Welcome to my self-indulgent location for the stories (good and bad) that I can't prevent myself from writing. All comments and criticisms welcome. I post on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Guest Post: Hart Johnson – Wonky Trails

Today Charity and I are both pleased to host Hart Johnson, awesome naked mistress extraodinaire, and author of some upcoming cozy mysteries.

Hart and I frequently see virtual-eye to virtual-eye. We both came back to writing through fan fiction (though not the same subject matter, since mine is a Buffy obsession). So I asked Hart if she could talk about how fan fiction helped her get to where she is today.

Since I've started writing again, it's taken me a while to realize that my one way is not the only way. I can't just write a novel, query it, and become the next JK Rowling. Granted, I wrote fan fiction at the early stages, but I wrote it for me only, without any thoughts of posting it somewhere. Now, I'm looking for different ways to break in, and I'm open to suggestion.

This is part of the reason why Charity and I are hosting the HONE YOUR SKILLS Blogfest. Many of us only focus on novel-length fiction, but we all have different means to get in the door. One way (though not Hart's) is to join us in our blogfest by writing short fiction. We're interested in helping each other build our resumes, hoping an agent will be more willing to take a chance.

All that aside, I'm pleased to welcome Hart Johnson to talk about how she broke into the market. For those of you who know her, you already know she never follows the traditional route... for anything :)

And so, without further ado....

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 partly at 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.


Thanks, Hart!

While Hart was definitely lucky to have found the side door, I know I haven't found it yet.

Have you found a different door? Or are you trying to squeeze through the front with the rest of us?

Remember, join us for the HONE YOUR SKILLS Blogfest, in which we help each other build that resume. There's still three more weeks before D-Day, so there's plenty of time to focus on a short piece of fewer than 1000 words!


Subcreator said...

Ha. I used to get involved in those insane HP debates on mugglenet. I was 100% convinced Harry couldn't be a Horcrux. (I still think there's an inconsistency in the story there. But I'm no longer bitter.) Stories that get you to speculate like that are definitely some of the most fun.

Carol Riggs said...

Thanks for doing the guest post, Hart! and congrats on your 3-book deal, woo!

Hart Johnson said...

Thank so much for having me Rosie!

Subcreator-HA! That debate was HUGE! At my most frequent thread, the Wizard War, we referred to it as tha HIAH debate (Harry is a Horcrux) and I definitely believed he WAS one. Man, we had fun.

Carol-thanks so much!

LTM said...

Awesomeness... TH and "wonky tales" all in one place. Thanks, guys! I actually didn't know there was such a thing as "fan fiction" til I met Hart. I would've so enjoyed that~ :D <3

Hart Johnson said...

And I thought it was a Harry-Potter specific phenomenon until very recently... I think though, I wouldn't have learned nearly as much from it, or done as well, if I hadn't had all the discussion and debate around HP before writing. Really brought home how important it is to think about each piece--setting, character, plot, foreshadowing, building, cliff hangers... emotion.

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