May 4, 2015
Corina’s query letter resulted in five full requests and won the Delacorte Prize in the First YA Novel contest, resulting in MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN being published by Random House/Delacorte
We live by the best landfill ever. I flipped my dirt bike there once. Plus I’ve got a sketchbook full of uranium monsters. My friend Cornpup likes to show off the weird bumps on his back for a dollar. And Charlie, he’ll drink red creek water on a dare.
What is it like to live near one of the most dangerous landfills in the world? I spent a year interviewing residents of a small, polluted town outside Buffalo, New York. I recorded what you might expect: a good deal of fear and resentment. But the most fascinating voices, the images that still haunt me, belonged to a group of children who defended their mysterious “mountain” as a beloved source of lore and adventure. These voices inspired MY CHEMICAL MOUNTAIN, a YA novel that has uncovered magic in a most unusual setting. Imagine an industrial wonderland filled with crumbling factories, tumor-covered frogs, dark buried objects, and dead zones where even rodents won’t tread. Imagine this place not from Erin Brockovich’s point of view, but as seen through the eyes of a boy who is addicted to the thrill of landfill culture.
Rocked by his father’s recent death and his mother’s sudden eating compulsion, Jason Hammond spends his nights breaking into abandoned steel mills and walking barefoot through green sludge with his two best friends. The boys eagerly embrace pollution and it feels good to live on the edge, at least until Jason makes a devastating mistake on a night of spontaneous vandalism. Later, when contamination rumors suggest closure of the boys’ favorite swimming hole, Jason channels his frustration into pencil sketches of ice goblins, mutant birds, and chemical wars. His complex collection of landfill mythology, inspired by strange phenomena at a nearby toxic dump, is a powerful weapon in his battle against a rogue chemical facility. But there is a problem: Jason has become a catalyst for change, and change is the only thing he really fears.
My experience was very unique because I was originally querying agents and getting really great responses–at one point I had 5 full manuscripts out at one time–but while the agents all responded well to the manuscript, no offers of representation followed!!! Then I saw a blurb about the Delacorte Prize for a First YA Novel contest listed in an SCBWI bulletin and decided to enter. This meant sending a query letter directly to Delacorte where a panel of editors would be reading lots of manuscripts (there were well over 650 entrants that year) and would then choose a winner, whose book would be published. My book was the book they chose to publish, which was very exciting! The rules of the contest prohibited me from working with an agent for the publication of my debut, so I did not approach the person who ended up being my fabulous agent until years afterwards, when I had started to pursue middle grade instead of YA and had a finished middle grade manuscript extremely polished.