Stories From a Six Year Old: The Ghost

IMG_20140123_145323Recently my mother uncovered a stack of stories written by a six year old me. I’ve decided to start an ongoing feature where I share these stories – complete with typos and misspellings – just so you can see not only that I’ve been telling stories for as long as I could talk, but that the stories that come out of this little head have always been a bit…off.

Today’s story is stretching a bit because I realize I was probably 8 when I wrote it even though it was stored with my 1986-87 papers, but I thought it was too good to pass up. It was an exercise I was given in school requiring me to use certain big words. Those words were underlined on my paper. The results are interesting.

The Ghost

Last night I had a dream about making a commercial that promoted a new Ghostbuster movie! In my dream I requested that my little brother be submitted as the baddest ghost in town. When I woke up next to my bed all dressed up like a little ghost was my brother looking mean and saying, “According to copyright protection any photograph or produced endorsement from a book or movie must have prior approval.” I said, “What?”

the end

Let’s Talk Genre

The following is a guest post from Jennifer Innes, the co-author of The Beginning of Whit, a comedic urban fantasy tale recently released on Amazon. As an update to Jennifer’s story below (so sorry it took so long for me to post this, Jennifer!) she and her co-author, Andrew Grace have successfully funded their book’s launch through Kickstarter!!! Way to go, guys!

Let’s Talk About Genre

When I started my own blog many years ago I wanted it to be a place for fantasy authors to go so they knew they weren’t alone. Well, okay so there are enough fantasy books out there to prove this but there weren’t enough people talking about the validity of fantasy as a genre. One of my very first posts was about genre, exploring a wide variety of genres within fantasy (such as ‘historic fantasy’ and ‘urban fantasy’). Understanding your genre as a writer helps strengthen your final product and your credibility as an author.

Most writers I know write in multiple genres, and how can you not? If you have any imagination at all you aren’t limited to only one form of writing or one world you explore through your writing. As an author it is completely valid to write horror, chic lit, urban fantasy, and steam punk. At a certain point you’d probably just call yourself a speculative fiction writer (like I do) which Wikipedia defines as “is an umbrella term encompassing the more fantastical fiction genres.”

I personally write several subgenres of fantasy, science fiction and horror. But something that always throws a wrench into labeling a genre is when I start adding comedy to a story. My first finished novel “The Beginning of Whit” is a comedic urban fantasy. Easy enough to label but very hard to pitch. Ace sat on this book for a year, trying to decide if it was publish worthy. Ultimately they decided there “wasn’t a market for it.” And in reality at this point there really isn’t. Sure some famous authors have gotten away with funny fantasy (see: Terry Pratchett and Robert Lynn Asprin) but as a general rule finding these types of books, and the success of these types of books seems far and few between.

But I haven’t given up on my novel yet. My co-author and I decided to try the deep waters of self-publishing and to help cover some of the publishing costs we have launched a Kickstarter for the book. So far the response has been great and we really think the success of Kickstarter will help make the book successful. Knowing our book is unique makes it both interesting and, at times, a hard sell. Even through Kickstarter it can be difficult to get people interested in the project, but knowing our genre we have a better chance of getting people interested.

Knowing your genre allows you to tell people what the book is like, “Yeah, my book about wizardry school is similar to a little known novel about a boy named Harry Potter” or “Do you like the True Blood series? Well my book about a small town full of vampires might be right up your alley!” Now this doesn’t mean copy books that are successful just so you can pitch your book as the next best thing, but it does mean understand the book you already wrote and love so you can find the people who liked something similar. For us, it’s still a struggle to find people interested in comedic fantasy, but based on the success of the funny authors that have come before us, I know this audience is out there and I just have to go and find them.

Follow Jennifer and Andrew on Facebook

Check out The Beginning of Whit on Amazon

Dealing with Abuse in Young Adult Fantasy

Pull2b webFrom Home is Where the Monsters Are:

“David started asking if I could come over. My dad didn’t care what happened to me at that point, so he would take me over there, drop me off and then leave for the afternoon – probably to get wasted in a bar somewhere. The first time I came over, David acted really nice at first, but not a good kind of nice. David was nice like a snake. He gave me ice cream, and I think there was something in it. It made me sleepy. Still awake, but kind of…out of it, and then he slipped a black bag over my head and carried me downstairs.”

Stacy put a hand over her mouth. None of them were sure if they wanted to hear any more but knew that, for Melissa’s sake, they had to.

Abuse of any kind, particularly child abuse, is among the hardest topics to deal with in literature. Making that topic fair game in Young Adult literature has been a controversial but increasingly common development in the literary world. When most people – particularly non-YA readers who are mostly familiar with the Harry Potter movies – picture the Young Adult Fantasy genre they picture happy child wizards on flying broomsticks, facing down the occasional troll the heroes always seem to get away from.

The truth, however, is that children aren’t always smiling. Kids aren’t always loved the way they should be. Sometimes abuse happens and keeping that topic OUT of the books we read is being disingenuous to the true experiences of childhood.  

Mary Elizabeth Williams writes in her Salon Article: “Has Young Adult Fiction Become Too Dark?”:

“That ‘adult’ aspect of reading is scary for many of us. It’s our job as parents to protect our kids, even as they slowly move out into the world and further away from our dictates. But there’s something almost comical about raising them with tales of big bad wolves and poisoned apples, and then deciding at a certain point that literature is too ‘dark’ for them to handle. Kids are smarter than that. And a kid who is lucky enough to give a damn about the value of reading knows the transformative power of books.”

As a fantasy author who writes for teens as well as adults, I understand that I will likely face some backlash for including the topics of abuse in Home is Where the Monsters Are and The Pull. I cringe a little inside when I tell a parent that the book is suitable for ages 14 and up because I’m afraid they’ll go home, read the book and then start a campaign to get my book banned from their local library. It’s happened to some of the best books in literature, but for an up-and-coming author, the prospect of backlash is a scary thing.

But I think of the very first person I wrote these books for: myself as a 14 year old. I was dealing with a different kind of abuse then: bullying, but it put me in the kind of place where I could relate to children who were victimized. Hearing their stories and how they overcame being a victim and started being a survivor gave me hope that I could do that too.  

The character of Melissa in Home and The Pull dealt with her personal tragedies by becoming a stronger person. So strong, in fact, that she became feared, herself. Not all of us can become warriors. Some who have faced abuse will become poets and painters, doctors and teachers, but to become aware of not only our own demons but the demons our children face can make us that much more equipped to deal with them. 

Home is Where the Monsters Are

The Pull

Has Young Adult Fiction Become Too Dark?

A Great Halloween Read

ImageThe Pull vol 2: Home is Where the Monsters Are is live on Amazon Kindle today! This book was started in 1998, 4 years after I began work on The Pull series. This has always been my favorite entry in the saga and its even more jam packed with action, mystery and excitement than the first one. Epic battles between colorful heroes? Check. A monster so scary even fearless canine warrior Blitz runs away from it? Check. Magic? Romance? Motorcycle chases? It’s got all that and a heck of a lot more. Pick up a copy of Home is Where the Monsters Are (only $2.99) and join in on the fun.

AND between now and Halloween, the first book in the series, The Pull, is available for download ABSOLUTELY FREE!!! You have no excuse not to get in on this action! Unless you don’t have a Kindle or Kindle-capable device, in which case you have a perfectly valid reason. Paperback coming later this week! Yeah! Here are the links to both Home is Where the Monsters Are and The Pull!

Home is Where the Monsters Are on Amazon Kindle!

The Pull for FREE!!!

Self-Publishing From a Female-Driven Perspective

ImageWhat follows is a guest post I requested from my fellow Athens Writers Association author, Katherine Cerulean.

I am writing and planning on self-publishing three books in the next year. I am also a woman.  Now, I’ve never really thought of those two things at the same time, or wondered how interconnected they might be.  But then Rob White, (who I first got to know on FB as we talked about female characters) asked me if I’d write about this topic for his site.

At first all my thoughts were glib.  What was the difference between us female self-published writers and the male ones?  Most of us wear bras?  My sister offered that ‘different parts shake when we write in the nude’.  I had a feeling neither answer was what Rob was asking.  What he wanted to know, I figured, was what didn’t he know or understand about the journey and struggles of a female writer?  Rob’s always been a great proponent of females characters, be it in games, movies, or books, but what about the heroine’s real-life counterparts?  What was that experience like?

Woah, I thought to myself.  I’m probably the least qualified female writer around to write on ‘the female experience’.  I was home schooled out in the country, my only sibling was a sister as tough and who loved the outdoors as much as I did.  My mother was very unsentimental and my father cried at romantic comedies.  AND I break out in hives at the idea of generalizing about women.  Surely there was someone better.

Then I realize, that is part of the experience.  Rob is probably not asked to be the torch-bearer for white men.  Just as a white male character is a blank slate to write a hero’s flaws and eccentricities across, so too is a ‘average’ male self-published author.  If you don’t have a pigeonhole of color, sexuality, or sex, then you start at zero.

Actually, I would argue, below zero, as a writer.  I have thought that’s it’s probably much easier for a woman to strike up a conversation with a stranger than a man; she is at worst no threat and at best a welcome addition.  A man may be welcome too, but he sort of has to prove himself normal and charming, where for a woman it’s expected.

I do feel some women (myself included) do find ourselves at a real disadvantage in being bold and talking to strangers.  They may be happy to talk to us, but we are not used to starting a lot of conversations.  The same is true, only more some, when it comes to selling, shilling, and talking up our books.  There’s still a very real feeling that women should be humble and quiet — and that’s the opposite of the self promotional sales(wo)manship needed to sell books.  We may be making friends, but are we making a profit?  And why do I still feel guilty even thinking about the word ‘profit’?

For myself, the main connection between my sex and my career comes down to characters.  Now, some of my favorite female characters are written by men (of course they are) and I will never believe one can write their own sex better than the other — we are all human in the end.  That said, I think the pressure to write great women characters may be a little more pronounced if you’re female; I know it is for me.

My logic goes like this: more writers still choose to write leads who are their own sex.  And some of my favorite genres are not 50/50 in having male and female writers, so I owe it to woman and little girls everywhere to create some kick-butt heroines in my writing lifetime.  Also, shamefully, I’m more drawn to write male characters.  Why?  Because I’ve seen it done well SO much.  All the more reason to think deeply about my female heroes and even flip sexes while writing a story if it seems suitable.  I have a fantasy called Memento Mori that is in the planning stages and it started out as an adventure with two teenage boys who were in love, but now I’m flipping it to two teenage girls.  I find you can do that sometimes, if it’s early enough in the process.

In closing, I’m reminded of the Chris Rock quote, “Being black is only 5% of my day, but it’s an intense 5%.”  Almost everything I’m doing as a self published author is exactly what Rob is doing, what everyone’s doing, but sometimes I am still brought up short.  By a guy who calls me ‘Hon,’ or by having a very real fear to ask for a sale, or when I have a great idea for a novel but there’s not a female character anywhere near it.

These things are all about me and many women — and men — share them.  And at the end of the day it is this sharing I love — we are all invisible behind our typewriters, no one can see our weight or our makeup, our flaws or our skin color.  And the oldest, whitest guy around may have the exact same fears as the young black woman and he is writing about her and she is writing about him.

There is a weight, a responsibility, to being a female author, but there is a great freedom to being a writer, period.  And one in an era when neither children, lack of money, nor male publishers can hold any of us back.

I can do anything, including forget for a long stretch that I am a woman.

Katherine Cerulean grew up in the countryside near Athens, GA,  home schooled on a farm with dogs, cats, a horse, a pony,  peacocks, rabbits, sheep, goats,  turkeys, an African Gray parrot, and many others.

She has been writing seriously for fifteen years, starting with screenwriting and then moving into novels.  Her completed novels are Other Gods (a fantasy) and A Caged Heart Still Beats (a love story).

She was co-moderator of the Athens Novel Writer Group, wrote a well regarded newsletter for her local Best Buy’s Women’s Leadership Forum chapter.  She is also the creator of People Who Have Come Alive, a Meetup group devoted to helping people achieve their wildest dreams.

She is the founder of the Athens Writers Association.

Katherine still lives in the house she was literally born in (she sleeps 30 feet from where she was born — how many people can say that?), with her sister, who is an amazing artistic genius, and their two dogs.

Since 1997, she has been hard at work improving her craft and measuring up to the high bar of what’s awesome.  Two screenplays and two novels later, she is finally ready to blow the doors off the publishing world with ‘Caged Heart’.

http://katherinecerulean.com

A Shy Writer at Dragon*Con

dconmeThere’s a little place that’s been a home away from home for me for the past ten years. It’s less a place, really and more of a state of mind, collection of absurd moments, explosion of untamed expression and geek nirvana all rolled into one. That place is called Dragon*Con. Or Dragon Con if you want to be specific. This year they took out the asterisk. Why was it there to begin with? Because why the hell not. Such is the philosophy of Dragon Con.

I’ve been there seven times in ten years. Three of those years I was lame (or broke depending on how you want to look at it). The other seven years I made the conscious choice to be awesome and throw myself into the storm with nary a plan nor a life preserver nor a care for life nor limb nor liver. This year was my first year attending as a published writer.

My plan was simple. Go there in costume as my protagonist and every time someone asked who I was I’d tell them about my work. I had 500 business cards printed out with my cover art and URL to this very site printed on them. I brought about 50 books in case I could consign some with any of the booksellers in the dealers room. I scheduled (via the handy Dragon Con app) to attend every writer panel I could get my grubby costumed hands on and meet as many people there as possible. Naturally I also brought protein bars, lots of deodorant, $400 cash and a bottle of blueberry vodka to carry in a flask so I wouldn’t have to spend that $400 cash on $10 hotel bar drinks.

I won’t give you all the dirty details because some of them are pretty boring and others are pretty dirty, but here’s the lowdown on what went down downtown in Dragon Con…town:

  • The costume was a great idea. Not only did I get my picture taken a few times – great publicity for The Pull – I also got asked about it a fair bit. That led me into many conversations about who I was, what I did and who the character was. The vast majority of the business cards I gave out landed in pockets this way and not in the trash. I saw another struggling indie author simply handing her cards to every person in the registration line. Do you know what else I saw? A trail of discarded business cards on the sidewalk that could have led Hansel and Gretel into the candy cabin of wasted marketing budget.
  • Going to writing panels was also a great idea. I left some materials on tables in these panels and heard some good advice from successful fantasy and YA authors, but the real prize was the opportunity to talk to other authors like me who were taking steps on their road to getting their work out there. I met fantasy authors, horror authors, comic authors and even a lesbian bondage erotica author from Ireland. All of them were very cool people who I hope to meet again.
  • Trying to get my book consigned by booksellers? Not such a great idea. I figured it was a long shot but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of bungholery I received from vendors telling me with their lips that they weren’t interested and telling me with their eyes to go die in a fire. Getting your book carried by retailers in real life is hard. Getting your book carried by retailers during a con is a hell of a lot harder. Plus most of them were from out of state and didn’t want any more stock than what they currently had. Fair enough. Best of luck to them.
  • I learned that the best way to talk to guest writers themselves is to go to readings. Often it’ll just be you and a handful of other fans shooting the breeze with one of their favorite authors. Hell, even if you don’t know the author it’s still a good way to glean some insight from someone with experience in the industry.

Now keep in mind I did all of this as an introvert with lifelong social anxiety and a complete lack of understanding of the language of small talk. It just so happens, however, that I am also an introvert with lifelong social anxiety, a complete lack of understanding of the language of small talk AND A COMPLETE UNWILLINGNESS TO LET MYSELF CHICKEN OUT AND BE ANYTHING LESS BUT AWESOME. I realized early on that I was among people with similar passions to my own, so an easy icebreaker was always within reach. Inside of writer panels my secret weapon was, “So what do you write?” Outside of writer panels it was, “So what are you here for?” Sometimes I got the blank stare, but more often than not people were excited to share their interests with me and listen to mine.

This experience has given me a great amount of encouragement and more than a little bit of gumption to go back out there and bring my masked, writin’ self to every little (or big) convention, seminar and meeting of writers and fantasy/sci-fi fans I can possibly attend. It’ll be like I’m a touring musician except I’ll be lugging books around instead of an expensive PA system. At best I’ll successfully market myself as a writer. At worst I’ll have a hell of a good time.

Dragon Con 2014, get your beautifully weird behind over here so I can keep this crazy train rolling.

Getting Up Again: When Emotional Slumps Lead to Creative Ones

As some of you may have noticed, I haven’t written in this blog in over a month. The last time I did was a simple excerpt from a novel I’m working on. The reason for this is that I’ve been wrestling with emotions for a while now that left me feeling drained, tired and weak. Too weak to even feel the energy to try to be creative.

This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced this. Well, I say that but every life stumble is different. Each disappointment is its own particular cocktail that leaves you with its own particular hangover. This one was about self-doubt, wondering if I’ll ever really know what to do with my tidal waves of emotion, and frustration at a life-long pattern of inability to hold onto something beautiful.

But a person very important to me kept telling me throughout this that the thing I need to focus on is compassion for myself. Instead of raging against what I feel are personal stumbles I need to embrace myself and tell myself that, no matter what happens and no matter what I do, I love myself and I’m worth loving anyway. Though it hasn’t always been easy and though my natural reaction to failure since childhood is to want to yell at myself for not being strong enough, I know she’s absolutely right. At the end of the day, the most important arms around me are my own.

As artists (and in some lovely way, we’re all artists of our own craft) we have a means of pulling ourselves up when we feel so very down. We can create. We can put our fingers to keyboard or guitar strings, we can put our brush to canvas or hands to clay and simply let flow. It doesn’t matter what we’re creating or what can or will result from it. When we create, we’re letting our hearts sing.

That song may sound weak at first or even out of tune, but as we sing, about everything and anything and every bit of what’s inside of us, that voice can’t help but get stronger…and clearer…and more true. As we sing, we wrap those arms around ourselves and let our compassion for ourselves become a part of the vast love of the world. We may not feel beautiful in the moment, but by creating and therefore being the truest form of who we are, we become a part of the greatest beauty of all.

So know that, even when you feel empty, even when you feel trapped or untethered, there is always a way out. Listen for your heart’s song and sing it. It’s always there, and it will always carry you home.

Sneak Peek: The Pull Book 2: Home is Where the Monsters Are

Image

Below is a sneak peek at the upcoming second entry in The Pull series, Home is Where the Monsters Are. The book is due in the fall. The first book, The Pull is currently available on all major digital platforms as well as in Athens bookstores.

Prologue  

This world we live in is a strange one. The last year of my life was the strangest yet but I somehow know it only scratched the surface. Metal demons, a boy with no memory, a handful of young upstarts successfully standing against the most powerful man in America – perhaps the world.

Amazing things have happened to me since I met that masked boy with the green eyes and the pull inside of him. Amazing things have happened and I know without a doubt that amazing things are yet to come. Beautiful things. Terrible things. I know this because I dream about them.

Sometimes I wake up and remember. Other times I don’t, and carry with me the vague sense that something rich and powerful and ageless is stirring and we are all a part of it. That ageless power is what we call fate. It is more aware than we think, however. It calls to us. It directs us. It pulls us.

I don’t yet know where it is pulling him. I know that question haunts him every day as The Pull grows stronger and louder and more insistent. It pulled him to Atlanta, and there he found other heroes and stood with them against monsters both real and figurative. The monsters without and the monsters within. Some were defeated. Others still attempt to claw their way out from within each of them. I feel that one of them in particular will soon come to face the monster within herself, and the others may suffer for it.

They are my friends and yet they feel like strangers to me. They feel like pictures in a book or words from a poem. I feel that way about myself sometimes too. There are things down that road coming for me as well. Will I become a hero like them? Or will I succumb to my own monsters, and fall before my own purple fire?

I’ve played a part in this story and I have parts yet to play but for now these chapters belong to them. Four heroes, each with a pull of their own. Each has a destiny and a monster to overcome. Each has a weapon they hold close and a dream of a future they will fight for. Without each other, I have no doubt that each of them would fall, broken and alone. Yet together they stand strong. Together they will change the world. In fact they’ve already begun to do so.

My name is Patricia. Like my brother, I sleep now. Like him, when I sleep I see the world for what it really is. I see the story of humanity. There will be loss in this tale; but there will also be triumph. I close my eyes…and turn the page.

Look for Home is Where the Monsters Are, Fall 2013.

Follow Me and I’ll Follow You: Social Media and Self Promotion

The other day I decided to perform an experiment. See when I first started to self-promote on Twitter as an independent author, I received a tidal wave of followers. “Oh cool! Another self-published author is following me! Oh look, another one! Now three more! Now ten more! Whoopie!!!”

In that initial rush of perceived popularity and to show my gratitude, I followed each and every one of them back. I also followed a few celebrities I liked and some non-profits I supported, local restaurants I frequented and bands I listened to. My wall, however, quickly became a pulsating mass of nothing but, “Shadows of the Dawn: Available now on Amazon!” “Betsy looked at her vampire prince and could think of nothing but his cold embrace *amazon link*” “Don’t miss out on the most talked about book of the summer! Buy Colton Darkholme: Werewolf Hunter today!”

As I sat there and watched advertisement after endless advertisement by my fellow independent authors roll by, I began to lose that rush of enthusiasm. Why did Twitter feel more like Craigslist than Facebook? But I persevered. These were authors like me. They deserved my support, right?

Out of curiosity I began looking at some of these people. Most of them had enormous follower counts. 5,000, 10,000, 30,000 followers or more! And then I noticed something else. Virtually all of them were following the same amount of people. Each of them had performed the act of, “Follow me and I’ll follow you.”

Most of these authors weren’t responding, favoriting or retweeting my tweets. Many of them weren’t retweeting anyone else’s tweets at all. They were simply using Twitter and their followers as an advertisement board.

Smacked in the face with disillusion, I decided to perform my experiment. I would unfollow 90% of these characters and see what happened. Truth was, I wanted my wall back. I wanted to see the posts I wanted to see, not advertisements by other indie authors who had (in a backdoor way) blackmailed me into following them.

Within a week, almost all of those I unfollowed have unfollowed me back. My follower count was cut in half. That sealed the deal for me. They were never interested in what I had to say to begin with. They just wanted another potential sale.

So right now I’m rebuilding my Twitter following from the ground up. If you follow me, I hope its because you genuinely are interested in me, The Pull, my blog or my random blurts of comedic nonsense. If I follow you, its because I want to witness you travel your path to accomplishment as I travel mine. What I will not do is Follow, Like or Pin you because I want something from you.

Now I realize that puts me at an extreme disadvantage in the social media landscape. The fact that some of these virtually unknown authors have 30,000 Twitter followers (and are following just as many) tells me how many people are fighting tooth and nail and using every tool at their disposal, moral or not, to make a buck. Or in our case, to sell a book.

I didn’t get into this business to sell my soul in order to make money. If I’m going to build something around my passion of writing, I’m going to build something genuine. I’m going to post things I believe in or are interested in, not empty advertisements. I’m going to follow people I like, not people who have something I want. I’m going to go to conventions because I want to meet fellow fantasy and sci-fi fans like me, not because I want to meet potential dollar signs with arms and legs. If I sell a few books while sharing what I love with these people, so much the better. If I never sell another book again…I’m already happy. The Pull had a good launch because people believed in me. I believed in me. I’ll keep believing in me as I release the rest of the series and each one will mark off an accomplishment no one can take away, even if the whole world thinks my work sucks.

Please don’t come away from this thinking that I’m talking down to you or to anyone who uses the “Follow me and I’ll follow you” technique. I’m not. I know you believe in your work too or else you wouldn’t be working so hard. What I am trying to say is to try to stop looking at social media as a numbers game. What matters isn’t the number of likes or followers you have, it’s the number of those you have real, genuine connections with. That’s how you make a difference, and that’s how you can leave your mark on the world.

How Pain Can Lead to Wonder

ImageI’ve insinuated during this blog that my high school experience wasn’t easy. That’s putting it lightly. In fact it was the hardest four years of my life. Social anxiety prevented me from talking to anyone for fear of making them not like me. That fact, in turn made them not like me. By the time my junior and senior years came around I was simply known as the silent kid and any attempt I made to make friends was laughed down or looked at with mistrust because I was trying to step outside of my prescribed role, and in high school roles are everything.

Because I couldn’t have friends in the real world (or at least told myself I couldn’t), I resorted to creating friends in my head. First and foremost was a big sister character who was tough, funny, protective and a wise-ass who could love me even though I was quiet. She needed a face, so I looked around at my classmates and saw a tall striking blonde who looked like she was always ready to kick someone’s butt. That became Melissa Moonbeam.

Next I needed a brother character who would be the thinker of the group. He was intelligent and philosophical but also kind and with a dry sense of humor. That became Jason Dredd. There was no one around me who was quite like Jason at the time, so I composited a middle school friend named Damien (my first African American friend) and my real life brother Andy.

I realized then that I was missing an important element to this group: a love interest. I needed someone who would react to my character (more on that in a bit) with kindness, understanding, encouragement and warmth. It just so happened I had an enormous crush on a girl I barely knew at the time. That crush developed because of one instance of kindness showed to me after I had embarrassingly goofed up during a mandatory school play. Because she had shown that element of kindness I needed I took her face and her name and combined it with the warmth and understanding I wanted in a character it would always give me butterflies to be around. In that way, Stacy Cross was born.

Now there was one thing developing during all of this that I’ve neglected to mention. I was assembling that “ideal” circle of friends around me, but during the course of it I was also creating a fictional character for myself. It wasn’t the ideal me, for this version of me had flaws as well, but it was a me I could respect during a time I found it very difficult to respect the real thing. When I looked into my mind’s eye I stopped seeing myself and began to see Nick.

I mistrusted my own identity, so Nick was a character with no identity and no last name. I was skinny and weak, so Nick was skinny but could still kick ass. I didn’t care for my face, so Nick wore a mask. I was uncertain about what I was meant to do with my life, so Nick followed a Pull towards a destiny he neither knew nor trusted. In ways Nick was stronger; in ways Nick was more broken; but he was always quintessentially me even when I didn’t want to admit it.

There were other elements that sprung up around these characters. I wanted a constant companion so a dog named Blitz was born. I felt that teenage life presented an ever-present adversary for me and always whispered in my ear that I would never be strong enough, so an unstoppable monster named The Whisper came to life to unceasingly torment Nick.

These characters were born to give me comfort. When I sat in the back of a classroom struggling with my schoolwork, Melissa, Jason and the others comforted me and made me laugh. When I felt bullied or threatened, a scene would play out in my mind where Nick battled The Whisper and always held his own – or his friends joined him and battled the threat along side him.

These characters soon grew beyond mere comforting mechanisms and began to have lives of their own. In bed at night dreading what the next day would bring, I’d suddenly find a scene playing out in my mind. I’d see Nick and Melissa arguing over something. At first I wouldn’t be sure what, but like wiping the fog away from a window soon I knew. I knew what they argued about and what caused it and what that fight led to and how Stacy and Jason felt about it and that The Whisper was watching the whole time and that Blitz the dog was curled up on the couch oblivious to it all.

My subconscious took these characters from my grasp – maybe borrowed is a better word – and brought them to life. As if glimpsing a movie or a TV show, I watched the entire story of their lives, from Nick waking up alone in the woods with a sword in his hand to the fateful battle atop the *omitted for spoilers*. I gasped when Jason defeated Raven atop a factory in New Orleans. I grinned in triumph when Melissa took to her motorcycle and decided to face her past for the sake of her friends. I wept tears of loss when characters died and screamed in frustration when The Whisper showed up at the wrong time and just couldn’t be beaten.

My conscious mind created fantastical versions of the friends I truly wanted, and my subconscious mind pulled a life – a story for them to live through – from the ether. I didn’t intend to create the story of The Pull, and yet it happened. What I did decide to do, though, was grab a notepad in my parents’ basement in 1994 and begin writing those scenes down.

The story of the process of shaping The Pull into a novel is best left for another time, but I wanted to share that because I think its important for us to realize that even the worst times in our life can give birth to something beautiful. I’ll never call The Pull “the greatest story ever told” but it is my greatest story because it is the one my heart gave me when I needed it most. I share it in hopes that it may be able to give a bit of comfort to those in pain in the same way it did to me. It’s an adventure story. It’s a popcorn tale, but it just so happens to be one about finding your true value in a time when nothing is certain.

That value is always there to be found. Sometimes we need monsters to fight, journeys to take and friends to take it with us, but I truly believe that at the end of our own Pull, something beautiful is always waiting.