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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The RENEGADE Series and Why I Blog in Verdana

Feel like you haven't already seen enough vague ramblings about my novel, RENEGADE, on Twitter? You've come to the right place! This here post is where I've opted to spill my entire writing journey, not at all briefly, but a bit less vaguely. Fasten your seatbelts for my life story, as well as some lovely images I've claimed from Pinterest.

When I was in elementary school, I'd write little stories on construction paper and staple them together as if that bound them as a real book. I'd detail adventures I went on with my family, illustrate pictures in crayon and colored pencil. But my real love of literature started with the Harry Potter books, the first YA fantasy series I ever read. Somewhere between my first and seventh reads of the series, I knew I wanted to write something in that genre.

Although I buried myself in books, especially the Percy Jackson series in middle school, I lost touch with writing for a while. But in eighth grade, I signed up for a semester-long creative writing class. The funny thing there is that right before the semester started, I tried -- and failed -- to get out of the class. It's a blessing that it didn't work; from the first day, I wrote like crazy. Our teacher kept giving us prompts throughout the class, and I wrote much, much more than anyone else. Just about a month ago, I found those papers, and believe me, they weren't pretty. But they were my start. Our first real assignment for that class was to write a short memoir, just two pages long; mine was ten.

I don't talk about this much, but early in that semester, I found fanfiction for some of my favorite books. I read a bit, then I just kind of thought to myself, "I can do this." So I did. I got some positive responses, and I only held onto a couple stories for a couple chapters before I started questioning why I was using other writers characters and universes when I could just as easily create my own.

In April 2013, just before my fourteenth birthday, I started planning characters. I had six, I remember, and they were in groups of three, a point of view in each, as they were split into different worlds which I planned to cross over.

This place, the Fortis Compound, is one of the few things that have remained relatively similar since the beginning of my writing journey. Here, my powers people can work on their fun powers without normal people being scary and murdering them. Overseen by two Officers, the Fortis exist both nowhere and everywhere; there are ten entrances throughout North America, in cities including New York, San Francisco, and Columbus. Imagine the building in this picture five stories high with more trees on the grounds.

Around May, when I started writing, I didn't have a plot. I totally and completely made that stuff up. I had this kid, Jeremiah, as my narrator, and his friend, Quinn, along the way as they met this girl, Aurora, at some mall. About a chapter in, I went back and decided that my characters were wrong. Quinn became my narrator, Jeremiah's name became Mason, and Aurora became Katrina. I found this kid, Jeffrey, in there, too, and when I wiggled out his backstory with this other girl, Victoria, I fell in love just like Jeffrey and Victoria. I gave Jeffrey a prequel...except prequels aren't the first five chapters and thirteen thousand words of a book. So Jeffrey butted in, and he and Quinn shared the point of view of the novel as Jeffrey became the central focus of the story.

Say hello to my Cream Puffs, Jeff and Tori! They're hiding from me in that tree.

My main regret comes here. It's not that I didn't plan, no, because I still don't practice complete outlines of my stories. But over that summer, I’d go a couple thousand words into my novel, and then I’d reread it. And I'd change things. And I wouldn't save the draft before it. Now, I'm sure none of it would've been useful -- at that point, I was still struggling to keep my writing in the same tense. But I'm nostalgic, and for the sake of that, I wish I could compare my first chapters now with my first chapters then. Lesson learned.

Once I saw The Way Way Back, my all time favorite movie, Liam James became my Jeffret (yes, it's an affectionate misspelling) dream actor. .Jeff is my son, except I make him sad a lot. But I blame that on his big brother, Nathan. Jeffrey sometimes has moods in which he feels like it's "me against the world," and granted, sometimes it is. However, he usually just wants Nathan and Victoria to love him -- in different ways, of course.

I finally learned to keep pushing through a draft until it's over, and by October (2013) of my freshman year in high school, I had a rough draft. It was then that I looked back and discovered more holes than you'd ever think imaginable. The largest one regarded Nathan, Jeffrey’s older brother, who at that point served the role of the big bad guy who came and swung random punches whenever need be. As I investigated his motivations, he became more and more palpable, and soon, the story shifted. Nathan took center stage, while all other plots and characters wound around one another and back to him.

Nathan is adorable, but Nathan also needs some capital "H" Help. He tries his best to save people, but most everyone hates him, including those for whom he's trying his best.

After a couple drafts, I had a friend begging to read my first novel. She, too, wrote, and she shared with me relentlessly, so in February (2014), I began feeding her my novel chapters at a time. She devoured it, and surprisingly, she lauded each and every character despite some glaringly obvious flaws. It wasn't a genuine beta read, but it may have been one I needed to keep me going. Unfortunately, she moved at the end of that school year, and no one has been able to contact her since.

Although this one's ambiguous, I think of it as another Nath Cole (Nathan Coleman) due to the fact that the weird glow-y light resembles the affects of the thing that makes people hate him.

In spring of my freshman year (2014), I participated in and completed my first Camp NaNoWriMo. Thinking my first novel was set and ready to go, I sped through a rough draft of the sequel. It expanded my world to include something called the Renegade -- get it? -- to foil the Fortis.

While the Fortis is orderly, the Renegade believes in honing powers through "matches," or play fights, without any official location or stable leadership. This can cause anything from raves to friendly hangouts. The Renegade has major issues with the Fortis because of a sketchy past.

In that July (2014), I tried for a second Camp NaNoWriMo. Because of Nathan’s developments, I sought to write a prequel surrounding his story prior to the first novel. However, as I delved deeper into the world and began adding more and more characters, it became a complete wreck. Thirty thousand words in, I scratched it, deciding to salvage what I could in the future.

Also, here's Victoria! She got a l o t cooler once I wrote the sequel. Although she doesn't really want power, she'll take it to keep it out of worse hands. Major self-sacrifice, if you ask me. Expect great things from this girl.

From there, over the rest of the summer, I began developing deeper plots and fuller characters with the help of a different friend, Mackenzie Tomlinson, who still remains my closest friend. Eventually, after many incidents in which I nearly cut Quinn from the story entirely, he proved his worth and found a voice; because of this, I decided to go back to my first novel at the start of my sophomore year (2014).

Quinn! Poor Quinn. He's a victim of Nathan's project and ultimately not always himself. I feel the need to again say: Poor Quinn. He's a nice young man, for the most part. Bring him home to Mom and Dad for A+ approval, which Katrina does.

By December, Quinn’s plot line had changed so dramatically that I ended up practically rewriting the majority of the novel. By March, I had a solid story with proper characters, plots, and world building. At that time, I went back to my sequel novel -- the one I wrote in my first Camp NaNoWriMo. During Camp NaNoWriMo of April in my sophomore year (2015), I worked on heavy rewrites of this novel until, maybe twenty thousand words in, I determined that the entire novel was unimportant to the plot of the series as a whole. I scratched it, and in the middle of the chaos that is NaNoWriMo, I jumped into the first draft of the third novel in my series which therefore became the second.

And here's Katrina! She's 25% the reason I say, "Poor Quinn," and 60% why Quinn wouldn't agree with me on that statement. With blind ambition and an extremely logical mindset, I would be terrified if I suddenly had something she wanted. She may not slaughter me, but she'd make me wish she had.

Again, with my lack of planning came unexpected actions. Katrina, who honestly had previously been fairly bland, took on a life that had impressed me nearly as much as Nathan’s. As the story’s universe expanded, new characters emerged, demanding a true prequel set thirty years before the first novel. I wrote through the months to complete that draft, then, that summer (2015) came back to my very first novel in order to tweak Katrina’s character and perform line edits. By that December (2015) in my junior year, I had completed my first novel for what felt like the hundredth time.

But life happens, as it does, and the rest of that school year slowed me down. I muddled through two more drafts of the second novel in my series, but I skipped out on NaNoWriMo. As one of two presidents of the newly founded TCHS Creative Writing Club, I personally didn't feel as if I was living up to the bar. I expanded a bit more into shorter writings, even the occasional poem. I submitted to the revived TCHS Art and Literature Magazine. In the end, I did what I could at the time.

But with my senior year (2016), I made a resolution. With fuel provided by the first Advanced Creative Writing class, I did some planning and jumped back to start a draft of the third novel in my series in October (2016). I got it in my head that this was it. I had to toss out as much of the story as I could before graduation -- before the end. I had over a hundred thousand words into the third novel in my series, HOST, by the end of my first legitimate NaNoWriMo in November (2016). I'd had this one in my head for a while, so there was less to change, but I jumped into some more world building and research for some approaching plot points I'd had boiling under the surface.

This is Mount Diablo in California, about an hour from where Nathan and his girly-friend live in San Francisco. Here, my characters oftentimes do ridiculous things and usually feel the repercussions.

But when NaNoWriMo wrapped up, and December came around, I realized another goal: my first novel. I couldn't abandon it like I had each time I chased another plot bunny down another path in my own universe. I had to do something with it, to move it, and I had to fulfill my ultimate goal. I had to try to publish it.

Deciding that was the easy part because I, like many aspiring authors, wanted to traditionally publish. I wanted one of the big publishers, like Harpercollins and Simon and Schuster, and I wanted to be on the New York Times Bestseller list. I wanted to be able to stroll into Barns and Noble's, casually point to the poster on the window, and say, “Yeah, that's my book up there.” I still want those things, and I'm still working for them. In my heart, I feel that I owe it to my middle school self and my characters to try.

My babies: Katrina, Quinn, Nathan, Jeffrey, Victoria, Trent.

But more importantly, I want to reach people. It's like I was shy and quiet for so much of my childhood, and now, I have too much to say, and the best way for me to convey my voice is through writing. I don't need the movie deals, and I don't need New York Times, and I don't need a six figure deal. I want those things, sure, but what I need is to know that anyone who might be better from hearing what I have to say can find it; the best way to achieve that, ultimately, is through publishing with a huge platform. I don't need to be a household name, not in this lifetime, and not ever. But if there's anybody out there who could be to me as I am to somebody like J.K. Rowling, or my favorite author, Neal Shusterman, then I need to try.

So in December 2016, I fleshed out a query letter -- the one page you send to literary agents, who, provided they sign you as one of their clients, pitch your novel to an editor at a publishing company. I worked heavily with my creative writing teacher, Nona Kummell, who has given me amazing input and support. Before Christmas break, I sent out my first round of queries. Around mid January, I sent out another batch. Yesterday, the beginning of February, I dared to send a few more. The thing with the industry is that it’s slow, and it's subjective; I've yet to have a hit, but I've only heard back from four of my fourteen submissions. It's agonizing even though I know it's not at all unusual. I'll keep tweaking things, and I'll keep researching.

So I've been waiting. I finished up the second edition of the TCHS Art and Literature Magazine. I’ve continued the third novel in my series, which, as it gets dangerously longer, absolutely has to be split up in order to elongate the second as if it needs to be any longer. I plan on soon finishing edits and revisions on the second novel and possibly starting the prequel this April during Camp NaNoWriMo. And I've checked my emails like crazy, waiting for these stupid responses and wondering if I'll ever get one at all.

Greetings from Bethany, narrator of my prequel, CRUSADER. I'm working on her at the moment, but I know she's got a kick-ass motorcycle.

So, this has been Sarah's Novel Writing Extravaganza. As for why I'm writing this in Verdana -- check the default font on fanfiction documents. Don't judge me, it's a comfort thing. Anyhow, here are my novel statistics:

RENEGADE (Book One): 110k words, complete December 2015; early drafts peaked at 150k.
Untitled Book Two (CUT): 125k words, the only draft complete June 2014.
Prequel (SCRAPPED): 30k words before it was cut in July 2014.
CRUSADER (Current Prequel, can also stand alone): 6k words of a fling in a week in July 2015. I'm not sure if I'll start over in April 2017 or try to salvage it, but you'll find out.
ARBITER (Book Two): 163k words (oh no), the latest of three drafts completed around August 2016. Should be drafted again in March 2017.
HOST (Book Three): 125k words and incomplete (Oh No) as of February 2017. I estimate about 20k remaining, which should by complete by the end of this month.
Untitled Book Four: 12 million tears, but zero words. Start date is unknown an therefore TBA.

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