Northwestern grad wins top award for her first novel
By ANNA GILGOFF
Special to The Press
Northwestern Lehigh alumnae Kyrie McCauley has just received the Morris Award for her first novel, “If These Wings Could Fly.”
The award honors a book published by a first-time author writing for teens, and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature.
“I wasn’t entertaining any thoughts whatsoever of actually winning,” McCauley said, when she learned about the award. “I’m so grateful. It’s such an honor.”
McCauley, one of five finalists, learned she won in late January.
“My editor asked to set up a video call to chat about the Youth Media Awards and what the announcements would be like,” she said. “When I signed into the call, the entire Morris committee was waiting to tell me the news.
“It was a huge surprise to be named a finalist, especially after such a quiet debut year.
“I was stunned. I know it will help my book find its readers.”
“If These Wings Could Fly” is the story of Leighton Barnes, a 17-year-old girl living in a small Pennsylvania town that is besieged by a growing number of crows.
The oldest of three girls, Leighton, deals with standard adolescent issues but her life is even more complicated by domestic violence and her father’s volatile behavior.
“I wrote this book in 2017,” McCauley said. “I got into a writing contest where I submitted a few chapters.
“They help you revise and then you get to pitch the book.
McCauley was paired with two mentors, published authors, who helped her do revisions.
“Then, I had to submit a pitch for the book of about 300 words,” she explained. “The first chapter of the book was written in six weeks.
“I revised that into the summer when the contest opened. I started the book in January and was assigned an agent in November.
“I finished writing the book in March and then it just needed a lot of work.”
McCauley said, even now, that she is published, it doesn’t feel very real.
She had to deal with a lot of rejections.
“I wasn’t sure I was up for it but you get used to it,” McCauley said. “It took me a while to find an agent.”
Rejections aside, McCauley said she loves the process.
Completing her second book, “We Can Be Heroes,” solidified McCauley’s dreams of being a writer.
“Other than writing songs and research papers, it didn’t ever feel like a realistic pursuit for me,” she said. “It felt out of my reach for a very long time.”
The deal with the publishing company was for two books.
“I finished writing “We Can Be Heroes” and just submitted it for copy editing a few weeks ago,” she explained.
As with her first book, McCauley described this book as “a stand-alone” also meant for young adult audiences.
“It follows three different girls who are just friends and it has a much more complicated structure than my first book,” she said.
McCauley spent most of her childhood in the Northwestern Lehigh School District, moving here from Maryland when she was 8-years-old.
As a child, she wanted to be a veterinarian, though her love affair with books began in those early years, and it was a relationship she nurtured.
“I was a library page in seventh and eighth grade,” she said. “We could volunteer putting books away and arranging them for display,”
This was perfect for her.
“I got to hide in the library and read,” McCauley said. “In high school, I worked in the lending library in New Tripoli.
“I could walk to the lending library. I got to be on the board for a little bit.”
McCauley’s writing life grew out of her love of books.
“I definitely started writing for fun, and as a hobby,” she said.
She described her career writing novels as “a happy accident.
“In 2010, I started writing fiction, trying my hand at a bunch of different genres,” McCauley explained. “It was important for me to find the right genre.
McCauley said she was inspired by young adults and the conversations they were having.
“Teenagers are just amazing. They’re so engaged and aware,” she said. “Right now, books can be a fantastic conversation starter, weaving big questions and approaching big questions.
“It’s a very unique spot for teens to be in because you can’t vote yet but you know what’s going on.
“They’re absolutely ready to have these conversations and I wanted to be a part of it.
“Young adults are phenomenal and brilliant and they have so much to say.”
After graduating from Northwestern in 2006, McCauley attended American University in Washington, D.C.
“I studied communication, law and government at American University and decided on a double major,” she said.
McCauley moved back to Pennsylvania after graduating college.
“I loved Philadelphia. I became interested in advocacy when I studied social policy at U Penn,” she said. “I was interested in social policy and I wanted real-world application.”
She got her wish when she interned for a semester at the ACLU while at U Penn.
“I worked at a domestic violence clinic for several years and I was always very interested in writing about it,” McCauley said.
Married to Andrew Mullen, her high school sweetheart, the couple is raising their two young sons, Rowan and Theo, just outside Philadelphia.
“We’ve been together for 17 years,” she said.
Family life did not impede McCauley’s writing.
“I was waking up before the babies woke up,” she said. “I stayed up very late, especially when facing a deadline.”
Writing has been contagious for her oldest boy.
“For six months, he wrote a book every single day,” she said with a smile. “He must have written 60 books and he wanted me to send them to my publisher.
“We’re very enthusiastic about books in this house.”
Like so many families these days, life at home 24/7 has become standard.
“Andrew and I are working at home and the kids are at home,” she said.
That has made her even more appreciative of her publisher.
“I’m very grateful I have a traditional publisher,” she said. “They’ve taken care of all of the marketing and the printing, and that has helped.
“I really love my publisher.”
“If Wings Could Fly” is available on Amazon.