The past week or so has been an exhausting emotional rollercoaster for me. As I hope you know by now, Reflection Pond released April 1st. Be sure to GET YOUR COPY! Since the release, I’ve dug into Poison Tree, which is the sequel to Reflection Pond. I’m about 20,000 words in, good progress so far.
A lot of writers find the task of authoring a novel an organic experience. There’s a lot of pantsers out there, as in, we write by the seat of our pants. Similarly, there’s also a plethora of authors who approach writing methodically, outlining and plotting every word.
I fall into the first camp, the pantsers, the ones who sit down at the computer and cut and bleed at the same time, as opposed to the authors who outline, cutting first, and then letting the blood flow later. Because I’ve been submersed in a writing environment for so long now, I no longer know what this looks like from the outside, but lucky you, I’m going to try to explain what this is like from an author’s perspective (the organic, pantser perspective).
The Reflection Pond series covers some issues that I have trouble speaking about in normal conversation. Not only are they very personal and close to me, it’s difficult for me to see my characters suffer through them. And while I try to handle the situations with care and respect, it takes a huge toll on me emotionally. So if you see me at Barnes and Noble with a latte and a vacant, teary-eyed stare, I hope you understand that this is not easy for me.
I’m trying to do my characters justice. I want their stories to not only be satisfying to me as an author, but also to my readers. What do I mean by this? Hell, sometimes even I don’t know. I hope this resonates with someone and doesn’t come off as another crazy author rant. I write young adult. I think that society sees young adults in a very specific way. Not just young adults in books, but young adults in life. There are expectations, fair or unfair, it’s the truth. As an adult, I always try to acknowledge that everything I felt as a teenager is real and valid. Just because I experienced it in some heightened way due to my age is regardless to the issue at hand. I understand what it’s like to read a book and become a character. And when a reader becomes my characters, I want them to feel something, and specifically, those readers who have experienced the situations that happen in my books, I want them to find hope. I want them to understand that there is no wrong or right way to feel, just as there is no wrong or right way to be. We’re all still learning here.
Knowing this, as I’m writing, sometimes freaks me out. Then I call up my writer friends for encouragement. I keep getting the same advice. If it’s making you uncomfortable, then you are writing something worth writing. If it’s scaring you, if you’re afraid you’re crossing lines, then you need to keep going.
Somehow, I’m trying to circle around to my point (if I have one…I think I do!). It has to do with writing organically. So the other day, after spending the afternoon working on a particularly difficult scene, I sat back and thought, what the hell, why is my character so angry? I hadn’t planned for her to be angry, but the more I wrote, the angrier she got, and the more confused I became. She had to be angry. She just had to be. That’s when I got in contact with a friend who told me she thought I was on the right path. But if I’d been a plotter, a methodical writer, would my character still have been angry? I don’t know.
Recently, I read the Q&A on John Green’s blog about The Fault in our Stars (Be wary, there are spoilers, so don’t read unless you’ve finished TFioS.). John Green is a very smart author who I respect IMMENSELY. But ever since I read it, I couldn’t get over how many times he said that he planned things all along. Every bit of symbolism, every reference, every tiny nuance, planned and plotted to the last detail. And the final product is unbelievable. And while I’d never consider myself in competition with another writer, I do find myself comparing my methods to theirs. Methodical works well for John Green, not so well for me.
I believe in immersive writing. I can’t stand outside the story and be fully committed to my characters at the same time. I cry. I laugh. I celebrate their triumphs and I cringe when they fall. I am their biggest fan, after all.
Does this mean I think my characters are real people? No, of course not. Do I think that people read and relate to them, that people identify some of those qualities in themselves, that readers find hope when a character has the strength to get up and go on even after everything they know is broken? I sure hope so.
So when I say I want to do them justice, I really mean that I want them to be worth reading. I want the reader to take something away from the time they invested in my story. Some people read purely for entertainment, and that’s totally fine, but for those who are looking for justification of life, for those who are looking for hope, I want you to find it hidden in my stories, because I certainly feel it when I write. It’s pure heart in there. It’s pure experience. Because in the end, I’m a lot like my reader. I need these characters to help me figure out how to go on.
Maybe that’s why I’m a pantser, because even I haven’t figured it all out yet. So while all you planners and plotters are scribbling over your notebooks and painting the curtains red with anger, I’ll just be here, sobbing into my laptop, hoping that I’m making a difference for even one person, because that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I need to break convention, I need to get outside of this YA box that the industry is putting us in. You know what? My characters aren’t always strong. They’re flawed, but they’re learning, and so am I.
Yesterday, I had a set up at a local craft show, and a woman picked up Reflection Pond, read the blurb, and skimmed the pages. Then she asked me, “So, does he ever help her figure out how not to be broken?” I smiled and said, “Read the acknowledgements.”
She bought my book.
So when you pick up your copy of Reflection Pond, know that I’ve left hope between the pages for you. Perhaps I pants my way through the novel, but the hope? I put that there on purpose. It came from a very deep and personal place inside of me. It hurt when it came out, and it still hurts today, but if it means something to you, then it was worth it to me.
All the best,