When Amie invited me to contribute this guest post, my first question was, “Is there a particular topic you’d like me to write about?” She said it could be anything publishing-related…maybe the challenges of writing time travel.
Which makes sense. The first book in my time travel duology, LOOP is already out in the world, and its sequel TWIST releases on April 7th. I began writing LOOP in 2010. It’s 2015. That’s five years of writing time travel.
That’s a lot of time travel.
Please don’t get me wrong. I love the subject. If Marty McFly pulled up outside in the DeLorean right now, I’d nab those keys and take off without blinking an eye.
But…I finished my final polishes on TWIST several months ago. I wrote it over a year ago. I started writing LOOP half a decade ago. Talking about the process of writing time travel feels a bit like time traveling in and of itself.
Instead, I thought I’d write about my here and now.
And my here and now can be summed up in a single word: Change. One might say I’m in a state of high flux capacity. (I know…terrible.)
Change is common in the publishing industry. I’ve witnessed a lot of it since I sold LOOP and TWIST. Some of it is in a writer’s control. Most of it isn’t.
Editors move. Release dates get bumped. Covers are switched. Hot trends die. Dead trends rise from the coffin like sparkly vampires.
Which is where I am right now. My active, creative role in the life of my series is finished. Like it or not, it’s change time.
As a writer (and as a human being), I have two choices before me. Change, whether it’s the result of an unexpected occurrence or the natural course of things, demands one of two responses. You can fight it. Or you can roll with it.
One of my good friends was at a writerly crossroads not too long ago. We’ve been crit partners for several years. When we met, she was already agented and wrote gritty contemporary YA. She had undeniable talent, but for whatever reasons (timing, the market, a butterfly pooping over the Atlantic…it’s publishing, who knows?) her stories hadn’t sold.
She was faced with a moment that required change, and she didn’t fight it. Or hide under her fuzzy green blanket and eat a copious amount of Cadbury crème eggs (oh, wait—that’s me). No. She rolled with it.
She wrote something completely new and completely different. And, you guys, it is magical. If you don’t know Evelyn Skye yet, don’t worry. You will. (Click for a bigger version.)
Was it easy? No. Change is rarely easy. Or pain-free. But I think she’d be the first to say it was worth it.
So here I am at this new old place. My release date is so close I could smack it. A strange mix of emotions swirls around in me. Excitement, fear, pride, doubt, joy, nostalgia. It’s very loud in my head.
But when I stop trying to fight it, when I roll with it, that’s when everything quiets down. Only then can I hear a new character speak to me. Her voice is fun. Her story is unlike anything I’ve written before. I think it might be a story worth sharing.
I sit down.
And I write.
How about you guys? What points have you hit in your writing journey when change was necessary?
Karen Akins writes humorous, light sci-fi for young adults and the young in spirit. When not writing or reading, she loves lightsaber dueling with her two sons and forcing her husband to watch BBC shows with her. You can keep up with her at karenakins.com or on twitter.
It is my absolute pleasure to welcome Anne Bustard today, in celebration of the release of her new Middle Grade book, which comes out today. Anne, a part of Egmont’s Last List, has graciously agreed to indulge my questions about her writing process with her brilliant answers. So without further ado, welcome, Anne!
Set in 1960 Hawaii, Anywhere But Paradise is the story of reluctant seventh-grade newcomer Peggy Sue Bennett, who is baffled by local customs, worried about her quarantined cat and targeted by a school bully because she is haole, white. At first, Peggy Sue would rather be anywhere—anywhere but paradise. But a new friend, hula lessons, the beauty of the islands and more, help Peggy Sue find her way. This is a story about fear and guilt. About hope and home. About aloha, love.
I’ve read that Anywhere But Paradise was inspired by your growing up in Hawaii. Can you tell us more about that? Did you do a lot of research on Hawaii in 1960 or mostly rely on your personal experiences?
I was born in Honolulu, moved away when I was a toddler and returned to paradise after fifth grade. I have wonderful memories of hiking to waterfalls with my cousins, aunt and uncle, eating lilikoi (passion fruit) shave ice on the bench outside the Matsumoto storefront on the North Shore, stringing lei from plumeria flowers from our yard and listening to the ocean.
I did not live in the islands in 1960. But even if I had, research would still have been a gigantic part of my process. I couldn’t have written the story without delving deeper and double-triple checking details. I love research, so this part of the writing process was particularly fun! I needed to verify the animal quarantine requirements, when the night-blooming cereus flowered, stories about Madame Pele and dozens of other facets of the novel. I did a lot on my own, but so, so many generous people helped me along the way. I am exceedingly grateful.
Small moments of my personal experience flavor the narrative. I know what it’s like to hear a tsumani warning siren wail and evacuate to higher ground, to be verbally threatened by a bully (though unlike Peggy Sue, it happened to me only once) and to be enchanted by the beauty and rhythms of the islands.
Writing about a character’s problems can unearth a ton of old ghosts of our own. How did you go about navigating your past and finding the inspiration for the character of Peggy Sue? Did you ever find her problems difficult to confront due to them being too close to home?
All writers draw upon some portion of ourselves, no matter how small. Part of my own journey was to recognize that I was holding back. In a pivotal conversation with the wonderful children’s and YA writer, Janet Fox, it occurred to me that Hawaii was the antagonist of the story. I love Hawaii. It is my home. I told Janet that I did not want it to be the antagonist.
“I know,” she said in a soft voice. “But in the end,” Janet said brightly, “Hawaii isn’t the antagonist.”
True. But. I realized not only had I been protecting Peggy Sue, I’d been protecting Hawaii. In the end, both would have to stand up for themselves.
What advice would you give to a writer who is struggling to separate their reality from their fictional character? How can we protect ourselves emotionally if a character reminds us too much of ourselves?
You are not your character. But there may be parts of her that resonate with you.
So my answer may surprise you—don’t separate. This is where you will find the gold.
It’s way scary.
It took me years to get to the point where I could do this. Years.
What was the most useful lesson you learned while writing this book? If you could go back and talk to the you who is about to begin writing, how would you warn or arm her against the difficulties ahead?
My big takeaway? Go there emotionally.
Breathe. Trust the process. It’s going to take as long as it takes. It’s all about revision, going deeper. About finding the heart of the story. About discovering what your characters really want.
Tim Wynne-Jones says, “The answers are in your writing.” He posits that we give ourselves clues to unlocking the mysteries of our own work. It’s our job to look carefully, to look differently, until we discover them.
Amen to that, Anne. Thank you for your wonderfully insightful answers!
To celebrate the release of Anywhere But Paradise, we are giving away a signed copy to a lucky winner! Enter the draw through the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win this beautifully written book!
Anne Bustard is a beach girl at heart. If she could, she would walk in the sand every day, wear flip-flops, and eat nothing but fresh pineapple, macadamia nuts and chocolate. She is the author of the award-winning picture book Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly (Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers). Her debut middle grade historical novel Anywhere But Paradise (Egmont Publishing) is out on March 31, 2015. She lives in Austin, Texas.
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