Today, I am thrilled to share the writing journey of Marieke Nijkamp. I’d heard a lot about what an amazing writer, and critique partner, Marieke was through various people on Twitter, but it wasn’t until I read her query, and the opening to her book, WE ARE OPPORTUNITY, during WriteOnCon, that I knew she was the real deal. What I admire most about Marieke is her positive attitude. After querying three manuscripts, it would’ve been easy to get down about the world of publishing. Yet Marieke kept working at her craft, while graciously helping other writers along the way! Marieke recently signed with an agent, and I am eagerly awaiting the day when her book hits the shelves!
Many thanks to Marieke for sharing her writing odyssey today…
Amy: At what age did you truly know you wanted to be a writer?
Marieke: When I was about eleven, I think. I’d always been writing (cliché, huh?) and I had so many notebooks with scribbled-down stories and so many ideas I wanted to pursue. But that was the first time I remember really falling in love with this world I created and the people inhabiting it. I never even ended up finishing that story, but it was such a fantastic experience. I never looked back.
Amy: You write both Middle Grade and Young Adult. Do you prefer one over the other?
Marieke: Oh man, are you asking me to pick a favorite? That’s evil! 😉 If I’m honest, I love YA for all it can be: brave and powerful and all-encompassing. With YA I can explore worlds and people and breaking points and hope. But MG offers a completely different perspective. One that is far more innocent, adventurous, and above all full of possibilities. I only prefer one over the other like I prefer one story idea over the other. At its heart, I love both.
Amy: When did you complete your first manuscript?
Marieke: When I was about thirteen — fourteen? A very clichéd fantasy story about elves and prophecies and chosen ones. I loved it for what it was then, and I even sent it to a few publishers. Fortunately they all rejected it, though very kindly and they all encouraged me to keep writing.
Amy: How many completed manuscripts did you query before one garnered agent interest?
Marieke: Barring that first one, I queried three manuscripts before OPPORTUNITY. Two YA epic fantasies and a literary YA with a hint of magic realism. With every single story, I was convinced it was The One–I firmly believe you need that conviction before querying–though I recognize the flaws in all of them now. And I racked up my share of rejections, some harsh, some form, quite a few of them incredibly lovely. Really, I loved querying. I’m so grateful for all the agents who took time to read and give me personalized feedback, and I loved being part of game, even if the no’s could be disheartening. We’re so focused on getting to the next step and the next and the next, it’s easy to enjoy all the steps of the way. Whether you’re querying your first manuscript or your fifth, you’ve finished a book—or more, you’ve edited, you’re putting yourself out there. You’re doing amazingly. And you’ll get there!
Amy: Are you one of those people who has an easy time writing a query or does it take several tries before you land on the one you want to send?
Marieke: I don’t think one necessarily excludes the other. I love writing queries. I’ve written and critiqued queries by the dozen, and I love a great pitch that enticed the reader, that lures the reader in and never lets them go. But it can take me several tries before I land on the one I want to send. If only because I think getting feedback along the way is so very important too. From people who’ve read the book, and know its nuances as well as you do, and from people who haven’t. After all, those are the people you’re trying to hook.
Amy: I love the premise behind your powerful manuscript, WE ARE OPPORTUNITY. Where did the story idea come from?
Marieke: A conversation with a friend, over a lovely Japanese lunch. We discussed gun laws, school safety, and many, many other cultural differences between the two of us. It really challenged me to think outside my cultural box and question everything that makes so much sense to me. At that point, the characters of my story started whispering, and they wouldn’t shut up until I’d got back to my computer and jotted down the first ideas. I workshopped a completely different story (a YA sci-fi) at the SCBWI Winter Conference mere days later, but by the time I got home, OPPORTUNITY had to be written.
Amy: Can you give a short summary of your call with your agent, Jen Udden? How did you know she was the right fit for you?
Marieke: I think the best way to summarize my call with Jen is to tell you my cheeks ached from grinning so much. There were so many things I loved about Jen during that first call: her sharp editorial eye, the way she saw the story I intended to tell, her fierce agenting. But her wicked sense of humor sealed the deal for me. (Coincidentally, I met some of my agent sisters at World Fantasy Con a couple of weeks ago, and they all told me the same thing!)
Amy: The writing process is grueling and querying even more difficult. What one piece of advice can you impart to aspiring writers to encourage them to keep working towards their dream?
Marieke: If I have to stick to *one* piece of advice: Never, ever give up. If I can expand on that a bit, three things. One, find good friends and talented CPs. Writing is hard, and maybe it has to be because we’re bleeding parts of our soul onto the paper. But it’s easier if you have people around you who make you laugh, who know what you’re going through, and who pick you up when you want to stab your words with a pen.
Two, write the best story you can (but know when to stop polishing). You can’t influence how every single reader reads a story, but you can make sure to give it the best odds. Make it the best you can be. Make it the story you want to read. Make it a story you believe in. And then allow yourself to let it go and move on to the next.
And three, listen and pay it forward. When you’re writing MG and YA you’re part of this incredible community of writers and professionals who are willing to help each other and support each other in a way that’s almost unheard of in many other literary communities (at least the ones I’ve been part of). So reach out to people, learn from what they have to say, and help others on their way. After all, we’re in this together, and we’re all passionate about good stories.
Marieke Nijkamp is a YA and MG writer who suffers from wanderlust and wants to grow up to be a time traveler. In the midnight hours of the day she is a storyteller, and most of her stories–ranging from literary to fantasy–have a sprinkling of magic to them. She holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies, and is more or less proficient in a dozen languages. Marieke is one of the founding members of YA Misfits and organizer of DiversifYA. She’s represented by Jen Udden at the Donald Maass Literary Agency.