• Malia Maunakea

My Writing Journey

Updated: Dec 13, 2020

I know at some point I will wonder how I ever got started down this path to becoming an author, so before I got too busy promoting my published books (how's that for positive thinking?) I thought I'd go ahead and record my journey for posterity. Filling it in with random pictures of mine from corresponding timeframes to make the reading more interesting.

November 2019

I learned about NaNoWriMo, a month of writing where some amazing humans strive to complete

Malia jumping over crevice in rocks
Jumping into writing! Needles District of Canyonlands NP

a full novel in a month! I decided to give it a go, having absolutely zero clue about how to write a book or even what type of book I'd want to write. I tried a few different things, ranging from kids literature up to an adult, but never got past a paragraph or two before not knowing where it was going. Then I saw two of my friend write about the outdoors and I realized I could very easily stick to what I know! I started writing a non-fiction how-to book about backpacking as a family.

December 2019

I can't remember the fancy word for the phenomena, but you know the thing where if you're researching a particular car to buy you start seeing them all over the place because they are more top of mind? That's what happened! I saw someone in a mom's group on Facebook promoting a book on great kid hikes in Utah that she wrote and had published. I reached out to her on December 18th and asked if she'd be willing to meet me at the library (I really miss meeting people in our library). She said yes and we set the date for January 9, so I put my head down and really focused on writing out a solid start to my book so I could make the most of our meeting.

January 2020

Malia with puppy on her backpack during a hike
Preparing for backpacking with pup

The start of 2020 was chock-full of promise. I met with the author (slightly fan-girling over meeting a real-life traditionally published author). We had a wonderful talk, she was enthusiastic about my book idea (I had brought some pages along. Always be prepared) and she offered to connect me with her publisher! The publisher responded to the introduction email by gently letting me know that their submission instructions were on their website. Cool. Like any good engineer I followed their submission form to a T and submitted on January 30th. And then I waited. Hikes with our rescue mutt helped pass the time.

February 2020

Being a new writer, I had zero clue how much waiting there is in writing. I researched other publishers that did outdoor type books, and queried a few of them. By the end of February, I was done twiddling my thumbs, waiting to hear back. I decided to write some more.

This time I had an idea for a short 8,000 word Chapter Book series. I revisited my kids' Magic Treehouse books to get an idea of flow and how every chapter ends in a cliffhanger. Our family's experience on the Tetons backpacking trip was perfect for what I considered a quick, fun mystery. My mom was my very first critiquer and thought I had something promising. I wanted to find other writer friends to run it by I joined our local Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and connected with a critique group on February 25th.

March 2020

I knew that I wanted my Chapter Book (CB) to be a series, so I started a second on March 2. This one didn't flow nearly as quickly (it still isn't done) but I worked on it for most of March and April as I polished my first CB.

My SCBWI crit group met in person twice before the pandemic shut everything down March 13, 2020. Like everyone else we learned how to critique online and figured out the magic of Zoom. As I worked on my second book, I researched query letters, read through all of Query Shark's advice, learned about Query Tracker, made my list of agents who accept Chapter Books (I had no idea when I wrote it that it was such a niche category), and started sending it out.

Meanwhile, on March 5th I heard back from CMC Press that they liked my Lightweight Family Backpacking proposal and requested more information! They also said they have the perfect timeslot for publishing it in 2023. I was super stoked (if not a bit befuddled by the long timeline). But that totally worked for be because I wouldn't be under a deadline crunch at all. I got to work on. I let them know I was thrilled and I'd get them the requested information by their next board meeting in MAY (which seemed like FOREVER away at the time).

April 2020

In the open space near some bushes with my writing pad
Very first day I started writing Lei

I worked on polishing my Backpacking requested materials, and hit submit on the requested materials to CMC Press on April 23rd. Happy that I had another project, I immediately focused on querying my new Chapter Book. I queried five agents on April 29th and another nine the next day. I had zero chill. I didn't know that I should pace myself, find out if I'd get feedback, rework my query, etc... I was excited and sent them out willy nilly after spending the earlier part of the month organizing an agent spreadsheet.

Since I was able to write 1.5 Chapter Books (the second one was sort of at a stand-still), I decided that I should try something longer. I wanted to write a MG (middle-grade) book that was based on Hawaiian mythology. I actually researched a bit of how to pace, and what parts of stories are, so when I started writing the book on April 24th I was excited to see if I'd actually be able to write about 50,000 cohesive words.

May 2020

May was filled with rejections. Lots and lots and lots of rejections. They stung, but I realized that CBs are a tough sell. I also read oodles of articles about how it is usually the 4th or 5th book of a writer that ends up getting published. So I focused on my MG book about a hapa-Hawaiian girl that defies a volcano goddess, while trying to figure out what the heck our summer plans were going to look like now that we were two months into a pandemic. We ended up having to cancel the Canadian Rockies (the border was closed) and stick closer to home, exploring the Colorado Rockies.

June 2020

Malia's feet in slippers at a firepit
Complete disbelief that the publisher accepted my story

It was fittingly while we were out on a camping trip that I got the email on June 3rd. The CMC Press Advisory Board had approved my proposal! Oh my gosh. I was ecstatic. There were tears. I took this picture by the firepit right after reading the email so I'd remember exactly what I was doing when I'd learn I'd be published.

And I kept writing about Anna, my little hapa-Hawaiian girl, getting more and more excited about the potential this story had.

July 2020

Lots of backpacking and vacationing while trying to avoid humanity like the plague (pandemic humor isn't very funny). I wrote here and there as time permitted.

August 2020

In August I learned about a little contest called PitchWars. They pair agented authors up with a

Laptop and view of lake from campervan window
Working to get Lei polished for PW in our campervan

non-agented writer for three months to help polish the non-agented writer's story. It sounded like an incredible opportunity, so I told my SCBWI crit partners we should have a goal to finish our books and get them polished enough to enter that contest at the end of September. I brought my laptop along on our camping trips and wrote in the campervan during downtime.

September 2020

So much scrambling and working to finish and edit and revise the manuscript (MS) and write a query and synopsis for my first MG book, which I titled Lei and the Fire Goddess. We (my crit partners and I) evaluated all the amazing mentors and their wishlists on the PitchWars (PW) website, and decided four to submit to at the end of September. And then we waited.

October 2020 AKA The Big Wait

PW results weren't read till Nov. 7, so I had all of October to wait, stress, and wonder. I joined a group on Twitter of other MG writers who also entered PW, and we supported the heck out of each other through the ups and downs of the Big Wait. I ended up getting FOUR FULL REQUESTS! Each of my mentors wanted to read my full MS! Oh man, my heart was soaring. I was more hopeful for this than anything I had ever been in my life. No joke. The days were sooooooo looooonnnnnnnnnggggggg. The MG group got me through. I also started writing my second MG book to try pass the time, and entered two more mentor competitions in case I didn't get into PW.

November 2020

Heart shaped cactus
My heart hurt after not getting in PW then toughened up

As the rest of the nation watched a wild presidential race, I waited for the results. On November 6th, I had my answer. I was not selected. I was so so so sad. I cried. I avoided the computer for a few days. And then I bucked up, and got back to writing.

I was writing a kinda tricky book that partially took place on the moon and partially in a land reminiscent of old Hawaii. I participated in my first official NaNoWriMo, reflecting that on where I had been last year at this time. I didn't "win" NaNo by hitting 50K words, but I did finish the first draft of the book (42K words) so was was a win for me.

I leaned heavily on my new MG writer friends. And the week after getting the bad news about PW, I learned that I was selected for a mentorship through SCBWI, and that I won the Writing Rooster Scholarship for that program! Totally pays to have backup plans and multiple paths for success.

December 2020

Here we are in early December. What a whirlwind year its been. My MG group has given

Puppy in a backpack on a hike in front of mountains
Pup in a Bag! Heading into 2021!

ourselves the hashtag #MGwaves. Two of our group were selected for PW mentorships, 3 have received "THE CALL" and signed with agents since November 6th. They are the most uplifting, helpful community of writers and friends. Combined with my original SCBWI crit group, I feel like I'm prepared to jump into the New Year with the biggest support system parachute thing ever. I can't wait to begin my mentorship. I have a 3rd MG book brewing in my head, and now I'm attempting to update this website to reflect this new path I'm taking.

I realize that life doesn't always follow the straight and narrow. This year was nothing like any of us expected. Hang in there. Take some breaths. 2021 is right around the corner.


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