It’s time to meet the 25th featured author of the SSS! Introducing…Emily France!
Since sixteen-year-old Riley Strout lost her mother two years ago, her saving grace has been her quirky little family in the grief support group she joined as a freshman. Jay, Kate, and Noah understand her pain; each lost a loved one, and they’ve stuck together in spite of their differences, united by tragedies only they understand. When Riley thinks she spots her mother shopping in a grocery store, she fears she is suffering some sort of post-traumatic stress. Then Jay and Kate report similar experiences.
Only Noah hasn’t had some kind of vision, which is perhaps why he’s become so skeptical and distant. When Noah disappears, Riley fears she’s lost another loved one. As they frantically search for him, she, Kate, and Jay are drawn into the mystery surrounding a relic that belonged to Jay’s dead father and contains clues about the afterlife.
Riley finds herself wrestling with her feelings for both Noah and Jay—which have become clear only in Noah’s absence. If Riley is to help those she loves, and herself, she must set things right with the one she’s lost.
What I Didn’t Do Before Landing a Book Deal
By Emily France
In July 2016, my greatest dream will come true: my debut novel, SIGNS OF YOU, will be published. But the road from dream to shelf has not been an easy one. After years of struggling with unfinished novels and rejected short stories, I flatly declared that I was finished forever.
Then, well into my writing strike, it happened.
An idea for a story woke me in the middle of the night. I bolted upright, out of breath and covered with sweat. I had a vision of a girl. She was in a store and as she looked down one of the aisles, she saw her mother picking up a bottle of pink bubble bath. As their eyes met, her mother slowly smiled. But there was a problem: her mother’s funeral was two years ago.
I reached for a pile of law review articles by my bed and groped for a pen in the darkness. I scribbled the scene in the margins. I didn’t know who the girl was or why she was seeing her mother years after she was mourned and buried. And I didn’t know that for the next seven years, SIGNS OF YOU would become my constant companion—close like family, close like bones.
I was an attorney in Chicago. The story rode the L to work with me each morning; I jotted scenes on Starbucks napkins as I jostled down the tracks. Once, after I left federal court on a cold day in February, I had to stop in the middle of Dearborn Street, run back to the side of the courthouse, press my brief against the icy stone building, and write lines of dialogue. They screamed through my mind like emergency announcements I couldn’t ignore. A group of blackbirds and pigeons flocked around my feet, pecking at the sidewalk below me, waiting for a morsel of food to miraculously fall from my pages. I wrote until my hand went numb. Finally, I looked up. Attorneys stared as they left court. Embarrassed, I tucked the pages back in my briefcase and tried to shoo the birds—and my ideas—away.
I worked for at least ten hours a day at the law firm and attended a creative writing workshop at night, falling asleep in the middle of nearly every single class. So many times, I wanted to quit writing and save the novel in a file titled: YOU CAN’T FINISH THIS ONE, EITHER. JUST GIVE UP ALREADY.
But I didn’t. And when I was asked to write a Thanksgiving guest blog post about something I’m grateful for as a 2016 debut author, I knew right away what it was: it’s that I didn’t give up. Make no mistake, I’m eternally grateful for my amazing agent, Jennifer Unter, who took a chance on a rookie writer. And I could write an entire book about what it’s been like to work with my editor, Daniel Ehrenhaft, who has outpaced any dream I ever had about working with an editor in New York. Our collaboration has been one of the most rewarding creative experiences of my life.
But before I landed an agent, and before I inked my first book deal, I did something that now fills me with profound gratitude: I didn’t give up. I didn’t give up when I got judgmental looks as I took a break from a successful career to have more time to write. I didn’t give up when I wrote day after day in the public library and learned that the chances of landing an agent were slimmer than getting struck by lightning. (In the same place. Ten times.) I didn’t give up when I tried to learn how to “pitch” my novel, and read early query letters to friends who just cocked their heads, blinking. I could hear their thoughts: We never knew Emily was so crazy. What a pity.
And as I give thanks for not giving up, I have to wonder why I didn’t. What was it that kept me going? Because whatever it was, I need to give thanks for that, too.
And I think I know. It was Gratitude’s annoying little brother: Acceptance.
When I was in the depths of drafting SIGNS OF YOU, I went home to visit my parents for the weekend. My mother informed me that I was to get the boxes of my “old stuff” out of her basement; she needed room to expand her burgeoning sewing hobby. Reluctantly, I went downstairs and ripped open the first box, coughing as a cloud of dust swirled around me. I expected to find old CDs, high school yearbooks, mementos from the first road trip I took as a teenager. But I didn’t find any of that.
I found writing. Lots and lots of writing.
The boxes were packed to the brim. I’d filled diaries, spiral notebooks, legal pads, and even paper towels with stories. I sifted through them, not remembering half of them, filled with a strange feeling that I was snooping through a prolific writer’s private belongings. But then it hit me: that prolific writer was me.
I knew then that this “writing thing” would never stop. It had been going on since I was a child. This phenomenon of dialogue racing through my mind like an ambulance, or characters rapping on my skull while I tried to sleep, or story ideas forcing me to write on the sides of courthouse walls, wasn’t a phase. It was a part of me; it was what I had done and would continue to do for the rest of my life. I could accept that and refuse to give up until SIGNS OF YOU was finished and published and sitting in a bookstore, or I could keep working under half-steam, accumulating scattered thoughts in my parents’ basement.
I chose the former. I chose to accept that I’m a writer. And that acceptance is what fueled the countless hours it took to finish a draft good enough to land an agent and then a book deal.
And come July 2016, when I first see my book on a shelf, I’m afraid I’ll be so full of gratitude I just might pass out in the aisle. But maybe that’s what happens when your greatest dream comes true.
Happy Thanksgiving. And seriously, don’t give up.
Emily France graduated from Brown University before going on to law school, where she was the editor-in-chief of the law review. She finds creative inspiration in all things spiritual, from sitting with Benedictine monks for 4 a.m. vigils in a Rocky Mountain monastery to trekking to Buddhist and Hindu temples in India. Now she writes full-time and lives with her husband and their fearless Tibetan Spaniel in sunny Colorado—the closest place to Nirvana she’s found. Signs of You is her debut novel. Visit Emily online at www.emilyfrancebooks.com and follow her on Twitter @EmilyFranceBook.
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