Adventures in Fiction Writing: When Sh*t Gets Too Real

A girl and her sharkosaurus.

When I started writing the Kira Brightwell series four years ago (Crap, has it really been that long??), I was excited to dip my toe into a new genre after writing only fantasy. I figured something like crime fiction would be a good fit for my strengths: action and quirky/snarky dialogue. The main difference from my fantasy projects is that it would take place in the ‘real world’. No problem, right?

Wrong.

See, one of the things I find the most liberating about writing fantasy is that the entire world comes out of my own head. Locations can be wherever/whatever I want or need them to be, and I can invent magical systems and creatures as I go along. Basically, there are no limitations. (That being said, it has become a bit of a challenge over the years to keep track of my ever-expanding Lasniniar series to make sure I’m sticking to my own canon, so I don’t end up getting stuck in a Lucy Lawless/Simpsons situation, lol.)

Originally, when I started planning the first Kira novel Split Decision, I was determined to use a real-world location. I was all over Google Maps, checking out Street View to see where locations within the story were in relation to each other and what they looked like, local crime rates, checking out colleges and universities, etc. (I’m sure Google gets very confused by my sketchy search history sometimes, which has included research for multiple ways to break into a car, how to break out of handcuffs, and footage of various MMA moves and holds, among other things.)

The whole real-world location thing was really starting to stress me out and stop me in my tracks. I had this crazy fear of someone calling me out on an inaccurate detail of what might possibly be their hometown. Then Mark saved me by suggesting I create a fictional town instead (La Valentia), framed within a real-world location (California). This hardly a new idea in fiction, and it really saved my ass. Suddenly, I felt like I had enough room to breathe again with an imaginary location that could be built to fit my needs and I would know better than anyone else.

…But then there was Kira.

I actually wrote about two-thirds of Split Decision (after getting past the whole location thing) before grinding down again. (I remember my mom asking me on the phone in an incredulous voice, “Don’t you know what’s supposed to happen next?”) This wasn’t writer’s block. (Honestly, I think writer’s block is a load of… Well, I’m sure you can fill in the blank.) I knew where I was going with the book. I just got totally paralyzed by fear.

Because Kira is me.

I mean, she’s not really me. She’s obviously a fictional character. Every character I’ve ever written reflects some aspect of my own personality in some way (which is the nature of the beast), but in fantasy, it’s easier to disguise it in the voices of elves, dwarves, vampires, or whatever. Kira was a character that had to function in the real world, which was a new experience for me, and when it comes right down to it, you write what you know. So Kira ended up being the first character to be overtly like me as a person. (Except way cooler.)

No, I don’t solve crimes in my spare time, and I have no experience in MMA. But we have the same voice, personality, and even share certain likes and dislikes. (And yes, all this was intentional to help make me more comfortable with the whole real-world writing thing.)

So why was I freaking out?

Basically, I was terrified of putting myself out there. Every other time a character had reflected some element of me, it was diluted or disguised, which helped to make it feel safe. At the end of the day, I’m just an introvert writer–the voice behind the words that no one ever needed to meet in order to enjoy them. I was OK with putting my not-exactly-me character front and center until I suddenly realized I was actually getting to the point of finishing the novel, which would mean eventually publishing it and putting myself out there–exposed.

Because while Kira is me, she is also not me. She has relationships and life experiences that completely diverge from my own. But with the line so blurred, would people read into some of those experiences and relationships and ascribe them to me? Would people who already know me start to wonder whether they were somehow represented as a character in my Kira books as well? (Always a possibility, since no one writes in a void.)

I put Split Decision aside for several months and returned to the comfort of my fantasy writing. But the book was always lurking in the back of my mind. Would I finish it? Should I finish it? Should I try to make Kira less like me, or would that only make matters worse? (With disguise being a self-portrait and all that.) In many ways, it would be far easier to stick to the realms of fantasy and leave the whole mess behind…

But I couldn’t leave it alone. Yes, it was scary. But I would never know where Kira could take me unless I gave her a chance. So I dragged my ass back to my unfinished manuscript and finished it, leaving Kira as-is. Then I wrote Kira’s origin story, Striking Distance. And then I wrote the second novel in the series, Black and Blue. I finished all three back to back and released them within about a month of each other, like ripping off a Band-Aid.

Because if I was really going to do this, I wasn’t going to be half-assed about it.

Now, the Kira Brightwell series has expanded to six novels and four shorts, with more adventures on the way. And with each book, Kira and the other recurring characters take on more of a life of their own, and I become more comfortable with them. (…Including Trevor, who was only intended to be a one-off, if you can believe it.) The sky hasn’t fallen, and I’ve actually grown as a writer. (And had a lot of fun in the process!) In hindsight, it’s kind of funny to think about how afraid I was to finish the first book. Now I’m even starting to toy with the idea of writing in another new genre somewhere down the line…

*sigh* So I guess the old clich√© is true. If something scares and excites you, it’s probably worth doing.

Ebook Catalog Progress Update:

Out of all my titles, I’m down to just five Legends of Lasniniar, which I’m going to update today (new covers, interior formatting, blurbs, metadata, etc.). Of course, it’s probably going to take some time for all these new updates to trickle down to the various retailers from my distributors. (Except for Amazon, which is self-contained, but seems to have a whole other set of data consistency issues I’m going to have to follow up on in terms of series labeling and numbering…)

Once I get the ebooks ironed out, I’ll be moving on to paperback, which is both more and less complicated. (Only one distributor at the moment, but more layout variables, and metadata that gets etched in stone, lol.) The journey continues…

 

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Posted by Jacquelyn

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