Arts & Culture / Mosaic / April 10, 2014

Senior YA novelist Colleen Boyd published at 22

Senior Colleen Boyd walked into the Center for Teaching and Learning. She went inside, walked down the familiar hallway and downstairs to the office of her independent study advisor, Writing Coordinator Paul Marasa. She took her seat next to him and watched him open up her manuscript on his computer. He sighed.

“Do you know how many times you have the word ‘smirk’ in this book?”

Senior Colleen Boyd’s debut novel “Swamp Angel” focuses on nature, swamplands and elements of fantasy. (Courtesy of Colleen Boyd)

Senior Colleen Boyd’s debut novel “Swamp Angel” focuses on nature, swamplands and elements of fantasy. (Courtesy of Colleen Boyd)

She sat and listened to him. She wasn’t sure. She felt that the characters she created were smirking, but didn’t realize that there was a noticeable repetition.

“Are you sure they’re smirking? Do they always need to be smirking? Maybe there’s a half grin, a side grin, a sheepish grin?” Marasa said.

Taking notes and realizing this could be altered, the work ahead of her seemed manageable, but never-ending.

Just before her 17th birthday, Boyd started writing half a page every day, writing a novel based on an idea she had gotten from the album “Black Swan” by the band Story of the Year.  She sat in her bedroom in Oberlin Park, Kan. listening to the song “Angel in the Swamp” on repeat.

Despite being a busy junior in high school, Boyd took to paper and penned the manuscript in just nine months.

Upon finishing this rough draft, Boyd shared her story with her family. Her mother, Kathy Boyd, took it everywhere.

“She mentioned that she was writing, but all of a sudden it was done, and it was quite thick and we realized how much she’d actually done,” Kathy said.

Boyd was not always inclined towards writing. Her preferences lay in the realm of the visual arts, but while writing a final paper for her junior year English class she thought that writing might just be her forte. Still unsure, she took an elective in creative writing her senior year and that was it.

“This was sort of my epiphany. It confirmed everything I felt up until then about writing.”

A few months later Boyd made her way to Knox College to pursue a major in creative writing. Boyd took an independent study in which she edited, revised and re-wrote her novel. A member of the TRIO program, she teamed with Marasa in the CTL.

“We were marching through a lot of pages and I wanted to make sure that it was clean. I wanted her and the novel to look good physically,” Marasa said.

After a term of editing and revising, Boyd decided to find representation. She used the summer to send out query letters to various agents. In November she found Leticia Gomez, who owns Savvy Literary Services in Texas, an agency focusing on young adult fiction. Gomez pushed the novel to publishers, and Boyd had her share of rejection but got some good news when Spencer Hill Press, located in New Hampshire, informed her that they were interested in her book.

This was the summer before her junior year and before she was to leave to study abroad in Scotland. SHP wrote that,  to Boyd’s relief, they liked it, but that it would need more revising, editing and rewriting.

“It was inspiring and of course I followed their instructions and rewrote, but now I had belief that they actually liked my work.” Boyd said.

The process became tedious and exhausting; working on school in Scotland and returning home only to receive more feedback from SHP to “change this, maybe it could be better if you re-worded this.” It seemed to never end.

“You want it just to happen, but the process is important É But you want it all to happen at once and be done,” Boyd said.

A few days before she had to return to Knox, Boyd was hanging out in her room, surfing her computer when she noticed an email from Spencer Hill Press: Official publishing date.

“Oh my God.” Boyd felt an overwhelming sense that after her laborious efforts over the last four years an official date had been set to release her novel.  She quickly left her room and scurried over to the kitchen where she found her mother.

“Guess what.”

With the Dec. 2013 release date set, there was one more year to perfect the book, create original cover art and promote the novel. The novel has a lot to do with nature and swampland, so Boyd wanted the cover to reflect as such while also alluding to the fantastical angel which serves as the novel’s subject. SHP has their own cover artist who worked with Boyd, sending her sample mock-ups. She would send her suggestions back until they had reached satisfaction.

Over the following spring break, SHP sent Boyd promotional bookmarks which she then took to a variety of bookstores and libraries in the Kansas City area. A shy individual, Boyd remembers being nervous, but people were very encouraging. Her novel tells the tale of Rylan, a teenage boy going through life smoothly until he experiences an incredible accident that alters his life from then on. He learns fantasy is real, including Ivy, the swamp angel.

Marasa insists that marketability was not Boyd’s goal.

“Any of the strengths or weaknesses of the book don’t come from her attempt to fill market. She just really wanted to write, through fantasy, about what it’s like to be in high school.”

A few days before Thanksgiving, Boyd arrived home and went up to her parents’ bedroom and started filling in her mother about how the term wrapped up. Stopping her, her mother pointed out a large cardboard box in the corner.

“This came earlier today,” her mother said, trying to conceal her excitement.

Boyd suspiciously walked over to the box and opened it up. It was full of copies of “Swamp Angel,” her book that was to be released in just under a week. She looked at her mom.

“This is real.”

Boyd has achieved the literary dream: she is 22, not yet graduated from college and already has her first book out and available for purchase.

Boyd admits that Knox serves primarily as a tool for her to become a better writer. While she finds that her characters are inspired by friends and family, as well as herself, this is a subconscious act on her behalf.

As for what will come next, Boyd has already sent in two other manuscripts to her agent and is in the process of working on a fourth. She hopes to work within the publishing industry in addition to continuing her writing. She has interviewed for a job with Andrew McNeal, a publishing company based in Kansas City, Miss., and hopes to be able to work in a city that keeps her close to family.

“There is no greater fulfillment than finishing something like this. You learn so much about yourself when you’re writing. You lay out your thoughts and feelings into the story, even some you didn’t know you had. If you can do this, you can do anything.”

Jacqueline Novak

Tags:  colleen boyd Creative writing fiction publishing swamp angel young adult

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