It is a great honor to share this post with you! Thank you Eric for being such a wonderful person!
My interest in writing books developed around the same time I developed an interest in reading them. As a child, few things interested me less than reading. But around the time I started 7th grade, a few unrelated events happened to change my mind and to begin shaping me into the person I am today.
First, one of my friends started reading Stephen King books. He’d have me read passages, such as King’s abbreviated version of “Hansel and Gretel” from the Forward to The Stand: Complete and Uncut. I found these excerpts entertaining, and eventually I discovered a tattered second-hand copy of The Shinning at the library. As far as I can remember, this is the first book I read for the pleasure of reading, not a homework assignment. I have continued to read three or four Stephen King books every year since then. He’s still one of the authors I admire most; and while I don’t think every story he writes is a gem, he still puts out about a book a year without participating in the “formula writing” that so many big name authors seem to do these days.
My 7th grade Literature teacher also played a major role in my development. She had a passion for books I had never seen, and she introduced me to Washington Irving and Edgar Allan Poe. While much darker than anything I read in primary school, Irving and Poe blended with King to form a perfect matrix for my blossoming love for the macabre. As a side note, I spent these same years listening to Ozzy Osbourne and Alice Cooper and combing the video store shelves for all the horror films I could find—from the Universal classics to the low budget B-movies that may have been filmed in someone’s basement.
So you may wonder if I’m a horror writer. The best answer I can give is sort of. I certainly do write horror, I have a book about the Salem Witch Trials I’ve been working on for several years, but it’s slow going because I want the historical elements to be perfect, especially the dialogue. My published novels, while fantasy, have elements of horror in them. In fact, I think horror, fantasy, and science fiction are genre cousins—possibly genre siblings. And my very first published story was a children’s tale about a haunted bed and breakfast.
This tale, “Ghost Bed and Ghoul Breakfast,” also marked my first serious effort at becoming a published author. As I stated before, I started writing stories around the same time I started reading them, but at first, I mostly wrote plot ideas and vague synopses. As I developed a love for comic books, I tried my hand at writing comics (I even drew the pictures, even though I have zero artistic ability). This helped me with character development, but I eventually migrated away from illustrations and back into narrative. By the time I finished college I developed a proficiency at beginning stories, but I never finished them before I started something new.
One day I came across a flyer for The Institute of Children’s Literature. I had never considered writing children’s stories, but I enjoyed reading YA so I applied and was accepted into the first of two courses I took with The Institute of Children’s Literature. These courses provided the discipline I needed to complete stories. “Ghost Bed and Ghoul Breakfast” began as an assignment for my first course; my first novel, Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud, started as my project for the second course.
I’m a natural introvert, and I don’t mind bragging about how good I am at the lifestyle. As such, I find social media a challenge. Especially the part where I say, “Hey, I wrote these books. If you like fantasy you should check them out.” Or whatever more creative, or less creative, way people have devised to say, “Buy my book.” At first, I followed a lot of authors on Twitter to see what they were doing to promote their book, but it seemed to me most of it broke down to “Buy my book.” One day I got the idea, since I wasn’t learning much from other authors, I’d start following literature teachers, especially at the high school level, to see what they were talking about. I hoped to keep my finger on the pulse of publishing trends by doing this. I never expected to develop a working relationship from it, but that’s exactly what happened.
I’ve had the honor of working with Mrs. Fasquel’s classes for the past two years. As an introvert, my first instinct was to turn her down, but I forced myself to say yes as I’d have the opportunity to work with students very near the age of my target audience. And even though this is face to face interaction, I find it easier than posting to social media. I know it doesn’t make sense, I suppose it’s because I’m dealing with a small group of people, not the thousands that could see my posts on social media.
The experience has benefited me more than I could have ever hoped. I’ve learned what the students like and do not like to read, I’ve honed my writing abilities, I’ve expanded my reading list based on some of their suggestions, and most importantly, I’ve had the privilege to share the joys as a few of the students have achieved their own writing successes.
I must assume Mrs. Fasquel’s students have also found the experience beneficial, or she wouldn’t have asked me back for a third year. This year has me excited and nervous because the students will study a very short excerpt from Unveiling the Wizards’ Shroud. My approach to writing comes largely from Stephen King’s advice. And while I consider the whole of his book On Writing invaluable, the sentence that resonates most for me is: “Good fiction always begins with story and progresses to theme; it almost never begins with theme and progresses to story.” He says basically the same thing, though less directly, about symbolism and other elements of fiction. When I set out to write my books, I wanted to write an entertaining story. I polished them to the best of my ability and with the assistance of my wonderful editors, but I daresay the students may grow to understand the incipit of my book better than I do.
And here are the presentation slides I will use to analyze the incipit of Unveiling the Wizard's Shroud with my students: