Author Spotlight: Alyssa Colman
|© Christina Gandolfo
April 2, 2021
We are excited to feature author Alyssa Colman and her debut middle grade novel, THE GILDED GIRL (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), out April 6. Enter to win a copy!
|Illustration by Geneviève Godbout, Cover Design by Aurora Parlagreco
Tell us about yourself and how you came to write for children.
I started writing stories in sixth grade and never quite figured out how to stop. For a while, I wrote short stories in secret, then plays in public, and finally arrived at writing novels. The stories I reach to for comfort are the books I read in middle school, so writing middle grade novels feels natural to me. I’m a new mom to twin girls and I live in Los Angeles with my family and our delightful dog, Daisy.
Congrats on your debut middle grade novel, The Gilded Girl! Tell us about it and what inspired you.
Thank you! The Gilded Girl is a loose retelling of A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, set in a Gilded Age boarding school for magic. In this magical, Gilded Age New York, the divide between the magical haves and have-nots is as black and white as the foyer tile at Miss Posterity’s Academy for Practical Magic. Twelve-year-old student Emma can afford the education that will teach her the secrets of kindling her magic, while the school’s servant girl, Izzy, is doomed to see her magic snuff out before her thirteenth birthday like the rest of the lower classes. When Emma loses her father and fortune in a tragic accident, she loses her access to magic as well. Though not natural allies, Emma and Izzy team up together to find a way to kindle their magic, despite the fiery danger that kindling presents.
I got the initial idea for this story while listening to the audiobook of A Little Princess on my daily commute. I’d loved the main character, Sara Crewe, when I was younger, but as an adult, I couldn’t help but think she would have been exasperating to have as a peer. She was far too perfect and did everything right! That realization became the voice of Izzy. The story unfolded after a conversation with my mother who is a high school guidance counselor. We were talking about the high cost of college education and she said, “Education is the greatest barrier for class mobility in our country.” I began to think about education being a barrier to magic and you’ll read the result in the novel.
Was your road to publication long and winding, short and sweet, or something in between?
I’d have to call it “something in between.” I said above, I lived in New York and wrote plays for several years before I moved to Los Angeles and decided to write a novel. (Very unusual that I didn’t want to write a screenplay, I know…) I took classes at UCLA and joined a workshop group lead by the brilliant Melanie Thorne. I wrote my first YA novel in her workshop and entered it into Pitch Wars in 2016. I didn’t get in but I received helpful feedback from one of the mentors. Using that and what I had learned from writing the book the first time, I started over and wrote a better novel. That project got me into Author Mentor Match in 2017 but only a small handful of full requests when I queried it to agents.
In December 2017, went to the Big Sur Writers Workshop with several other Author Mentor Match mentees and discovered my love for middle grade over the course of the weekend. I wrote the first draft of The Gilded Girl in forty-four days and then revised it for five months. I queried in October 2018, signed with an agent in November and revised the book some more. We went on submission to publishers on a Thursday in March and the following Monday, my wonderful editor, Janine O’Malley at FSG, reached out to schedule a call. The book sold at auction in April 2019 and comes out almost two years to the day in April 2021.
What are some of your favorite classic MGs? Recent ones?
I could talk about this topic all day! I wrote Redwall fan fiction in seventh grade and I loved that whole series by Brian Jacques. I read Dealing with Dragons and the Enchanted Forest Chronicles series by Patricia C. Wrede over and over until my copies fell apart. If a book had a horse on the cover, I probably read it: The Saddle Club, Black Beauty, Man of War, Misty of Chincoteague... I still love animal books and am currently enjoying Rina Heisel’s Journey Beyond the Burrow. Some other recent favorites include Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim, Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch and Eva Evergreen, The Cursed Witch by Julie Abe, Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk, and The Benefits of Being an Octopus by Ann Braden.
What projects are you working on now?
I am wrapping up copyedits on my second novel, The Tarnished Garden. It is a companion novel to The Gilded Girl and a loose retelling of The Secret Garden, which is also by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It follows a familiar character from book one who discovers a magical garden in the middle of the tenement neighborhood known as The Tarnish.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Is this the same advice you'd give to aspiring authors?
I’d love to pass on some of the most helpful writing advice I ever received, which is to practice writing even when you don’t feel like it. Find ways to inspire yourself instead of waiting for inspiration to strike. For example: After work in the evenings, I was often too tired to write. I started doing virtual writing sprints with a friend, and suddenly, writing in the evenings was fun again. That’s how I wrote most of The Gilded Girl. Now that I’m on a publication schedule full of deadlines, I’m grateful that I learned how to motivate myself early on so I can schedule writing dates with friends when I need that extra push! Find what works for you and write!
What is one thing most people don't know about you?
In addition to being an author, I’ve held a number of unusual and enjoyable jobs. I worked as a dancing waitress at a chain seafood restaurant, a house manager at an Off-Broadway theater, an HR manager for a major media corporation, and I spent the summer after college as a caretaker for a flying squirrel colony.
Where can people find you online?
My website is www.alyssacolman.com and I’m on Instagram and Twitter @AlyssaBColman.
Alyssa Colman is the author of heartwarming middle grade novels with a classic feel. Her upcoming titles include THE GILDED GIRL (April 6, 2021) and THE TARNISHED GARDEN (April 5, 2022), both from FSG/Macmillan Kids. As a playwright, she was a winner of the 2013 ESPA new play competition at Primary Stages in New York and was a semi-finalist at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center National Playwrights Conference. She has participated as both a mentee and mentor in Author Mentor Match. Alyssa now lives in Los Angeles where she enjoys making messes in her kitchen and hiking with her family and their dog, Daisy.
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