This week, Rebecca Latimer – college-student, AW member, and writer – shares about her WIP, her crazy-fast writing skills, and the importance of balance in query letters.
Screen Name: Witch_turtle (I chose the name because there is a stuffed turtle wearing a witch’s hat and cape that sits on my writing desk)
Post Count: 50-ish
Favorite Forum: Novels and SYW
What’s the best lesson AW has taught you? That writing is not the lonely business it can seem to be. There is a huge network of individuals in all parts of the industry – writers, agents, editors, etc – who share a passion. We all want success, for ourselves and for others. It’s not a competition, it’s a team. You don’t have to stand alone and keep everything to yourself, because there is always someone to help, and improvement comes faster with that support.
In real life, you are… A 19-year old college student, avid reader, and drinker of tea. I am also an artist. I am Canadian (and therefore use Canadian/British spelling, woohoo!), and I live in the far north where it is almost always dark and ridiculously cold. I forgot how to ride a bike, but I can run. I am someone who thoroughly enjoys making throwback costumes for Halloween (my best was Felix the Cat). I love animals, nature, sunlight, vegetables, having strange dreams, and looking at the stars. But first and foremost, I’m a writer.
Book title: Umm…for the time being I’m considering “Afterton,” but a title for this book is something I’ve sadly been struggling with.
Genre: Low-fantasy with a literary edge
Summarize your current WIP in 50 words or less.
Skelon is kidnapped from his dystopian city by a dying sorceress queen, who makes him heir to her nightmare kingdom. But Skelon has been ripped away from his beloved twin sister. He must make the heartbreaking choice between two hellish worlds and two powerful obsessions, and then fight for that choice.
When did you start writing seriously — and what sparked your love of writing?
Elementary school. Short story assignments. I was the only kid in class who got excited about them. When I got into junior high and realized those days were over, I started writing on my own. I was between the ages of 11 and 12 when I wrote my first “novel,” a 60K-word cliche monster I was sure would get published. Instead it went into a drawer and was forgotten. For the next 4ish years I worked on other novels here and there, never getting very far with anything. I was 16 when I was hit with the very serious need to become a writer. I completed 2 novels in the space of a year, but the editing process was VERY long and sadly disastrous for both of them. That’s when I was struck with the inspiration for my current WIP, which has so far been far more successful than all previous attempts.
You say that you prefer to write stories in which the fates of smaller groups of characters are at stake, rather than more epic tales where the fate of the whole world is at stake. Talk about how you build readers’ interests in your characters and ramp up the tension without hanging the fate of the world in the balance.
My writing tends to be emotionally charged. When the main character loves something with every fibre of his being, it is my main goal to write it in such a way that the reader feels that love too. The same goes for pain or fear. I believe people relate to these personal-struggle type stories because that’s what people face in their everyday lives. My characters exist in bizarre worlds and circumstances, but their feelings are very real and honest. They get into trouble, make mistakes, and their situation gets worse. I also have a tendency to give my characters a lot of internal struggles, which I think makes everything far more interesting. The trouble builds up. Something really bad happens. Basically, the progression from bad to worse to worst, and the coinciding emotions of the characters who are living that progression, are the most important factors in my writing.
You wrote your first draft (100K words) in 2 months. Share the secret! How do you write so quickly?
This is going to sound so cheesy, but it’s true . . . It began with powerful inspiration. I felt something I had never felt before — a desperate, unstoppable need to get this story out. I was working as a file clerk at an industrial site at the time (which, coincidentally, was very inspiring for the gloomy society in the novel), and often I would find myself scrawling ideas and scenes on scrap pieces of paper. When I actually started writing the first draft, everything just poured out of me. There were times when I would write 10K words a day for several days in a row, which is insane and I have no idea how I managed it, though it probably had something to do with me becoming a hermit on my days off. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without feeling as much passion about this project as I do.
Another factor in my speedy writing is plain old impatience. I get so excited for something to be “done,” just for it to exist, that I do it as quickly as possible. Of course, that leads to much longer revision periods than might otherwise be needed!
You’re also diving into the query process for your novel. What have you been learning about the art of snagging agents’ attention?
I think the most helpful knowledge I’ve gained about query letters on AW is how important it is to balance everything in them. Balance straightforwardness with intrigue, balance professionalism with passion, and balance the most important details with the very basics of what your book is about. It’s so easy to over-simplify and make things unclear, or to focus on the wrong details for the sake of drama. That’s why the SYW forum is so awesome — there is always somebody to point those flaws out, always somebody to learn from. I’ve been practising writing queries since I finished my first draft, and thanks to AW I’m confident that by the time I’m ready to start knocking on doors, I’ll have something that I’ll be proud to show to an agent (and hopefully that will grab them!)
Two parts to this question: what’s the best YA book you’ve read recently and what did it teach you about writing?
I don’t read a lot of YA, but one of the most recent that I enjoyed was “Wildwood Dancing” by Juliet Marillier. It’s a twist on the old fairytale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” It has that old fairytale charm I adore, but it’s also very unique and fresh. That book is a prime example of how brilliant a story can be when everything has a purpose, when all the subtle foreshadowing (which, by the way, is one of my absolute favourite techniques in writing), various subplots, and past events come together at the end, and the reader is struck with that glorious realization that everything is tied together.
I also want to mention “The Neverending Story” by Michael Ende. I’m not sure if it’s technically YA or childrens literature, but it taught me a similar lesson about how awesome it is when everything in the story has meaning behind it, although in this case it’s more of a philosophical meaning than interwoven purpose. What I took away from both stories is that the imagination of an author can be an incredible thing if put to use properly.
Finally, if you could have any actor or actress star in a movie-version of your book, who would it be and why?
This is such a tough question! It’s hard to think of someone who would perfectly encompass one of my characters. I think I would choose Rachel Weisz to be the mother of my main characters. It’s a very small role (she only appears in one chapter), but an interesting role. Outwardly cold, inwardly tender, just not quite knowing how to be a mother and so focuses on everything and anything else. There is one particular scene in which her tenderness does show through, albeit awkwardly, and it’s one of my favourite snippets of the book. I think Rachel Weisz is beautiful and could pull off that almost-double persona quite nicely.