Shelf Life: Gae Polisner Perseveres at Storytelling

Huntington resident Gae Polisner’s young adult novels explore lives filled with challenges and perseverance; the author’s writing journey exemplifies the same.

Polisner grew up adoring stories and words. “You’d find me with my head in a book or writing from the time I was 8 years old through high school,” she said. Though her passion ran deep, and though teachers praised and supported her work, Polisner admits, “I never thought about writing as a career.” Instead, she studied law after college and became an attorney.

Life unfolded pretty quickly after that. “I got married, had my first child, and was practicing law part time while I raised my son,” Polisner said. “I really started to miss the creative side to me.” To reconnect with her passion, Polisner made writing a priority and a discipline. After a day full of work, life, and the energy and attention being a parent requires—not to mention being pregnant with her second son—Polisner would settle into her home office and write. And write. And write. Until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning.

After five years, Polisner completed a women’s fiction manuscript and began to query literary agents. “Back in those days it was still primarily snail mail,” she said. “You were able to query two or three agents at a time, then you’d wait for months to get a reply.” The replies she got? “They all came back rejections.” But Polisner is quick to express her gratitude for what those rejections entailed: “They were always lovely,” she said. “They complimented my writing, but they would have a ‘but’.” 

Two years into submitting queries, Polisner found an agent. “It was kind of like an out-of-body experience,” Polisner said of meeting with her agent for the first time. “She told us we were going to get this six figure bidding war on the book, and everybody was going to want it.” But then? “We never sold it.” 

Instead of letting this deter her, Polisner kept writing, and finished another piece of women’s fiction. She queried again, before receiving more “beautiful rejections.”

By this point, Polisner’s sons were 8 and 10. The family spent a great deal of time reading together. In the middle of one evening story time, Polisner thought: “Maybe I should write a book for my boys.” Soon after, she wrote her young adult [YA] book The Pull of Gravity. This coming-of-age novel sold to the first editor she contacted. 

The Pull of Gravity received great reviews and had light sales. Polisner kept writing. In two years time, her second YA novel, The Summer of Letting Go, got published. Then, two years and three manuscript rejections later, Polisner published The Memory of Things. Following the aftermath of 9/11, this novel is often is one of Polisner’s bestselling books—recognized with multiple awards, and with multiple printings under its belt. She’s since published another YA novel, In Sight of Stars, and has a fifth slated for 2020: Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me. Her first piece of middle grade fiction, Seven Clues to Home—co-authored with Nora Raleigh Baskin—is also slated for release in 2020. 

With all this success, Polisner finds power in sharing the context and experience of rejection. With students and young adults in particular, Polisner believes it is important to send the message that coming against obstacles does not mean work is bad. “That’s the subjectivity of art,” she reminds them.

As YA novels take on heavy topics, Polisner makes it a priority to delve into these deeper issues as authentically as possible. “I’m always trying to write a compelling story,” she said. “One of the things I really love to do is present our flawed humanity and let my readers come to love characters who aren’t perfect—who do bad things and make mistakes, and try to do better.” 

At the core of her writing, Polisner would like her readers to walk away from her books with a sense of hope. “We all go through these tremendously dark and difficult times,” she said. “Whether they’re national tragedies like 9/11, or individual tragedies like the loss of a sibling, or divorce, or death of a friend. And there are ways to pull ourselves out of those times.”

Despite finding proud moments difficult to hold onto, Polisner acknowledges her pride when readers reach out with messages of gratitude for that very hope. “I had a young male reader write to me and tell me that he had needed to go to therapy for years, but was afraid to or resistant to until he read In Sight of Stars,” she said. “Now he wanted to go.” 

More about Polisner, her books, and events can be found on her website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Upcoming Events:

  • January 3, Cory Muscara Book Signing: Join mindfulness instructor Cory Muscara at Book Revue as he signs and speaks about his book Missing Your Life: How to be Deeply Present in an Un-Present World. Event begins at 7 PM.
  • January 5, Amateur Writers of Long IslandJoin writers of all genres and abilities in the back room of Panera in Huntington Village from 1-6 PM to give and receive feedback.
  • January 14, All Writers of Elwood: Join poetry and fiction writers at the Elwood Public Library to listen and share your work. Workshop begins at 7 PM, no registration necessary. Contact Tammy Green for more information. supports literacy efforts. If you have book-related information you’d like to share, email Molly Prep.

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