what books might you recommend to young readers?

A: I just finished an amazing novel called “When You Look Like Us,” by Pamela N. Harris. Before that, I read “The Passing Playbook,” by Isaac Fitzsimons.

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Kara McDowell, BA, English, 2011

A self-proclaimed member of the “Twilight” generation, Kara McDowell fell in love with the YA genre while taking an introduction to young adult literature course at ASU. She lives with her husband and children in Mesa, Arizona, and just finished copy edits on her next book, “This Might Get Awkward,” which releases March 1, 2022, from Scholastic.

Question: Why did you decide to study English/writing?

Answer: I always knew I wanted to be a writer. My elementary school had a publishing shop where we could take the books we wrote and bind them together and put a fancy decorated cover on the front. I’ve been a voracious reader since I was a kid, and I thought having a stack of books that I wrote was the coolest thing ever. Sometimes I worried that being a published author was too far-fetched of an idea, but I always knew it was my goal.

Q: Why did you decide to write in the young adult genre?

A: I am very much of the “Twilight” generation. I was 16 or 17 when those books were released. I, like everyone else, read them and became obsessed. And then, in college, at the height of “The Hunger Games” craze, I took Dr. Blasingame’s introduction to YA literature class and fell deeply in love with the genre. It has grown so much since then and is now a diverse category full of amazingly talented creators who are telling wonderful, underrepresented stories.

Q: What was the first book you published, and how did it feel to be published for the first time?

A: My first experience with a major publisher was with a book called “One Way or Another.” It was published by Scholastic in 2020. It was so surreal to know that my book was going to be available for students to purchase during school book fairs. Those book fairs were the absolute highlight of my school experience as a kid, so it was a complete dream to have my book included. I felt every possible emotion leading up to the release of my book: excited to see it on shelves, nervous that no one would like it, worried it wouldn’t sell, anxious people would think my main character — who has anxiety — is a weirdo. But it has been so wonderful to hear from readers who have connected to Paige and are able to relate to her experiences with anxiety. That has been the best perk of the job!

Q: Is there anything you learned as a student at ASU that has helped you during your career?

A: I vividly remember the day Dr. Blasingame had two published authors come and talk to our class. I was starstruck. Honestly, I think the most helpful thing for me on my journey to becoming an author was just the knowledge that it’s possible. I knew if I worked hard enough and refused to give up in the face of rejection — and boy, was there a lot of rejection — I would eventually be in their place one day.

Q: What advice would you give to students hoping to embark on their own writing career?

A: Read! Read, read, read. Especially in the genre you want to pursue. You’d be surprised how many of the people who think they can write a YA novel have never read one.

Q: What are you reading right now, and/or what books might you recommend to young readers?

A: One of my favorite YA books I read this year is “The Inheritance Games,” by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. It’s kind of like a teenage version of “Knives Out,” and it is so much fun. I can’t wait for the sequel out this fall.

Molly Schaar Idle, BFA, drawing, 1998

As an illustrator and an author, Molly Schaar Idle enjoys a unique kind of freedom over her work. Since leaving DreamWorks Feature Animation to create children’s books, Idle is perpetually juggling multiple projects. Next month, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Kid,” written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Idle, will be out in stores, and she just wrapped up the artwork for her next author/illustrator book, “Witch Hazel.” Next up, Idle will be working with her friend and fellow Caldecott honoree, Juana Martinez-Neal, to co-illustrate a book written by Julie Fogliano titled “I Don’t Care.”

Question: Why did you decide to become a children’s book author/illustrator?

Answer: Growing up, my sole aim was to become an animator. Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” came out in theaters when I was around 12, and the moment I saw it, I knew that I wanted to be a part of making movies like it. Once I'd completed my degree in drawing, I was recruited by DreamWorks Feature Animation. I worked there for five years, during the time the studio was making traditionally animated films – which is to say films created by artists drawing each frame of film by hand. I absolutely loved making films. But after a time, the studio decided to transition from traditional animation to CGI, and I found that I really missed making art by hand. So, I asked myself what other medium would allow me to continue to enjoy my favorite parts of filmmaking: collaborative storytelling, character design and, most of all, drawing. The answer was easy: picture books!

Q: Is it common to be both an illustrator and an author of children’s books? What kind of challenges does that entail?

A: It wasn’t always. And author/illustrators still aren’t the norm. But we are a growing demographic. I suppose the only real challenge is that of working to master the arts of both writing and illustrating. Both require such different strengths and skill sets. Tackling either one alone is plenty! That said, if you can manage it, there is a wonderful creative freedom that accompanies the role of author/illustrator.

Q: What was the first book you published, and how did it feel to be published for the first time?

A: My very first book was “Emma’s Gift.” It was published by a tiny little house called Abingdon Press.

They went out of business years ago, and the book is no longer in print, but I learned so much by making it. It was, and is, always a rush to hold a copy of a finished book in my hands for the first time. And then, after a minute or two, I think … what’ll I make next?!

Q: Is there anything you learned as a student at ASU – either from your art classes or your English classes – that has helped you during your career?

A: I was so fortunate to study with Anne and Jerry Schutte while I was at ASU. Not only are they each incredible artists in their own right, but they were also incredible teachers and two of the kindest people I’ve ever met. Their encouragement meant so much to me, but their expectations meant even more. They consistently set the artistic bar higher and higher for me, and in doing so, taught me to set the bar higher and higher for myself and my work. That lesson has been invaluable in my career as an artist.

Q: What advice would you give to students hoping to embark on their own career in publishing?

A: Do it! Embark! One of my favorite things about children’s publishing is that if your work is good, there is room for you and your stories. There’s no finite number of books to be published and so, no finite number of job opportunities. There’s always room for more!

Maxym Martineau, BA, English language and literature, 2012

Though she started out as a biology major at ASU, Maxym Martineau knew her true calling was to be an author. She made the switch from biology to English and never looked back. Martineau is currently at work on the third book of her young adult series, “The Shattered Crown,” which will be released Dec. 1, 2021.

Question: Why did you decide to study English/writing?

Answer: As a kid, I used to suffer from really intense nightmares, and one of the ways I processed my dreams was by writing them down in a journal. What started as an exercise to diminish my fears turned into me finding a passion for crafting stories. I ended up going to ASU for biology at first because I was hesitant about my ability to provide for myself with an English degree. I was fortunate to study under professors who I respected deeply — Dr. Blasingame, Dr. (Bradley) Ryner and so many others. My experience with ASU’s English department positively shaped my career in ways I can’t even begin to truly articulate, and I’m so thankful I took the leap and switched majors like I did. In the end, passion won out. I haven’t regretted it a moment since! 

Q: Why did you decide to write in the young adult genre?

A: I’ve dabbled in a few age categories, but I’ve always been pulled toward young adult. There’s so much happening in that age range, and I love how most YA novels give the power over entirely to the teens. There aren’t many parents or parental figures running around dictating how to handle certain scenarios or experiences. And the experiences are aplenty! I tend to write in the fantasy genre, but young adult in general is a gold mine of unique stories and perspectives across all genres, and I love that.

Q: What was the first book you published, and how did it feel to be published for the first time?

A: My first traditionally published young adult novel was “Kingdom of Exiles.” My publishing journey is kind of unique in that I actually released my first novel as an adult mass-market book, but because the themes were so relatable to the young adult sphere, my publisher decided to do a special-edition YA release through Barnes & Noble. It was exhilarating to get back into my story and rework it with my new audience in mind, but I was also worried that maybe it wouldn’t sell or appeal to readers like my publisher thought it would. Fortunately, I worried for nothing! It did exceptionally well, so much so that the rest of my series is now being publishing in the YA sphere, and I couldn’t be happier.

Q: Is there anything you learned as a student at ASU that has helped you during your career?

A: Honor your passion. It’s not that I disliked being a biology student, but I always knew in the back of my mind that I belonged in a more creative field. Even though it was scary, switching to a degree that didn’t necessarily have a career path laid out before me upon graduation, it was the best thing I could have done.

Q: What advice would you give to students hoping to embark on their own writing career?

A: Remember that everyone has their own individual experiences that they’ll bring to every single story they read. In other words, if someone doesn’t like your work or has a problem with the plot or characters, even if you don’t agree, they’re perfectly valid in their feelings. If they don’t like your story, that’s OK — and it will happen. You can’t please everyone, and trying to argue or defend your work against their personal feelings does more harm than good. In fact, I highly encourage people to read widely in and out of their comfort zones both as a reminder for what it’s like to simply be a reader and to further explore different perspectives. Also, writing might be a solo activity, but that doesn’t mean you have to venture into the world of writing alone. Find your community!

Q: What are you reading right now, and/or what books might you recommend to young readers?

A: I will always recommend Leigh Bardugo, Holly Black and V.E. Schwab. I also love Sarah J. Maas. My to-be-read pile is massive, and I’m in a bit of a reading slump, but I just started “Shadow of the Fox,” by Julie Kagawa, and so far am enjoying it!

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Adrienne Celt, MFA, creative writing, 2012

Exploring philosophy and Russian language helped Adrienne Celt enrich her writing before going for her master’s degree in creative writing at ASU. In addition to being a novelist, she is also a cartoonist, and her work has been awarded with an O. Henry Prize, among other recognitions. Celt’s latest novel, “End of the World House,” comes out April 19, 2022.

Question: Why did you decide to study English/writing?

Answer: I knew I wanted to write pretty young, but it was never the only thing I was interested in. As a high school student, I was given the advice to study something besides English or creative writing in college so that I'd have more to write about, and that turned out to be excellent advice for me — I got my BA in philosophy and Russian language, and in addition to being wonderful learning experiences, those topics have enriched my writing enormously. The MFA program at ASU had strong faculty and funding, both of which were important to me — I knew I didn't want to go into debt for an arts degree.

Q: Why did you decide to write in the literary fiction genre?

A: I was drawn to it very naturally and instinctively. I write the stories that feel important for me to tell, and which I feel I can tell well.

Q: What was the first book you published, and how did it feel to be published for the first time?

A: My first novel was “The Daughters,” which I published in 2015. It was absolutely scary and thrilling. Like a lot of writers, I'd published short fiction in a number of venues before coming out with a book, and I thought I knew what I was getting into emotionally, but the book was very different. Publication can make you feel very exposed and vulnerable, but it's also the opportunity I'd been waiting my whole life for, to share my work with other people on a wide scale. Talking with readers, seeing my book in the world, and making friends with other writers made the whole thing a beautiful experience for me. But there are always nerves!

Q: Is there anything you learned as a student at ASU that has helped you during your career?

A: A lot of people think that the value of workshopping your writing — which is a big part of the MFA experience, and most creative writing classes in general — is that you get feedback on your work. But the real benefit is that, by giving careful, craft-based advice to other people, you learn how to critique and revise your own writing more insightfully, and that will always be valuable to me.

Q: What advice would you give to students hoping to embark on their own writing career?

A: Read a lot and write a lot. Your writing and thinking will change over time, and that's fine — give yourself the space to evolve, to try and to fail, and to always be learning. Educate yourself about the writing industry, so you have some idea about what's being published and how people get to that point: The internet is full of great advice about this. Remember that rejections aren't failure and that everyone experiences them. If you can, find some writing friends so you have someone to talk to about it all. Then, keep reading and writing. The reading part is really important.

Q: What are you reading right now, and/or what books might you recommend?

A: Some books I've loved recently are “The Summer Book,” by Tove Jansson; “The Chosen and the Beautiful,” by Nghi Vo, which is a wonderful reimagining of “The Great Gatsby”; and “Writers & Lovers,” by Lily King.

Dusti Bowling, BS, psychology, 2001

cover illustration for the young adult book "Aven Green Sleuthing Machine" featuring a young girl seated holding a magnifying glass with her foot

After making the tough decision to forgo a career in medicine, Dusti Bowling found her calling in the middle-grade genre. She released her first middle-grade novel in 2017 and hasn't stopped writing since. Bowling is finishing up the fourth book in her “Aven Green” chapter-book series and working on finishing her sixth middle-grade novel, which will be published in 2023.

Question: You studied psychology in college. How did you become a writer?

Answer: I majored in psychology, and all of my electives were courses like organic chemistry and physics because I planned on going to medical school. I was never happy with my decision, though, and when I got my acceptance to the UofA medical school, I realized my heart wasn’t in it and ended up declining. I spent the next several years trying out several career paths before finally sitting down and trying some creative writing. I’d always thought about writing a book because I’ve loved to read my whole life, but I never thought I could do it. I thought it was an unrealistic goal for someone like me to become a published author, and that’s a big part of why I held off on it for so long.

Q: Why did you decide to write in the middle-grade genre?

A: I gravitated toward middle grade for a few reasons. I tend to sound a little younger in my writing and I love writing silly humor, which is more suitable for a younger audience. I also like the subject matter that middle grade is addressing these days — addiction, abuse and many important topics that kids need to see in books. But mostly, middle-grade books are what made me fall in love with reading when I was about 8 years old. That age is a really special time in a child’s reading life, and it’s my hope to capture their interest and encourage a lifelong love of reading.

Q: What was the first book you published, and how did it feel to be published for the first time?

A: The first book I traditionally published was “Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus.” It was both very exciting and scary. I had a great publishing experience — an experience that I don’t think a lot of authors get with their first book. It was made a lead title, and I got to attend many conferences, events and book signings. It was a whirlwind of excitement and got the book off to a great start.

Q: Is there anything you learned as a student at ASU that has helped you during your career?

A: Even though I didn’t study writing at ASU, every professional paper I had to write, the study skills I learned and all the research I had to do definitely equipped me with some necessary skills for being a writer.

Q: What advice would you give to students hoping to embark on their own writing career?

A: My biggest piece of advice is always to read widely with a focus on the age group and genre you’re most interested in writing. Read some good craft books: “On Writing,” by Stephen King, “Bird by Bird,” by Anne Lamott, “The Elements of Style,” by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, and “Save the Cat! Writes a Novel,” by Jessica Brody are some of my favorites. Share your work with other writers, and be open to feedback and criticism. Sometimes it feels like taking criticism is the biggest part of my job, and if you’re defensive and can’t handle it, you won’t go very far.

Q: What are you reading right now, and/or what books might you recommend to young readers?

A: In young adult, I just finished “Eat Your Heart Out,” by Kelly deVos, who is a fellow ASU alumna (see below). It was absolutely gripping and a must-read for anyone who loves horror. I also love “Sadie,” by Courtney Summers. In middle grade, my favorite recent book is “Other Words for Home,” by Jasmine Warga.

Kelly deVos, BA, English/creative writing, 2016

As a young girl, Kelly deVos got her start writing fan fiction. Since then, she has taken the leap to writing her own stories, and her work on body positivity has been featured in the New York Times. Her fourth young adult novel, “Eat Your Heart Out,” was recently published by Penguin Teen, and her next book, “Go Hunt Me,” will be published in summer 2022.

Question: Why did you decide to study English/writing?

Answer: Like with many writers, I first fell in love with reading. As a kid, I’d write what would today be considered fan fiction for a middle-grade mystery series called “Trixie Belden.” Trixie was a teen detective, and I’d write my own mysteries with her as the star or create my own endings for the existing books. I began to realize that I wanted to tell my own stories, but I needed help refining my craft and technical skills. The program at ASU had great faculty. I was such a fan of writers working at the university, and I would get an opportunity to study with them! I could also see that ASU is really supportive of writers after they graduate, and that is something I really value.

Q: Why did you decide to write in the young adult genre?

A: Books were so important to me as a young adult; I loved the idea of writing for the age group. I also think that YA books tend to be a bit more plot-focused than other categories. Finally, YA books usually must have an element of optimism or hope, and I find that appealing.

Q: What was the first book you published, and how did it feel to be published for the first time?

A: My first book, “Fat Girl on a Plane,” was published in 2018. I started writing it during my last year at ASU. It’s a coming-of-age story that follows a fat high school student who wants to become the next great American fashion designer but falsely believes she must lose weight to achieve her dreams. It was both scary and exciting. It was a dream come true to become a published author, but there’s also something kind of unnerving about opening yourself to widespread critique.

Q: Is there anything you learned as a student at ASU that has helped you during your career?

A: One of the things that was the most helpful to me was the way that many of my creative writing classes focused on short story writing. I found it really helped my process by letting me test different types of voice, plot devices, etc., in a quick format and then expand what works into a longer format.

Q: What advice would you give to students hoping to embark on their own writing career?

A: First, I think it’s important to read widely in your category and genre. Second, I think it’s great to keep going but to keep going forward – to keep learning and improving your craft. In the end, there are so many parts of the publishing process that are outside a writer’s control. All we can really do is keep trying to do the best work we can.

Q: What are you reading right now, and/or what books might you recommend to young readers?

A: I’ve recently finished a few things that I loved. For YA, I’ve recently read “A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow,” by Laura Taylor Namey. It’s the beautiful story of a Cuban-American girl who spends the summer in a small English town and is full of first love and food and family. I also read “We Run the Tides,” by Vendela Vida, which is about a teen girl growing up in Sea Cliff in the 1980s. The writing is gorgeous.

Adalyn Grace, BA, English, 2013

cover for the young adult book "All the Stars and Teeth" by ASU alum Adalyn Grace

Prior to becoming an author, Adalyn Grace spent four years working in live theater, acted as the managing editor of a nonprofit newspaper and studied storytelling as an intern on Nickelodeon Animation’s popular series “The Legend of Korra.” So far, her books have been published in nine territories and eight different languages. She recently completed the fantasy duology “All the Stars and Teeth” (a New York Times bestseller) and “All the Tides of Fate.”

Question: Why did you decide to study English/writing?

Answer: I’ve always wanted to tell stories, but was never entirely certain what format I wanted to tell those stories in. For a while I thought that maybe I wanted to direct, but I ended up very quickly switching to a film minor and an English major when I thought about how much I loved writing stories. I’m also super Type A and want to have the most possible control over my work, which I felt like I got best as an author. I also used to go to all the book signings I could at the nearby Changing Hands bookstore, and I loved listening to authors discuss their works. What drew me to ASU in particular was that it offered a truly diverse list of classes that made me feel like I would truly enjoy my experience and want to attend my classes. During my time there I took classes about “Harry Potter,” young adult literature, “Lord of the Rings,” British literature and so many others.

Q: Why did you decide to write in the young adult genre?

A: Listen, YA books get some absurd hate, but they’re popular for good reason. Their pacing, for example, is unrivaled. We’re fighting to keep the focus of a younger audience that has a shorter attention span and a million other things they could be doing. So we have to tell a sharp, fast-paced story that hits all the boxes without getting the luxury of as many pages as we want to do it. It’s hard work! There’s also something really exciting about that time in a character’s life, where they’re having to make all these big, scary decisions and really figure out who they are as a person.

Q: What was the first book you published, and how did it feel to be published for the first time?

A: My first book was “All the Stars and Teeth,” which debuted Feb. 4, 2020. It was an absolutely amazing feeling to get to see my book on shelves for the first time, and to walk into a store and see it on displays. Getting a traditional book deal is an exhaustingly difficult feat that took so many years of trying and several failed books, so it’s really hard to put into words just how amazing it feels to get that “yes.” Publishing a book is so much harder and more time-consuming than anyone who hasn’t done it will ever truly understand. There are so many layers, so many stages, and so much editing, promotional and admin work involved for the author that you never expect until you’re sort of just thrust into it and thrown to the wolves. So it’s a really tiring experience, but also so exciting!

Q: What advice would you give to students hoping to embark on their own writing career?

A: I have some tough advice I may get a bit of heat for: If you’re thinking of being a writer, I think it’s great to take classes to study craft and get practice, but I think your other classes may arguably be more important. If I could have done one thing differently, I might have thought harder about majoring in something that allows for a more stable career, like engineering. I won’t lie or sugarcoat it: Traditional publishing is hard to break into. Like, really hard. You can have an amazing book that you put hundreds of hours and your entire heart and soul into, and still not sell it because of the market. I got supremely lucky, but ultimately you never know. I think you should absolutely try and push for your dreams, but I hate the idea of needing to be a starving artist. I also recommend reading widely, getting critique partners/groups you trust and whose opinions you value and feel right for your work, and to write. Seriously. Just go write.

Q: What are you reading right now, and/or what books might you recommend to young readers?

A: Right now I’m finishing up “Gods & Monsters,” the last book in Shelby Mahurin’s “Serpent & Dove” series, which is absolutely wonderful. I recently read “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue,” by V.E. Schwab, as well as Adrienne Young’s “Fable” duology, which are both fantasy. For audiobooks, I just finished Emily Henry’s “People We Meet on Vacation,” which is a really fun romance. I recommend all of them!

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Lena Nguyen, BA, English/creative writing, and BA, political science, 2014

First-time author Lena Nguyen is still basking in the excitement that came with publishing her first book, “We Have Always Been Here,” a story that centers on the misanthropic psychologist Dr. Grace Park, who has been placed on a survey ship headed to an icy planet in an unexplored galaxy. It has already received a starred review from Booklist. Nguyen is busy these days working on her next novel, an apocalyptic fantasy adventure that she describes as a cross between “Mad Max” and “X-Men.”

Question: Why did you decide to study English/writing?

Answer: I think I was around 10 years old or so when I first picked up a pen and scribbled down my first real story. I was always an avid reader, and one day, it just sort of clicked that I’d read enough stories to try writing down one of my own. I became obsessed, and I went on to study writing during my summers at places like Stanford, Brown and Harvard University. Writing became my whole life, and it still is to this very day. What I really loved about ASU was the vibrant community and extracurriculars that surrounded the writing program. Even aside from the excellent course curriculum and interesting classes — I remember looking at the catalog and seeing things like “Sex, Death and Snow: An Introduction to Canadian Literature,” or “Zombies, Vampires and Cyborgs in Literature,” which frankly changed my life — there were so many student-run publications, clubs and organizations. There were book clubs, fantasy writers’ workshops, the Piper House and its special readings and author events, and even the Center for Science and the Imagination, which is a program that encourages and elevates science fiction writers to the forefront of the public imagination. Many universities don’t have such rich communities centered around writing and literature, and that was a large part of ASU’s appeal.

Q: What do you love about the young adult genre?

A: While my most recently released book is not a young adult novel, the YA genre does hold a special place in my heart. I think it can sometimes earn an unfair reputation as “silly” or frivolous, but it actually contains a wealth of opportunities to mine and explore very nuanced and complex emotions and situations. There are few stages in life that are just as universally confusing, accessible, tangled, formative and sometimes as dark as when we’re young people trying to figure out who we’re going to be, presented with choices that will shape the absolute rest of our lives.

Q: Is there anything you learned as a student at ASU that has helped you during your career?

A: Taking Dr. Blasingame’s “Literature for Young Adults” class is actually what sparked my interest in YA literature, both in an academic and creative sense. He is just so brilliant at highlighting and uplifting the genre in ways that you would never consider, and it certainly changed my entire perspective on the young adult genre as a whole. My experiences that semester opened my mind up to possibilities in my writing that I hadn’t considered before, partly out of a misplaced fear of not being taken seriously if I pursued a genre that seemed “childish,” and it gave me the understanding and knowledge to tackle things like coming-of-age stories and bildungsromane in a much more informed way. Dr. Blasingame’s class was why I made my Barrett honors thesis a YA novel, and because my first published novel — the one released this year — takes place in a setting that shares that universe, I’d definitely say that class had a huge impact on where I am today!

Q: How does it feel to be published for the first time?

A: It’s been an extremely exciting experience. I did have some first-time nerves directly prior to the book’s launch, since having my writing out for the entire world to see was a new and vulnerable experience to contend with. But the publication of the book has been so positive and exciting, and seeing it on the shelves of all of the bookstores I’ve walked into — including some very famous ones, across the country and even the world — has been an absolutely mind-blowing experience. And I’m very grateful for the outpouring of love and encouragement that I’ve received. It’s been a true honor.

Q: What advice would you give to students hoping to embark on their own writing career?

A: Read as much as you can, especially in the genre that you want to write in. Write what you want, and write for yourself. Be hesitant about sharing your work too early. I firmly believe there’s an “incubation” stage for stories where inviting outside feedback and influence can harm or even paralyze the development of a new plot. You have to find the right balance of plowing forward, working lovingly and thoroughly, accepting the need to revise and redo and kill your darlings and having the courage to present your writing when it’s ready. And finally, do your research when it comes to figuring out how you want to get your writing out into the world. There are so many paths to publication nowadays — traditional publication, self-publishing, websites, and anthologies and magazines. Being well-informed on how the industry or publishing process works will help immensely for writers wanting to figure out their careers

Q: What are you reading right now, and/or what books might you recommend to young readers?

A: At the moment, I’m just starting out with a much-anticipated fantasy novel I’ve been looking forward to for years, called “Sidewinders,” by Robert V.S. Redick. That author has been a huge inspiration to me in terms of my own writing, and I can’t wait to read this next entry in his epic fantasy series.

Illustrations by Alex Cabrera/ASU Media Relations and Strategic Communications