In this blog post, WNDB mentee Kelly McWilliams shares an update about her experience with the WNDB Mentorship Program. Kelly was a mentee in the 2017 Mentorship Program and had a Young Adult Fiction Mentorship with Jodi Meadows. To learn more about the mentorship program, visit our website here.
Editor’s Note: KellyMcWilliams’ debut, Agnes at the End of the World, will be published in June 2020 from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. You can see a sneak peek here.
By Kelly McWilliams
When I finally decided to send in my application for the We Need Diverse Books mentorship program, I was already experiencing my first labor pangs—and not the literary kind, but literal ones. On October 31, I was still weeks away from my due date, struggling with blood pressure issues, and trying to keep that baby inside just a little while longer.
In between doctor’s visits in those final weeks, I thought a lot about the manuscript I’d conceived around the same time I’d gotten pregnant. For months, I’d wished I had someone to share it with, someone to help me guide it into the light. And I knew full well that WNDB existed—a dear friend had encouraged me, countless times, to apply. I had haunted the WNDB website for weeks; I wanted nothing more than to reach out to them! But, like all writers, I feared rejection, and rationalized that I was about to have a baby—when would I even have time to work with a mentor.
October 31 was a painful day, with frightening, preterm contractions coming in waves. I was certain the baby was on her way. I was grabbing my hospital bag when I remembered that this was my last chance to send in that manuscript. I badly wanted to be a mother, yes—but didn’t I also want to be the sort of mother who could tell her daughter that she had done her best to follow her dreams, even when it scared her? While I furiously typed out a final draft of my bio and narrative, my husband helped put shoes on my swollen feet. I still remember hanging onto a doorknob while contractions rolled through. I clicked send, and off we went.
Luckily, we managed to hold off labor for a few more days, although I did spend that day in the hospital, feeling deeply relieved to have taken a chance on WNDB. I figured even if I never heard anything from them again, at least I’d tried my very best. I soon gave birth to a healthy baby girl, and within weeks I had an email in my inbox from the incomparable Jodi Meadows, author of The Fallen Isles trilogy and much more. She read version after version of that manuscript, which I revised with a baby strapped to my chest in the early morning hours, and we FaceTimed while my daughter napped.
Jodi was like a midwife for this book, and I’ll never forget how she inspired me to keep going, to keep fighting to tell this story. Although Jodi would deny it, I know in my heart that without her, I would have given up. It is undeniably hard to be a mother and a writer at the same time, and Jodi’s powerful faith in me is something I’ll never forget. I won’t forget those labor pains either, or how hard it is to type up an application when your whole life is about to change!
Now my young adult book, Agnes at the End of the World, is coming out from Little, Brown Young Readers in June 2020. My daughter is almost three. The book was conceived as she was conceived, and it grew as she grew. Last winter, Jodi knit a blue woolen dress for my one-year-old, and she’s in the process of knitting a toddler-sized sweater now, while still fielding my questions about the publishing world as the kindest of friends. That’s just the type of person she is. That’s the type of organization WNDB is. I will always be thankful to them, and I encourage anyone out there who feels the thrill of their mission—anyone feeling the pull of desire to help build more diverse literature for children and teens—to swallow their fear, and apply.
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Kelly McWilliams is a mixed-race writer who has always gravitated towards stories about crossing boundaries and forging new identities. For this and so many other reasons, young adult literature will always be close to her heart. Her upcoming novel, AGNES AT THE END OF THE WORLD (June 2020), benefitted from a We Need Diverse Books Mentorship. She has loved crafting stories all her life, and her very first novel, DOORMAT (2004), was published when she was just fifteen-years-old. Kelly has also worked as a staff writer for Romper, covering issues important to women and families. She lives in Colorado with her partner and young daughter.