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Student publishes novels

Marisa Iati | Friday, March 23, 2012

The past few months brought major stepping-stones toward second-year graduate student Betsy Cornwell’s dream of becoming a published author.

Cornwell, who is seeking her master’s degree in creative writing, recently sold two children’s novels, “Tides” and “Mechanica,” to Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

“I think I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” Cornwell said. “When I was little, I was pretty shy and introverted, and I read books all the time and it was really important to me. Now I like the idea of writing books for kids who really rely on books the same way that I did.”

Cornwell said she sent cover letters to literary agents during the 2010-2011 school year and was rejected many times.

She said she finally received an offer the same day she moved to New York City last summer to work as an intern with The Park Literary Group.

Cornwell said her agent helped her revise “Tides” and sent the manuscript to several publishing houses.

“It took about three months after that to get the deal,” she said. “That was pretty quick, I felt. Some people it takes years to get an agent. I feel really, really, really lucky.”

“Tides” takes place on the Isles of Shoals, situated off the northeastern coast of the United States, Cornwell said. The novel builds upon the Irish myth of selkies, which are said to live as seals in the sea and as humans on land.

“I always really liked that fairy tale when I was growing up,” Cornwell said. “The summer before I wrote my first draft, I worked on a steamship in Portsmouth Harbor … I came to know really well these little islands off the coasts of New Hampshire called the Isles of Shoals.”

Cornwell said she became serious about her goal when she participated in National Novel Writing Month while working at “Teen Ink,” a teen literary magazine.

“You write a rough draft of a novel in a month [during National Novel Writing Month],” Cornwell said. “So I tried that during my junior year of college just to see if I could, and what I got to in the end of it was the first draft of “Tides” … I had put all that work into it at that point and I wanted to be committed to it.”

Cornwell said “Mechanica” is a “steampunk retelling of Cinderella.”

“My best friend is a set designer for theater and she had sort of stumbled upon this aesthetic movement called steampunk, which is this kind of neo-Victorian science fiction … and I thought that was really neat,” she said. “I was just going to write a short story, but it kept getting longer, so now it’s going to be a book.”

Cornwell said she would like to work in different genres in the future and plans to write a graphic novel. While she said it is difficult to finish the first draft, she enjoys receiving feedback from readers.

“My favorite thing so far has been hearing from people who have read the book and have gotten out of it what I hoped they would get out of it,” she said. “I really do like the idea that writing and reading is about connecting with someone else.”

Writing frequently is the best way to be a successful author, Cornwell said.

“It’s really easy to convince yourself that you’re not a good writer or it’s not going to work … but it really comes down to … trying to get a little bit done every day and to just keep trying because it seems like this big thing, but like any sort of big goal, you have to do it a little at a time,” she said. “It’s just like writing those 1,000 words every day.”

Cornwell said she plans to live in Ireland while she does research for “Compass,” the intended sequel to “Tides.” Eventually, she would like to move to New York City and pursue a career as an author.

“I say writing is really hard, and it is, and a lot of times it’s not an easy, pleasant thing to do, but it was really compelling to me, so once I started, I knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” Cornwell said.

“Tides” is tentatively slated for release in the spring of 2013 and “Mechanica” for the spring of 2014.