ALBANY — While growing up in Albany and attending school at Sherwood Christian Academy, Anna Bright (formerly Anna Dorminey), quite surprisingly, didn’t know yet that she wanted to be a writer.
“When I was younger, I thought I didn’t have an idea, and that was always in the way,” Bright said. “I had various aspirations over the years, including but not limited to: country music singer, architect, doctor, international business lady.”
But after graduating from Georgia Tech with a degree in International Affairs and Modern Language, Bright begin the intense process of applying for master’s programs in English.
In the midst of prepping for the Graduate Record Examinations test in English and writing essays as part of her applications, Bright got a bit of a break.
And rather than continue studying what essentially amounted to “intense trivia” about classic literature, Bright chose to read something enjoyable for a change. She read “The Host” by Stephanie Meyer (of “Twilight” fame) and a fairy tale compilation.
“I just devoured them in like two days,” Bright said. “I think after all that time, my brain was just starving for something enjoyable. I got what were the seeds of the idea for the book when I was just sort of staring off into space, blow drying my hair one day.”
The idea came for a novel that Bright described as a “there-and-back-again fairy tale.” Main character Selah is forced by her stepmother to travel around the world in search of a husband.
Bright said that although she had flitted between the idea of so many other professions at that point, writing the book just felt natural.
That was six years ago. And it was six years of drafting versions of what was to become the YA novel “The Beholder,” revising those drafts over and over again and setting herself up for devastating rejections from agents.
When she developed a relationship with the woman who would eventually become her agent, around four years after writing the first draft of the novel, she got what felt like another setback.
“I sent her a manuscript, and she (said) ‘I really like this, but this has some major structural concerns,’” Bright said. “Address these, get back to me, we’ll talk.’
“When I first got (the email), I was just like I can’t do this anymore. It’s been years, and I distinctly remember I was crying when I got that email.”
Bright let herself wallow a bit, but she continued working. After giving herself a break from the material and working on another project for a month, she went back to the agent’s notes and set about revising her manuscript yet again.
Bright sent the heavily revised version of the manuscript back to her potential agent, and just a month later received an email back from her saying she liked the revision and asking to set up a time for the two of them to talk.
When Bright read the email, she was riding on the subway in Washington, D.C, where she now lives. Her mother, Kelly Dorminey, who works as a nurse, was right in the middle of a surgery. Her husband was away, and there was no one near Bright that she could tell the good news to.
She just started slapping the seat beside her excitedly as other passengers looked on with a little concern, but she didn’t care. She had an agent and her dream, the project she had worked on for a little over four years at that point, was further on its way to seeing the light of day.
While there were still stressful moments ahead of her, in trying to get a publisher to pick up the book and settle on an offer (which eventually happened with Harper Collins), she could breathe a little sigh of relief.
Fast forward two more years to current day: Bright saw all her hard work pay off with a launch party for the book in Washington on June 5 at the bookstore she works at as bookseller and donations coordinator.
“It was this incredible outpouring of support that I had hoped for but certainly not expected,” Bright said.
In Bright’s book tour, which included stops in Chicago, Charleston, Ashville and New York City, she knew she had to make a stop in her hometown.
So along with such high-profile stops, Bright held a book-signing at the Albany Books-A-Million on Friday night, with longtime best friend and current Albany resident Erin Whatley Andrews moderating a discussion.
“We’ve been part of each other’s lives for a really long time,” Bright said of Andrews. “There’s no one I would rather have sitting beside me on a day like Friday than Erin, who knows me about as well as anyone in this world.”
In addition to the support from Andrews and Bright’s family, whose members still live in the area, Bright said she has seen an incredible amount of support from the community as a whole.
“People have been so (supportive),” she said. “People that I haven’t spoken to in several years have been tagging me on the internet with pictures of the book.”
Bright got emotional in the middle of talking about the support and had to stop for a moment to collect herself.
“People don’t have to do that,” she said, beginning again. “It means a lot, the loyalty, the friendship. The support of my hometown has meant so very much in an industry where it’s very easy to doubt yourself. It means something to me that this book means something to my town.”
The idea for the novel has grown and changed over the six years and multiple revisions since Bright took on the project, but as she explained, the book combines elements of the classic “Cinderella” and the “Odyssey” with elements of other fairy tales and mythology thrown in. In Selah’s journey, she encounters obstacles that keep her from getting back home with ship crew members named after famous fairy tale creators and collectors (like the well-known Brothers Grimm) and encountering some version of another fairy tale at each stop along the way.
“Fairy tales are at the heart of it,” she explained.
Although Bright did not intend for the novel to become a series, over all the drafts, the idea expanded and she realized there was enough material for two books.
She split the manuscript up and focused solely on the first half initially, but once things were fairly settled with “The Beholder,” Bright began working on the second book.
“Last year, I sat down and I drafted book two,” she said. “Some of that actually happened in Books A Million (in Albany). I was in town visiting my parents.”
She turned the manuscript into her editor in January of this year.
Her editor sent her 15 pages worth of notes and suggestions for revisions that Bright had to get done in less than two months. But she said she didn’t get discouraged.
Now, a sketch of the book’s cover is done, the title is under lock and key for the moment, and Bright expects/hopes the book to be released this time next year.
After that, Bright isn’t quite sure. She currently has several other manuscripts she’s in talks with with her agent, but nothing set in stone.
“We’ll see what happens,” she said.