I adore NaNoWriMo, so it was a quick and easy “Yes, please!” when Benjamin Thomas asked if I’d be interested in contributing a Nano-related guest post. Even though I only participated once and didn’t make it past day three—I was trying to squeeze writing fiction around writing for a newspaper, and that was just too much writing—I love all the writing enthusiasm, the motivation it sparks (in others), and the work it inspires people to create.
However, I do disagree with a certain ray-of-sunshine, up-and-at-‘em mass email I received from NaNoWriMo.org, whose subject line declared with sincerity, “The world needs your novel.”
I hate to say this, but it’s very likely the world does not, in fact, need your (or my) novel.
Even if it does, it may not know it now, and it may never know it.
But that’s okay! Thousands of writers have written novels the world has no idea it needs or doesn’t need at all, and they’ve gone on to write another and another without knowing for certain whether the world cares a whit about what they’re writing.
Why do they write them, and why should you?
Because regardless of the obstacles that create insecurity and uncertainty, writing is fun. Or rewarding. Or cathartic. Or an invigorating challenge. Take your pick. When most people start writing as children or pre-teens or teens, they’re not doing it because they think the world needs their insight or their brand of entertainment, or because they think they’re going to make a million from people lining up to buy their debut literary novel about a quirky, lonely island bird; they’re doing it because they enjoy it. It’s only later that fantasies of publication, acceptance, praise, respect, and/or money (ha—money) creep in to strangle creative freedom and scare writers out of being bold. Or, alternatively, tempt them into being “so crazy bold I’ll knock everyone’s socks off with all my ‘writery’ writing!” The activity of writing, the pains taken to put word after word after word in order to create a vivid scene, moment, or full story, begins as one kind of fun or another. Holding tight to that early, untainted passion while working on a first draft can significantly improve the experience.
When I started writing The Age of the Child, which is my third and latest novel, I had to remind myself almost every other day (just as I had to with my second novel), “Don’t think about what might appeal to an agent or an editor. Don’t think about what people say publishers want. Don’t think about what makes a ‘blockbuster.’ And for the love of all that is holy, don’t think about trends. Just think about the characters and the world they live in and the story they’re going to tell, the story you want to tell. That’s IT.”
The only pressure when working on any first draft should be to write the story as honestly as it can be written. With that in mind, I offer these five tips that have stood out from the avalanche of writer advice I’ve come across in the last twenty-five years:
Kristen Tsetsi has been an adjunct English professor, an instructor of expository- , play-, and screenwriting, a town news reporter/feature writer/columnist for a daily newspaper, a Women’s eNews correspondent, and editor of the literary journal American Fiction (New Rivers Press). She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Minnesota State University Moorhead.
The Age of the Child is her latest (also independently released) novel. Called “an intriguing look at a future that feels frighteningly possible” (Journal Inquirer) and “an exciting drama that illuminates the hypocrisies of our time without flinching” (Alan Davis, author of So Bravely Vegetative), The Age of the Child was the focus of an episode of WNPR’s “The Colin McEnroe Show” and, according to reviewer J. S. Crail, promises to “rile up your book clubs.”
I recently led a book discussion on David Lagercrantz's The Girl in the Spider's Web, and it sparked an interesting conversation, particularly being so close to Halloween and Día de los Muertos. For those not familiar with Lisbeth Salander, the punk hacker heroine of the girl in novels, her origins came from Swedish journalist and author Stieg Larsson. In the early 2000's, Larsson wrote the Millennium trilogy comprised of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Side note - I have a certain affinity for these novels because they're some of the books that got me back into reading after my near decade long hiatus.
Tragically, Larsson died before his trilogy was published; all three were released posthumously. The novels were an international phenomena, sparked a trilogy of Swedish films, an American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movie, and eight years later, the continuation of his series by fellow Swedish author and crime journalist David Lagercrantz. Now, days away from the upcoming theatrical release for the newest installment, my book discussion group appropriately touched on the fiscally straightforward, yet respectfully complex subject of creative continuation following an artist's death.
While numerous creators see either continued or new-found success following their death, it's a different story when someone else takes the initiative and continues the story. Writing isn't the only medium where this occurs, specifically now with concerts featuring hologram musicians. I read an article a few days ago that Amy Winehouse will be embarking on a world-wide tour next year. Yeah, except she died seven years ago.
It's no secret that money is behind these reenactments and continuations, and to pretend that there's any other reason is the most disrespectful part of the whole process. But, since death and illness are the great equalizer in this world, and money causes the biggest divide, it's only natural that these two forces clash at one point or another.
Anyone who read The Girl in the Spider's Web knows that Lagercrantz did in fact do our gothic hero pictured here some justice, I just don't know if I agree that the series should have been continued when it's original creator is no longer with us. It was said that when Larsson died he left outlines for a total of ten Millennium novels on his computer, and who knows, maybe he would be thrilled that his subtle cyberpunk thrillers are still finding their way to the hands of thousands and thousands of readers. We all know he's not the only writer this happens to: Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy are a few others who have published new work since being dead, and we all know about the controversial Go Set a Watchman publication from the estate of Harper Lee. But are these publications and continuations good for art? Or would the people behind them rather have their work rest too?
Until we figure out a way to communicate with the dead (or those who wish their work remain at rest write it into their will) we'll never know. We can only appreciate the attempts at keeping our favorite fictional worlds alive and pretend it isn't all for the money. Though we know it really is.
On another, less morbid note, there are two events coming up that I'm pretty stoked about. And big shout out to the folks at Manchester Library and those who came out for Spooky Story Night and listened to some PG... and not so PG tales of Halloween madness. Coming up this Thursday, November 1st, join me, R.C. Goodwin, Penny Goetjen, and Sarah Whelan for a panel on writing and specifically mysteries.
Following that, on November 14th, I'll be hosting a conversation with fellow local author Kristen Tsetsi on her timely new novel The Age of the Child at Book club Bookstore & More in South Windsor. Come take part in the discussion (I promise no spoilers), and learn about her new book, writing difficult subjects, and how the ideas of family, regulation, and human choice intersect.
Lastly, following Halloween thousands of writers will be sitting down to take part in NaNoWriMo where they'll attempt to write 50,000 words in one month. I've taken part the last few years, and even finished once, but unfortunately this year I won't be able to try my best at a new draft. So here's to all those that will. May you write like the edits don't matter! Till next time everyone, be safe, praise the sun, and don't go hollow.
I can't believe it's already Labor Day. No, scratch that. I can't believe it's already past Labor Day. When we were kids and everyone told us time flies when you're older, well they weren't lying that's for sure. But, before I digress into the irony of weekday wishing for the weekend and inadvertently wishing your life away, this post is the Big Book Summer Challenge Wrap up. Back, right after Memorial Day (distant times, years long gone) I posted about the 2018 Big Book Summer Challenge and tasked myself with reading four big books. To qualify as a big book, the length has to surpass 400 pages. My list included:
So how'd I do?
About that well. I managed to finish Leviathan Wakes, and I honestly, truly enjoyed it. I'll definitely be continuing the series when I work through the rest of my backlog/never ending TBR pile. I didn't, however, get through the remainder of my goal.
I started two books that qualified as big books but were not on my list above. Unfortunately, I got about 68% through both and finally put them in the did-not-finish category. I know. . . I know. If I got that far, why didn't I just finish them? To be honest? I just wasn't enjoying them. Neither were bad books per say, one is even very well known and raved about, I just couldn't bring myself to keep trying to read them. It got to the point where I was slowly turning pages just to try and mark them down as done. So I stopped.
The bad news? I only read one big book this summer. The good news? I just started Dune and it really seems like what I need at the moment.
In the midst of wrapping up summer conversations (and then vanishing for awhile), I got to hang out with and talk to Katarina Boudreaux, the writer behind Platform Dwellers, a young adult near future survival novel out now from OHP. And finding out who the writer behind the pen is, was a fun and intriguing conversation. So, Katarina, tell us a little about who you are.
That’s a great question. I feel like who I am is constantly in flux as I move through the day. Large scheme — born in Louisiana, came back to Louisiana after circuitous journeying and solid life experiences. I have a penchant for cheese, pretty things with intricate designs, and the sea. Bonus points for cool, historical places by the sea. Soft spot for cats, all animals really, and really enjoy brass bands and parades. I’m a dancer, musician, teacher, writer, and I can juggle quite well. I write poetry, short stories, musicals, and novels across a variety of genres. I particularly like YA and science fiction, but explore every avenue of fiction my ideas push me toward. Platform Dwellers is a futuristic exploration of life on abandoned platforms in the Gulf of Mexico after a virus wipes out Land dwellers. Joe, a feisty teenager, leads a group of her friends to discover the dark secrets of the Planning Commission (the Platform’s governing body) and uncover the truth about Land.
That's an awesome concept. What was the inspiration for the project? Did you have a scene you just couldn’t let go, or did it take months and months of outlining?I was taking a lovely day at the beach on Dauphin Island, and noticed how prevalent the Platforms are in the Gulf, and the wheels started rolling in my mind. The characters and story wrote itself. The editing process took months and months of fine tuning to create a seamless narrative and well developed setting and characters.
Was it difficult building the world? Could you touch on how you did that and maintained consistency? I have to give my props to Olivia Swenson and the team at Owl Hollow Press. After massive research and rewriting, they diligently pushed me to grow even more and sharpen my focus with well pointed questions and excellent catches. Consistency came by reading and rereading and reading again.
Revision is definitely a process, and speaking of, can you tell us a little about your writing process? Ah. That’s a good, but tough one. I’m a firm believer that writing has saved me oodles of dollars in therapy. I write what bothers me, what excites me, what makes me happy, what catches my attention — it is my processing. When I can create alternate characters and worlds where those things come together…even better. I write every day - on paper, in my head, in the car or in the middle of teaching. It is how I filter the world. I hand write poetry, and type short stories and novels. If I were cool enough, I’d probably own a typewriter. But since I don’t, I use my trusty Mac and let the words fly. I never edit until I’ve completed a section.
What is something that you’ve learned about writing or publishing that you wish you knew when you first started writing? Rejection is rejection, and you need to let it roll off of you like water in a down spout. Let it go, and move on. Try again. And again.
Do you have a tradition for when you finish a project or have a piece accepted for publication? If so, how do you celebrate? Not really. I mean I do a happy dance wherever I am, but that’s not really tradition. I do feel like each piece is a little part of me and it is lusciously beautiful when they find homes. And projects are never really finished in a way, as then you need to promote them, have them be springboards for the next project…
So I take it you have projects in the works? Always. I have the sequel to Platform Dwellers laid out, but I’m working on building a creative arts series in the community I live in at the moment. Poetry is always in the works, and I have the skeleton of another book beckoning for my attention.
Okay, so rapid fire time. Try to answer these without thinking. First thing that comes to mind.
Fair point. So, wrapping up, let us know where can people get in touch or find out more about your work.
Facebook: Katarina Boudreaux facebook.com/katarina.boudreaux