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Writing… fantasy?

As many know, I began writing in the fantasy genre at the young age of eleven. I was completely taken by Middle Earth after watching The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. I wanted to recreate the feelings the movies (and later the books) had given me.

Of course, looking back, all these works were incredibly cliched and developmentally weak, but hey–I was eleven. I can forgive myself.

As I got older and read more urban fantasy and contemporary books, I found my writing calling in those genres. I latched onto contemporary especially, and since then I’ve been a contemporary writer through and through.

In all these years, I haven’t forgotten about my first love in fantasy. I still love reading fantasy and often get little snippets of ideas for my own projects. But I always tell myself I need to let these ideas rest for a while, that I need to properly build the world before I can begin drafting. This has resulted in me just leaving those ideas to rest and never returning.

Until recently.

I’ve been watching more fantasy TV shows, including Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Untamed, and The Witcher. Each of these shows has different levels of world-building, and each story remained memorable. I’ve not only enjoyed watching these shows, but watching them also brought new ideas to the forefront of my imagination. Things that I had been “letting rest” were resurfacing with new details. I was suddenly very drawn to begin writing the ideas I’d been sitting on for so long.

But…I hadn’t built the world properly. How could I start?

At the same time as these thoughts were occurring, something else happened to me. A friend shared a video with me about JRR Tolkien’s writing process. What stuck out to me the most in this video was the fact that whenever Tolkien ran into a narrative problem, he would brainstorm until he had “written his way out” of it. Then, he would simply restart writing the entire novel up to the point he had originally gotten stuck, and write his new solution.

What surprised me the most about this new to me information was the fact that Tolkien didn’t know everything when he was writing his magnum opus. He didn’t have it clearly mapped out and precisely planned. A lot of the world-building stuff was created in order to facilitate his plot. For example, in the scene where Frodo and his friends meet the Nazgul, Tolkien quickly realized Gandalf couldn’t be present in the scene–he’d be able to quickly dispel the Nazgul with his power. So where was Gandalf, if he wasn’t helping Frodo? Tolkien found a solution in creating the conflict with Saruman. But, he still needed someone to help Frodo and his friends, otherwise the Nazgul would definitely overpower them. That’s where the character of Aragorn came into play.

I was absolutely astounded at learning this. I’d always assumed Tolkien had created the world first. That he’d written a version of The Silmarillion, and then wrote Lord of the Rings. But, no. His process was messy. In all this time, I had envisioned him having it all figured out from the start.

Knowing this, and being exposed to more fantasy media around the same time set a lightbulb off in my head. I didn’t need to have everything worked out before I began. I could work out the basic fundamentals of the world and then proceed to tell the heroes’ story. The finer details didn’t need to all be there before I began. I was weighing myself down.

I’ve realized that what really matters in writing fantasy is the journey the characters embark on. The world can be fantastically detailed, but if the characters are boring and flat, the book is joyless. The characters are the really what needs care and attention pre-writing.

So now, I think I’m ready to begin working on a fantasy story. I don’t want to make it my main project, but I do want to actually start thinking about it seriously. I need to figure out what each character wants, and how they will change over the course of the story. I can’t allow these characters to be empty pawns in an epic plot. They need to feel real. So, I’ll shift my focus from the world, to them. Hopefully I figure something out.

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To MCR, With Love

A year ago today, My Chemical Romance announced their reunion. 

It was a normal day for me. I’d gone to work, then went to tutor a student at her house. On the way home, I picked up Halloween candy, though there was such a rainstorm, I doubted anyone would come. I opened my Facebook and was greeted with someone posting an article about My Chemical Romance’s reunion.

Reader, I gasped audibly. My heart probably stopped for a second. And suddenly, I was filled with so many feelings I hadn’t felt in so long.

I never thought this day would come. I’d been a My Chemical Romance fan since I was twelve or thirteen. The Black Parade had burrowed its way into my heart, and I obsessed over their songs with one of my best friends. We had dreams of seeing them live, but living in Atlantic Canada and being twelve didn’t help our situation. I was heartbroken the day they announced they were ending the MCR journey. At that point, I was in university, and I had hope that the next time they toured, I’d be able to afford going to the show. I remember listening to “Fake Your Death” and tearing up.

As the years went on, I continued to listen to MCR, but my enthusiasm dulled. I still looked on them fondly, but I wasn’t obsessed in the way I used to be.

Fast forward to last year. I’d moved to Toronto a few years before. After years of just barely surviving in Toronto, pinching pennies, stress-checking my bank account late at night, I’d landed a solid, regular office job. Finally, I was making enough money to feel somewhat secure. I had even published a novel! Things, on the surface, were going pretty great. But at the same time, I was starting to feel so tired, so restless. Like something was missing.

When MCR announced their reunion, something returned to me. A spark I hadn’t felt in ages. I started watching interviews, old and new. I felt especially inspired watching Frank talk about his solo music. His passion was infectious, and I longed to feel it in my own life again.

Back at the height of my obsession with MCR, I had dreams to write novels and music. I especially wanted to sing my songs and record them. I wrote songs on my bed with my old guitar, and recorded them on Garageband using a mic headset for vocals. It was very homemade, but it filled me with so much joy. 

I hadn’t written a song in so long. The fire I had for music had been partially doused after going through two university programs in music and feeling generally disillusioned. As I approached 27, I’d told myself I was too old to pursue the music I wanted to write. It was better to move on and find a different use for my skills. But watching the old interviews, I was reminded how Gerard was around 25 when he quit his job and started MCR. It took years afterwards for them to reach the level of success they’d reached. It hadn’t been too late for him, it didn’t have to be too late for me. I needed to take my own chance.

Ever since that day, I’ve been inspired. I’ve been finding ways to build the life I want, the life I’d dreamed for myself as a kid listening to The Black Parade. I’ve started writing songs again. I even recorded one during quarantine! I’m slowly finding my way.

So, I just want to say thank you to MCR. They were there for me as a kid, and they came back to me as an adult, in a time I really needed them. Their music will always mean so much to me.

Writing a Male Perspective

When I was fifteen, I decided to challenge myself as a writer. I wrote mostly fantasy, so I wanted to write something set in the “real world.” I wrote all girl protagonists, so I decided to write a boy. My main characters were straight, so I decided to make him gay.

The result? The very bad, very first draft that would become I Knew Him.

There was freedom in writing this story back then. I don’t think I fully understood it, but I think that was the reason I kept coming back to try and fix the story so it could actually be published. 

For many LGBTQ writers, writing a protagonist who isn’t straight is often the lightbulb moment for them. It’s the moment they realize what this character feels is what they feel as well. It certainly was for me writing Julian. While he started out in a way that I felt was totally different to me, over the years he shifted to reflect my experience more and more. I didn’t even realize I was doing it. Julian was gay in earlier drafts, but as I grew older and learned more about bisexuality, I felt it was more fitting for him to also be bisexual based on how he spoke about his ex-girlfriend in previous drafts. I became so wrapped up in learning about bisexual representation in media, and felt true despair when TV shows and movies failed to acknowledge it as a valid identity. It was only after several years of writing this book and caring so much about the bi representation that I began to ask myself why.

But that wasn’t the only place that I found joy and freedom in writing I Knew Him.

As a young writer, I found freedom in expressing Julian’s anger. In earlier drafts, this was more apparent, but as I grew up writing the story, this aspect of his character softened. I felt anger as a teenager towards friends and school situations I couldn’t control, but I had no way of fully expressing it. In school, boys who got upset hit walls or each other and it was seen as somewhat acceptable. But what could a girl do to feel the same release? I had nowhere to put the feelings I had. Even so much as speaking firm to a friend was seen as hostile or aggressive. So I wrote a character with whom it was acceptable to express this anger, and channelled mine into him. 

As I got older, and I learned better to deal with negative emotions, Julian’s character also shifted. He still felt a lot of anger and despair about his current situation, but there was a softer edge in his suffering. Instead of seeking to tear things apart, he sought to put them back together. He sought to find balance in his very imbalanced life by building a safe support system in friends like Sky and Kelsey.

I also wrote Julian to be more caring of the people around him, more “soft” as some might call him. The more I grew up as a young woman in this world, the more I saw the poison of toxic masculinity in everything and everyone. I wanted to write a boy who did not exactly abide by the rules, who had tried to fit into them in traditional ways by playing sports and picking fights, but ultimately felt deep hurt within that structure. I wanted to write a boy who respected the girls around him, who valued them as close friends. A boy who valued gentleness and felt great sadness to experience it, after so long going without it.

I might not have achieved all those goals a hundred percent, but that was my motivation in writing the version of Julian that now exists in the published novel. Writing Julian, there was so much I wanted to say, and I felt best saying it through him.

After writing I Knew Him, I decided to return to my “roots” so to speak and write another girl protagonist. This would later become Kat of We Go Together. Her story, her pain, hit so close to my heart. Among many things, We Go Together is about how the world is unkind to young girls, and how many queer women fall into toxic relationships with men for fear of being different. While writing Kat’s story was in many ways fulfilling and constructive, it was also incredibly painful. It felt so real, like a situation myself or a friend of mine could go through if fate was unkind.

I’ve since drafted ideas for other stories with young bisexual girls, and they are equally painful. The constant presence of the patriarchy and toxic masculinity weaves its way into all these narratives, whether I like it or not. It is ever-present, it is everywhere, much like in my daily life. It is so difficult to write about.

So, I turned to a new project. Another male narrator. And while he also experienced many painful realities of the patriarchy and toxic masculinity, it wasn’t quite so suffocating. I felt freedom again. And, like all my protagonists, he wasn’t straight either. I don’t think I can ever write about straight people again.

In some ways, writing a male protagonist is like imagining a world with slightly less danger. It’s like going for a walk at 2am without constantly checking behind you. It’s moving through certain spaces without the same concerns. Obviously, queer men also face dangerous situations. It’s not like they’re free from fear themselves. But it’s different worries, different fears. And it doesn’t hit so close to my heart to write about them. There’s a certain distance between me and their realities that makes it easier to explore in my writing.

I am currently striving to push myself into writing an uplifting story featuring a group of girls. I long to feel the freedom in them that I have writing Julian or my other newer boy protagonist, but I have a feeling it will be a challenge every step of the way. I must try to build a world, however unrealistic it may actually be, where girls run through their neighbourhoods at 2am, where they wander around town without restriction, where they rage and love with the same fire as the boys I’ve written about. We’ll see if I succeed. But until I do, my readers have these boys to read about, and love with all their hearts, as I have.

Out Now: Kat’s Song!

If you’ve read We Go Together, you know Kat tries to write a song for the majority of the book. I realized as I was writing the book, I’d have to write the song to write Kat’s mindset as she’s trying to piece together the verses. Much like her, I began with the chorus, and had to figure out where the verses would go. When I finally finished the song, and incorporated the lyrics in the book, I mused about how fun it would be to release the song, so that readers could listen to the song and read the scene at the same time.

I’d always loved songwriting, and when I was younger I’d make rough demos for friends as birthday gifts. I had once had dreams of being a recording artist, but I put those away for more “realistic” pursuits. After going through a graduate degree in music, and feeling very burnt-out and discouraged, I put aside most dreams of music, instead deciding that my writing would be my sole pursuit. However, music still sang in the back of my mind, and writing Kat’s song re-ignited that love. So, when I signed my contract to publish the novel, I decided I owed it to myself to record the song. I don’t have dreams of being a big star, but I still want to make music, and this particular form of making music is what makes me happiest.

Originally, we had plans to record the song in July. I was nervous about doing it. I’d always felt a bit self-conscious about my singing voice and my piano playing, but I figured I’d have enough time to practice with the group to get comfortable. Of course, COVID had other plans. In the end, we never met to practice the song together. We all ended up recording our parts individually from our homes, and mixing them together. I recorded my vocals in my bedroom.

The end result is now out for the world to enjoy. I have ideas on how to continue writing music that I like, and how to weave that music into my novels, like I did with We Go Together. For the first time in a long time, I’m really excited about the future in my music.

Special thanks to all the performers who helped make this possible. It was really special working with friends. My sister also makes an appearance! Hopefully we can do it again all together sometime.

Song Credits

Vocals and piano: Abigail de Niverville 
Violin: Sarah de Niverville 
Cello: Benjamin Louwersheimer 
Guitar: Riley MacKinnon 
Bass: Matthew Fasullo 

Mixing and mastering: Matthew Fasullo 
Recorded from home

Listen Here: Bandcamp | Spotify | Apple | YouTube

What Am I Trying to Prove?

I’ve been asking myself this question a lot recently, as I prepare a manuscript for querying. Or, at least I thought I was preparing it for queries. Now, I’m not sure what I’ll be doing.

Going into writing this book, I knew I wanted to try something new and seek other options for publication. While I’ve had a really great experience with NineStar Press and really love the editors I work with, I wanted to switch things up and see what else is out there.

For a while, I was convinced I would be querying the manuscript and finding an agent. Doing so would open up so many doors for my career, and it had always been a dream of mine to walk into a major bookstore and see my book among authors I respected.

I’ve been on author Twitter since 2018 when I signed my contract with NineStar Press. I followed a bunch of other debut authors and agents. The more I stayed on there, the more I learned about the world of traditional publishing. It isn’t always sunshine and roses, and there’s a lot of issues within the industry. The more I learn, the more I begin to ask myself if this is what I really want.

I have begun to ask myself, “Why do I want an agent to begin with?” Is it for better opportunities? For a chance at a bigger publisher and an advance? To be famous? What was I looking for, anyway?

The short answer? Legitimacy.

Let me be very frank for a moment. I have gotten the impression from various places in my life that small press books are “lesser than,” “not legitimate,” or “one small step above self-publishing.” I’m not sure who has made me felt this way. It’s not like anyone has said these kinds of things to my face. It’s in subtle ways. Like friends asking if I am self-published (which is a whole other discussion: self-published doesn’t mean low quality!) or fellow writers participating in pitch contests and being annoyed that small presses liked their pitch instead of agents. Small ways that pointed to me that what I was doing was not legitimate in some capacity.

I’ve realized I was seeking representation not to improve my career or take it to the next step, but for the approval of my peers and readers. Was this really the right motivation?

All of these thoughts already circulating around my head came to the forefront when author Adam Sass posted a statement on his Twitter regarding his upcoming novel a couple weeks back. Essentially, he had been in contact with a blogger who had reached out and offered their service to promote his debut book Surrender Your Sons. The blogger withdrew their involvement upon receiving his book details–because the book was being published by a small press.

I was astounded. I had no idea his novel was from a small press, for one thing. It had been featured in anticipated release lists on Teen Vogue, Buzzfeed, and other big sites. It had lots of activity on its Goodreads page. It had so many readers on Twitter and Instagram excited for its release, doing makeup looks and photos inspired by the book. It had huge buzz surrounding it!

And yet, that was not enough for this one person

Something, in that moment, clicked for me. It doesn’t matter where your book comes from, how much you put into it, the quality of your writing. People are going to judge it regardless. So what’s the point in trying to impress others?

The more I learn about publishing, the more I see the value in small presses, especially in LGBTQ fiction. They are willing to take risks, to publish books that aren’t necessarily “for the market.” They are producing some of the most creative and innovative books at this moment. Why wouldn’t I be proud to be part of that?

I’ve also been researching more about the literary scene in Canada too, and I’m learning that many authors in Canada do not have agents. And yet, they are still being uplifted and recognized by Canadian institutions. Why am I seeking validation through an agent when so many of my fellow Canadians don’t have one? Maybe I’ve been approaching this all wrong.

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing with this manuscript. I have a long way to go before it is ready for submission, but I’m starting to think that submitting to small presses isn’t a bad thing. It’s a valid route to take. It might not be the route I decide upon, but I know I really need to re-evaluate why I want to take whichever path Idecide. I shouldn’t take one just to be seen as a “real” author, that’s for sure.

The truth is, I’m currently a real author. I have real books that real people can buy and read. Many readers don’t care where a book comes from. They just want a story that speaks to them.

I don’t have to prove anything.