An Interview with Anna Sortino, Author of “Give Me a Sign”

Recently, I had the chance to chat with Anna Sortino, a DePaul MAWP alumni whose first novel, Give Me a Sign, is being published at Penguin Random House. Anna shared some insights on graduating, shed some light on her process, and expressed what it was like representing Deaf culture.

Give Me a Sign comes out July 11 and can be pre ordered here

Thank you for taking the time to talk with me, Anna, and congratulations on the upcoming release of Give Me a Sign. How does it feel to be so close to the release date?

Hi, thanks for having me! I can’t believe it– where has the time gone? Publishing is often very slow, until things suddenly start moving fast. I got the news of my debut book deal toward the end of 2021, and back then 2023 felt like ages away, but somehow here we are, with release right around the corner. I can’t wait!

You graduated from the MAWP program at DePaul in 2019. How would you describe your experience in the program, and how did it prepare you for this experience– your first novel being published by Penguin Random House?

The MAWP program was the kick I needed to start taking writing seriously. At the time, I was stuck at a job I disliked, but they offered full tuition reimbursement. I started looking into master’s degrees and decided on DePaul because all the courses seemed so practical. I was itching to grow as a writer, and this was the perfect opportunity. Working forty-hour weeks while taking 2-3 courses per quarter to maximize my employment benefit was difficult, but writing my school assignments during lunch break mentally got me through the long days. My evening classes were always something to look forward to, full of camaraderie and interesting discussions.

What was your experience after graduating? Was the idea behind Give Me a Sign already percolating when you finished the program, or did it take a little searching for the right project?

By graduation, I was querying my first novel but realizing that my heart wasn’t into that story anymore. I wanted to take on something more personal, and the idea for Give Me a Sign wouldn’t leave my mind. I moved cross country that summer, so as soon as I got settled in, I quickly typed up a draft and submitted it at the deadline to a mentorship program. I tried to get some space before revisions in the meantime, not really expecting anything to come from the application, but I got selected! Things started to feel very real, like this project was the one. That conviction carried me through all the querying and submission hurdles. Now, almost four years from the day I started drafting this story, Give Me a Sign will be on the shelves.

How does it feel to see early reviews and blurbs, specifically praising your representation of Deaf culture?

It’s absolutely amazing. After deciding to write a book with Deaf representation, I knew that I had to set it at a summer camp. The type of story I wanted to convey couldn’t be done with just one Deaf character, it needed to be a large disabled cast. When people think of disability, it’s often in isolation– that one kid in their class, or that one actor in a movie–and because of that, they haven’t really gotten to experience the joy of our community.

I’ll admit, I was nervous that people might not be open to reading something like this. There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to disability, so it was the goal to write a story that is both an accessible introduction and a compelling, romantic coming of age journey.

The best part so far has been receiving messages from excited readers, especially those who have a hearing loss but haven’t gotten the opportunity to engage with Deaf culture before. The majority of Deaf/hard of hearing kids are born to hearing parents, so I hope Give Me a Sign serves as an invitation many have been waiting for.

Were there YA books that inspired you to write within the genre? Or did you feel Give Me a Sign demanded to be told to a young adult audience?

I had this start of an idea, but wasn’t sure exactly what to make of it until I shared it with a classmate of mine who steered me in the right direction, saying “that should definitely be YA.” Suddenly, it all clicked! It’s funny to think that in some other universe, maybe I wrote a tense literary version of this instead.

A summer camp love story does make for a great YA novel. I appreciate that I could explore so many feelings about identity and belonging in this age category.

Thinking back to your time at DePaul, was there a particular lesson, or class that influenced your writing process, or sensibilities as a storyteller?

Without a doubt, Rebecca Johns Trissler’s novels class changed my life! Before that course, I had been so intimidated by the sheer word count that a book required, yet Rebecca’s sensible approach got me across the finish line of a very first full draft within a single quarter. She didn’t shy away from the business of publishing, so I was informed when trying to get my start in this industry. I also felt prepared, when that first book didn’t get the traction I’d hoped it would, to easily jump into the next project and be content with that initial attempt existing as a ‘drawer book’, one that gave me the experience I needed to move forward with an even better novel.

Do you have any words of advice for current students? How would you recommend someone make the most of their time in the MAWP program?

Take a wide range of courses. Though from the start I had my heart set on writing novels, learning how to write short stories enhanced my understanding of pacing and scene structure. Poetry transformed my prose. Memoir gave me the tools to channel a character’s internal dialogue. All these different facets help you find your writing style and voice.

Also, don’t be afraid to swap work with your peers. Grad school is a great spot to find critique partners!

Congratulations, again, Anna and thank you!

Thank you for these great questions—and good luck to all the current MAWP students!