By Katie Land, news editor
As her first novel goes to print this week, Oakland University alumna Amy Ackley is ready to enjoy a real taste of literary success.
In 2010, she won the international Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for the first ever young adult fiction category. As a result, her deeply personal book, “Sign Language,” is set to be released on Amazon.com and hits bookstores nationwide on Thursday, Aug. 18.
Ackley’s novel tells the story of a young girl whose whole life changes when her father is diagnosed with cancer. Throughout the book, 12-year-old Abby North must grapple with situations, emotions and realities far beyond those expected of a normal adolescent.
The narrative touches home for Ackley, who lost her own father to kidney cancer when she was just twelve, something that sent her own life into a tailspin. The experience was devastating to her family, and she ended up living on her own by the time she turned 16.
Revisiting that time period was difficult yet cathartic, Ackley said.
“A lot of tears went into the first drafts of “Sign Language,” but these were tears that needed to be released,” she said. “I needed to resurrect memories and emotions that I’d buried long ago to set them free. The most beautiful thing that came of writing “Sign Language” was the feeling that I was getting to know my father again and I felt that he was with me as I wrote it.”
Ackley grew up reading voraciously and writing stories, something she credits her writer and teacher father for inspiring. Although she knew from a young age that she wanted to write, Ackley was not confident that she would be able to earn a living doing so.
Instead, the Michigan native decided to earn her bachelor’s degree at Oakland in human resource development, and continue on to a master’s in human resource administration at Central Michigan University. She put herself through school by working three jobs in high school, and then working full time throughout college.
“OU was the perfect school for me, a working student, offering degree programs that could be completed entirely in the evenings,” Ackley explained. “OU had an intimate, safe atmosphere that was just right for a small-town girl like me, with inspiring and challenging courses that helped prepare me for the big world I entered after graduation.”
Still, her journey from practical administrator to successful writer was less straightforward. Ackley never gave up on her quest to publication, sending several drafts of several stories to publishers over the years.
When she heard of the Amazon Breakthrough Award, Ackley dusted off her “Sign Language” manuscript, made a handful of revisions and rewrites, and sent it in, to mix with the 10,000 worldwide entries into the contest.
Over the next few months, she saw her book hold steady through a series of cuts, leading up to the top three books. Amazon flew her out to their headquarters in Seattle for a three day event where she met with representatives of Penguin and CreateSpace, the other sponsors, and was chosen as the overall winner.
The whole experience was surreal, she said.
“I feel astounded and grateful,” Ackley continued. “I signed the contract and met with a publicist in Seattle that day, and received a phone call from my fantastic editor at Penguin that evening. It still feels like a dream.”
Since then, that dream has become a whirlwind of reality as Ackley went through the steps of preparing a book for major publication on an incredibly tight schedule.
“The biggest and most important change that has occurred is that I am now not afraid to call myself a writer and devote myself to the craft.”
Now, as “Sign Language” is set to hit bookshelves, Ackley is already at work completing her second novel. Describing it as a realistic fiction novel that pays literary homage to J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” Ackley stays mum on the other details.
While the mother of three has maintained a breakneck pace for many years, she doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon. Instead, she hopes to share her success as a novelist by offering advice to other young writers.
“Nothing will get written if you don’t write, and nothing will get published if you don’t keep trying,” she said. “Writing as a hobby is perfectly acceptable and admirable, but making a career of it will be the hardest work you’ll ever love.”
Ackley currently lives in Brighton, Mich. For more information about Ackley, visit her website at amyackley.com
. To purchase a copy of her book, visit her page on amazon.com