Why do we write? Well, for the same reason that we read: we believe in stories. My story started cooking in my head long ago, but I never had the will to do anything about it—until someone believed in me. A pinch of belief mixed with an ounce of determination (and, most notably, eight million heinous drafts) can produce a book.
It all comes back to the gap in my bookshelf. A slit between my books judged me every day, grumbling, “Why haven’t you filled me yet?” My excuse typically had something to do with time. I never seemed to have enough of it. To any writer struggling to put words on paper, time does exist; you only have to grab it when it finds you.
So, about that bookshelf gap…. It demanded that I fill it with the story I’d always wanted to read, the story no other book could quench. This story of mine revolved around a girl whose name shifted and bounced, whose personality wavered as I grew. Her authenticity, however, remained.
I often took issue with the YA protagonists of my youth—too bland, too faultless, too accepting of the mantle thrust upon them, too hardcore, or too “Why me?” My own brand of perfect protagonist floated in the “Just hang out there until I say you can leave” part of my brain. This protagonist struggled to jump right into the “conquering hero” mold; she could be cringe-worthily cheesy and awkward; she had faults that she tried ignoring; she got scared when the time to be heroic came; and, she was human. By that I mean ordinary, flawed, and most of the time unsure whether or not any of her efforts would make an impact. This protagonist floated in and out of the ideas my brain conjured. One day, she found her story and stayed put.
Take a covert operation of powerful humans, an army of even more powerful enemies, an ordinary girl who suddenly changes, a best friend who needs protecting, and you’ve got the stirrings of Ella’s story. It’ll twist, characters will make mistakes, truths will find the light, and bad guys will reveal their humanity. This story might make you groan, laugh, grimace, cry, roll your eyes, or throw something—like the book itself. Hey, paperback is durable; it can withstand a few hurls against the wall. Most importantly, though, The Trace will nudge something in you—be it good or bad—because it’s a story and that’s what stories do.
The Trace is Ella Kepler’s tale—no doubt about that—but she’s only a fragment in a plot that expands the more she uncovers. She grows, she retrogrades, she falls, and she falls again—and the story around her continues, because the world will turn, even if we stop. My hope is that Ella’s world will turn with you.
*This post was originally published at Evolved Publishing's website here*
First, I want it to be known that it's a pet peeve of mine when people don't use direct address commas. They're one of my favorite things, along with tea and books and cats.
But, more importantly...
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ELLA!
Who is Ella, you ask?
Here is a picture of half of Ella's face. You may have seen her on the first edition book cover of The Trace. She's the main character of my Whitewashed trilogy, and today, September 7th, is her birthday! I've introduced her before, but I wanted to highlight Ella again, in honor of her growing a year older and all.
A few of her favorite things include:
Some of my favorite Ella moments are the ones that include a painful self-realization–when she knows she's wrong and forces herself to admit it. It was very important for me to have Ella make poor judgments and choices, but to learn from her mistakes and resolve to do better the next time.
So, on that note, here are two of my favorite scenes with Ella. Don't worry, these are spoiler-free. I'm not evil.
THE TRACE, Book I:
The rooftop got quiet again, and I couldn’t ignore the elephant lurking on the roof any longer. “I’m... I’m sorry for being rude to you earlier,” I said, nervously flicking my fingernails against each other. “I was a total brat. You were trying to help, and I know you already have enough on your plate. Anyway, you were right, so... I’m sorry. Really sorry.”
“It’s all right,” he said, which only made me feel worse.
“No, it’s not. You can’t let me get away with things just because Kara is....” The word tripped in my throat and tumbled silently out. Missing. How long would that be true?
The simple act of inhaling became difficult, so I copied his position and lay flat. The millions of stars and galaxies that blinked above me reminded me how very small I was, and how very far away Kara was. Somehow, the MTA would find her. Somehow, I’d be strong enough to defeat whatever Grifters held her captive. But, if Sanders was right, I wouldn’t be strong enough, not until I worked some things out, things I didn’t exactly want to think about.
THE INTEGER, Book II:
"I'm not ordinarily a rude person," I mumbled, "but... well...." I glanced at him. "You haven't noticed my... snarkiness, have you?"
"I noticed, Kepler."
Shame warmed me. For the past two months, he'd seen right through me. "Why'd you keep me here, then, instead of sending me away for insubordination?"
"For all your uncivility, you've never been insubordinate. Besides, you have an understandable reason for your sullenness, though there's never an excuse for rude behavior."
I let his rebuke sink in. Maybe he would make a good friend, one day in the infinitely distant future.
"I'll do better," I said, holding his gaze for once.
I just realized that both of these scenes include He-who-will-not-be-named. No, not Voldemort. Calm down. I speak merely of the aforementioned guy on Ella's list of favorite things. Apparently she's rude to him a lot. But at least she apologizes, so there's that.
To all those celebrating a birthday today, may you always grow in self-awareness!
^^ Not really. Though that would be cool.
Ella Kepler was created in Astronomy class, hence the space reference here and throughout Whitewashed. Her name was stolen from my favorite childhood book, Ella Enchanted. (Let's not talk about the movie. No really, don't bring it up. I will get depressed.)
The name "Ella" was a filler at first, because I had no idea what else to call her. The last name came from the fact that, when I started writing, we were discussing Kepler's laws of planetary motion. Which I still don't really understand, but I think Kepler is a cool name. As the story progressed, the name Ella started to fit her character, and I realized that she was officially Ella Jane Kepler.
Once upon a time, I had an idea for The Trace's book cover. I penned a letter to [Facebook messaged] a girl I used to play with when I was a wee youngster, someone who grew into a very talented artist. (I'm talking about her, not me.) I asked her, "Hey, can you draw half of a normal face and half of a creepy, zombie-like monstrosity? K thanks." Years later, I met another talented artist via an interview for an article. I kept her on my talented friends back burner and eventually approached her with a request: Can you take this sketch and turn it into a book cover? K thanks.
This is the result.
This cover exceeds all my expectations. And trust me, they were pretty high. The odd thing is, I didn't technically decide what Ella looks like. My two artists did. That thrills me, especially because my brain is no good with visual effects, so I honestly found it hard to picture Ella as anything other than a blob with hair. I gave the sketch artist some photos to model after and let her use her own imagination. When the graphic artist added the coloring, I gave her my preferences, but ultimately she created the perfect hair, skin, and eye colors. Ella herself became a collaborative effort between three people. And now I finally know what Ella looks like! My readers can, too. If you want to picture Ella while reading, just jump to the front cover. Or come up with your own image. I won't be offended. My good friend who's read the book a few times is still convinced Ella has brown hair. She's half right, at least.
The back cover is also beautiful, but that's not quite finished yet. I'm excited to reveal it to you when it's done! What do you think will be on it?
Lurking behind (in front of, more accurately) every great story is the problem of the pesky protagonist. It's an unavoidable conundrum, like 5:00 traffic and colds and popsicles that drip all over the side of your hand. Writers are given the impossible task of creating a protagonist who is well-liked (or, dare I say it, well-loved) by all readers. I say impossible, because it's literally IMPOSSIBLE. I have been struggling with this problem ever since I started writing Whitewashed. “Will readers like Ella? Will they think she's annoying? Whiny? Weak? Stupid? Useless? Boring?” and pretty much every other antonym to character virtue.
Characters make a story. Every reader and writer knows this. That is why creating characters is such a scary, intimidating, and stressful endeavor. It's also pretty great.
I have a few favorite characters from Whitewashed (halfway there!). Ella is my automatic number one because she's the protagonist and she's been with me for so long. Of course I have to say she's my favorite–and, well, she is. Besides her, my favorites vary between a few others, people who are goodies and baddies. Sometimes, depending on my mood, I might prefer one character over another. A constant, however, is Ethan.
When I first started writing The Trace, the main characters were totally different than they wound up being in my final draft. Ella was shallow, Kara was selfish and rude, and Ethan was the angsty, brooding, impatient guy with anger problems–the male love interest every teen has come to expect from a YA novel. He was short with Ella, cryptic, and a little possessive. Why was he like this? Because those were the types of male characters I'd read about, and I thought that was all a teenage guy could ever be.
Initially, his name was "Ian." Actually, I guess his name was originally "Josh" because all my male characters from childhood were named "Josh." Josh turned into Ian, a rude guy I didn't really like.
Disclaimer: I don't know how to draw. My entire family can. In fact, one of my sisters drew a life-size version of Botticelli's The Birth of Venus on her bedroom door. My dad drew a picture of Olivia Newton John and sent it to her, and then got a "thank you" in response. My mom drew a portrait of Paul McCartney (but did not send it to him). My other sister and brother can even doodle to perfection.
That's supposed to be Durgan. Can't you tell how elegant his cloak looks? Don't you like how misshappen his fingers are?
For the longest time, I didn't know what the Grifters looked like. Isn't that funny? I'd see them in my head, I'd see Ella talking to them or random Academists fighting them off, but I didn't even know what I was seeing. I guess they were just blobs of grey, and then I thought, "Hey, maybe they SHOULD be grey!"
The evolution of the Grifters from nothings to enemies to grey blobs to monsters to Grifters was an interesting 2+ year process. The Grifters at first only existed so that the Academists would have something to do. They gradually became important, and then I realized that their origin was crucial to absolutely everything in the trilogy. Figuring out their appearance was the hardest part, because—in case you hadn't realized before—I am not at all creative in the artistic sense. Imagine a story, sure, but conjuring up a physical representation of an idea?
Okay. Just finished Fringe. Thoughts:
Confusions aside, I loved it. I mean, John Noble as a loving, eccentric father who isn't out to douse himself in oil and set himself on fire from Faramir's burning body? Can't resist. Although I secretly hate J.J. Abrams for stealing particles of my brain and thus creating The Observers, a.k.a. THE TACEO. I created them before I ever watched Fringe! In tenth grade, actually. I have evidence in a folder entitled "Stories" and inside The-Story-Which-Shall-Never-Be-Named-Due-To-Excess-Humiliation.