As a child, Christine Day knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up. “A ballet dancer slash author,” she says, laughing. An avid reader with a vivid imagination, she also trained with the Pacific Northwest Ballet School for 10 years. However, at age 15, she sustained injuries that abruptly ended her dancing dreams. Devastated, she began to struggle in school and question her future.

Then, during Day’s junior year of high school, Patrick Ness—author of the Chaos Walking trilogy—gave an author talk at her school. “He said that the only thing you really needed to do to become a writer is write and read and write some more,” she recalls.

Day took Ness’s advice and started writing young adult novels while attending community college. She admits, though, that she immediately fell out of love with those stories as soon as she’d finished them. “They weren’t from my heart. I was trying to be experimental and original. I wasn’t trusting myself as a storyteller yet.”

Then she saw a contest flyer from Penguin Random House calling for submissions from diverse, unpublished writers of contemporary stories. Day, the daughter of a Native American adoptee, says, “I had an epiphany. Why don’t I write a story about a girl like me, who’s having a quiet, coming-of-age moment?”

That epiphany led to her main character, Edie, and the first draft of Day’s debut novel, I Can Make This Promise (HarperCollins), which she wrote in just four weeks. “I knew right away that this was the story that I would keep fighting for,” she says.

Though Day submitted her manuscript to the contest, she didn’t hear back. That fall, however, she participated in #DVPit, a Twitter event showcasing pitches from writers whose voices are traditionally underrepresented in publishing. When Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary favorited her pitch, Day sent her the entire manuscript straight away.

Day was also offered representation by other agents, but she signed with Townsend the following April. Day says she was ecstatic. “I felt like Suzie understood what I wanted to do with this story. I immediately knew that I wanted to work with this person, this incredible energy.”

It took nearly a year of sending the book to editors before Day’s book finally captured the attention and heart of an editor. In January 2018, during a blizzard that essentially shut down New York City, Rosemary Brosnan from HarperCollins emailed Townsend that she was interested. Within a matter of days, Day was on the phone with Brosnan, both of them giggling with excitement. Day credits Brosnan with helping her move “from being in Edie’s head to understanding her heart.”

Now a full-time writer, Day says she’s finally found the types of stories she was meant to tell: middle grade fiction that captures all the uncertainty and emotional turmoil of youth. She also hopes her debut novel will help raise awareness about challenges and misconceptions still facing Native peoples. “There are so few contemporary Native books,” she says. “It was important to me to learn the historical background of the Native groups that were part of this story. I wanted to put in the time, to go out and actually be in these places, meet these people, and understand the issues they face.”

Day’s story is also having an impact on a personal level. During a recent author visit at Suquamish Elementary School, Day met a girl whose enthusiasm made it clear just how important it was to see herself represented in Day’s book. “She had me sign her folder,” she says. “She was just so excited to see these places and these names in the book.”

Day is now working on her second novel, which will be published in early 2021 by Heartdrum, a new imprint from HarperCollins that focuses on stories by and about Native people. Set on Washington’s Olympic peninsula, the book is also a coming-of-age story and will include a lot of history about the local tribal groups.

And Day hopes this is just the beginning of her writing career. “I want to keep putting books on shelves for as long as people want to keep reading them,” she says.