Before Gennifer Albin wrote Crewel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), the story of a girl who can weave time but who struggles against those in power who want to control her ability, her husband often teased her that her epitaph was going to read: “The author of the 20 most promising first chapters ever.”
Albin’s love of writing began as a child, when she would mimic her favorite authors. After high school—where she mostly pursued acting—she eventually received a graduate degree in English from the University of Missouri and spent a few years teaching at the high school and university levels before leaving to have children.
Being a stay-at-home mom to a newborn and a toddler left Albin with little time or energy to write. Then, in the summer of 2010, her mother-in-law stepped in. “She called me up and pretty much demanded that I write a book,” recalls Albin. “She knew it would irk me into action.”
It did. And though Albin once again only hit the 60-page mark on that story, her commitment to storytelling garnered the attention of her husband, who also urged Albin to make writing a priority. In August, encouraged by some positive feedback to her idea on a message board, Albin quickly wrote the prologue to Crewel. Determined to see this story to its end and energized by the idea of the annual NaNoWriMo project, she made her way to the computer station at the library in Lenexa, Kans., a few times each week during the month of November. “I would write in 70-minute increments before the session would time out,” Albin says.
Despite the complicated world that Albin had to create for her characters in Crewel (where Spinsters such as her main character, Adelice, actually weave reality and can control people’s lives), Albin insists she had no outline for that initial version. “The first draft was primarily plot,” she recalls. “It was during the revision process that the world came to life and I had to think very literally about fabric and weaving, which even led to complicated conversations with my husband about quantum physics.”
According to Albin, Crewel started out as mainly dystopian and became progressively more SF. “I made a conscious decision to move toward science fiction,” she says, “layering in more explanations... about the weaving of time with each revision. Readers are intelligent. I never wanted to give them a half-baked world.”
Crewel garnered a lot of positive attention, and quickly. In spring 2011, before her manuscript was entirely polished, Albin participated in a live chat with an agent who requested the first 20 pages, and soon after, the entire manuscript. Albin’s critique partners urged her to immediately submit to other agents, and by the next day, Albin was fielding multiple requests for full versions of Crewel.
While Albin was setting up a phone meeting with the original agent, she got an e-mail from Mollie Glick at Foundry Literary + Media, to whom Albin had only submitted a few pages of Crewel. Glick announced she was flying to Kansas City to take Albin to lunch. Albin says that she and Glick connected instantly. “She’s a fighter,” Albin says. “A smart businessperson. For me, it was an obvious choice.”
It wasn’t long before Glick was fielding offers from publishers as well. Crewel went out to editors the Friday before Memorial Day weekend in 2011. By Tuesday, the book was in an auction and quickly snapped up by Janine O’Malley at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Albin enjoys working with O’Malley, who she says has a no-nonsense attitude that fits Albin’s style well. “She’ll identify a problem and say, ‘Let’s fix it,’ ” says Albin. “She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty.”
A sequel to Crewel, as yet untitled, is due next fall. Readers can expect to find the heroine, Adelice, in a whole new world, facing even more sinister threats from the ruling Guild, and the unexpected return of some characters from book one. Albin plans to write the third book in the trilogy this coming year, along with something completely different—possibly not for teens.
Meanwhile, she’s enjoying the ways life has changed since Crewel has hit the shelves. “Seeing someone reading my book—someone who chose to read it—is indescribable,” Albin says. Sounds like a feeling she should get used to.