Take two cousins, an old family feud, and one epic summer, and you get Casie Bazay’s YA debut, Not Our Summer. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Casie about her writing process, what kept her going in the face of rejection, her advice to aspiring authors, and more!
I see that you were a middle school teacher. Did that experience influence you writing?
Yes, I taught middle school (grades 6-8) for 10 years before I decided to stay home with my kids and start writing. When I was teaching, no matter the subject, I always found ways to incorporate books into my curriculum—whether that was reading novels that take place in other countries in geography, sharing picture books in math (you'd be surprised how much pre-teens and teens like picture books!) or reading Lois Lowry’s The Giver during any extra time I had with any of my classes (it was always a favorite). I think sharing my love of books with my students and also seeing the joy, and excitement that books brought them, planted the initial seed for me to start writing young adult books. The way I see it, if I can get any kid (or adult) excited about reading, then I’ve done my job as an author.
Your bio mentions that you wrote four manuscripts before Not Our Summer was picked up for publication. What kept you motivated despite rejections?
I did. My first book was a YA time travel romance, and it took me three years to complete. Then, I wrote a contemporary middle grade novel, a contemporary YA novel, and then Not Our Summer (another contemporary YA). I queried them all over the span of about 4 1/2 years and received over 300 rejections. From the beginning though, I had set the goal of getting an agent and getting published by a Big 5 publisher (now Big 4), so I really wanted to keep going until I achieved that goal. I’m a pretty goal-oriented person, so I think it’s also just my nature to keep going even when things are hard.
Funny story: the very first query I sent on my first book garnered a full request, leading me to believe that this publishing thing wasn't going to be all that hard. Boy, was I wrong! But despite all the rejections, I always had some interest in my books, so I think that helped to keep me going as well. I knew if I worked hard and long enough, I'd eventually get there.
What inspired you to write Not Our Summer?
I can’t say for sure what inspired me to write Not Our Summer, but I do remember the day I came up with the idea. I believe it was summer 2017 and I was mowing one of my horse pastures (we call it brush hogging, actually), but I was intentional about using my 2-3 hours of “quiet time” to brainstorm my next book idea.
The characters of K.J. and Becka, who are cousins, popped into my head and I knew that they had to complete some kind of bucket list for their recently deceased grandfather. I also knew that they didn’t get along due a longstanding family feud (but I wasn’t sure what the feud was about at first). K.J. was very clear in my head from day one, but Becka took more work for me to figure out. The plot and all the places the girls end up traveling changed as I started to do research, but the initial idea stuck and voila—out came Not Our Summer!
I love the trips Becka and KJ go on in your book. How did you research those locations?
I love to travel actually, especially to national parks or anywhere involving the great outdoors, so I picked mostly places that I have been. The girls only go to one place that I haven’t been (rafting on the Chattooga River), but I tried to pick places and trips that all had an element of excitement, as well as places that had made an impact on me.
For the first Grand Canyon trip, I had to do quite a bit of research on the mule ride (because I haven’t done that) as well as on the ranch at the bottom of the canyon where the girls stay the night. I watched plenty of Youtube videos for that!
Even though many of the places they visit are familiar to me, I had to research to fill in gaps of what I couldn’t remember. My hope was to describe these beautiful places as accurately as I could and hopefully inspire people to maybe even follow in the girls’ footsteps and travel there. I think I succeeded because many readers have mentioned that they would love to go to some of these places now!
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
There are three pieces of advice I like to give to aspiring authors:
1.) Create some kind of a writing schedule that works for you and your life. We can’t just write when we’re inspired because that doesn’t always happen. Instead, we have to create a writing habit and be deliberate about getting words on the page. For me, personally, I work as a freelance writer in the mornings and then work on books in the afternoon. Then when I go pick up my kids from school, I'm done for the day.
On my books, it doesn’t matter if I write a paragraph or a whole chapter a day—as long as I’m getting words down, I consider it progress. The same goes with revising; I might revise a few paragraphs or a few chapters a day. I just want to keep that forward momentum. The book will get done eventually. There is just no substitute for getting your behind in the chair and writing!
2.) Connect with other writers. Whether it’s a local, in-person critique group, attending conferences, or joining an online writers’ support group, connecting with other people who are passionate about writing is so important. We all know that writing is a solitary endeavor, so having a support system and people you can swap manuscripts with or just commiserate with about the querying journey, is so, so helpful.
3.) Set deadlines for yourself. I’ve found this to be super helpful, personally. For many years, contest dates were my deadlines. I would aim to have a decent draft of whatever I was working on finished by the Pitchwars (or other contest) submission window each year. It doesn't matter what the length of time or the dates are, but setting deadlines can help keep you motivated to finish.
Is there something you are working on now that you can tell us about?
I am actually finishing up some revisions on a YA thriller novel about a murder that happens at a ranch camp for at-risk youth (set in the mountains of southeastern Oklahoma). I will soon be sending it to beta readers and then my agent. It has 4 POVs, so it’s been a real challenge, but it's also been a lot of fun to write and I ADORE my four prickly main characters.
And finally, what is barrel racing? It sounds exciting and dangerous.
Barrel racing is an equestrian speed event in which you run a horse as fast as you can in a clover leaf pattern around 3 barrels. I did it for many years (until I was about 30) and I credit the sport and my love for horses, in general, for helping to make me the goal-driven person that I am today. I trained all of my horses myself for this sport and did well enough to win quite a bit of money, numerous belt buckles (those are trophies in the rodeo world), a saddle, and even a horse trailer!
I still have three horses but since having human children, my need for horse-powered speed has pretty much vanished. I doubt I’ll ever barrel race again, but it was fun while it lasted!