YA Author C.K.Kelly Martin Joins Us to Talk About Her Novels
In the essay below, C.K. Kelly Martin will tell you that this book started out as something completely different. How lucky for us that it turned out the way it did! Her books always pack a powerful emotional punch but this is the one that resonated with me the most. I truly think many teens will relate to Breckon, his vulnerability, grief and ultimately his will to live. Ashlyn, as the disembodied voice discovering who she is, adds just the right amount of intrigue without spilling over into the paranormal realm.
Packed with raw emotion and mystery, this is a great read that I hope will give C.K. Kelly Martin the attention she deserves. –Deanna
When I first sat down to start writing My Beating Teenage Heart it was an entirely different book than it is now – one about a seventeen-year-old guy whose small town suffers a zombie outbreak and who sets out to find his ex-girlfriend among the carnage, hoping to keep her safe. I outlined the first eighteen chapters and then hit a dead end. Stalled but tired of waiting, I imagined that if I dove in the story would lead the way. In reality, though, once I’d reached page five (you can read those first few pages on my website here) something about the story didn’t feel right. My heart wasn’t in it.
After writing several purely contemporary young adult books in a row I’d wanted to tackle something slightly different (and I have an undeniable fascination with zombies!) but since I wasn’t making the kind of emotional connection with the material that I’d hoped, it was time to let that particular idea go and start over. As you may have noticed if you’ve read any of my other books (I Know It’s Over, One Lonely Degree or The Lighter Side of Life and Death), mostly I like to write about the emotionally tough stuff. For me, that’s the material that resonates the strongest. I might enjoy a book, movie or play that only makes me laugh or engages me on a strictly intellectual level but the ones I love most dearly provoke a deeper emotional response.
Recently I finished reading This Full House (the third book in Virginia Euwer Wolff’s stunning Make Lemonade trilogy) and main character LaVaughn’s thoughts on page twelve eloquently explain what I feel is at the heart of my writing.
and I had my own horrible luck,
nearly falling down blind
with what were only everyday facts
We all, at some point, are the victims of difficult everyday facts. Things like unrequited love, the absence or death of someone we care about, emotional rifts that can or can’t be healed, abuse, harsh financial realities, prejudice. We can be sure, as we move through life, that we’ll experience at least some of the above. I think it’s that commonality that draws me towards such material but pinpointing the specifics of inspiration is a tricky thing for me. Usually I don’t deliberately set out to write about a particular issue (like suicide or sexual assault). Neither do I have an identifiable writing process – it largely goes on behind the scenes in a place I don’t have full conscious access to. But I believe everyday facts like those I listed are things that percolate in my brain and begin to take root as a story.
The character’s voice and whatever situation they happen to be in the midst of begin to reveal themselves to me in moments of quiet for some time before I formally start writing a book. When I reach the point where I feel like I know the main character(s) and have a good grasp of where they’re coming from I set about making notes and creating an outline for my novel. Even this doesn’t feel like an act of creation but one of transcription – like honing in on an existing frequency.
I Know It’s Over was directly inspired by the Third Eye Blind song Ten Days Late but all my other books have foggier origins. When I started thinking about One Lonely Degree, for instance, all I knew was that I wanted to write about two female best friends in summertime. With The Lighter Side of Life and DeathI was aiming to pen a book that opens with a sixteen-year-old guy having the best day of his life only to have things slide rapidly downhill.
The idea for My Beating Teenage Heart arrived seemingly out of the blue only two minutes after I’d decided to abandon my zombie novel (a sprinkling of elements from the zombie book ultimately survived the transition – the theater loving girlfriend, the main character’s part-time job and an accident he had a year and a half earlier which forced him to give up soccer). In reality, I suppose elements of My Beating Teenage Heart must have been congealing in my subconscious for quite awhile. For example, over a year earlier I’d been vaguely considering writing about a character who feels tremendous guilt for something (I didn’t know what at the time) they’ve done and would give anything to take back. I wondered how a person would live with the weight of constant regret. I also knew that after setting the zombie idea aside, I still wanted to stretch myself with this new book by writing something other than a strictly contemporary YA novel.
And so a story about a fifteen-year-old girl who doesn’t remember the events of her own life but finds her consciousness attached to a grief-stricken teenage boy who blames himself for his young sister’s death began to form in my mind. At first Ashlyn doesn’t even know who she is, only that she’s without a body and can’t tear herself away from Breckon, no matter how she tries. Initially I imagined the novel would solely be from Ashlyn’s point of view but before writing a word it became clear to me that we wouldn’t be able to get close enough to Breckon if we didn’t hear from him directly. So I decided not only would the novel contain Ashlyn’s and Breckon’s stories, it would also be told by both characters.
The acute grief in My Beating Teenage Heart made it my most emotionally draining writing experience yet but unlike the zombie novel I began, I knew instinctively I wouldn’t abandon this book at page five or any subsequent page. My heart was with Ashlyn and Breckon all the way as I watched them nearly falling down blind with what were only everyday facts.
Many thanks to C.K.Kelly Martin for joining us at Random Acts of Reading. Please be sure to share your thoughts and questions in our comments section.