“What is your book about?” and other questions for writers.

I was asked to be a guest speaker at a Zoom Writers’ Club meeting at a nearby library earlier this month. Me. I have one YA fantasy book out on Amazon.

Eyes wide, I stammered a grateful acceptance and then spent the next few weeks crouched over my laptop, trying to figure out what the heck I was going to say. How anything I could say would be helpful or worthwhile. I was the one who cringed when a friend approached me with the age-old question, “What is your book about?” “How much time do you have?” was my usual response.

“Talk about your process,” the host suggested. “Your history of writing. And please read an excerpt.”

Okay, finding an excerpt – that should be easy. Easier than trying to figure out how to tell these earnest, good-natured fellow writers that my process changed with every dawn, or try to convince them that I had all the answers. Or any answers. Or even the right questions.

So, being a writer, I started the way I always started a new project. I got out one of my cute notebooks and I made notes. Bullet points. I even made up a catchy poem (more on that later). And came up with something.

A somewhat expanded version follows in three parts.

My history:

My childhood was a nerdy, glasses-wearing, less-than-athletic stereotype. I loved the library, television shows, and playing out imagination-filled stories mostly by myself. My mother introduced me to her beloved science fiction, and CS Lewis invited me to come to Narnia. I would have lived in the library a la Claudia in The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (why she chose the art museum instead, will always be a head-scratcher) if I was a fictional young girl. I lived in my head, made up stories and characters and situations. And I didn’t know I wrote fanfiction until I was an adult and met someone else who had filled lots of composition notebooks with stories about the characters I loved from television.

I started my first fantasy novel the summer before I went away to college. To say that that might have been a mistake of timing is an understatement. Overwhelmed by my need to tell this story, my grades first semester were not great. After a stern talking-to from my parents, I put that story away and never finished it. Happily, I graduated with a degree and a new marriage, so that was wonderful. But writing became a fondly remembered pasttime – until I had a sweet daughter who needed stories.

I made up coloring books for her. Encouraged imaginary play. Rosie Bear and the Blue Balloon may still be in my basement somewhere – it was never finished, but it was fun to write and draw.

The Internet changed everything.

In my 40s, a particularly terrible round of depression kept me at home in my pjs most days, but this story has a happy ending. An ending about the healing power of stories. And of like-minded people who tell stories.

I found fan fiction.

I found stories written by people like me who lived in their heads, where stories about characters from books, tv, and movies swirled and raced. They loved expanding their universes, adding in the details that could never be shown on-screen. And their stories were posted on-line for me to read. FOR FREE.

After months of reading until 3 AM, I wrote my first story and hit POST.

And got feedback. Encouraging, lovely feedback. And I met other women (and a few men) who wrote stories and who loved the same kinds of characters I did. I learned so many things about writing from them. About POV, dialogue, word choice. As an English teacher, I already knew about Rising Action, about grammar, and sentence structure. These women taught me not about writing, but about writing.

Writing fan fiction, I also learned about the contract between the writer and the reader. The promise you are making when you start posting a story. A promise to stay true to the characters, to make the story readable as well as compelling, to update often, and to finish the tale within a reasonable time limit. I’ve taken all these things very seriously and brought them out to my original fiction writing.

After writing fan fiction for years, I itched to write about my own characters again. To grow a story from beginning to end, in my own universe, and, maybe, to publish it and share it with others. I had another encourager this time. My pastor, believe it or not. A kind, funny, gifted man who told me whenever he saw me, “You should be writing.” (His wife wrote and published fan fiction, how cool is that?)

About ten years ago I had a dream. It was a dream about a man walking through the snow to a castle. Inside the castle, he would meet his opposite and the two of them would swap places. These two immortal figures were responsible for the attitude of the entire world; they represented two sides of the Scales, as it were. For half the year, one would reign, and, for the other half, the other. But this man, this figure, did not want to share any longer. So he intended to trap his counterpart in that castle for all time so that he could truly take over.

And so, Matthias’ story, Child of the Scales, was born.

It has expanded, now. Grown into a seven book series. I’ve traced Matthias’ backstory to his birth, his upbringing, building his world around him, giving life to his family, his friends, and the system that keeps the world teetering between Order and Chaos.

I published Child of the Scales in January, 2021, and the second book, Journey of Brothers will be out in September.

So far, so good. My “writing history” is complete. Whew.

Onto “My Process.” Oh, dear.

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