New Kids On The Block 2018 with Joy McCullough

New Kids On The Block is a year-long series on Pop! Goes The Reader meant to welcome and celebrate new voices and debut authors in the literary community.

Are you a debut author whose book is being published in 2018? It’s not too late to sign-up! If you want to participate in New Kids On The Block this year, please don’t hesitate to get in touch! You can send a tweet or DM on Twitter to @Pop_Reader or email me at I would love to collaborate with you!

About Joy McCullough

Joy McCullough writes books and plays from her home in the Seattle area, where she lives with her husband and two children. She studied theater at Northwestern University, fell in love with her husband atop a Guatemalan volcano, and now spends her days surrounded by books and kids and chocolate. Blood Water Paint is her debut novel.

Author Links: WebsiteTwitterInstagramGoodreads

When I signed with my agent, we put a middle grade novel on submission, and then we began to discuss what I would work on next. Jim was very open — it was early yet, and we had no idea if the middle grade would sell, so he wanted me to work on whatever I wanted to work on.

Getting started on the next project is the only way I survive submission, and since I had a great agent, I was going to get his guidance. So I sent him a list of pitches. It included middle grade and YA projects. There was one pitch at the end of the list that I actually took off, thinking it was totally ridiculous. There was just no way he was going to encourage me to write this super feminist story in verse, set in the 1600s. It didn’t exactly scream marketable. On impulse, though, I put it back on the list and hit send.

But when I got my agent’s response, the first line was “Blood Water Paint sounds AMAZING. That leapt out at me like crazy!”

It still seemed like an absurd idea for a book, but I was so tired at that point. I’d had another agent before Jim; I had written nine novels so far, four of which had gone on submission. Clearly I had no idea what would sell or not sell.

And also…I loved this story. I already knew it well, since my pitch was to adapt my own play by the same title. And permission from a publishing professional to dive back into that world I loved? I wasn’t going to question it.

So I started writing. And the more I wrote, the more head over heels I fell. I was also more deeply convinced it could never sell. But I was loving my process too much to care anymore. I had been trying so hard for so long to write something that would sell. I never forced myself to write something I didn’t want to write, but the question of marketability always lurked in the background. Because why was I going to keep writing books if no one (besides my blessed critique partners) would ever read them???

This historical verse novel seemed so wildly unmarketable that I gave up on the marketability question entirely. There was no way to make it marketable, so I let myself simply write it, let it be what it needed to be, no matter how surreal, how deeply feminist.

It was a feeling I’d had once before. Many years earlier, around 2001, I had begun writing the play version of Blood Water Paint. I was discouraged then, too — I had been out of college for several years and I hadn’t exploded into theatrical super stardom the way I’d hoped. I’d worked hard, I’d put my work out there, I’d taken every opportunity. But very soon I would lose all hope of being a wunderkind! I’d never make a 25 under 25 list!

Writing the play version of Artemisia’s story as a young, frustrated playwright, I embraced the philosophy of shitty first drafts for the first time and really let myself dump everything out onto the page, no matter how unstageable, no matter how outside the bounds of widely produced plays. And in turning off my inner censors, much of what is still the heart of Blood Water Paint poured out onto the page.

My debut novel releases today, and it is that same story. The story that first bloomed when I let myself write without trying to constrain it into something likely to be staged. And it bloomed again when I abandoned all notions that as a book, it might be published.

I don’t think the key is to give up hope, of course. Flannery O’Connor said, “People without hope do not write novels.” I know I certainly could not have persisted for so long in publishing without hope. But at a certain point I had to let go of expectations, of traditionally measured metrics of success, of control over anything but the words I put on the page.

I had to surrender.

And in doing so, I have written something I am deeply proud of.

Will I ever be able to write anything else as good? Did I just have one good book in me? All these questions flood in now, of course. But if I’m lucky — and diligent — I will remember to breathe and release them with the rest of the worries that don’t serve me.

And I’ll simply write what must be written.

Title Blood Water Paint
Author Joy McCullough
Pages 304 Pages
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre Historical Fiction, Poetry
To Be Published March 6th 2018 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

A stunning debut novel based on the true story of the iconic painter, Artemisia Gentileschi.

Her mother died when she was twelve, and suddenly Artemisia Gentileschi had a stark choice: a life as a nun in a convent or a life grinding pigment for her father’s paint.

She chose paint.

By the time she was seventeen, Artemisia did more than grind pigment. She was one of Rome’s most talented painters, even if no one knew her name. But Rome in 1610 was a city where men took what they wanted from women, and in the aftermath of rape Artemisia faced another terrible choice: a life of silence or a life of truth, no matter the cost.

He will not consume
my every thought.
I am a painter.
I will paint.

Joy McCullough’s bold novel in verse is a portrait of an artist as a young woman, filled with the soaring highs of creative inspiration and the devastating setbacks of a system built to break her. McCullough weaves Artemisia’s heartbreaking story with the stories of the ancient heroines, Susanna and Judith, who become not only the subjects of two of Artemisia’s most famous paintings but sources of strength as she battles to paint a woman’s timeless truth in the face of unspeakable and all-too-familiar violence.

I will show you
what a woman can do.

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