Meet Natasha Neagle, author and Pitch Wars mentor. Natasha Neagle’s debut is THE BODY PARADOX, in which a genetically altered teen becomes trapped in the same body as her worst enemy and must overcome their rivalry in order to survive the organization that turns against them. It’s slated for publication at Entangled teen in winter 2018.
You started writing at a young age but took a break when you went to undergraduate school. Years later you started writing again. What made you decide to finally get back to writing?
I taught 8th grade science in Maryland at the time and I had three students who I adored. They called the four of us FEWN (Farah, Eunice, Wesley, Neagle), which led to an idea of four friends going on a crazy time-traveling adventure. I started plotting it and the next thing I knew I had a completely different idea take over. My original idea focusing around those three amazing students is still in my AMWRITING folder to be written one day.
Your manuscript, THE LANGUAGE OF LIARS, was a 2016 RWA Daphne Finalist. What did you do when you found out and what emotions did you go through?
The day I got the call was the same day I signed with my agent so needless to say that day is one of the top 10 best days of my life. Unfortunately, I’ve separated from my agent since then, but I went straight to Twitter and Facebook and shared my double good news with the world. I was in shock that others liked my writing enough to consider me a finalist and that I’d managed to land an agent. Yeah, that day was awesome! I think we went out for sushi to celebrate.
As a physical science teacher you’ve taught grades 6-10. Do any of your students ever inspire any of your characters or help you write about teenagers?
YES! I make sure I have a very diverse cast of characters in my novels because I’ve had so many students tell me they wished they could see themselves in the books they read. I want to get it right when I write diverse characters if they aren’t representative of some aspect of my own experiences. I would ask my students questions to make sure I was representing them properly. I’m currently wrapping up this school year and many of my students have given me permission to use them in my future novels. I’m looking forward to making them fierce on the page.
Does your day job as a teacher ever interfere with your writing?
Only when I want to stay up writing all night and I have to get up at 5:30 am. 🙂 If I get an idea in the middle of class, I will pull out a post-it or my journal (I care one at all times) and jot it down while students are working in groups or independently.
You had quite an unusual route to publication. You signed with Entangled Teen without an agent and a book you had yet to write. Tell us about your crazy route to publication.
Okay, this is a long story, but an awesome one, so get comfy.
In 2015, my first agent subbed my YA LGBT Thriller to Entangled Teen. Stephen Morgan read the MS in one sitting and took it to acquisitions. Unfortunately, it wasn’t able to be purchased at the time, but Stephen and I remained in contact over the years. He’d check in and see what I’d written and if it was anything he thought would be good for Entangled Teen. Fast forward to this year and he reached out to me asking if I’d be interested in writing something on his wishlist as a spec project. Since I was currently on sub with my second agent and had wanted to work with Stephen since my first submission to him, I jumped on the idea. I talked it over with my agent and she told me to go for it.
After finding out the premise Stephen wanted, I was tasked with providing him with a beat sheet to turn into the editorial team. I’m an outliner and beat sheets are foreign to me, but Stephen and I talked and I was able to come up with a killer storyline that I managed to put into a beat sheet. Stephen took that to the editorial team and they loved it. He passed on the great news to me and I was tasked with writing the first 10-15 pages.
It was right around this time that I split with my agent and suddenly became terrified of handling everything on my own. Stephen was very gracious and quickly made me feel better. Any question I had about the contract (this was before we even went to acquisitions), he was more than eager to answer for me to the best of his ability. I’m grateful for his openness and honesty during this whole process. I wrote the pages as he requested and sent it to him to read. He sent me email updates whenever I made him laugh out loud or if my main character did something he loved, which was awesome. He sent me some suggestions on how to intensify the scene and I revised the pages. We went to acquisitions and somehow I managed to get through the school day without going crazy. Stephen called me to give me the good news that Entangled Teen wanted to buy the novel and here were are today. I finally get to work with Stephen and hope it’s the beginning of many novels we’ll work on together.
Are you nervous to be writing the book for Entangled Teen? Will it be your hardest writing challenge yet or do you think it will come naturally to you?
I’m STILL in shock. Not only did I manage to find an editor who loved my writing, the publishers loved it as well. I consider being able to write a spec as my debut as an honor. THE BODY PARADOX is a fantasy, which is my first love, but I remember asking how in the world I’d pull off the premise. A visit with my water muse and I had the whole novel mapped out. I’m most nervous that my students and coworkers will be able to buy something I wrote. I’m a fast writer, but I’ve never had to write to a deadline before, so that’s taken some getting used to. Like all writers, I suffer from bouts of imposter syndrome and think the publisher will read my writing and shred my contract. Some aspects of this novel are a challenge, but I love the characters and look forward to my writing time each day where I can live in their world for a few hours and experience life through their eyes. I hope everyone falls in love with Adrian and Ezra as much as I have.
Any advice to other writers who worry that won’t have any success if they split with their first agent?
I’ve split with two agents and each one was hard to do. I loved both of my agents dearly, but I had to remind myself this is business and not personal. I separated from both on good terms and went through a period of mourning because we were a couple and now we aren’t anymore. I still celebrate their successes with them, they simply weren’t the best fit for me and my career.
Writers leave their agents all the time. This is something I didn’t know when I first started writing. I thought my first agent would be my only agent because she represented my career versus one book. The fact is that writers and agents change over time and what worked may not, anymore. A writer needs to do what is best for them. It’s normal to go through the stages of grief. I did lose some acquaintances within the writing community when I separated from my agent, (both times), but I’ve also remained friends with some of my former agency brothers and sisters. Splitting from an agent is a terrifying life event, but you can and will get another one as long as you never give up and keep doing what you do. Those who drop you when they see you aren’t being represented by an agent anymore aren’t worth your friendship. If they can’t be your friends at your lowest, they definitely don’t deserve you at your best.
You love books with diversity and look for diverse books as a Pitch Wars mentor. Can readers expect to see diversity represented in your future writing?
ALL of my writing has some sort of diversity in it. Like I stated before, I want to write books that would make my students say, “Hey, that’s me,” but also represent pieces of my own life experiences.
As a Pitch Wars mentor, how often do you communicate with your mentee?
A minimum of once a week. I always have my phone with me, so I’m available to DM via twitter, message on google chat, or text. I love to talk plot points with my mentee and he or she shouldn’t be surprised if I drop random emails during the day to see what they think.
Finally, you love tattoos. Do you have any book or writing related ones or plan to get any?
The adult fantasy (that later became a YA fantasy at the encouragement of an agent) I wrote long ago when I first started writing had a key in it that was important. Two of the Care Bears on my sleeve have a lock and a key to represent that book. I have since buried, salted, and burned that novel in consecrated ground, but it will always be a part of me because it got me back to doing something I love. I also have quotation marks by my thumbs on each of my hands. I made sure my sleeve had multiple characters with books, so I have two Popples characters reading a book and Brainy Smurf struggling with a handful of books. Now that I’ve sold a book, I plan on getting a dragonfly somewhere (foot or leg, maybe) and then I’ll add more of them for each book I sell.
Want to know more about Natasha? Visit her author website.