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How I Became a Writer: A Guest Post by Author R.A. Nelson

April 29, 2011

Do you love vampire stories but wish they were just a little deeper, scarier, better written? And with a smart, flawed but fiercely independent female character? If so, Throat by author R.A. Nelson is the book you have been waiting for. This is thrilling, terrifying and strangely realistic. R.A. Nelson is not only an accomplished and well-reviewed author, he also works at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, something he draws upon to flesh out the story’s setting. We asked him to share the story of how he became an author with us, since his hasn’t been a typical path. We hope you enjoy this beautifully written guest post, and that you will check out this stunning new book.

Nelson (Days of Little Texas) proves that the vampire genre is not entirely sucked dry with this fast-paced adventure featuring an enjoyably flawed heroine…With a pseudoscientific take on vampires, a smattering of Germanic lore, and a strikingly unconventional showdown, this is a robust alternative to the forbidden love tropes of wispier vampire novels.

-Publisher’s Weekly

 

 

Hi all, very happy to be here, and thanks for having me!

I just got back from a wonderful time at the Teen Book Con in Houston where 17 young adult writers were surrounded by several hundred teen readers, teachers, and librarians who basically treated us like rock stars. It was a surreal feeling. I always love meeting my readers. I especially love their intelligence. They asked the most interesting questions, everything from, “How do you handle criticism?” to “What’s it like writing from the perspective of the opposite gender?” But most of all, they asked me, “So how did you become a writer?”

Okay, I’m going to take you on a little journey – well, maybe not so little – my journey to a book called Throat.

I was the oddball in my family growing up, a flighty, head-in-the-clouds type surrounded by math brains, future physicists, computer scientists, and NASA engineers. Algebra gave me hives. When I wasn’t outdoors exploring I could generally be found squirreled away in my room with my face stuck in a book. Even before I learned to read, I remember pouring over the mysterious little squiggles line by line, not understanding a single word, but at the same time having the sense of being stuffed with the most fascinating secret information.

When I did learn to read, I raced through our scant stock at home, then began devouring the free books we received in the mail: Volume A of various encyclopedias sent by companies trying to entice us to purchase the whole set. I dragged these volume A books to school and read them dog-eared, becoming an authority on everything from Antarctica to aardvarks and adenoids. 

As time went by, my parents came to understand that I was a different sort of creature altogether and began to feed my voracious habit. Whenever a new book turned up at Christmas or on my birthday, I was in Heaven. My very first library card was a golden ticket to a land of mystery and imagination. I carried books with me wherever I went.

I read in trees.

I saw the world around me in stories, a constant stream of visual narratives flowing through my head. So very early I knew that writing books was something I wanted to do. But I soon learned there are pitfalls along the way, and I stumbled into pretty much every one of them.

I found out that writing can be lonely. (Even for a loner). And it generally takes a long time to become any good at it. Over the years I amassed boxes of hand and typewritten pages containing around two million words, all of them unpublishable.

I remember walking into my room one day to discover my parents anxiously pouring over the Stephen King-esque horror novel that was piling up next to my typewriter. “We think you should start writing less and start dating more,” they said. “It would look better for the neighbors.”

But I was hooked, learning something new every day. Most of all I learned writing a book is like building a house. You can’t go home at the end of the day feeling the job is done. You have to be satisfied with the course of the work. Some days will be better than others. I had days where I was certain I could write a line of words that would stretch to the Moon. Other days, squeezing out my quota of words felt like that fairy tale about the giant who tried to wring water from a stone (with my head being the rock, of course).

I discovered that establishing even the beginnings of a writing career can’t be accomplished in months. It took me years. Years of intense, focused, sometimes excruciatingly difficult work. No one else can do it for you.

Another analogy: writing a book is often compared to running a marathon, but really it’s more like getting out of bed each morning and running a new marathon each day.

And as long as I’m mixing my metaphors, there will be days when your balloon floats along like a cloud, and other days when it drags the ground like the belly of a snake. Both days are important. I figured out if I waited for the days I felt like soaring, I would never get to the end of a book. 

One of my favorite quotes is from the writer Franz Kafka. He said this: “From a certain point onward, there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached.” I love that.

Writing books that are unique is what gets you there. Your very first customer is your editor. Sometimes it’s an editorial assistant plucking your manuscript from the slush pile. Or an agent responding to your query letter. I learned that I had to take chances. I couldn’t be timid, but had to pick my dreams from the scary dream pile, not the safe one.

That’s exactly what I did with Throat.

I knew Throat was going to be a huge challenge. I was excited about my main character, Emma Cooper, who is an epileptic who hates her lot in life. Her seizure condition has wrecked her socially, cost her a boyfriend, and basically derailed her dreams. But it also has turned her into a vampire who doesn’t need to fear the sun or drink blood.

I also knew I had outlined a big story. A story of survival and finding your first love (and somehow living long enough to enjoy it). A story that was going to make the condition of vampirism as realistic as possible and carry the reader straight through the heart of that awful/exhilarating experience. I had to write 180,000 words to get it all down on paper, then painstakingly pared those words to a tight 125,000 ride. I also knew I wasn’t about to write a copycat book. My vampires had to be the most realistic, gritty, unusual vampires around. I even gave them a faith, something to believe in. Vampires who worship the sun? Sure.

Could I have written this book five years ago? I doubt it. But that’s the fun of writing. Continually pushing, challenging yourself to do more and do it better. To travel farther.

So how about starting your own journey?

If you would like to read more about Throat, please visit R.A. Nelson’s  blog tour stops. You can also follow him on Twitter @RANelsonYA.

Monday, April 25  Books with Bite

Tuesday, April 26  Patricia’s Vampire Notes

Wednesday, April 27  Bite Club

Thursday, April 28  Suvudu

Saturday, April 30  Dangers Untold and Hardships Unnumbered

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