From Hobbyist to Author: My Story

I've been writing for as long as I can remember.

All those early stories started out in cool notebooks that I BEGGED my mom to purchase for me. I just had to have them -- all those blank pages held too much opportunity to leave on the shelf. The "Attitude" brand was my favorite for a long while, and I still own many of those translucent covered notebooks, filled to the brim with all manner of chicken scratch through which I can track my development of how I liked to write my lowercase A's in fifth grade.

I remember my first written words in story form -- some goofy little piece about a girl and her horse (they were all about horses at that age, because riding was one of the things I did best outside of music). And I remember scrapping it about five pages in because I thought that it could never EVER measure up to the Harry Potter book I was reading at the time. I remember that distinct moment in "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" [Book 4] when a beetle was mentioned skittering across a statue as Hagrid and Madame Maxime had their moment... and that beetle turned out to be important. I remember thinking "WOW. That's the stuff that makes a good story." That's the day I became a plotter.

Shortly thereafter, I became absolutely enamored with "Lord of the Rings." I'd read the Hobbit, sure, but my younger brother got me to watch the brand new movie that had just come out.

I. was. hooked.

I devoured all things Lord of the Rings. The movies, the books, Tolkien's writings about the books -- even a super cool series of letters between Tolkien and his editor, in which he explained Legolas' name (yes, I DID look up Legolas in the index because SEVENTH GRADE GIRL CRUSH).

I wrote fanfic. Oh, did I write fanfic. And I started to learn how to cultivate a decent story using someone else's world and characters. About this same time, at the ripe old age of 13, I wrote "The End" on my very first original -- a story about a girl named Carly and her best friends on a school field trip gone wrong. Let me tell you one thing... writing "The End" is a drug. No other way to describe it. That euphoria of accomplishment, pride, and fulfillment comes rarely and flees swiftly.

So there was only one thing for me to do. Write a bigger, better work using my own world and characters. And that's how "The Dragon Rings" was born... in a badass pink "Attitude" notebook.

The high school years hit, and as you can imagine, writing got pushed aside. Freshman year boyfriends and sophomore year chemistry kept me plenty busy. But at sixteen, I found that pink notebook in a closet drawer, and I read the whole thing with a huge smile on my face.

"This is something," I said. And I went to work.

That summer, I expanded the storyline into a trilogy. I wrote backstory, character motivations, and outlines of the three books.

Then somehow, in the blink of an eye, the college years hit. I hadn't touched my writing in years, but I found myself yearning for it again. To create that original story I so badly wanted to read. On a long train ride from northern to southern Illinois over Christmas break, I revamped my trilogy outline.

In another blink, I found myself moving to Kansas to begin my Masters Degree in clarinet performance. The summer I graduated from KU, I revisited my story again. I rewrote the outline for a third time, adding those darker elements adulthood can bring, and mixing in a maturity I'd never seen in my own writing. I took my first full time job in the music industry that summer, and spent every single spare moment I had on the Dragon Rings Trilogy.

By the time I moved to Colorado to pursue my doctorate in clarinet performance, I was set on finishing that first book of the trilogy -- "Identity." I met an incredible man, a fellow doctoral student who also happened to be a writer, and we spent our first awkward beer together discussing the fantasy worlds we'd created-- and nothing was ever awkward between us again. When he asked me over to watch Lord of the Rings, that was it. Our friendship (and later relationship) was written in the stars.

We exchanged manuscripts, and that was the first time I'd read peer writing. Not some big name, super edited published work, but the raw, honest work of someone who felt a love for the fantasy genre just like me. It moved me. It lit a fire under my ass. It did all the things it needed to do to catapult me to where I am today, because after that moment five years ago, I never stopped writing again. I worked relentlessly to be as good as he was -- to hone my skills and tighten my prose into a truly good story.

In that fateful summer of 2017, I joined a few online writing groups.

Holy shit, were my eyes opened. The ideas. The possibilities. The sharing. The connections. The camaraderie. It changed me forever.

I finished that first main draft of Identity, and I sent it to a few beta readers. Looking back, I'm embarrassed by the quality of that draft -- I had a lot to learn yet about sentence structure and showing vs. telling -- but some amazing beta feedback taught me my next steps.

A year or so later, well into my rewrite of Identity, I met The Crew. The A Team. The "Writers' Chat." The three best friends that ANYONE could have.

These three women changed my life immeasurably. We've only ever met online, but all I can say is that when a new writer asks for advice and someone says, "find critique partners in your genre, at your skill level, and on your publishing timeline," ..... THAT ADVICE IS GOLDEN. Do it. Find your people.

We have pushed each other. We've laughed together, cried together, critiqued one another, and consoled one another. We've virtual hugged more times than I can count, and damn, a better team of cheerleaders has never existed.

These ladies, along with several others, beta read the next huge rewrite of Identity, and that's when I made a giant decision.

I did not want to publish Identity first. Not because it wasn't good enough -- in fact, it was referred to as a "magnum opus" by one beta reader -- but because I needed to start thinking seriously about my name and brand as an author if I was going to run with the big guys. I wanted more experience. I needed to learn this publishing game before I threw my "passion project" out there like that. Identity could not be my debut... I needed a standalone.

Thus, in November of 2019, I started drafting "The Lightning's Claim" -- a standalone SO different from Dragon Rings that I surprised even myself. While Identity had taken on some of the mature aspects of life as I'd grown, "Lighting's Claim" went full force. There's a lot of personal opinion in LC, if the reader is open to it. LC was massive amounts of work, going through two FULL drafts between Nov. '19 and Aug. '20, but I was shocked to find that it became every bit the "passion project" I thought Dragon Rings had always been.

What began as a simple standalone debut so I could learn the ropes of publishing became one of the coolest stories I have ever heard. In LC's total rewrite, I applied a method I developed called "The Rule of Three."

The Rule of Three is simple, yet an absolute bitch to use properly. It means that every major aspect of the story, every meaningful moment, character, or item must be used three times.

Man, did this create a spiderweb of a plot -- which is exactly the shit I love to read! Remember that important beetle in HP4 that made me realize what plotting is all about? LC exercises that to the MAX. Be ready to whisper "oh YEAH" like forty times.

And now that LC is with the honorable, inexorable, incredible editor, Emma's Edits, I am turning back to the Dragon Rings Trilogy. It brings such a smile to my face, reading that story I wanted so badly that I had to write it myself. But I'm glad I waited to publish. I learned so. much. from LC. It's a beautiful debut of which I am so proud. Of course, in typical me fashion, my brain is already onto the next even darker, even more opinionated standalone, "The Dragon Hacker" (holy shit I cannot wait to write this book, it's one of the coolest concepts I've ever seen), but there is still room for The Dragon Rings. While not as dark as LC or DH, it absolutely has its moments while mixing all those classic fantasy elements readers love.

And this long, windy story brings me to now. This very moment. As I sit at my desk with a Blue Moon beer in hand and big grin on my face, reminiscing about how I got to this point...

I didn't think I'd ever feel like a real writer until I was officially published. But today... I feel like a true author.

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