She’s Me

I did it intentionally, so it comes as no surprise that the protagonist for my young adult project, Bo, is just like me. Mostly. At fifteen, she’s smart, she loves to read, she loves the outdoors, she’s close to her mom, and she’s a bit socially awkward. She doesn’t have any friends, because they all think she’s weird and no one wants to hang out with her. (Disclaimer: I did have friends in school, so in this way we differ. We weren’t super close, and I preferred to spend most of my time doing my own thing, but they still existed.)

I’ve really enjoyed writing Bo. I feel like she’s easy to identify with, because we share so many personality traits. The tricky part comes in the progression of her storyline. She’s the hero of this story. She’s going to save the day. So how do I get from my own relatively mundane existence to the person Bo needs to become? What do I need to put her through to facilitate that growth? How does she (would I?) need to react to certain circumstances to propel her forward? Is this truly how I think I would act under similar circumstances, or just how I hope I would?

I’ve been watching a lecture series on youtube that I may go into more detail about later, but one thing the instructor said really hit home. He was talking about authors who model main characters after themselves, and the relation this has to the emotion that character shows. I already knew I was modeling Bo after myself, so I’m trying to take this lesson to heart. We know ourselves pretty well. And because of that, it’s easy to skip over putting all of those pieces into our characters. Our actions and decisions make perfect sense to us, but not necessarily to other people. We need to stop and make sure that we aren’t skipping steps, simply because we already know the steps so well. Emotion is a big part of that. Since we already know how we’re going to react, we don’t detail those emotions and those thought processes for the reader. It turns the character into a robot, which is bad for the story and easy to dismiss for the reader.

I hadn’t put much thought into that when I started the story, before I heard this lecture. It never occurred to me that modeling Bo after myself could be a bad thing. Who can write me better than I can? I’m an expert. But I’ve made a mental note of it now. I can monitor myself as I write my remaining chapters, making a point to identify those emotions and flesh out Bo as a character in her own right, not just a reflection of myself. And, when it comes time to edit, I’ll be watching for those things in my beginning chapters, too. Because even those she’s me, Bo deserves to be herself, too.

Kelley Armstrong

Normally, I title these posts after the book I’m reading, in which case this post should have been titled Frostbitten. But this post isn’t about the book specifically, but rather, what the book represents. So, I’ve titled this post Kelley Armstrong, after the author, because of the impact her books have had on my life.

I first discovered Kelley Armstrong as a freshman in college, prowling through the campus library, looking for something new to read. I started at the beginning of the alphabet in the fiction section, and found her first novel in the Otherworld series, Bitten. It was about a reluctant female werewolf who was trying to live a normal life and leave her werewolf nature behind her. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. Bitten was my first werewolf book, and my first foray into the world of urban fantasy.

I grew up watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and already had a fascination with werewolves, but my literary tastes were more fantasy-driven. I was reading Camulod Chronicles by Jack Whyte, Everworld by Katherine Applegate, as well as Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Magic. Fantasy. Adventure. But no werewolves.

Bitten changed that. I fell in love with that book, and lost track of how many times I read it in the coming years. I own it now. It sits on my bookshelf with various other books of the Otherworld. The series is complete now, spanning thirteen novels, along with various novellas and short stories. They’re not all about werewolves, either. Kelley Armstrong was very careful not to fall into the trap of writing herself into a specific trope or story. In the second book, Stolen, the werewolves are featured, but she expands the universe to include witches, sorcerers, necromancers, and half-demons, among other, smaller races. The rest of the series focuses on each in turn, and how they interact and play into the other main characters the readers have already fallen in love with.

I enjoyed all the books in the series, but the ones that resonated with me were the ones about the werewolves, so those are the only ones I’ve bought. I recently moved my bookshelves from my office into the living room, and while re-shelving all my books Frostbitten caught my eye. It’s one of my favorites, even among the few I’ve chosen to own. I was trying to figure out why as I was reading it last night, but I don’t have a clear answer. It takes place in Alaska, which is wild and enchanting. The characters have experiences in that wilderness they can’t explain, which is fascinating to me.

The book is also closer to the end of the series, so the characters have a rich history that I already know, and they’re established in how they relate to each other. The other miscellaneous characters come into play, because they’re all friends now, and it’s cool to see how they interact. I also know what’s ahead for them, and this book does a good job of setting up a few key things that will hit them later. Regardless, I love this book. Besides BittenFrostbitten is probably the ones I’ve read the most. The creases in the spine can attest to that.

I Thought I Had To Write Something Hard

I consider myself a pretty smart person. I’m well-educated. I went to the top high school in my state. I have a Bachelor of Science degree. I like to read really long, really complicated books, like the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin (also known as Game of Thrones). I do enjoy what I consider to be “light” books as well, stories that are easy to read and understand and I can go through quickly. Many of these kinds of stories are classified as “young adult”, things like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games and Percy Jackson. But I never wanted to write them.

To me, my “light” reading is a guilty pleasure. I know I’m capable of more than that. I come home from the library with books four inches thick and my husband just stares at me. I like big, epic fantasies, with storylines that make me think and remember, that are so convoluted that I sometimes struggle to keep them straight.

When I formally began this writing journey, I wanted to write stories with impressive, complicated storylines. Because I believe I can, and so I should. It’s the “go big or go home” mindset. And I tried. I threw myself into my fantasy project, and I had big plans for it. I may still go back, I haven’t made any plans to abandon it, but for so many reasons it just isn’t working for me right now. What is working for me is writing a “lighter” young adult story.

And I’m loving it. I didn’t expect to love it this much. Both of the major projects I’ve worked on before were grueling, taking months upon months, with breaks and give-ups and busting my butt just to put down a thousand words. But, as I’ve mentioned before, my young adult project is flying by. And it’s changing how I feel about the whole process.

I don’t know if this story will be a success, or if I’ll even capture an agent’s attention with it. But I love the story, nonetheless. And, as I write it, it doesn’t feel “light”. If it turns out that way, that’s fine, because I’ll know I put my best effort into it and it’s something I can be proud of. I do have plans to expand it into a trilogy, which is cool and very hip right now. I also have a new idea, which I’m trying not to think about until this project is finished, but it seems to have a young adult slant too.

I may never write an epic fantasy. I may discover that my niche is in young adult, and have a successful career there. And that’s okay. A story doesn’t have to be long and complicated to be good.

I Miss The Hub

I’ve made mention several times in previous posts of an online forum I have access to called The Hub. It’s special, because it’s only available to students of masterclass. By enrolling in James Patterson’s masterclass last spring, I was one of the first group of students to be introduced to The Hub.

As I understand it, The Hub was newly launched, and chose James Patterson’s class as a testing sample. Far as I can tell, when I joined, there were only about 7-8,000 people active on the forum, which isn’t much. And it was centered around writing topics, which was exactly what I needed it for. It was all student-driven, and many of the posts were relevant to the larger population.

I participated in quite a few topics, and began to recognize many of the names posting alongside mine. We evaluated and complimented each other. Many people posted sample chapters for feedback. Some posted resources they found helpful. Some, questions they needed writers’ opinions to answer. There were some days I wasted a lot of time there, and I had to pull myself away to get actual work done.

Now, The Hub has changed. Masterclass has broadened its accessibility, to its detriment, I believe. First, they opened it up to people from other classes, which is fine. Writers don’t need to hog The Hub. But, each person only saw posts related to the particular class they were taking. So, even though the screenwriters and the cooks and the photography students had their own forums, they didn’t cross over with ours. And it still worked.

Recently, The Hub decided to change its format. Since many people are enrolled in more than one class, they thought it would be a good idea to give everyone access to all topics on The Hub. Which is fine in theory, but organizationally, it’s a nightmare. I’ve only been on the site a handful of times since, and only for a few minutes at a time. The topics are so jumbled together that the writing posts can’t be easily singled out. I log in and it shows me 84 new topics, and I have to scroll through all the titles to find one that might be relevant.

The content of the writing posts has also changed. When  I can find them, they’re often writing prompts and challenges posted by facilitators of the site, not the helpful posts of the past. I feel like The Hub has lost its sense of community and camaraderie, and I’ve lost a valuable resource in the help of my fellow writers.