Thursday, October 18, 2012

How I Became A Novelist -- And Beat My BUFFY Addiction

While working at Soap Opera Digest, I interviewed many actors who told me how they were born to act and couldn't imagine doing anything else. This is how I feel about writing.

I discovered my love for writing when I was really young. I'd make up characters and stories in my head and loved to play games like "House" where I could be creative. Then when I was 8 years old, my second grade teacher entered my poem in a local competition -- and it won first place for my age group. I got to read my work in front of a dining hall full of people and was introduced to the event's guest speaker, author M.E. Kerr. A few kids in my class asked for my autograph. It was awesome.

But I really didn't write for the glory, as nice as that was. I wrote because I enjoyed it. In elementary school, I was a HUGE fan of Judy Blume (still am, actually) and wished I could grow up to be like her. I'd write my own stories, which I'd also illustrate. I wrote recently about how I have no plans to write a horror novel, much as I like them. Well, when I was in the fourth grade, I did attempt to write a short, illustrated horror novela. In it, the characters fear that the zombies will be like the ones in Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video. This was in 1984, mind you, so the pop culture reference was very current!

I tried my hand at writing a real novel in the sixth grade. It was called WAR OF LOVE and was about a bunch of hijinx that take place in the band room (sound familiar?). The characters were based on my friends -- and I even used their real names! I worked really hard at this thing, churning out pages on a typewriter at first. When we finally got a computer the next year, I carefully saved every page onto a floppy disc. In the end, it was about 200 pages, an honest-to-goodness novel. I have to say that for a 12-year-old, it wasn't bad. The story took a very weird turn toward the middle and there were some silly, unrealistic sections that didn't make sense, but the dialogue wasn't horrible and my descriptions were vivid. When I showed it to my husband, he laughed and laughed at some parts, but genuinely enjoyed it.

Once I entered junior high, though, my focus turned to journalism. By now, I was starting to think in practical terms: I wanted to be a writer, but I didn't want to starve, either. Journalism seemed like a good way to go. I wrote for the school paper all the way up through college and did various internships. Finally, I landed an internship at Soap Opera Weekly in 1997, right out of grad school. Nearly a year later, I was hired for a full-time position at its sister magazine, Soap Opera Digest. I remained there until earlier this year.

I took a few creative writing classes during college, but beyond that, pretty much put fiction writing on the backburner. This changed in 2002. At this point, I'd been at SOD for four years. I loved the job and had a great time there, but it was busy and stressful, and I was resigned to the fact that I was writing ABOUT soaps, which were other people's creative work.

Meanwhile, I'd become addicted to the show BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. I faithfully watched every episode and obsessively read fanfiction online. Then I'd discuss the show with other fans at work or in chat rooms. I'd never been so into a show before, but well, it's an awesome show and I was working in an environment that encouraged fandom.

It got to the point, though, where my mood would be affected by plot points. If I didn't like the way Spike behaved in an episode, for instance, I'd be upset -- not just during the episode itself, but for the rest of the day. If a great episode aired, like the fantabulous musical ep, "Once More With Feeling," that would make my week.

As 2001 rolled around, though, I started to become antsy. I didn't like the way the show was going and it frustrated me to know that I had absolutely no control over the characters. The writers were going to do what THEY wanted to do; after all, this was Joss Whedon's creation, not mine.

The turning point came for me after September 11, 2001. This was an awful, tragic event for the entire world, but I was physically in Manhattan at the time of the attack. I didn't lose anyone that day, but Jon was in the National Guard at the time and was called up to do some work around the city. I'm grateful that he was never called to duty overseas.

Anyway, after 9/11, I was really depressed and kind of messed up. I went to work every day, but I hadn't played my flute in years nor had I done any writing outside of magazine assignments. So for New Year's 2002, I made a simple, but important resolution: Do Stuff.

That next year, I really stuck with it. I picked up my flute again and played a few gigs at a restaurant with a guitarist. Jon and I traveled to London for the first time. And that April, I began work on BAND GEEK. The idea came about when Jon suggested that I take the band novel I'd written as a kid and turn it into a more mature story. Using that as my starting point, I set out to write a story about what life would've been like had Jon and I known each other as teens. Pretty soon, the story and characters took on a life of their own and BAND GEEK was born. I loved having complete creative control over my characters and I enjoyed having something to do other than write about soap operas.

So far, BAND GEEK is my only novel that's seen the light of day, but I've written many other pieces. I have a lot of half-started novels or outlines for future books. I actually finished a second novel, but it's very outdated; I'd love to go through it and see how I can make it a bit more current.

I haven't yet made it big as an author, nor do I really expect to, but writing makes me feel complete. I'm glad that I found my way back to being creative.

Please read and review my novel REVENGE OF A BAND GEEK GONE BAD.

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