Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Erin Kellison on Writing

Erin Kellison
Shadow Bound
Publisher: Leisure
Pub date: July 2010
Agent: Jessica Faust

(Click to Buy)

When I started Shadow Bound, I had zero aspirations for the manuscript to get published. Zero. My goal was this: learn to write a book while having fun. I assumed, when complete, it would languish on my computer for a while, and then I’d go back months later to see if there was anything to salvage. Shadow Bound was a self-imposed course on writing a novel. This approach gave me all sorts of room to do what I wanted, without my internal editor doubting each step. I believe that this broad creative license is what eventually got me published. And to the readers of this blog, I’d like to encourage a pursuit of that same semi-reckless license. I say "semi" because, of course, there are realities of craft and the publishing business that should be observed. An easy example would be keeping your word count within typical publishing parameters. Another would be making sure you maintain the hallmarks of your genre; a romance should end with a happily ever after. Basic stuff.

Here’s something I didn’t know that was painful to discover: There are innumerable ways to tell a story. Let me explain. At first I didn’t have a critique group to get feedback on my chapters, so I entered contests, the most expensive critique group of all. And I got feedback, but often it pulled my story in different kinds of directions. I’d get comments like “try starting here,” or “if you were to restructure this chapter in such and such way,” or worse, “there’s no market for this.” And you know what? A lot of the comments made perfect sense. I felt the rightness of them, and the wrongness of my approach. I could start it differently. I could restructure. I could rework a character arc in a different way. I think this tug-of-war can be illuminating, but it can also be deadly to a manuscript.

Luckily, I had an out. Because I started Shadow Bound with no expectation of it being published, I had a giddy sense of freedom to disregard any comment that pulled me away from my sense of the story. Was there a suggestion in there that might have made my book a whole lot better? Probably. But with all the feedback, I could only pick and choose what I thought would work for me, and then move on. Churn out the chapters. Enjoy the ride. Finish. If the book worked, great. If it didn’t, then I learned a lot. My next one would be better. I sound easygoing about that perspective, but it was very difficult. Still is, and I’m on my third book. I think it’s about finding and trusting your voice. Not just your narrative voice, but the voice in your head, too. In fact, at times it’s excruciating.

I continued entering Shadow Bound in contests, received some requests for fulls. Did the pitch thing at conferences, mostly for experience. I completed the manuscript, sent it out. Started another book. Five weeks later, I had an offer, a week after that, an agent, Jessica Faust. And the bliss of that experience? My editor and my agent understood and loved where I was coming from. Sure, I had revisions to do. I cut upwards of 6,000 words, revisited a whole bunch of scenes for clarity and impact. That’s part of the work of getting the manuscript ready. But the sense of the story was preserved.

Now, my idea for Shadow Bound is a little bit out there: I’ve got a banshee for a heroine, a bunch of soul-sucking wraiths planning to take over the world, and a hero on a personal mission to kill his brother. It’s a dark and twisted combination and I had a blast writing it. My wish for the writers reading this is to go for it. To refuse to belabor your manuscripts with doubts. There are a million ways to tell a story, some brilliant, some not so good. The only one that counts is yours.


Erin Kellison is the author of the Shadow Series, which includes Shadow Bound and Shadow Fall. Stories have always been a central part of Erin Kellison's life. She attempted her first book in sixth grade, a dark fantasy adventure, and still has those early handwritten chapters. She graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English Language and Literature, and went on for a master's in Cultural Anthropology, focusing on oral storytelling. When she had children, nothing scared her anymore, so her focus shifted to writing fiction. She lives in Arizona with her two beautiful daughters and husband, and she will have a dog (breed undetermined) when her youngest turns five.

Learn more about Erin at www.erinkellison.com.


Rowan Spence said...

You mention about key features which need to exist in any book; you are absolutely right about those key points especially for the North American market. I am actually struggling on one balancing a unique story while keeping enough "hallmarks of my genre" to make the book more relatable for readers (I'm writing a fantasy / supernatural thriller). So how do balance maintaining the hallmarks of your genre without being predictable? I really appreciate your advice on this!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your words. They've been an encouragement to me. I'll keep plugging away at my WIP and give my permission to just write.


Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

Your story is great. I love that you illuminate creative license as possibly the biggest advantage you had. With so many rules and advice, we can become paralyzed. Going back to revise with an open mind certainly served you well. Congrats!


Sean Cummings said...

Great post where you're truly hammering home the fact that writing is a craft. You have a kick @#$ premise and I can't wait to read Shadow Bound - I'm going to take a picture of your book on the shelves here in Saskatoon and email it to ya!!!

Heidiopia said...

Refreshing advice! Thank you for sharing, Erin, and best of luck.

Netti said...

Thanks for this. Every time I start a project I decide I hate it and start over. I really need this. Maybe if I can get myself to take a few steps back I can finish one of them.

Kristan said...

Love the advice to trust our instincts and not to be afraid to experiment. Sometimes I write something that I think "they" will love, but when I go back and read it, it "feels wrong." With your words in mind, I think I can feel a bit better about trusting myself. :)

Aimless Writer said...

I've read Shadow Bound (ARC) and loved it! It had a great premise and was a fast paced read. You have an amazing imagination to dream up this story line.

Erin Kellison said...

Hi Rowan,
Tough question. The only answer I can give is to know your genre, love your genre, and any time you come up against something halfway predictable, go a different way. For example, I love the dark pathos of vampires and weres, but they have already been done so well. Banshees (to me) offered the same potential, and there aren't near as many out there. AND (yikes!) I actually never thought of the readers. I wrote what made me gleeful to sit at my computer, thinking... let's see who I can torture today. Relatability to me comes from the characters, making sure that however supernatural they are, underneath they still have human concerns.

I hope this helps, and best of luck with your book.

Erin Kellison said...

Hi Wanda,
Yes! Go for it!

Erin Kellison said...

Thanks Marissa! Yes, that license made the difference. I know it did. I have enough false starts on my computer to prove it. :)

Erin Kellison said...

Waving hi to author Sean Cummings! He writes killer urban fantasy. Yes, please take a pic. That would be very awesome. And thank you!

Erin Kellison said...

Thanks, Heidiopia! :)

Erin Kellison said...

Hi Netti,
I have many, many false starts to books on my computer. The task for Shadow Bound was to complete it, no matter what. If not for that one goal, I would have abandoned it a hundred times. Best of luck!

Kirk K said...

Wonderful post, Erin. It really hit home for me. I am in the midst of my first novel and have requested and received a lot of feedback. Some has been helpful, some not but I'm also feeling that tug in several directions. My story has changed drastically from when I started it but right now, I believe I am holding true to what I want to say. I have had some, "well, duh!" moments related to some of the crits I have received. But it's my story to tell and like you, while I would love to eventually see it published, I really believe the experience is helping me grow as a writer. Thanks for sharing!

Erin Kellison said...

Hi Kristan,
I totally get the "feels wrong" thing. That's when I gnash my teeth and back up to the last part where I felt the good stuff, and then try again. Keep at it :)

Paige Shelton said...

Happy Release Day, Erin! I look forward to reading your books.


Erin Kellison said...

Hi Aimless Writer,
Thanks! I am so glad you enjoyed it. Hearing that is a great way to start today. :)

Kate Douglas said...

Erin--you've really nailed the most important thing--you wrote the book YOU wanted! Fortunately, you figured this out a lot faster than I did. Congratulations--I'm definitely looking for this one. It sounds like it's exactly the sort of story I'd love to read.

Beth Cato said...

Hello, Erin. I met you early on at the Desert Dreams Conference and you let me practice my pitch on you! I loved the sample booklet on Shadow Bound and have the full book on my must-buy list. Thanks again for being so kind to a nervous novelist!

Taryn Tyler said...

very sound advice. Teh pressure to publish can ruin a good story and take all the fun out of telling it. :)

Erin Kellison said...

Hi Kirk,
I'm so glad it hit home. It was a very hard lesson for me to learn. The other part (not in the blog) was that I gave myself a minimum of five books in five years to learn the craft and the business, and then see where I ended up. I just really, really wanted to write.
Hang in there. It will pay off.

Erin Kellison said...

Thanks Paige! Hope you enjoy them :)

Erin Kellison said...

Hi Kate,
Thank you for your kind words. You don't know how much it means. Hope you enjoy the book! :)

Jessie Mac said...

Thanks for the encouraging post, Erin, reminding me why I love writing in the first place - it's a place to explore and have that freedom you expressed. After reading what to do and what not to do, it's refreshing to hear that the freedom is still there if you just go for it.

Genie of the Shell said...

Your story fills me with hope! I had struggled with three or four manuscripts before I decided to write a story "just for fun" during last fall's NaNoWriMo. I tried a genre I had never written and rarely read (fantasy) and gave myself complete creative license because it wasn't one of my "serious" projects.

But it turned out to be, in my opinion, the best story I have written yet. So I GOT serious about it and am now doing careful rewrites using critique groups, posting excerpts online, and reading advice on writing.

It's tricky but vital to maintain that intuitive sense of the story's "soul" while being critical about the mechanics of storytelling. I'm now at a place where I can sift through criticisms and advice, not get discouraged, and use the responses that feel right or useful.

I hope I can follow in your footsteps and see my finished work in print one day. :)

Bernita said...

Erin, I am so glad you have a banshee (bean sidhe to me)as a heroine.
Many, if not all, of the entities/creatures from myth and legend are multi-dimensional in aspect and it's so satisfying to see those explored.
Shadow Bound sounds like a perfectly lovely book.

John Baron said...

What a great post: thank you. If more of us enjoyed the journey rather than anticipating the destination, we'd be better off. After all, we have direct control over the writing, but relatively little over the publication.

Anonymous said...

Why would anyone want to learn anything about Erin? If it is all this bad, I don't give a shit. No wonder your standing in the publishing industry is so low.

Amy said...

Wow, after having just received my official ‘no’ from Jessica, it feels like this post was written especially for me.  Thanks for the insight, and I’m happy to say, I’ve found a critique group.

KC said...

Hi Erin thanks for the great post. It is a great reminder to find your true center line and not get pushed and pulled by every other opinion in the world.
Great job in keeping your vision strong.
There are always going to be people who disagree or don't like your work, and that's ok. It's called art for a reason. And please ignore people who hide their negative comments behind an anonymous greyed out head. They are the ones with no courage. Have they put their sweat and blood out there for the world to see? I'm guessing not.
Go forth boldly and conquer the world. Oh wait...it looks like you already have. :)

Nicole said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicole said...

Well, well, how interesting. I guess I should have paid these books more attention when I saw them in the breakroom today at work (B&N)!

Maybe they could make my Bookseller Recommends blog!