Thursday, July 10, 2008

Guest Blog - Kelley Armstrong

Searching for the Fountain of Youth
Earlier this month, my first young adult book (The Summoning) came out, released after nine “adult” novels. My regular series, Women of the Otherworld, features a changing cast of narrators with ages varying from 22 to 44. So you’d think that writing about a teenage heroine shouldn’t be that big a stretch. But it was…at least psychologically.
The idea for this young adult trilogy came about while writing my second novel, Stolen. Out of that story, I got an idea for another, carrying on a plot thread. But I realized that this new story would need a teenage narrator, and that wouldn’t fly with readers expecting adults. So I put it on the back burner.
Still the idea kept cropping up. I considered ways to do it with an adult narrator, but there was no getting around the fact that it needed to be a teen—the story is about a special group of supernaturals coming into their powers, and in my universe that takes place with puberty. The solution seemed simple: make it a separate young adult story, rather than part of my current series.
At that point, the biggest stumbling block should have been whether publishers would want a new series from me. But that wasn’t what held me back. When I seriously thought about writing from a teenage point of view, I balked. I’m too far past that point in my life (I have a daughter that age) and no one is faster at spotting falseness than a teenager. They’d read one page of my attempts to sound fifteen, roll their eyes and send the book flying across the room.
Still the story wouldn’t go away.
I finally decided to write it as a NaNoWriMo project. During National Novel Writing Month, writers try to complete 50,000. I’d been wanting to encourage members of my discussion board writing group to give NaNoWriMo a try, and what better way than to do it myself? I could try this young adult idea, free of pressure. If it didn’t work, I’d just call it a month-long writing exercise.
So I wrote a 75,000 word young adult novel for NaNoWriMo 2006. The book had problems. As much as I loved the characters and the basic idea, the plot needed work, and eventually went through a total rewrite. But as for taking on the personae of a teenage narrator? It was easier than I ever imagined.
I’ve become accustomed to changing narrators (and voices) in my adult series, and I love that part of it. Once I worked into the character of Chloe Saunders, imagining her life, her surroundings, her thoughts and dreams, it was no different than with any of my adult characters. I had the trappings of a fifteen-year-old’s life in mind, so that was what came out—the voice of a fifteen-year-old character. Which is not to say that no teen will ever roll their eyes at the lady trying to pass herself off as a teenage character, but the voice felt right to me.
Once in Chloe’s mind-space, I remembered what it was like to be fifteen. I remembered the good and the bad, the memories flooding back. And when I pick up the pen to revisit her world, it’s wonderful…in the way that a trip back home is wonderful. It’s comfortable and it’s fun and I love to visit…though I wouldn’t want to live there again. I’m well past that time in my life, and the more I remember it, the more I’m glad of that! But it is a fascinating place to return to, and I hope to continue visiting for a while.

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