Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wonky Trails--Guest Blogger Hart Johnson

How's your week going? Mine is going great, because look...another guest blogger! I love getting to say hi and then share some awesome people with you.  This is also a part of the blogfest that Rosie and I are hosting for March. *points to sidebar* You know, the "Hone Your Skills Blogfest" that you keep meaning to sign up for?

It's the one where you write a piece of flash fiction--1000 words or less. About anything you want. And then post it on your blog and wait for the other participants to come by and critique it for you. The goal is to see what's working and where we can tighten our writing a bit more.

I finally settled on my story idea, planned it out (shocking I know!) and am currently writing it.

Today we have the awesome Hart Johnson here to thrill you with her story. This is one versatile chick, let me tell you. If you don't believe me check out her Three Faced Tart page on her blog. I love it! She writes main stream suspense (some adult, some YA) and cozy mysteries.

First of all, I really want to thank Rosie and Charity for asking me to play. Most kids are worried what their mothers will think, so it's nice to have people take a chance. Seriously though, I've gotten to be good friends with Rosie and I think if it weren't for geography and maybe about fifteen or twenty years, we would have hung out together for real. That's one of the things I love about this blogosphere... meeting people you actually have... I guess it's similar processors to... because on paper I'm not sure we have so much in common, but we assess things very similarly.

Anyway, Rosie asked if I'd address my...erm... alternative route... I never do things the way they say you should. It's just not the way I roll, but somehow I've managed to slide in there sideways...

Thus... Wonky Trails
Once upon a time I wanted to be a writer... but it was the same kind of desire as wanting to be a model or an actor. It seemed some OUT THERE unattainable thing. I would plot stories and write a couple paragraphs and then bury them as even more embarrassing than the angsty poetry that filled several dozen notebooks in my teens. At 26, the summer between my first and second year of grad school, I suddenly had 'time on my hands' (when full time work and full time school cut back to only full time work *rolls eyes*) and even managed about 250 pages of an (amazingly bad) horror novel (set partly in Portland, and party Lake Coeur d'Alene—pic above). But I was under the disillusion that a person wrote as they went and was just inspired... and I didn't know where that dumb thing was going... the combo of getting busy again with school and not having a clue what came next was enough to drop it.

Enter a decade or so and a Harry Potter obsession...

Before Harry Potter I had maybe a dozen books I'd read twice. None more than that. But when my daughter brought the first one home from the library (she was a first grader) I fell in love. Santa brought the set (4 at that point) so I read them to me, and then I read them to her... and then I read them to her again when the fifth came out... and then my son wanted to read them all... So in the wait for Half Blood Prince, the writer in me was itchy to predict what would HAPPEN next... I found HPANA and a FABULOUS group of people who (I swear have changed my life) debated endlessly, supported by canon, finding the clues... and in spite of myself I learned that a well done book, and ESPECIALLY a well done series has a PLAN (buwahahahahahahahahaha –excuse me. That is my plan demon).

I had a WILD theory that because Voldemort had killed his father, (and because of some things in the timeline—death years) that Voldemort made his death eaters kill THEIR fathers to prove their loyalty to him... which led to Snape... Would Snape have had to kill his father? Well, OBVIOUSLY!

Nobody would believe me.

So I wrote it. I ventured into their fan fiction forums with my story from an Eileen Snape point of view... about her life... a brother sucked into Voldemort's realm... killed for his doubt... a plan for revenge...

And I learned what it takes to finish a story... and I wrote more.

I am a deep believer in fan fiction as a training ground because as a writer, you can work on a couple angles at a time. There are already developed characters, so you need to think about things like consistency. We had debated so much that we thought about things like WHY certain characters were the way they were (thus my goal of explaining much of Snape's bitterness... and how a WITCH allows herself to be abused by a muggle). That first story was a PREQUEL, so I knew where it ended... all the things we have in the books had to be consistent with my ending...

But I also wrote a 'book 7' before Deathly Hallows was out where I got to plot ahead. It is a really nice system for being able to not have to think about everything at once.

The REAL Book (because of course fan fiction is imaginary *shifty*)

Not very far into the writing of The Other Prince (because of course it was posted serially), one of my readers, Rayna Iyer, told me I should consider writing a regular book. I'd had an idea niggling at me for (literally) years and I started to write down some of the details. I wrote a couple scenes, then got another idea... and FINALLY had an epiphany about how to fit the two ideas into a single story that had a lot more meat to it.

I continued to write the fan fiction because of course... my readers wanted me to! (the other bonus... you are accountable) but I also wrote Confluence... took 2 ½ years... and then another 6 months before I thought I was ready and queried my 204,000 word book *dies* ( oh yeah... nobody said there weren't bumps)

That's about when I started BLOGGING

Now here I need to explain something... I envision myself as erm... dark and mysterious... I write SUSPENSE *shivers *...

But when it was time to blog, I sort of looked at what I had to work with, and honestly, I'm sort of a nut... possibly insane... definitely delusional... my strength is in my ability to PLAY. So I thought, 'fine, let's work with that.' Suspense readers are hiding under their beds shivering anyway, and I had networking to get to.

I found a few successful bloggers, and I stalked 'em like a good blogger... and I met some people... and I bet I hadn't been doing it three months when I heard 'you should write cozy mysteries.' (say what?) I stored that in my hat, or something, because frankly, the idea of mystery scared the crap out of me. It seemed like finely honed CRAFT, far more organized than... you know... me.

But last February an opportunity arose for an 'audition' of sorts... now most books are written in full and submitted to agents, revised, then submitted to publishers (with about a hundred layers of rejection built in) but some genres have such avid readers that there is a bit more of a... system... This exists for romance, and it exists for Cozy Mystery... The various editors define some parameters and give writers a chance to 'try out' with the first 50 pages. I had a referral to an agent to help me with this and... I GOT IT... It's a three book contract, the first of which is with my editor right now—hopefully the feedback will be positive, but I am waiting to start the second in case she envisions a different direction.

So see... while a more normal path might be and MFA program, or writing short stories for literary mags... I snuck in the side door. And what I've learned, is CONSTANT VIGILANCE! The way in, may NOT be the one you expect.


  1. Charity, thank you so much for hosting me today! I had a lot of fun with this theme... it looks a little manic, reading back over it now, but I suppose that is sort of me. I will check in a few times today in case anyone has questions or wants to throw things at me!

  2. I enjoyed the post, Charity, and congratulations on the contract, Hart!

  3. Thanks again Hart! I like that it is manic. :)

  4. I hadn't thought about fan fiction as a proving ground. What an awesome piece of advice. So excited about your book deal...woo hoo! Have you ever thought about working on that first book again?

  5. Lee-thanks so much!

    Charity *snort* Yeah, that's sort of the way I roll.

    Raquel-I think there is just nice freedom to try out a lot of different things--the stakes are lower, it's friendly, and it's not like you could ever publish it anyway. I actually have plans for a rewrite of that first book as a YA--the teen voice is the strongest, and I think limiting to hers (and her kid sister) allows me to cut the stuff that was problematic... just a matter of time.

  6. Many congrats on the deal and thank you both for a really interesting post. So inspiring!

  7. Margo, thank you so much!

    Alex-Hey, I thought you knew this one! Maybe not in order though...

  8. Hey, thanks for visiting - and no worries on the Blogfest feature. I did it for my own benefit, but it would be cool if it helped to give the blogfests more attention :)

    As for travelling the States, it really was amazing - and there were times when I was miserable (I was 17 and travelling with my rather irritating dad) but when I look back, I know how lucky I was!

  9. I gave you an award on my blog today.

  10. Trisha, I'm slightly jealous cause there are lots of places I'd like to travel to. Traveling with a parent would be interesting even if slightly annoying. Glad you can appreciate it now.

    Beth, thanks! I'm heading that way now.

  11. Wow, this was really awesome!! I loved learning more about the fabulous Hart!!

  12. Charity - thanks for hosting Hart today.

    Hart - congratulations on your contract! How exciting. I enjoyed learning more about you. I've never written Fan Fiction, maybe I should give it a try :)


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