Something kept nagging at Kay Honeyman while waiting for her adopted son to arrive: immigration; the Chinese zodiac; learning new cultures.
After all, the child she and her husband were adopting was coming to America from China. So the topic stayed on her mind until she finally had to get it down on paper.
“I was thinking what this was going to mean for him,” she said. “I just started to think about immigration in a different way.”
That led to The Fire Horse Girl, the Highland Park Middle School teacher’s debut, young-adult novel. The story follows Jade Moon, a young girl born during the year of the fire horse, which is practically taboo in Chinese culture.
“The fire horse is kind of legendary because it makes people stubborn and strong-willed, so to be a fire-horse woman is terrible,” Honeyman said.
Set in the 1920s, Jade Moon immigrates to America through Angel Island — known as the Ellis Island of the West — and learns that while no one in America cares about her zodiac, they do care about her ethnicity.
“She’s not going to escape her labels, so she’s going to have to figure out if they really matter or not,” she said.
How did the busy, language-arts and ESL teacher find time to write a novel? She enrolled in The Writer’s Path at SMU, a two-year, night program designed for those looking to publish a novel.
“It does a really good job because it walks you through [publishing],” she said. “It’s such an overwhelming process, especially when you’re doing historical fiction.”
At the end of the program, writers spend a few days in New York City to meet with potential agents and publishers. After about two years of editing, her book was published by Arthur A. Levine, an imprint of Scholastic Corporation.
“Not a whole lot of books can reach everybody, and hers, strangely enough, does,” Writer’s Path instructor and program director Suzanne Frank said. “She has managed to make this incredibly detailed and specific story so universal.”
Now, Honeyman herself acts as an instructor for the program, encouraging other authors on the path to publication.
“One of the most effective ways to improve your writing is to teach writing, because writing is a muscle,” Frank said. “The more you use it, the better you get.”
When the book was published in January 2013, the middle school hosted a release party and book signing, where Honeyman shared her publishing process with the crowd.
“It was a treat to celebrate Kay’s writing accomplishment,” HPMS librarian Jill Bellomy said.
Bellomy was instrumental in getting the word out. She contacted a friend who worked in the marketing department of Scholastic in order to obtain some advance review copies —“ARCs” in the publishing world — and ended up with 50 to distribute to teachers and members of the community.
“A book published by Scholastic? This is a really big deal, and I am not sure everyone realized it,” she said. “This is the same publisher of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games.”
Today, Honeyman and her husband have two children at home, both adopted from China.
Her second novel, Interference — which follows Texas football and politics — will also be published with Scholastic in the fall of 2016.