I’m a very open person, but there’s a lot of things I don’t bring up very often. Some of them are because I’m embarrassed about things from my childhood, others because they just don’t fit smoothly into an average day’s conversation. A lot of them, however, had big influences on my development both as a person and as a writer. At the suggestion of one of my Twitter friends, I’d like to discuss some of these fragments of my past and talk about how they relate to my current work.
My parents are divorced. For most people, this is a traumatic experience, as a family is torn apart by tensions that leave the children wondering what will become of them and whether their parents still love them. Everyone talks about how half of all marriages end in divorce, and it’s generally a topic surrounded by little hope and a lot of heartache.
I was glad my parents got divorced.
My parents never should have been married (setting aside the fact that had they not married, I never would have been born). They got married when my mom was pregnant with my older sister. As my mom tells it, when she found out she was pregnant, the first thing she did was go to my grandmother and ask for help. Mom-mom’s answer was, “Well, you’re going to get married.” It was to be expected considering my Irish family’s traditional Catholic ideals.
My parents were incompatible. They cheated on each other several times (and in the years since the divorce both of them have told me stories about all the wrongs the other committed). I remember coming home more than once to find my father’s clothes in garbage bags on the front lawn. What I didn’t know at the time was that the reason was because my mom found out about some affair or another. When they were screaming and fighting at each other in the kitchen at night, I never knew why. I just knew I was scared, and I wanted the fighting to stop.
Then one day they sat us down and told us they were getting a divorce. And my one and only thought was, Thank God, this means there won’t be any more fighting.
After the divorce, the only downside I remember was that I felt a bit isolated. In particular, when I was in fifth grade, I started having trouble with being home alone. I was old enough that I was no longer being sent to a babysitter, but I wasn’t quite old enough to be brave enough to be home by myself.
Around this time, my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Aloi, assigned our class a creative writing assignment. It began with the first page of a story done that was already written to set the scene. Old man Jenkins had died years ago, and his house was abandoned. Yet on this dark night, you see lights coming from the basement of his old, weather beaten home. A slip of yellow paper was hanging out of the mailbox. The shutters were creaking in the wind. And then…
Each student continued the story from that point. I had a blast writing mine. At this time, I was also staying late after school each day. I’d started lingering after class each day because I didn’t like being in the house all alone. Mrs. Aloi, likely sensing my hesitation to go home, let me stay after class to help her with various bits of work. Because of this, I had the unique opportunity to read every single one of my classmates’ Halloween stories. To keep me busy after school that day, Mrs. Aloi had me take every student’s paper and type them all in to her word processor.
It was 1990, and home computers were still a new thing. Few people had word processing programs at home, and my own parents still owned two old fashioned typewriters. This was my first experience using a word processor, which was built like a laptop but could only be used for writing, nothing else. I typed the other students’ papers for no other reason than that Mrs. Aloi wanted to give me something to do, and I quickly realized that I was the best writer in the class. Most of the students had only written about a page or two, without much happening in the course of their story. A few had only written a couple of paragraphs. I had written seven pages.
It was the first story I ever wrote, and I still have it to this day. I wrote an elaborate tale where Mr. Jenkins had faked his own death, and had now mysteriously returned from beyond the grave. I bravely entered the lonely, empty house to find a murder victim with a knife in her back. I had to single handedly bring Jenkins to justice for this crime, Action Hero Kid to the rescue. I confronted Jenkins alone, and knocked him out cold with a baseball bat, only to become trapped in the abandoned home. He awoke and came after me with lethal intent, and I had to find a way to escape. There was a secret passage under the house, and I fled to safety, trying to find the police. Unable to find help, I was forced to return and confront him again, even after being driven off the last time. I confronted him with no fear this time. There was a climactic final showdown that left Mr. Jenkins in jail.
I had so much fun writing it that I asked Mrs. Aloi for another assignment. She gave me two similar ones, a ghost story and a monster story. While neither of them became as memorable of an experience as The Mystery of Jenkin Mansion, I was still already addicted. It was my birth as a writer.
I began writing short stories at home, for fun. My early attempts always fell short of the standards I set for myself when I compared my writing to popular modern authors like Robert Jordan. When I was fifteen years old, I threw a fifty page story in the garbage because I foolishly compared myself to Jordan’s writing, and knew that my own work fell short. I constantly strove to get better, thinking that if I wasn’t as good as the published authors I loved, then it wasn’t worth doing. The more I read, the more I worked to improve my own writing. Even as a teenager, I was already studying writing as a process, and working towards constant improvement.
I received no encouragement after Mrs. Aloi. My high school teachers never gave out fiction assignments, and I was always bored and disengaged when they assigned research papers and the like. I often didn’t bother to write boring school papers, instead opting to continue working on my own writing. I would write stories in class instead of paying attention to the lecture. One teacher confiscated a story of mine once, thinking I was writing notes to pass in class. He returned it when he realized his mistake. I returned to writing the story, even after being scolded for it. I wouldn’t let the story end without reaching it’s climax.
My mother never saw any future in my writing. On dozens of different occasions, she said to me, “If you spent half as much time on your schoolwork as you did on that stuff, you’d get straight A’s.” Yet I didn’t care. Writing was far more important to me than math, history, or even English. Fiction was more important to me than reports and composition. I first took a creative writing class “just for fun.” I never stopped writing, and even stopped paying attention in some of my other classes and instead spent class writing stories in my notebook. One semester I had a science class where I took only ten pages of notes, while I filled two spiral notepads with a story I was working on.
I never really received any praise or encouragement for my writing until I started studying as a Writing Arts major at Rowan University in 2007. Up until that point, my writing had mostly been something I kept secret. I’ve got probably dozens of stories I’ve never shown anyone (though some of the better ones I’ve posted here on the blog). Sometimes I’ve wondered how much further I might have gotten if I’d ever had any encouragement growing up. Instead I guess I’ll have to keep pushing forward from where I am now.
I’m a bit of a Final Fantasy addict. My first and true love in the series is Final Fantasy VI (which is really III, just like IV is really II, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re not a real Final Fantasy fan). Final Fantasy VI follows the story of a mysterious young woman in a world where magic is returning for the first time in a thousand years. If you’ve ever read anything about my writing process, you’ll immediately see the similarities between this and my upcoming novel, Manifestation.
My actual plot and characters are vastly different from anything that happens in Final Fantasy VI, but I definitely drew from it in several key points. One is the theme about the return of magic. Another is the idea of Magitek–machines that draw on magical energies to mix magic and technology. And another is the lovely lady depicted above, Shiva, the Ice Goddess.
In the game, Shiva is a creature you summon with magic to rain down an ice storm on your enemies. She appears in many different Final Fantasy games, and is probably one of the most commonly seem summoned monsters in the series. She’s also usually depicted as the most graceful and beautiful of them all.
Shiva ended up being the direct inspiration for the character Maria Vasquez, star of the short story Radiance, and one of the main supporting characters in the third and fourth books in the Arcana Revived series. Maria isn’t a “summoned monster,” but she is something quite a bit more than human. Radiance shows her transformation from a normal teenage girl into one of the Manifested individuals that wield the newly revived power of arcana.
Collaborative Writing and Roleplaying
In more recent years, I started writing on various collaborative writing and roleplaying sites. If you’re not familiar with them, these sites usually involve post-by-post story writing on message boards, where each writer adds to the story and carries the scene forward. The newly launched writing game, Storium, is based on these same concepts. However, while Storium is designed as a game using virtual playing cards, the other sites I’ve written on are based around writing, plain and simple.
Several of the characters I’m currently writing in the Arcana Revived series were originally developed on these roleplaying sites. Gabby Palladino, Tock Zipporah, and Minori Tsujino were first written in collaborative stories alongside other writers. Not only did I develop their characters and personalities there, I also came up with a number of plot ideas that ended up making their way into my current novels. While I’m no longer writing on these sites, their influence is directly responsible for everything I’m doing today.
What does time travel have to do with any of this? Well, I suppose a better question is, what does my writing have to do with time travel. The answer is my unfinished and unpublished novel, Rogue Traveler.
Rogue Traveler was the first “complete” novel draft I ever wrote. As I mentioned above, I once started a novel at age 15 that I ended up throwing in the trash. In the years after that, I started (and stalled out on) several more novels that would get anywhere from 20 to 100 pages before I lost my focus or got writer’s block. They were all learning experiences, however, and I’ve corrected a lot of the mistakes in my writing process that previously led to all of those dead ends.
Rogue Traveler never hit a dead end in the story, but I had a hard time sticking with it. I started it in 2001, and continued writing it over the next five or six years, barely finding time for it here and there. I never got as immersed into it as I did with Manifestation, my upcoming novel. I think that Rogue Traveler has a strong and interesting story, telling the tale of a teenage girl from the future who gets lost in the past. However, I didn’t give Trish Kerring, the main protagonist, the amount of background development that I gave to Gabby Palladino. As a result, I often struggled during the writing process, and the novel tended to stall out.
I wrote a few short stories and expansions to the Rogue Traveler story in 2007-2008. One of them is posted here on my blog, depicting a bit of Trish’s background life long before her time travel adventures begin. In the long run, though, I didn’t develop the passion and obsession that I currently have for Arcana Revived. To give an example of the difference: it took me 6 years to write Draft One of Rogue Traveler, and I spent another four years or so after that trying to get it revised but never quite finishing it; by comparison, I wrote the first draft of Manifestation in three months, and now here I am, nearly two years after I started it, about to release the soon-to-be-completed novel. The main reason I did so much better with Manifestation is simply because I’m obsessed with it and can’t put it down.
So there’s the five Things You Didn’t Know About Me. I hope you found them interesting. They’ve certainly all had a huge impact on who I am today.