In July 2011, three days after being laid off from a job in Chicago, Brandy Colbert got the call she’d been waiting for—Tina Wexler of ICM was on the line, offering to be her literary agent, representing the novel that would become her YA debut.
“It was a strange time,” Colbert recalls. “I was sitting on my bed looking for jobs when I saw the 212 area code come up on my phone, and I thought, Is this the call? And it was! Then Tina calls again three weeks later, right when I’m moving back to L.A., driving cross-country, to let me know there was an offer.”
Pointe (Putnam, Apr.) tells the story of Theo, a ballet dancer on the cusp of professional success. When her childhood friend Donovan returns home after years spent living with his kidnapper, Theo is suddenly forced to confront her role in Donovan’s disappearance. It may be Colbert’s first published novel, but it’s the fourth she’s written. Wexler came on the scene four years after Colbert initially sought an agent. “My first novel started out as adult,” Colbert said. “But it wasn’t working—the characters felt forced and inauthentic—so I tried writing it with teenaged characters and loved it. Then I realized that YA was this growing industry and started reading a ton. I sent my book to lots of agents, but nothing worked out. Then I wrote two more books, but they didn’t get me representation either.”
Colbert began working on Pointe in 2009, and one agent’s reaction to it nearly caused her to give up getting published altogether. “She was excited about the sound of it so I sent her the full manuscript,” Colbert said. “I’ll never forget her rejection email. ‘There’s nothing I can do for this book,’ she wrote, but I read it as, ‘There’s nothing anyone can do for this book.’ I got really down and wallowed in rejection grief for a long time, but eventually I realized if I felt this strongly about it then someone else could too. That’s where Tina came in. From there, everything else happened quickly.”
The heart of Pointe comes from Colbert’s avid interest in long-term kidnapping cases. “When I was 10 years old I saw a television movie called I Know My First Name Is Steven, based on the true story of Steven Stayner, who was kidnapped when he was seven and wasn’t returned to his family until he was 14. It struck a nerve. I kept wondering what would happen if the kidnapped boy was your friend, and I wanted to examine this situation from a different point of view.” Colbert’s protagonist Theo filled this role for Donovan’s kidnapping. Colbert was also inspired by other YA novels that she thought evoked the emotion of a kidnapping and its aftermath well, especially Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott.
The intermingling of Theo’s life as an aspiring professional ballerina with the emotional turmoil caused by years of captivity turns her novel about a dancer into a thriller. “Ballet is so high-stakes anyway,” Colbert said. “It was perfect against the backdrop of the kidnapping.” Scenes of Theo in the studio appear throughout Colbert’s novel; Colbert danced tap and jazz for most of her childhood, though she did not do ballet. The form had always fascinated her, however, and Colbert’s familiarity with the world of dance helped her to bring it to life on the page.
Colbert currently lives in Los Angeles, where she’s a copy editor at Backstage magazine and does freelance copyediting for children’s books. She’s at work on another novel, but is cautious about giving away too many details, because after her long road getting Pointe published, she knows how much is subject to change. But she’ll say this much: “It’s a YA novel about a girl living in L.A. It’s a little bit about family and vices and relationships.” In the meantime, Colbert is enjoying the somewhat surreal experience of having her first novel out in the world. “I used to never show anyone my writing,” she explained, “and now people can go and pick up my book and read it.”