by Nicole Maggi
Being a writer sometimes ruins me for being a reader. It’s a rare book these days that can supersede my hypercritical mind, so when I find myself so lulled in by a story that my picky brain stops whirring, I know I’m in for a good read.
That was exactly my experience reading Edward Underhill’s Always The Almost, his submission for the 2020 SCBWI Mentorship. Almost immediately, the character of Miles drew me in with his openness, his vulnerability, and his love of classical music (I, too, played classical piano—and oboe—at Miles’s age). The authentic and wonderfully genuine voice that Edward brings to this transgender coming-of-age YA novel is lovely, sensitive, compelling, and oh-so-readable.
But honestly, all of the submissions I received for the Mentorship were an embarrassment of riches. Filled with memorable characters and unique settings, it was truly a joy to read through all of them and be swept away by so many promising stories. Honorable mention goes to Jane Henry’s submission When Bigfoot Comes To Town, a middle grade adventure story whose setting and voice sucked me right in. Agents and editors, take note when Ms. Henry comes to query! Each submission I received was worthy in its own way, and it was a very difficult choice to whittle it down to just one. To all of the authors who submitted, please continue to write and strive for publication; I know you all can get there!
Back when I applied to be the 2020 SCBWI Mentor, I was in a dark place with my writing. I had had a bad few months of rejections and I almost didn’t apply. I was sitting with a pre-published writer friend in a bar and told her, “what could I possibly offer someone?” She gave me an incredulous look over our beers and reminded me about how I had helped her polish her novel pages, write a query, and come up with a list of agents to submit to. “Don’t say you don’t have anything to offer,” she said. “You’ve already given me so much.” The next day I sent in my application for the Mentorship.
I’ll always be so grateful to her for the push, because I am so excited to have the opportunity to work with Edward on his book, getting it to the finish line of querying agents. I had so many writers help me as I was coming up, and having the chance to pay that forward means the world to me. Publishing is like a ladder: we need to help each other up so we all can rise.
Edward Underhill has been writing stories since he was a kid. He grew up in Wisconsin and now resides in Los Angeles, where he writes music for animated TV shows by day, and words for teenagers by night. Like his main character, he is also trans, and hopes to one day share his stories with queer and trans kids who don’t see themselves in books every day.
Nicole Maggi began writing poems about unicorns and rainbows at a very early age. She holds a BFA from Emerson College, and lives in Los Angeles. Her books include What They Don’t Know (Sourcebooks 2018), which Booklist called “an engaging, emotional debate on rape and abortion,” The Forgetting (Sourcebooks 2015), which was a 2016 International Thriller Writers Thriller Award Finalist, a 2015 Junior Library Guild selection and a #1 Kindle Bestseller, as well as The Twin Willows Trilogy (Medallion Press 2014), called “Reminiscent of Twilight and Harry Potter” by VOYA, and the non-fiction middle grade book Hidden Wonders from Lonely Planet Kids.
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Photos provided by Edward Underhill and Nicole Maggi.