I am beyond thrilled to host debut novelist, Katelyn Detweiler, today. I first met Katelyn over the phone because she works with my amazing agent. It was terrific to finally meet in person a few years back and then I was over the moon to find out she was a writer, too, and had a book coming out. You do NOT want to miss reading Immaculate, and now you do not want to miss meeting Katelyn:
Firstly, a humongous thank you to Kirby for inviting me on to her blog—it is such an honor, truly. As a part of the literary agency team that is lucky enough to work with Kirby, I’ve now been a fan / cheerleader / evangelist of her writing for the past five years. But being a fellow author—that is entirely new to me, and entirely surreal. So thank you, Kirby, for being my first ever blog request. It means the world to me.
To start at the very beginning… I wasn’t sure I was ever going to write a book. I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to write a book.
I went to college for English because I loved to read, and after college I moved to NYC to hunt down a job in publishing—I wanted to be a part of the process, one way or another, that brings books to life. First that meant working in the marketing department of a children’s publisher, then as an assistant at a literary agency, where I’d really found my home. Books, books, more books. Working with writers (real, live writers, like the exquisite Kirby Larson!) every day, it was more than the daydreaming English major in me had ever thought remotely possible. I was giddily reading new projects, editing and crafting pitches, biting my fingernails when manuscripts went out on submissions, and then, hopefully!, dancing around with happiness when they sold. I watched books be born, and it was amazing every single time it happened. (It still is.)
But then one day a few years in, there was an itch. A memory, poking out from some murky, mysterious place in my brain, called back into the spotlight for reasons totally unbeknownst to me: I had asked my mom, way back in my early teenage days, what she would say if I told her that I was a pregnant virgin. And she had told me she’d believe me. I laughed, maybe, at the time—I don’t really recall. I moved on to my next hypothetical question, probably. But her answer, it stayed. It dug itself in deep.
Working with YA projects, I’d seen so many kinds of retellings, twists on the classics. Fairy tales, mythology, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, etc.—all reinvented in their own unique ways. What about this story, though? What about a pregnant virgin? Not set thousands of years ago, but set here. Now. Today.
What would people say? Really? Her family and her friends, her classmates and her town—and the big wide world beyond that, too.
I couldn’t stop asking myself these questions. I couldn’t stop wondering. So I walked to The Strand in downtown Manhattan one sunny Saturday afternoon, and I perused some books about the Virgin Mary. Theology, art history, mysticism. I bought a few, and I started reading.
It was never a question then: would I write this, or would I not write this? I didn’t have a choice. I needed to write it down, even if it would never go anywhere beyond my computer. I had to figure out for myself how people would respond to this kind of claim in our own modern day world.
I had very little semblance of a plan going in, just the idea of a girl, a girl going through an unusually difficult situation. An outrageously difficult situation, really. When it came to the setting, the only place I knew to go was home. My home—my first home—the fields, the woods, the small town in Pennsylvania where I’d spent my first eighteen years of life. My home away from home still, my lovely green escape from the perils of city living.
And when it came to writing probably the most important relationship in the book, the relationship between the girl and her mother—her mother who may or may not believe—well, I went home for that, too. I thought about my mom. I thought about the words she’d said to me a decade ago, about our relationship then, our strengths and our weaknesses. Our completely unconditional love.
I thought about that home, I thought about that mother, and then I wrote.
I wrote what I knew. And most importantly, I wrote what I love.
Katelyn Detweiler was born and raised in Pennsylvania—in a small town much like Mina’s—living in a centuries-old farmhouse surrounded by fields and woods. After graduating from Penn State University, she made the move to New York City, where she is a literary agent representing books for all ages and across all genres. Katelyn currently lives, works, and writes in Brooklyn. Follow her @katedetweiler.