November 9, 2018 | By Chuck Carlson
Her first novel sits locked away, loved but not forgotten.
It was called The Amateur Witch, Rebecca McLaughlin’s first attempt at writing a novel. She was in high school.
One was called Loose Magic, a sequel to her first effort that taught her a lesson.
“Don’t write a sequel until you’ve sold the first one,” she said with a smile.
The other? It was called MISTE. Call that one a teachable moment.
While her first two efforts had been in the young-adult fantasy genre, full of magic and witches and faraway places, the third was a book of thrills and science fiction.
“It was an example of a book I immediately walked away from,” McLaughlin said.
They all still live in her mind and her heart. But for McLaughlin, a native of Waterford, Mich., the trial and error and blood and sweat has been well worth it.
By this time next year, she hopes her fourth effort, The Nameless Queen, will be everywhere—on bookstore shelves and online links—and that her goal, her passion, will have taken flight.
“It’s weird,” she said. “In some ways this has seemed like a whirlwind, but in other ways it seems like it has taken so long. But when I was a kid, what I wanted was to publish a book. I’ve wanted to be a writer forever.”
It has neither come quickly nor easily for McLaughlin, who has a day job as a software systems process designer at Consumers Energy in Jackson but who has always set her sights on a career as a novelist.
She finished The Nameless Queen in 2015, another young adult fantasy about a street thief named Coin who learns she has inherited a magical crown and that she is now queen of her city. Great adventure follows.
McLaughlin found a mentorship program, pitchwars.org, that allows writers with a complete manuscript to work with a published author, and then post the first page of the novel and the book’s premise so that literary agents can view them. If agents are interested, they may ask to read the remainder of the book and offer representation.
McLaughlin’s project intrigued several agents and she eventually signed with Peter Knapp of Park Literary and Media in New York City. The process took off from there.
She said several publishing houses were also interested in her book, which sold at auction to Crown Books for Young Readers, an imprint of the publishing giant Penguin Random House.
And over the past two years it’s been a series of rewrites and edits that McLaughlin says, mercifully, are down to the final stages. Then comes marketing and publicity, advanced copies for review, and artwork for the cover of the book, which she admits she cannot wait to see.
“Getting into Pitch Wars and getting an agent are the most exciting things that have ever happened to me so far,” she said. “That’s because you just don’t expect it. It blew me away.”
She got into Pitch Wars a year after she graduated from Albion, a school she hadn’t really considered attending until her twin sister, Melissa, visited and suggested Rebecca take a look.
“I kind of knew when I saw Albion that I wanted to go,” she said. “I wanted a smaller college, and I didn’t want to get lost in a big lecture hall. It also helps that my favorite color is purple.”
She knew she wanted to be a writer and she kept busy by writing 1,000- to 2,000-word flash fiction pieces, sometimes one a day. Still, she also knew that she wanted a marketable skill and chose to double major in her other favorite topic, chemistry.
“So I thought, ‘Why not do two?’” she said. “A diverse set of interests is what a liberal arts college allows you to cultivate. Besides, chemistry lets you light things on fire.”
Asked if she was able to do that, she laughs.
“Not on purpose.”
McLaughlin will keep her day job but, along with putting the finishing touches on her current novel, she is already signed up to write a second for Crown, though it remains in the formative stages.
“Writing books is a career I’m starting,” she said. “And once you do it, you can keep doing it.”
And she can’t imagine anything better.