So enjoy the post, and make sure to follow Erica on Instagram and Twitter so you can keep track of her as she continues her journey!
Benjamin Churchill first appeared to me when I was thirteen years old. It was a rainy December night, and my family and I were driving home from having seen a production of A Christmas Carol put on in Princeton. I was consumed by the concept of change, whether we were all capable of change, or if, for some of us, it was too late.
I think that’s why he materialized that night, riding a horse, keeping pace with the car—to help me explore this question.
When I got home, I crawled into bed, pulled out my trusty notebook from the nightstand (I still keep one there, by the way), and wrote down everything I knew about Benjamin Churchill, a character that would stay with me for twenty years.
He’s changed a lot since then. He’s been British, he’s been American, he’s been in the Navy, the Army, and then finally I decided he was going to be a whaler. He’s been surrounded by multiple casts of characters, he’s been the main character, and now he’s a supporting character. He’s also been shelved for most of this time.
I’ve always been a writer, a teller of stories, but I didn’t think I was capable of being published until after college. I had just completed my teaching degree and was working with a group of fifth graders. We were reading a fairy tale retelling (that no one was particularly fond of), and one of the students said, “You know, I think you could write a better version of this.”
It was a challenge, but I did it. Having no idea what to do with a completed manuscript (well, at least I thought it was completed), I sought the advice of my neighbor who I knew was a writer as well. She invited me to join her writer’s group, and that’s where everything really started coming together for me.
Writing is a fairly solitary occupation, and it’s easy to be intimidated and keep your work to yourself. This was the first time I was sharing my writing with a group of like-minded people. I received feedback (some positive, some constructive—mostly constructive), and I kept working. Finally, when I felt like I had polished my fairy tale retelling, I decided to attend the New Jersey conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Something must have possessed me, because I also signed up to pitch my book to an agent.
As I waited in line for my turn, I kept rereading my pitch, trying to memorize every word. I was shaking. I was sweating. I could just picture myself trying to describe my book, something so personal and close to me, to someone who just wouldn’t be interested or see my vision. Finally, I sat down in front of Liza Fleissig, took a deep breath, and got halfway through my pitch before she stopped me and said, “I want you to send me the whole thing.”
You’d think the shaking would stop there, but no. Cue more incessant nerves.
Liza signed me as an author at the Liza Royce Agency in 2014, and I was positive, absolutely certain, that it would be smooth sailing from that point forward.
Only no one can truly prepare you for your personal voyage to publication. I figured that because it had been so easy to secure an agent, my book would obviously be snapped up in a second by an editor. That book ultimately didn’t go anywhere. My next two made it farther than that, but ultimately went nowhere as well.
Writing is hard, and giving up is so much easier. But I’ve wanted to be an author since I was little, since I sat in the children’s section of my local library, piling up books to bring home and devour. Books were my constant, and I knew that simply reading stories wouldn’t satisfy me forever. I had to write them. I had to hold my own book in my hands.
It was only this past year that Benjamin Churchill resurfaced for me, and this time, he took the form of a Yankee whaler. He was always tied to the sea, but I finally realized where he belonged, what his story actually was.
My Young Adult novel, Words Composed of Sea and Sky, debuts in Summer 2021 from Running Press Kids/Hachette. It’s told in two alternating points of view, one of Michaela, a girl living on present-day Cape Cod, writing poems in an effort to escape her home life, and the other of Leta, a girl living in the same town but during the height of Yankee whaling, who also uses poetry to escape the social conformities of her time.
You’ll find Benjamin Churchill among the pages, too.
About Erica: Erica George is a writer of Young Adult fiction and a graduate of The College of New Jersey with degrees in both English and education. She resides in scenic Hunterdon County, New Jersey, but spends her summers soaking up the salty sea air of Cape Cod. Many themes of Erica's writing rotate around environmental activism and helping young people discover their voices. You can find her writing, whale watching, or engrossed in quality British drama with her dog at her side.