The sixth time was the charm for Rhonda DeChambeau of East Bridgewater. Last year, after many years of applying, she became the Associates of the Boston Public Library’s 2022-2023 Writer-in-Residence. She now leaves the residency with a two-book deal from Holiday House, including her young adult verse novel “Top Heavy,” which she worked on during her time at the library. To celebrate DeChambeau’s tenure, and to pass the torch to the next writer-in-residence, Danielle Emerson, the Associates of the Boston Public Library will host a reception free to the public on Oct. 10 at 6 p.m., where both writers will read from their projects; Emerson from her anthology of short stories exploring several themes in the Diné (Navajo) culture, and DeChambeau from “Top Heavy,” which will launch in summer 2025. The Globe caught up with DeChambeau to talk about her writing journey so far and the road ahead.
Q. What was it like when you found out you won the Associates of the BPL residency?
A. I was shocked and teary eyed because all of a sudden it’s like, oh my gosh, it’s actually happening. I was on the commuter rail, coming home from Boston, when I got the call. I saw the number come up and I was like, what is this? This is a Boston-based number. I was speechless. Definitely one of the highlights of my career as a writer, and in my life, was getting that phone call.
Q. What was the inspiration for “Top Heavy”?
A. In the MFA program that I went to [at Vermont College of Fine Arts], I fell in love with verse novels. You’re always drawing somewhere on your own experience, and thinking about your own time as a teenager and what you experienced; or sometimes, it’s something someone said to you, and all of a sudden you start thinking about that thing. Young women in particular are very conscious of their bodies. For me, my friend group used to joke about each other’s breasts, and we’d kind of make light of things. So, I was like, yeah, something to do with breasts, and a character who is large-chested and for some reason it’s a problem. But why would it be a problem? Is she an athlete? I started sort of thinking about maybe she’s a gymnast, a figure skater, maybe she’s a dancer? As soon as I decided she was a dancer, that idea of writing a verse novel came back to me.
Q. What is it about having a space in the library for you to just write that helped your process?
A. I think I felt like I was a real writer before, but to have an office and being the writer-in-residence was more about, somebody believes in you, somebody besides people who know you felt like this was a story worth telling. I think maybe people view you differently too? Here’s this thing that Rhonda has been trying to do for years, and I’m sure people thought, ‘Wow she really must not be very good.’ But to win something, to have somebody else say, yeah you’re on the right path, it’s very affirming.
Q. When did you find out about your book deal and what was your reaction?
A. It reaffirms how much I owe to this residency. Shortly after the residency announcement came out, I was contacted by a literary agent in the Boston area, Elizabeth Bennett with Transatlantic Agency. I sent her some beginning pages and we had coffee in the library. We talked about the book and she offered to represent me. I’ve queried other completed projects in the past, so I know what it’s like to be sending things out and getting some interest but never really an offer of representation. I was really ecstatic. It was just an ordinary day at the library, patrons coming in and browsing the books, everybody’s just milling about, and I just wanted to be like, people, don’t you get it, something amazing just happened! Can’t you see this? I went back to the office and called my husband and was like, you won’t believe it! Anyway, it kind of lit a fire in me. The residency started in October. By November, I was in the midst of the writing process. By January, I had a draft done. And by February, we were sending it out to editors just to get feedback and hoping that somebody might be interested in it. Holiday House came through with a two-book deal, and we went with it. Sally Morgridge is my editor at Holiday House and I think the book found its right home.
Q. What advice would you give to writers who apply to the residency?
A. Keep applying if you don’t have success the first time. I decided, either I’m going to be published or I’m going to keep applying because this is too good of an opportunity to have, really right in our backyard, to not at least try. Submit a project that is timely and represents your best work, and hopefully somebody else has looked at it before you submit it. So much of it is just luck of the draw and making sure that you’re still putting yourself out there.
The Writer-in-Residence Reception and Reading will take place Tuesday, Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. in the Abbey Room at the Boston Public Library’s Central Library in Copley Square. For more information visit https://WriterinResidence23.eventbrite.com/?aff=BG
Sara Farizan is a Massachusetts-based author of books for young readers. You can follow her on Instagram @sara.farizan.