Stubborn Storytelling: Rejection is Not The End, a guest post by Elissa Sussman
At the beginning of my adult life, I set two goals for myself: get a book published and become an animated character. And I believed that out of the two of those goals, I’d become a published author first.
Instead, in 2009, Disney released The Princess and the Frog, where I – along with a few other members of the production staff – were immortalized as a gaggle of giggling, swooning girls obsessed with Prince Naveen. I wouldn’t publish my first novel until 2014, my second in 2016.
Now, five years later, my third novel, DRAWN THAT WAY, a deeply personal story that brings these two goals – and two loves of mine – together at last.
I’ve loved animated movies since I was a kid. My mom saved our first movie ticket stubs from when she took us to see An American Tail, the story of a Jewish family immigrating to America to escape the Cossacks, only the Jewish family are mice, and the Cossacks are cats. As one of the few animated films (well, few films in general) about Jews, it made a huge impact on me, but I never thought I’d ever be able to work on movies like that because, well, I can’t draw.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I discovered there was a whole side of animation that didn’t require any artistic skills – production management. After graduation, I dived right in, working at places like Nickelodeon, Disney, Dreamworks and Sony, and on films like The Princess and the Frog, The Croods, Hotel Transylvania and Tangled.
During this time, I was writing. I was always writing – my love of storytelling running concurrent to my love of the specific visual medium that is animation. After a while, though, it was nearly impossible to balance both. When I started writing full time, a part of me figured I’d left the world of animation behind forever.
But anyone who knows anything about publishing, knows that it’s hardly smooth sailing, no matter where you are in your writing journey. My personal voyage has been a rough one. My first two books – which were part of an intended four-book series – were fairy tale/fantasies and sold very poorly.
I’m proud of those books and sad they never really found their audience, but I wasn’t giving up. I parted ways with my first agent, signed with my second and tried my hand at writing contemporary fiction. One book. Another. Another. Books that never got past the submission stage.
I’m extremely stubborn, but it was a hard and discouraging time. All around me, it felt like doors were slamming in my face. It felt like my writing career was over before it had even had a chance to really begin. It felt like I wasn’t good enough, that I’d never be good enough.
I considered taking a break. Not writing, not submitting, not trying for a year. Maybe longer. Maybe forever.
Then, in July of 2019, I sat down and wrote the first draft of DRAWN THAT WAY in thirteen days. Hayley’s story poured out of me, and I wrote like I’d never written before, the plot, the characters, the entire book, all coming together in a rush of words.
A bit like magic.
Here was a story about a young woman fueled by ambition and confidence, driven to succeed, and meeting nothing but road block after road block after road block. Hayley’s story was easy to write because it was mine. She was an artist, I was a writer, but we were both storytellers desperate for a chance.
At a point in the story, Hayley asks herself: “If I couldn’t do this, what could I do? What good was all this ambition and drive and talent? Was it all a waste?” She later tells another character: “All I want is a chance. That’s all. Just a stupid fucking chance to prove myself.” All things I had been saying to myself, and continued to say as it became clear that as much as I liked my second agent, she wasn’t the right fit for me.
Leaving her, though, meant that I was going to have to go back to querying. For the third time.
It was hard not feeling like a failure at that point, when it seemed like my career amounted to no more than two books that had been quickly forgotten, two agents that weren’t the right fit, and at least three books that no one wanted.
I had written a happy ending for Hayley, but wasn’t sure I could write one for myself.
Yet, my stubbornness persisted. I started querying again at the end of 2019 and by early 2020, I’d signed with my current agent, Elizabeth Bewley. She read DRAWN THAT WAY and connected with it immediately. “This is a book about ambition,” she said.
With Elizabeth’s help, I made Hayley’s story even stronger, even more personal. She suggested pitching it with the intention of including illustrations in the manuscript. She understood the story. She understood Hayley. And she understood me.
DRAWN THAT WAY sold a few weeks into the pandemic. It was released yesterday with gorgeous illustrations from the incredible artist, Arielle Jovellanos.
Its path to publication wasn’t an easy one, not even close, but I am beyond grateful that it ended with this book in my hands. Hayley’s story is my story. Maybe it’s your story too. A story about being talented and ambitious and extremely, extremely stubborn. I’m so proud of it and thrilled that I can finally share it with the world.
Meet the author
Elissa Sussman is the author of books for teens and adults. She previously worked in animation production which inspired her latest YA novel, DRAWN THAT WAY. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two dogs.
About Drawn That Way
Moxie meets the world of animation in this fresh, unputdownable novel about a teen girl determined to prove herself in the boys’ club of her dream industry no matter what it takes.
Hayley Saffitz is confident, ambitious, and intent on following in the footsteps of her hero, renowned animation director, Bryan Beckett. When she’s given a spot in his once-in-a-lifetime summer program, Hayley devises a plan: snag one of the internship’s coveted directing opportunities. Dazzle Bryan with her talent. Secure a job post-graduation. Live her dream.
Except she doesn’t land one of the director positions. All of those go to boys. And one of them is Bryan’s son, Bear.
Despite Bear’s obvious apathy for the internship, Hayley soon realizes that there’s more to him than she expected. As they work together, the animosity between them thaws into undeniable chemistry and maybe something… more.
But Hayley can’t stop thinking about the chance she was refused.
Determined to make a name for herself, Hayley recruits the five other young women in the program to develop their own short to sneak into the film festival at the end of the summer. As the internship winds down, however, one question remains: Will Hayley conform to the expectations of her idol, or will she risk her blossoming relationship with Bear—and her future—to prove that she’s exactly as talented as she thinks she is?
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 09/28/2021
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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