Elizabeth “Libby” Wheeler had to give herself permission to write. Giving time to her husband, children and the high school students she teach left her little time for her own enjoyment.
“For me it was so hard to make writing a priority. I would feel guilty,” said Wheeler
But once Wheeler permitted herself to write, the results were remarkable.
Her first novel, Asher’s Fault, was published in 2013 by Bold Strokes Books. The story of an adolescent boy grappling with growing awareness of his homosexuality and the death of his little brother, the book received critical acclaim, as well as first place in the Young Adult Fiction category in the NFPW communications contest. Now Wheeler has two more books telling Asher’s story heading for publication.
“Writing isn’t new to me, but publishing is,” said Wheeler, who joined IWPA in 2013. “I waited until the right book and the right story came along.” She learned about IWPA at the Printer’s Row Lit Fest in 2013 and thought the people at the tent were “cool and fun.”
Asher’s Fault was written while Wheeler was a student in the Novel Writing Program, a two-year program at the University of Chicago’s Graham School. She said the program gave her the discipline and the permission she needed to write.
“When I’m in the zone, it’s great, but how can I call myself a novelist is I’m not writing?” Wheeler said.
To get into the program, Wheeler said that she had to have an idea for a novel. Hers was inspired by the students in the English class she teaches at Newark Community High School in Newark, IL. Wheeler said she gave an assignment for students to write and present fictional monologs. One student, who was new to the school, told the story of how his younger brother drowned at a pool while the older boy while under the older boy’s care.
“There was no emotion. Everyone thought it really happened,” said Wheeler. Soon after, the boy transferred to another school and she was never able to find out if the event was true. But she said that it “haunted” her, making her wonder how people can carry great guilt.
The event gave rise to the character of Asher, whose brother drowns at the same moment he experiences his first same-sex kiss.
“I’ve seen a lot of kids be really torn up by trying not to be what they are,” said Wheeler.
She said she initially thought her work was an adult fiction because of the heavy topic, but her agent told her she was selling young adult readers short. The second in the series, Asher’s Shot, will be published in December, and the third and final volume in 2015.
“It’s an honor to write a series,” said Wheeler. “It’s easier. I know all the characters and the settings. But I am eager to write something new.”
Wheeler said she comes from a family of writers. Her mother and stepfather both teach at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.
The discipline she learned in the novel writing program continues to this day. She said that she writes every day from 4 to 6 a.m., or what poet Sylvia Plath called “the blue hours.” In addition to novels, Wheeler is also writing scripts for Classical Kids, a program which introduces children to the lives and music of composers. Wheeler is writing dialog for the story of George Gershwin which is heading to Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and which will feature the National Symphony Orchestra.
For wannabe novelists out there, Wheeler’s advice is simple: Just do it.
“Give yourself permission to write. It’s going to come anyway,” she said. “And don’t worry if its rubbish. Write it anyway