Lorelei Savaryn author of The Circus of Stolen Dreams, talks about her experience as a Pitch Wars Mentee, her favorite books, and her favorite places to watch the sunset. She also gives some great advice to aspiring writers – you better go grab a pen and a paper!
Lauren – Travel and Write Today: When did you decide you wanted to write a book? Can you share more about the process?
Lorelei Savaryn: I knew I wanted to try to write a book since the early 2000’s, though it had always in the back of my mind that I enjoyed writing, even back when I was a kid. I majored in creative writing in my undergraduate degree, but felt too scared to actually try to complete a manuscript and so I put it off for a long time.
Finally, after our 3rd child was born, my husband gave me the nudge I needed to get started. I didn’t want to be a person who only ever said “someday I’d like to write a book.” And so we worked together as a family to create space for me to pursue my dream. My first manuscript wasn’t enough to get me an agent, but it is the manuscript that taught me how to write a novel-length thing, and it’s also the story that helped me build a strong foundation in writing craft through hours and hours of trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t and why. I had several people help me along the way, friends and critique partners, and a few writers a bit further along the journey than I was. That helped a lot, too.
TWT: This is the entire reason I started Travel and Write Today — for all those times that I said I would start “someday”. Thank you for the reminder!
TWT: That is so exciting that you were a Pitch Wars Mentee. Can you tell us about that experience?
LS: I got the idea for THE CIRCUS OF STOLEN DREAMS during the summer of 2018 and feverishly put down a 43,000 word first draft over the course of 16 days in July. I had a hunch about this story – I knew it needed some help, but I felt like middle grade was a better fit for me as a writer than the YA I had been querying, and I also felt like the concept could be a good fit for the market at the time. I finished the draft and revised what I could just in time to submit to Pitch Wars 2018, but barely!
Pitch Wars is a really great program where aspiring authors apply for mentorship from industry professionals, who are often editors or authors, or sometimes agents as well. From a pool of about 3,000 or more applicants, about 100 mentees get chosen each year. Those mentees work with their mentors for about four months before preparing a pitch, and their opening words for an agent showcase, where literary agents can request you send them your manuscript if they like your sample and pitch.
It can be very intense, but as a former mentee, I can say that it was beyond worth it. My mentors, Lacee Little and Juliana Brandt, taught me so much about writing over the course of those four months. I don’t think I could honestly ever repay them for what they did for me. My manuscript was ready for an agent after the showcase, and I had to decide between five different offers of representation about a month and a half after Pitch Wars concluded that year. Getting into Pitch Wars isn’t a guarantee of an agent or a book deal, but I went into it knowing that I would do all I could to emerge from the other side a stronger writer. That helped me keep perspective, and then, on top of that already amazing outcome, in my case it also led to my publishing dreams coming true.
TWT: Do you prefer a paper & pen or a laptop?
LS: That’s a great question- for me, it really depends on what I’m doing at the time! I have some smaller notebooks that I use to brainstorm new story ideas, or to flesh out a concept. I take pen to paper, and just write any thought that comes into my mind, without filtering at all. I kind of look at it as clearing everything out so I have space to hone in on what direction I might truly want to take things. That’s really helpful for me. Some of those pages I go back to and take ideas from, and some pages I never really look at again, but it all has value because I can kind of sort out the things that stick after I’ve put absolutely everything out there.
When I’m drafting and revising, I use good ol’ Microsoft Word and I type. I type really quickly and I like being able to almost keep up with my thoughts as I draft. I also like being able to move things around as needed, or cut and copy into a different space. I know there are more fancy writerly programs out there, but that’s just what has made sense for me.
TWT: Do you write in the morning, at night, or whenever you find the time? Where are your favorite spots to write?
LS: I can write pretty much any time I find a few minutes, but I am not and may never be an early morning writer. From mid-morning on into the evening, I’ve learned to be flexible and take time when I can get it to make progress. I’m a homeschooling mom with four kids, so I don’t have the luxury of holding my writing time too precious. Being flexible has been such an important part of making this happen at this stage of life. I may get two hours while the baby naps after lunch, I may not. I may write when everyone is in bed. I might sneak in a few words while the pasta is cooking. I might sneak off on a weekend to write in my van or at a coffee shop.
But if I had to pick a favorite place to write, I’d say somewhere cozy and quiet, with a peaceful view out the window and natural light hitting my face.
TWT: Important question: Coffee or Tea?
LS: Coffee, 100%! I have a cup in the morning to wake up and a cup in the afternoon while I work.
TWT: Agreed! There is always coffee in my cup when I’m writing.
TWT: How long have you lived in Illinois? What are some of your favorite local spots to visit?
LS: We’ve lived in Illinois for just over two years. I’ve lived in the midwest my whole life, but most of that was in Wisconsin. I’m a big fan of The Shanty, as well as The Chocolate Sanctuary for great food, near where we live in Gurnee. There are a lot of beautiful forest preserves in the area that the family also likes to explore. And we’re in a really nice location where we’re less than an hour away from both Milwaukee and Chicago. We live in a quiet neighborhood, with horse farms and forest preserves just minutes away, but we also have easy access to all that city life has to offer.
TWT: What are some of your favorite books (besides The Circus of Stolen Dreams)?
LS: I read a lot of kid lit, but I also try to read in other genres and age categories, too, so it’s hard to curate a list of my all time favorites, but I will try!
One of my favorite middle grade books of all time is The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier. It’s such a wonderful example of a horror novel for young readers, and has a lot of heart and a beautiful message in addition to the scares.
A Wrinkle and Time and Pride and Prejudice will always be two of my favorite ‘classics.’ Those are books that I find myself returning to again and again over the years.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is also at the top of the list, as are Furthermore and Whichwood by Tahereh Mafi.
And I think I also have to mention Owl Moon by Jane Yolen! My dad read that book to me over and over again as a kid, and it’s one of my most peaceful memories from childhood. It stuck with me so much that I even included a bit of Owl Moon into my own book.
I love beautiful, lyrical language, and stories with a message that hits on the pulse of what it means to be human – to grow and learn, and to find purpose and strength.
TWT: I am a former classroom teacher, as well. Have you ever considered teaching writing classes?
LS: Sometimes I do wonder about that and think it could be super fun! I don’t really have the bandwidth to make a concerted effort to find opportunities in that arena at the moment, but if an opportunity ever presented itself to me, I’d be all ears.
TWT: What are some of your favorite spots, for a weekend getaway, in the Midwest?
LS: My husband and I love to visit Elkhart Lake and stay at the Osthoff Resort. We’ve done that for a short getaway over the past few years, and even took the whole family there one year over Christmas vacation. Green Bay is also a delightful spot, with a lot of family-friendly activities. Even having grown up there, we still like to visit and take the kids to Bay Beach or the National Railroad Museum, and stop for pizza at Happy Joes and frozen custard at Zesty’s.
TWT: What is your favorite place to watch the sunrise/sunset?
Anywhere with an unbroken horizon. I grew up in Wisconsin, and love the sight of a farmer’s field right around harvest season as the sun dips low in the sky. We also took a family trip to upper Michigan this year, and stayed at a house on the beach. The sunsets and sunrises there were stunning. There were some times where you couldn’t even tell where the lake met the sky.
TWT: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
LS: I feel like I could talk about advice to aspiring writers for a very long time, but I’ll try to narrow it down to something that’s been helpful along through this entire journey for me.
In publishing, you can’t control much, and it’s helped me to focus on spending my energy and time controlling the things that I actually can control. When I was querying, I couldn’t control if an agent fell in love with my story. When I was on submission, I couldn’t control if an editor did. Now, with a book out, I can’t control, in any significant way at least, how many people buy my book.
But there are things I can control, too. I could control the fact that I kept putting myself out there to agents, giving myself a chance to find representation. I could control how hard I worked on my craft. I can control finding stories to tell that I think mean something and might be important to some reader somewhere who finds my books.
I could spend a lot of energy worrying about the many things I can’t control along the way, or I can invest in the things I can. One of those options will likely lead to some anxiety and stress, and one of them might free me up creatively and mentally to write something really cool, and put it out into the world.