I first connected with Andi Buchanan on Readerville.com years ago, when we were both baby authors (her first, Mothershock, came out five months before my The Language of Light), and it’s been a great pleasure to watch her success with books like the New York Times bestseller, The Daring Book for Girls. We’ve remained connected on SheWrites.com, and now Andi is doing something doubly daring: her latest book, the young adult novel Gift, is being released first as a multimedia e-book experience (think videos, games, music), with a print edition coming in July. Andi also founded the fabulous Literary Mama website, and is a classical pianist. Add Gift to a longer and longer line of successes for this talented writer. – Meg
Sometimes, after the lights are out, long after we’ve finished reading for the night, my son will say, “Can you tell me a story?” I’ll stall a bit while I think of a story to tell, and then once I’ve landed on an idea, usually, right as I start, he’ll say, “No, not a story about that.” So I’ll try again: “No, something different!” And again: “Eh, I don’t like that one.” Eventually I’ll settle on a beginning he likes, and we’ll both sit there in the dark, trying to figure it out together.
Writing is a little bit like that. There’s a lot of sitting in the dark, metaphorically and otherwise, trying to come up with something that makes sense for the story you’re telling and also still captivates your inner night-time critic. And often the story you end up creating isn’t the one you set out tell in the first place.
I started working on my novel — my first, serious novel — almost ten years ago. The story came to me in glimpses, and that was good, because with two very young children, glimpses were all I could manage in the scant time I had to myself. I wrote down what I could, smoothed out the little I had of it, labored over the voice, the question of what to do about plot. All the while, other things took precedence: my kids, freelance work, book proposals, the nonfiction books I was contracted to write. But still, this story lingered, and I always felt some day I’d return to it.
After a lucky break landed one of my books on the bestseller list, I finally had the time and means to do that. I settled down with my laptop and tried to reacquaint myself with that beginning of a novel, and with all the other odds and ends of writing-in-progress that had been put on hold while I’d worked on that bestselling project. I re-read what I’d written of the story, let myself try to sink back into the world of it, even managed to make sense of most of the hasty notes and sketchy outlines I’d dashed off back when I understood the shorthand of the story I was trying to tell.
But, like a little boy in the dark, requesting a different bedtime story, I wasn’t sure I still wanted to tell it.
I was stuck, a little bit. Something just didn’t feel right. Even though I finally had the time, the mental space, the freedom to really explore this story and write the novel I’d been wanting to write for years, I couldn’t seem to find my way back in.
So I did what I do when my bedtime story gets vetoed by my little night-time critic: I tried something different. I’d had another idea I’d kicked around in notebooks and text files for years about a group of friends who might or might not be haunted by a ghost. That seemed fun, I thought; perhaps I’ll work on that for a while, just as a distraction, and then, somehow, I’ll find my way back to the novel.
It was somewhere around twenty or thirty thousand words in that I realized: Oh. This is my novel.
The story I’d been telling myself for fun, to pass the time until I figured out how to write my serious thing, had turned out to be my serious thing, the thing I was going to do next. Gradually, over the course of the next six months or so, the twenty thousand words turned into eighty thousand words, and the friends who might be haunted became friends who were definitely haunted, and the little ghost story I’d had in my head as a “someday” story became the story I, in fact, was telling right now.
The other story, that novel I started so long ago, still waits for me on my hard-drive, and in back-up files, and in auto-corrected notes stored on my phone, and in marked-up, printed-out pages in a folder on my bookshelf. I have a feeling I’ll get back to it eventually. But for now I’m happy to celebrate the release of the story that snuck up on me, the one I hadn’t planned on telling, the surprise.