Friday, April 30, 2010

Writing Post-Mortem: My first YA book - The Red Crossroads

"It's alive!" *cough* *cough* "Well, it looks alive anyway." *pokes with stick*

Like Frankenstein, I have gathered together the pieces and now I'm rearranging them into the perfect beast. My young adult steampunk is heading toward the finish line and I wanted to talk about the process of creating the book. For those that are new to the steampunk genre, its a sub-genre of science fiction and speculative fiction.

The idea for this book popped up in my head last summer while at a conference in Washington D.C. Since that point I chewed on the idea and worked out the synopsis. Over the months I took notes and eventually I jumped into the pool to write the book. I can't believe its done! =)

Here is the short description for THE RED CROSSROADS:
Most seventeen year-old girls don’t have to decide between rescuing the world and saving a dying brother. For Fiona Jacobs, the post-industrial society where she lives is a world of survivors and red dust drifting through the low lying mountains from the deserts to the east. After her parents passed away, she was left alone to support her older brother, Alvin Jacobs, as he lives out her dream of attending medical school.

Highly intelligent, she has learned her father’s craft of bioengineering and has spent her teen years maintaining the machinery her father implanted within Alvin. Even with all her hard work, she discovers Alvin's heart is failing and she must find a way to replace it with a mechanical one. Circumstances thrust Fiona before a dictator who is searching for a set of plans to fix an ancient weapon. Plans which could be adapted to help her brother. After Fiona escapes from the dictator's clutches, she falls into a life and death race where she must discover the key to saving her brother and the world at the same time.
Post-Mortem: First of all, I have to say writing young adult is not easy. My crit partner, Sarah Bromley, hit me over the head a few times with her YA-stick. I still have the bruises, but the lessons have actually helped me see young adult books in a different light. I've read YA before and I've critiqued it for over a year now. But its not the same as going into your own story line and developing a young adult character. Transitioning from writing adult to writing YA is not as simple as it sounds. The "what would I do if I was a child prodigy with engineering and medical skills" mantra kept going off in my head while I wrote this book. (It didn't hurt to watch a few episodes of Doogie Howser either. Flashback coming...) Its not the same as approaching my previous characters who have attended college and have had relationships. They have to deal with taxes, mortgages, and jobs. They have baggage. And well, my YA heroine has a different kind of baggage based on her childhood and I had to get into that mindset. Its a bit of a jump, but not impossible.

Writing this book was so much fun! I normally write contemporary books with a paranormal twist. For this one I got to tap into my inner ubergeek and go nuts with it. All my teenage years of reading Harry Harrison's WEST OF EDEN and Octavia Butler's sci-fi books influenced how I tapped into the genre. Of course I read classic steampunk titles as well as new ones. (right now I'm reading MONSTER BLOOD TATTOO by DM Cornish. The premise is so good!) But all in all, I really got to go beyond my previous manuscripts expand my world building to a bigger scale. Much much bigger. I could let my imagination go wild and create laws and norms for different societies.

The historical aspects were fun as well. Not only did I finish my first young adult, but technically I finished my first book with historical elements (Victoriana). I spent hours researching the clothes, the modes of transportation, and even the food they ate. (Watch this great video from The Supersizers Go Victorian. So funny, yet unappetizing in some parts.)

Now the final hurdle, where I had to figure out the engineering and medical concepts. In my book Fiona does surgical procedures. We're not talking about patching up paper cuts here. She actually goes in with scalpels. Thanks to my hubby who is a doctor, I made sure my scenes were up to muster. Then I had to take my ideas and bring them together in the subject of bioengineering. How would machinery work in the body? (How do I expand this within the context of a steampunk world?) I had to chew on and visualize the concepts in order to add them into my story. This wasn't as easy as it sounds. I was concerned I went too technical, but in the end I learned my descriptions were easy to understand. Whew! (Lesson learned: Just write the book and let your crit partners or betas let you know if your flux capacitor is too over their heads. I don't have a flux capacitor but you get the point.)

Lesson I learned:
  1. Create a timeline! If you have events from the past that you reference in the future a timeline helps so much.
  2. Write out the major events in the back story for reference. I wrote about five pages of backstory that will never be seen in the story. But they helped me get the story line right and I knew when to push in those tidbits. And who knows, maybe the story can carry on in another book. =)
  3. Work out the technical aspects early if you can. Of course there are folks who write by the seat of their pants and I tend to do that with world building, but the technical aspects take time to chew on so if they are mapped out early there will be less pain in editing.
  4. Let your imagination go wild. This is an easy one, but there's nothing like going through those what-if exercises in your head. How can I make this scene bigger in scale? Have I gone far enough in terms of how this society works? Whip out the pencil and paper and draw some pictures. You'd be surprised how visualizing concepts helps you write them.
I highly encourage others to write outside of their comfort zone. This is my first young adult manuscript. I've written fantasy before, but this is not the same with so many elements combined together. I've learned so much from writing this book and hope it gets a chance to run out in the wild.

1 comment:

Jess said...

Sounds fascinating, Shawntelle! If you need another reader, let me know!