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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Reflections on Writing The Six, Part 2

This is my 100th blog post! And there was much rejoicing! Yaaayyy...

Okay, on to what this post is really about.

I promised to finish the story of how The Six came to be, so here goes... I already mentioned how the idea for the series was inspired by my actual camp experiences growing up and by my actual camp friends. But, as I also mentioned, I didn't have a clear concept in college of what the story would be about, although I had the setting and feel laid out. My notes for "Nine Fast Friends" stayed shelved for several years. I finished the other fantasy manuscript I was working on, tried and tried to get a publishing house and/or an agent, failed and failed at that, and graduated college with a healthy cynicism of the publishing industry. Self-publishing was very expensive and not very widespread at this time (2005), and most of the people with whom I discussed the self-publshing option laughed at the idea of it. (I'm not here going to go into the entire self-publishing to traditional publishing road, as that will be the subject matter of a later blog post.) My husband and I moved to Denver to pursue masters degrees, and in Denver I became a part of a writer's guild. I also discovered, after just one month in Denver, that I was expecting our first child. Suddenly the prospect of a master's degree didn't seem so attainable anymore... neither did staying in Denver where we had no friends or family, and very high expenses. My husband and I decided to relocate to Birmingham, Alabama and the move took place just three weeks before our son was born. This is worth mention in the evolution of The Six because when I left Denver, I took with me the friendship of a fellow writer from the writers guild named Ross. Ross and I exchanged manuscripts for several months (this was still my first fantasy manuscript), and he was the first one to tell me that my style is to write for teenagers. I had always said that I just wanted to write for "everyone!" and he pointed out that not only was this impractical, but it wasn't my style. He also told me in all honesty that my manuscript wasn't ready for publication; and he was right!

I really took his comments to heart and spent several months considering what I wanted to do. I didn't have the passion for that first manuscript that I needed to have for it, and after 20-odd rejections and finally the suggestion from Ross that it needed to be reworked entirely, I decided that it would simply be better to start over with something else - something I could work on from scratch and that could be written with teenagers in mind. I was coming up on the summer of 2008 and just finishing up my first year teaching. I knew that the only time I would have to write a book from beginning to end would be the summer time, as teaching is so time consuming, so I began to plan in earnest in the spring. Looking at all my various story notes, I settled on writing a science fiction/fantasy series called Que (pronounced "Cue"). This was probably my most well-fleshed-out idea, and as soon as school was out, I began to write my outline for the story. I was also at this time, however, re-reading one of my favorite books, Pride and Prejudice, and for some reason the name Darcy caught with me so strongly that I couldn't get it out of my head. I don't know where Pennington came from, but it also arrived that night, and I remember it was as though my brain suddenly caught fire. I probably spent 3 hours pacing my bathroom that night talking to myself and formulating the story idea. I knew as soon as the name Darcy Pennington came to me that she belonged in my camp story and that I would not be writing Que after all. In those three hours of pacing and hours lying awake in bed after that, I decided on six characters instead of nine (nine main characters is, after all, far too many to keep adaquate track of), settled on all their names, and conceptualized the story. The notes I took that night became the basis for The Six, but I also knew that it was going to be a series, and I couldn't start writing the series until I knew the end of the story. There were so many other things I wanted to be a part of the story, too - from literary alchemy to color symbolism to number symbolism to name symbolism to homages to my favorite authors and stories - and I figured out the basic structure of it all in about a week. It's really, obviously, too much to go into here, nor do I want to give away all my secrets - or even half of them (what good author does that?) - but it was a whirlwind of activity for me. Once I had the series synopsis set, I wrote my outline for book 1, set a daily writing schedule for myself, and got down to the work of writing, without ever having any real idea of whether or not I could produce a coherent novel in the two months I had left before school started again.

I finished the 384-page manuscript, somehow, before school began, and that's where I'll let off on the story of how it came to "be." As I said above, the publishing journey is a whole other story. I will say that I tested my manuscript on my students. I kept a binder in my classroom, and my 8th graders, in particular, took to it with a frenzy. I remember many a day where I had to break up arguments over who got to read it, and some students even took to snatching the binder when they walked in the room and stashing it in their desk so as to be able to have "dibs" on it should we end up with any free time in class. This sort of reaction told me that not only had I successfully written a novel, but I had apparently written something that teenagers wanted to read.

I've been careful throughout the writing of the story to preserve the identity of the real camp, although many of the location names and some story aspects are takes on actual places and events. For example, there really is a large boulder at this camp that is covered in gnomes painted on little rocks and stuck in the crevices. The recreation hall at the real camp is named after a college student who passed away - although not at the camp. And there is a story that a student in another week once tried to burn the rec hall down. The very best qualities of my camp friends have found their way into the characters, and I would, of course, never disparage any of them or use any of their real names. The stories have been, in one sense, a set of thank you notes to them and their influences on me.

And now I'm really waxing sentimental. Perhaps some of you wish that I would have given more detail in this account, perhaps some of you far less. Each story in the series has its own history and "fun facts" associated with it, but, again, if I told you all of that, what secrets would I have left?


  1. Thanks for sharing this. Just hearing about your creative process, it's obvious that God has given you a gift. I find this really interesting and liken it to what I imagine to be the song writing process. It's an amazing gift!

  2. very interesting. Enjoy hearing about other creative processes.