“It was a surprise for me to end up writing a YA novel, but I'm excited about it,” says Nina LaCour, author of Hold Still, the emotionally charged story of Caitlin, a teen photographer struggling to understand the suicide of Ingrid, her best friend and fellow artist.
“I'm hesitant to tell adults the premise of the novel,” LaCour admits. “It sounds so bleak, but it's really a story of hope.” In the story, grieving Caitlin is eventually able to preserve a piece of Ingrid's artwork, find closure, and accept what she could not change.
As a graduate creative-writing student at Mills College, LaCour's original intent was to write adult fiction, but she changed her mind after attending a few YA writing workshops. The idea for Hold Still came from a few unrelated incidents from her personal life. “When I was in ninth grade, two people I knew committed suicide—a former middle school teacher and later on, a classmate, a boy I knew, whom I sat with in art and knew from drama. I remember how shocked and full of disbelief I was when I heard the news about him. I never found out how or why it happened. It was something I didn't want to ask.”
Another source of inspiration for Hold Still came years later when LaCour was looking at a photograph taken by one of her mother's high school students. “It was of a girl's bare stomach with the words “fat, ugly, stupid” carved into the skin. The girl in the picture was my inspiration for Ingrid; the person who took the picture was my inspiration for Caitlin. I kept wondering what she must have been thinking and feeling as she looked through the lens at the girl's stomach.”
Once she finished writing Hold Still at age 22, LaCour didn't have to wait long to find an agent to represent it. “I had entered another story I'd written—a short story for adults—in a contest sponsored by Zoetrope magazine. [After the story was published], an editor who wanted to see more of my work contacted me and although she didn't work with YA novelists, she knew of some agents who did and gave me a list of their names.”
LaCour, who was working as an adjunct English instructor at the time, soon linked up with her first choice of agents, Sara Crowe. Good news followed shortly. “Everything in my life seemed to come together in a matter of 24 hours,” LaCour recalls. “One day my agent called to tell me Penguin wanted my book and I would be working with Julie Strauss-Gabel, my first choice of editor. The next day I was offered a full-time English teacher position.”
LaCour, who now balances two careers, readily admits that juggling writing and teaching can be “difficult,” but manages to meet the challenge. “Neither is one I can do halfway. I love both so much,” she says. “And teaching acts as a bridge for me, keeping me connected to teens.” Despite her hectic schedule, she is enjoying the rewards of her labor: establishing relationships with her students, receiving praise from reviewers and fans, and recently being named one of five finalists for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award.
Possessing seemingly boundless energy, LaCour has already completed a second, “lighter” book for teens. Although she plans to get back to the adult novel she began in graduate school, she also says, “The enthusiasm and support I've received from the whole YA publishing community has been great. I always want to stay a part of it.”