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Jamie Pacton: On the Magic of YA

Award-nominated author Jamie Pacton discusses pivoting from contemporary YA to YA fantasy with her new novel, The Vermilion Emporium.

Jamie Pacton is an award-nominated young adult and middle-grade author, who writes swoony, funny, magical books across genres. The Vermilion Emporium is her YA fantasy debut. When she’s not writing, she’s teaching college English, obsessively reading obscure history, hiking, baking, or playing video games. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Jamie Pacton: On the Magic of YA

Jamie Pacton

In this post, Jamie discusses pivoting from contemporary YA to YA fantasy with her new novel, The Vermilion Emporium, her advice for other writers, and more!

Name: Jamie Pacton
Literary agent: Kate Testerman
Book title: The Vermilion Emporium
Publisher: Peachtree Teen
Release date: November 1, 2022
Genre/category: YA Fantasy
Previous titles: Lucky Girl; The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly
Elevator pitch for the book: The heart-wrenching story of The Radium Girls meets the enchanting world of Howl’s Moving Castle in a story of timeless love and deadly consequences.

Jamie Pacton: On the Magic of YA

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What prompted you to write this book?

The short answer: A deep desire for more whimsy, magic, and magical curiosity shops in my life.

The longer answer: A lot of people ask me how I ended up publishing a YA fantasy after two successful YA contemporaries. Which, good question! I wonder that myself sometimes and I like to say I’m a fantasy writer who somehow found her way into the YA contemporary space. I’ve been writing YA, middle-grade, and adult fantasies for more than a decade, and both my first agent and my current agent signed me for fantasy novels, not contemporary ones. (Those novels didn’t sell, but I’m eternally optimistic they might someday.)

I’ve always loved creating magical worlds and sinking into stories of whimsy, danger, and enchantment. There’s nothing I love better than curling up on a cold night with a cup of hot tea, a cozy blanket, and a book like The Night Circus, or The Ten Thousand Doors of January, or The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue, to name a few favorites. These books transport a reader; they weave an enchantment around you; they sweep you away into adventure and breathless romance.

When I started writing The Vermilion Emporium, I wanted nothing more than to create a world that felt like the ones in my favorite books. I was also writing this book during some of the most heartbreaking years of my life, and, in that time, I desperately wanted to escape into a place where love endured, where magic wove beauty, and where a place like the actual Vermilion Emporium—a curiosity shop with endless, magical rooms full of impossible things—could exist.

Beyond that first inspiration, I also read Kate Moore’s devastating nonfiction book, The Radium Girls, around the time I started wanting to write a magical curiosity shop story. My book quickly became about telling a Radium Girls inspired story, but one where the girls got a different ending than the brutal hand real life had dealt them.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

Because I write in multiple genres and work on different projects simultaneously, my books tend to take about three to four years to go from shiny new ideas to published books.

I first told my agent about The Vermilion Emporium in the fall of 2018, over dinner at an agency retreat she was hosting. She loved it, and after some planning, I started writing it in January 2019, shortly after selling Kit Sweetly. It then sat around the 100-page mark for a few years as I worked through edits on Kit, wrote Lucky Girl, and worked on other projects.

As time passed, I kept discovering new threads of character, plot, and theme, and I wove them into the larger Vermilion Emporium story. I had a finished, polished draft to send to my agent by late 2020, and we went on sub early in Spring of 2021. I signed with Peachtree Teen, and my wonderful editor Ashley Hearn, who’s acquired and edited all my books, just for different publishers, in June 2021. From there, we did edits through Fall 2021 and by Spring 2022, we had ARCs to send into the world.

Although I did a lot of work in edits on deepening character motivations and world-building, the heart of this story didn’t change much over all the years of writing and revising. It was always meant to be a whimsical Radium Girls-type story full of love, loss, adventure, and magic.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

The publishing process for The Vermilion Emporium has been incredible! I absolutely love my team at Peachtree Teen—they’re a new imprint who are in their first year, but they’ve been putting out New York Times bestsellers and critically acclaimed books all year—and I’m so thrilled to be working with them.

I’ve gotten loads of marketing support, and there have been lots of wonderful surprises along the way, like selling audio rights at auction to Penguin Random House; getting requests for the book to be in multiple book boxes; and, at the time of doing this interview, getting two starred reviews, including one from Publisher’s Weekly. These are all author bucket list dreams of mine, and I’m honored and delighted that my book seems to be resonating with readers!

As far as learning moments in the publishing process, there are definitely those with every book. I am always asking my editor and my agent lots of questions—and I would advise any writer to ask as many questions as you have, because that’s the only way you’ll learn about publishing as a business. I’ve also learned a lot from my Peachtree team about how the school library market works, how I can best market the book on TikTok and other online channels, and how different it is to work on copy edits in a world I made up vs. writing in a contemporary/real world space.

Jamie Pacton: On the Magic of YA

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

This book constantly surprised me! Although I had it planned out and knew the ending before I started writing, I was deeply surprised by some of the interconnected backstories that emerged while writing and by some of the choices my characters made.

I also didn’t plan out any of the rooms in the actual Vermilion Emporium until my characters encountered them, which was a little imaginative treat for me. When Quinta and Twain, the main characters, opened a door in the Emporium, I too was discovering what was behind that door, which was an entirely magical experience for us all. (Of course, some of this got refined in revisions/edits, but the original discovery was all spontaneous and surprising.)

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I hope The Vermilion Emporium will enchant readers and offer them an escape. I want to sweep them into this magical world, and I want them to fall in love (perhaps too quickly) with my main characters, Quinta and Twain. After readers are done with the book, I hope they dream of other rooms in the Vermilion Emporium and are thinking about all the things they might discover within it.

(Also, I hope they want to read my soon-to-be-announced 2024 YA fantasy, which is another standalone, but is also set in the world/same city as Vermilion, and there will be at least one character cameo from VE…).

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

I’m a planner—and I’d always advise writers to at least have a synopsis and sense of the emotional arc of a book before drafting—but I would tell other writers: Once you start drafting, run with it.

Don’t get stuck in fiddling with every sentence. Write a terrible, awful, no good, messy first draft. That’s OK. Just get the story and the characters on the page, and then in revisions you can make your sentences sing with beautiful prose; you can write in all the whip-smart banter; and you can paint the world in great detail.

But, before all that: just write the book. (Trust me, you’ll feel so much better when you do. There are very few feelings that compare to finishing a first draft!)

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