Sometimes your first steps to becoming an established writer is taking the path less traveled. It might be more work, but the learning experience will be worth it. Who knows? You might even get discovered along the way.
At least, that’s how I’m thinking of this newest adventure.
On Friday night of last week, I received a message on Twitter from the founder of an indi book site called Channillo. She asked if I would be willing to write a series for the site, and after spending the weekend doing some research to make sure the website was legit, I went ahead and filled out an application.
Now, I’ve had a story idea floating around the back of my head for a while now. I’d never done more than take a couple of notes on it, but I decided to take this opportunity to solidify these new ideas. Yes, this means I’m now working on THREE projects, plus working two jobs and attempting to start freelancing. My Twitter name was changed to “Rebecca is trying to do too many things at once” for a reason.
And I also want people to read my work. I want to share my stories, hear that people liked them, that I created a world they loved to live in and characters they see themselves in. Yes, I write for me. But I also write because I have stories to tell and I want people to hear them.
So, it’s been little over a full day that I made my announcement of becoming a Channillo author. I had a lot of Facebook likes from personal friends and family, almost no Twitter responses, and the story has exactly one subscriber.
Yeah, not a great first day.
But I’m trying to not let it get to me (trying – and failing).
This is the first time I’ve ever been able to put a story out in the world in any official capacity. Since it’s an Indi book site, I have sole charge over marketing and editing of the story.
Since I’m publishing the story one section at a time, and since I’m publishing it for what I hope will be public eyes, the content I release has to be PERFECT. I cannot do what I usually so with stories: throw words at a page and make sense of it at some “later” date. This time, I NEED to outline, I NEED to plan ahead and STICK WITH IT, and I need to make sure all the elements of the story are there and accounted for in each and every section.
Yeah, it’s hard as shit. But it’s something I’ve never done before. It’s a learning experience. And even if my subscription list never surpasses one person, I think my writing will benefit from it.
All that aside, I am really excited for this story. I like the world and the characters are already starting to take shape. It is exactly the kind of book I would want to pick up and read should I see it in a bookstore or library, and I would totally be open to moving it off the online platform some day and try to get a proper book deal off it. Maybe someone will feel the same.
But for now, it’ll be on Channillo for anyone who wants to read it.
And now, my lovelies, Heir of Rot and Ruin:
Faeries are wreaking havoc on the little coastal town of Belfast. It started as broken shop windows, stolen bread and other goods. Perhaps few unlucky dogs and cats would be found dead in an alley way or strung up from one of the street lights. It was, at worst, a nuisance. But something has changed. Since the Summer Solstice, inftants and young children are being stolen right out of their beds. Families are waking up each morning to an empty crib and a note scratched into sheets of tree bark:
“Return the Heir by Samhain, or your child will remain in Faerie forever.”
Charlene Harris – or Charlie, as she prefers – is asking the same questions as everyone else in town. How could the fey do this? What had the townsfolk ever done to them? And she, like everyone else, is paralyzed with fear. But then her 1-year-old half-sister, Megan, is taken in the night by the vicious Fair Folk. Now she and a few other of Belfast High’s misfits must put aside their differences, swallow their doubts, and work together to solve the mystery of the Heir and get Megan and the other children back before it’s too late.
Sinister plots will be revealed and loyalties will be questioned on this journey to find this mysterious Heir. Charlie and her friends will face challenges they’d never before dreamed of, and will realize what it really means to be living in a faery tale.
You can read the first chapter on my Channillo page, found here. If you can, it would be awesome if you could subscribe. It costs $4.99 a month to gain access to all the site’s content, including my own. There’s some cool stuff on here – plenty to keep you busy while I work on each segment, which I plan on releasing at least once every month.
Obviously, I’ve been a little busy this week and was unsure of what to post. Next week I will have something more substantial. Right now, I plan on discussing the concept of self-promotion as a writer/creative person. Better ideas? I would love to hear them.
Thanks everyone, and again, if you could help me spread the word about this newest project, I would really, really appreciate it.
Okay, time to start a conversation that will make all the lit trolls on the interwebs lose their freaking minds. Sounds like fun, yeah?
Today I’m going to take a few moments to discuss writing and reading YA Fiction as a 25-year-old (and counting) adult who essentially came of age during the rise of the genre. For the sake of this post (and my own sanity) I’m going to define YA fiction as being fiction told from the perspective of an adolescent (12-18 years old) without much or any interference from an adult perspective. In other words, the events and occurrences our youthful narrator is interacting with and reacting to are frozen in time: readers get a kind of screenshot of the true feelings and thoughts of the narrator and those around him/her/them within the parameters of their maturity and life experience up until that point. Even if we are getting a “past” narrative style, the story is still engrossed in the current events taking place.
While the “Coming of Age” genre has been around since the mid-1800s, I will argue that the books that shaped what we now know today as the Young Adult genre are those belonging to the Harry Potter series. I’ve mentioned several times by now these books had a huge influence on me, as they did many, many, many others. A little boy forced to live with his cruel aunt and uncle finds out he’s a wizard and gets whisked away to a magical school, where he goes on adventures great and terrible and ultimately has to save the world he he has barely spent half his life knowing about and living within.
There are lots of amazing things about these books, but the most amazing thing (and probably the reason for their absolutely ridiculous success) is that they are told from the perspective of that little boy and that little boy alone. We see him at age 11, sad and alone, but still hopeful that maybe his current situation will get a little better somehow. Then we see him at 12, terrified the events of the past year were only a dream, that there’s been some mistake. Then, 13, where he’s getting a little more confident that all of this is really real and – oh, wait, there are lots of people trying to kill him. Yay~
Insert a lot of teenage angst and “oh my god Harry I love you but will you please shut up,” and you’ve got the rest of the books.
But what made this story believable, what made it appealing to children and adults alike, is that Harry’s perspective is unique to his age, and therefore universal. Childhood, growing up, dealing with hardships, learning about yourself – these are universal experiences. And whoever said these things magically stop happening when you become “an adult” is just plain wrong. We’re all still in the processes of figuring shit out, be we 13 or 35 or 75.
The honesty and integrity behind the characters in the Magical Wizarding World and the writing of J.K. Rowling meant there really was something in it for everyone, and that is amazing. This same honesty and integrity of narration can also be found in many of the Young Adult fiction novels and stories out there today. This is why both people who are roughly the same age of the characters within the novel and those who are older can relate to and enjoy the story and should be allowed to do so without judgement.
Why? Well, two reasons: first off, if what someone likes doesn’t cause bodily harm to you or someone else, you should shove off and leave them be. The second reason is that Young Adult fiction, like the Harry Potter series and all that came after, are written by *gasp* adults!
And I will even go as far to say that, usually, the best Young Adult stories are written by people who are no longer young adults themselves.
(NOTE TO YOUNG WRITERS: I am NOT saying you cannot write Young Adult fiction. PLEASE DO SO IF THAT IS WHAT YOU WANT TO DO, and if you feel that what you have is ready to be shared with the world, then by all means, share it. You don’t have to “wait” to write a book, but keep in mind that as you do get older, your perspective on things will change, and you’ll be able to look back on some of the things that have occurred in your life with a different kind of understanding. Whatever you write at 15 or 16 might be wonderful – but you’ll probably hate it by the age of 20.)
So, we’ve covered why adults should be allowed to continue to read and enjoy Young Adult materials alongside their teenage counterparts. Let’s now talk a little about what it means to write Young Adult material as an adult.
As I mentioned in one of the above paragraphs, the experience of growing up and dealing with shit is essentially a universal one. When I was a teenager (and mourning the fact there would be no more Harry Potter books) I devoured YA fiction. I feel in love with mysterious bad-boys with curling black locks, sharp cheek bones and blazing blue eyes. I saw myself in the heroines who squashed their fear as best they could so they could pick up a sword and fight for what they believed in. Now, as an adult reading these stories, I still experience many of those same emotions. But it’s different. And I cannot believe how much my writing of young adult characters has changed when I went back to it just last year, as an adult.
While I was a young person struggling to write Thorn’s story (see last post for details), Thorn was always older than me. I was struggling to get into the head of an 18-year-old at 13-14, and *surprise surprise* I couldn’t do it. At least, not very well. I could read about older teenagers no problem, but writing them? There was something I knew I was missing, even back then. I just didn’t know what.
When I came back to the story after several years of not writing, something dawned on me: My characters knew too much. Young Adult stories are about making discoveries, and I would always get stuck at the same place in each and every draft I’d tried to write before because there was simply nothing for my characters to discover about their world, themselves, the bad guy, etc.. I feel that I could have only made this realization after I had surpassed my teenage years.
As a teenager, I was still making the discoveries I needed to make in order to get to 24, and then at 24, I had had enough life experience to begin to see the pattern and then put it into the story. I made my character Thorn much younger. While she’s still roughly 17-18, (it’s hard to say because my faeries don’t track age the same way humans do), there is a lot she doesn’t know. She thinks she knows, but she’s proven wrong almost immediately, and therein lies the conflict that will carry through the rest of the book and the two more that will follow it.
So, basically, by learning about learning about things I didn’t know, I learned something.
And if you think about that sentence for a minute, I PROMISE it will make sense.
A writer of YA fiction needs to have experienced the full extent of young adult-hood in order to successfully write from the young adult perspective to an audience of young adults. And here is where I will add that successfully writing within this genre for this age group is still really, really hard and should have more respect within the literary and writing communities.
We are not writing “baby stories,” nor are we writing “below ourselves.” Our writing is very “real” and our work is worthy of the same credit as fiction for adults. Maybe some of you have forgotten, but being a teenager sucks, and having to go back and dig through those old emotions and memories in order to find that younger voice is a really difficult task, emotionally and physically. Then, we have to have the ability to pay a-fucking-ttention to our own intuition, thoughts, feelings, reactions, and learning experiences and how all those change over time – and by time I mean literally every day – in order to channel those into a successful young voice who is also going through drastic change.
Writing (at least, good writing) takes a lot of introspection, just like any other craft. I’ve mentioned creating is a deeply personal task and each person needs to be left to their own devices if they are to create something successfully. But writing for young people? As you yourself get older? It’s exhausting. But it’s also very rewarding because, again, there is a kind of universality in growing up that isn’t really found anywhere else. Mostly because we’re all still doing it, and only those that are aware of that can write for young adults.
Writing for young adults is reverent. It’s important, and it should be done with vigor and with skill. Young adults need our voices. They need to see these characters that accurately an clearly represent them face and overcome demons, they need to see there is life and hope even after great loss. They need to see characters like themselves struggling with the same things they’re struggling with and learn to make peace with and learn from these struggles.
The genre exploded because Rowling provided a lens into just how disenfranchised and distraught a young person can due to their age and status in society. Feeling alone, helpless, and without voice is something that we all can relate to in some form or another, and the universality of these feelings if what (I hope) will bring humans together at the end. Empathy, compassion, understanding, courage, hope, love – these are all things we learn as readers from reading. The young adult voice has been silent for too long, and we are now seeing the repercussions from that. We need their perspectives, their honesty, their clear-cut worldviews, and we need to make sure that nothing stands in the way of their speaking out against the world’s injustices that the rest of us old geezers have simply accepted as the norm. Young people will find their voice on their own, but sometimes they need a little push. That’s where we, the authors of young adult fiction, come in.
Hello, all you writers and readers and other such misfits.
I mention in my bio I’ve been actively writing since I was probably about 10 years old. Maybe 9. Maybe even 8. I was a kid lost in my own imagination, and learning how to transcribe that imagination down on paper was one of the best and most life-changing skills I ever learned.
I’ve always written fantasy. Talking animals and magic and worlds full of wonder and excitement. You can thank my Harry Potter-loving family and our endless trips to the woods for those feats. However, if you’re not a fantasy writer, I still think you might like what I have to say here. Neil Gaiman said it perfectly: “all fiction writing is fantasy.” Even if the world your characters are moving around in is almost identical to the one we currently live in, you’re still creating situations that never were and people that never will be, at least not exactly. Fiction writers, regardless of genre, are world-creators. Give yourself that credit, because you deserve it.
The main characters for my longest on-going work-in-progress (now under the working title Daughter of the Queen), came to me when I was about 13 years old. I was sitting in the back of my friends’ mother’s van when suddenly this beautiful, tall, dark-haired lady with blue eyes with slits for pupil’s like a cat’s shimmered into view of my mind’s eye. Her name was Thorn, and she would stay with me for years, long after that friend and I lost touch, into high school and college and graduate school. Even now as I approach life as a married woman and partake on the rough and rocky adventure of figuring out what I was to do with my life, she is there, sitting in the back of my head with a calm, almost sad expression on her face.
Thorn has been many things. In her first form, she was the lead singer of a failing band, an alcoholic, a hidden princess in our messed-up modern day world struggling to figure out how to get back to her kingdom before it could be destroyed. She wore leather jackets and spiked boots, and was just angry enough to be considered a totally awesome bad-ass in my on-fire adolescent brain. Even as I describe this now I can still see the images of those first few scenes I tried to write with her: sitting in a bar where a strange man finds he can’t look away from her, adjusting her sunglasses to hide her eyes from the stares and questions she would inevitably get should she expose them to the world. I realize now that this isn’t a bad story idea, and I might very well come back and play around with the idea. It, of course, would have to be a different character, for that story, as it turned out, wasn’t Thorn’s.
Nor was it the story based around the Wicca mythology I studied when I was 14 or 15. When I was 16, she became a faery, and that stuck. When I was 17-18, she became a faery princess struggling to save her kingdom from her uncle, a faery who had been exposed to Christianity and, not understanding it completely, wanted to find a way to bring it into their world, where it simply didn’t belong.
Yes, that stuck too. And there was a dragon, and a boy she would grow to love. And a brother she loved but didn’t trust and a kingdom that terrified as well as enthralled her and a baby being born for the first time in over a century.
Those all stuck too. And I messed with it. And messed with it and messed with it and messed with it.
There was something like four or five unfinished drafts, all containing these ideas and my struggles of figuring out what to do with them. I wrote and wrote and wrote and would trash an idea only to start again. I tried outlining and character profiles and maps, but really the best ways for me to figure out how the story was going to go was to write it and see what happened.
Then, I stopped writing. Not just that story, but all together. Even though those characters were still in my head, even though that world was still lying half-build just beneath my conscious mind. I stopped writing for little over two years.
During this time, I was dating a not-so-great guy who was STILL better than my first really abusive boyfriend and therefore seemed to me like he was made of gold.
I was finishing up my BA in English in a school I had quickly grown to hate made up of writing and English professors who didn’t get or like me.
I moved out of my parent’s house and in with a roommate.
I struggled to find work, and then got a job at a library I had loved as a visitor but grew to hate as an employee.
After almost a year, the roommate nearly burned down our apartment with my animals trapped inside (she was crazy), so I moved out of there before I was financially ready and then I was forced to pay higher rent and utilities along with buying food on a measly paycheck, while ALSO taking graduate classes.
And yes, I was still with the not-so-great boyfriend who made me feel so lonely I spent much of my nights crying my eyes out and my days hovering nervously around my phone, wondering if I would bother him too much by sending him a “how are you” text. (He the, “sorry, I’m busy” guy. You know the one.)
Then, the not-so-nice boyfriend and I broke up. I got a different job at a different library, one that was closer to where I was living in a department that I loved. I adopted another cat for the refugee buddy to be friends with, and met my now fiancée. In 6 months, my now-fiancée and I were getting ready to move in together. We found a place – our now home – that was perfect and had space for an office that would fit both our desks so we could work together.
Now, he knew I was a writer, and he knew I had stopped writing. He encouraged me to start again, and eventually I did. With two more years of life experience behind me. Two wild, crazy, jarring, emotional years, and it was about time that I put them to use.
Last May, I sat down and said hello to Thorn and her world again. I started from scratch, and by the end of the summer I had 53k words of a very, VERY different story than the one I been writing (or rather, struggling to write) when I was in high school and college. Yes, she was still a faery, yes, there was a dragon, yes, there was still a brother and a baby and a complicated court and an even more complicated bad guy. But it was different, and took a real shape for the first time in over a decade right beneath my fingers. It’s a mess of a first draft, but when I return to it (I finished in September and swore I would wait another year before going back to it), I now know what needs to be altered added. For the first time in over a decade, I have Thorn’s story as it should be.
Now, I’m sure you’re thinking: Great story, Bec. What’s your point?
Well, I want to back-track a little to the months before I wrote this complete draft and even the years before that. I, like many of you, was constantly told there was a “right” and “wrong” way to tell a story. When writing all those previous drafts, I realized I was telling the story the “wrong” way. I would stop whatever I was doing and try to do it the “right” way – and then would quickly stop all together because that way didn’t work for me. Since that way didn’t work, I assumed I didn’t deserve to tell a story.
Well, you know from my last post that that is complete and utter BULLSHIT, but that doesn’t stop many of us – myself included – from being paralyzed with fear over not fitting into the mold that supposedly has been set for us by our academic creative writing teachers and people on the internet who think they know everything. I stopped writing because I thought I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t ever going to be good enough, and because I was told again and again that if I couldn’t do things the “right” way, then I shouldn’t do them at all.
In the months before I started that new draft, I found some wonderful things. Yes, I’d stopped writing, but there was always a part of me that considered itself a writer, that would be looking for writing blogs and books and whatever else out there that offered to teach me something more about the world of storytelling.
Sometime in March of 2018, I read Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert and found my urge to create growing somewhere behind my heart. Then, I stumbled upon Mur Lafferty’s I Should Be Writing Podcast, and I became totally addicted.
Those of you who read my last post probably recognize these as part of that “supplemental sources” list I included at the bottom of the page. Well folks, they are there for a reason. Gilbert’s message to readers of Big Magic is to give the finger to the nay-sayers and create what you love, even if you never end up becoming the best of the best or famous for it. If you create for yourself, then that’s enough.
Lafferty’s podcast is for wannabe fiction writers looking for tips and tricks of the trade. The episodes are deeply honest and heartfelt, as Lafferty talks to you about what it’s like being a full-time writer with depression, and the different things she’s learned about herself and the industry over the years of her journey. She also brings on other authors to interview and will answer questions she gets either by email or on Twitter.
I can’t remember what episode it was, or what author was being interviewed at the time, but she and Lafferty were talking about the creative processes. Lafferty mentioned something about being a “discovery writer,” and suddenly it was one of those moments see in movies where everything freezes as sudden realization dawns on the protagonist. Only the epiphany didn’t happen to some character in a movie: it happened to yours truly.
It was a throw away comment, something she didn’t bother to explain. I don’t even think they really talked about it more, and if they did, I don’t remember what was said. But even without her definition of the word, I knew exactly what it meant, and I knew that I was one, too.
A discovery writer is someone who discovers the story as she goes.
Literally making the shit up as she goes along.
There might be some planning, some outlining, but the reality is she’s got an idea, a notebook, and a pen, and therefor enough to keep her going, probably for a full draft. Of course that means that that first draft is MESSY. But by golly, it gets written! And that’s the important part.
Discovery writing, however, does not fit into the mold of doing things “the right way.” “The right way” said you have to have an outline, a world-building chart, all your research done and laid out in front of you, another outline, a list of all your major characters, a list of all your minor characters, the ability to straighten every hair on a camel’s backside, and the power to make all the planets align with a single wave of your hand. It is only after these tasks have been achieved that you can start to write.
Yeah. Bullshit. Bull. FUCKING. Shit.
Learning this term changed the world for me. It somehow gave me the permission I’ve been seeking since I started writing as a little, little kid. It allowed me to do what I was best at, which was explore all the potential the world inside me has to offer, and string together a story as I go along.
The reason why I spent so much time at the beginning of this post laying out all the different forms of Thorn’s story over the years I was writing it was because it outlines the path of discovery I took.
And when that path of discovery became fully open to me just by hearing the identifying term, I suddenly was able to get up the courage to write a messy, horrible, disjointed first draft of the story as it was probably always meant to be.
But you know how I got there?
I set off on my grand ship with my loyal crew of pens and notebooks and my first mate Laptop with nothing but a poorly drawn map and a cracked spyglass. With no real destination in mind I found the hidden islands I was always meant to find. And I did it without going through the “right way” rituals I listed above, and it WORKED. (Take THAT, You Bitchy Professor in College That Shall Not Be Named).
Once I have discovered the story in its most raw form, I can begin the processes of honing it down to the diamond beneath the rough. Through editing and re-writing, every draft will get a little better, a little closer to the form I want it to be in. It’s the same process I’m going through right now with my latest work in progress. I mentioned earlier that I started this one by throwing 34k words at a word document, but I’ve gone through and figured out what needed to be added and taken a way, and draft by draft, layer by layer, I’m finding the story.
Here’s the loose moral to this ranting, raving post: it’s great if you know the ending of your story. It’s even better if you have all the details hashed out and you think you know exactly how things are going to play out when you sit down and start writing.
But let me tell you what I’ve discovered (pun intended) over these last 15 years of being a writer: When you’re sitting there, writing that first draft, you are not in control.
Rather, you are a mere creative vassal these people that never where in places that never will be are using to tell their stories. And it is not going to go the way you thought it would when you made your outline, and that’s a good thing.
Let it be free. Let it be messy. Let your characters do and say outrageous things, because that is how you really get to know the story. With every draft you write, you gain a little more control, and the relationship between you and your characters changes from a parasitic one to a partnership (well, more of a partnership, anyway). Let yourself discover the story, one draft at a time. If you let yourself learn something new each time you come back to it, your story will only continue to get better.
It’s a good thing if your story isn’t going as you planned or if your characters keep surprising you. That means they’re alive. Remember: you are the first person, the first point of contact with this new world you have created. Do you want your readers to fall in love with your characters, enjoy watching them grow, become immersed in the world you’ve created? If your answer to those questions is “yes,” (and I hope they are, or else it sounds like you’re writing a text book), then you have to experience those emotions first.
Mur Lafferty gave me permission to embrace being a discovery writer when she gave me the very term that defined the whole of my writing up until that point. I’m now giving you the permission to do the same, or at least allow it to be included in your “right way” ritualistic process.
So go, writers. Write messy horrible first drafts with surprises at every turn. Let your characters take the wheel. Even if it looks like they’re about to crash the whole bus into the sea, because you won’t be disappointed with what you find at the bottom of the ocean.