We're so pleased to have Em Garner here for a Craft of Writing post today, and we also want to wish her a happy book birthday! Her debut Contaminated releases today from EgmontUSA.
Write What You Want to Read
by Em Garner
When I was a kid, I had a replica of the famous Charlie McCarthy dummy voiced by Edgar Bergen. Why my parents bought him for me, I’ll never know. My mother claims I “asked for it.” I was convinced that dummy was going to come to life. Every night, the slightest noise from the corner of the room where he sat sent me pulling the blankets over my head, waiting for that cold, plastic hand to reach for me…
Yeah, I was that kid. The one who stayed up late, reading scary stories by the glow of my nightlight, then couldn’t sleep because there was something moving in the closet. I didn’t have R.L. Stine, unfortunately for me — I’d have gobbled up those books like a zombie going after brains. But I had other series to quell my hunger for horror, and when I got a little older, I had Stephen King to lead me into the dark.
It was reading King’s The Stand one fateful summer that convinced me I wanted to be a writer. I was twelve years old, too young to understand some of what was going on in the book, but nevertheless, I devoured it. All two billion pages of it. I checked it out from the library and read it poolside, at home on the couch in front of summer-time re-runs of TV sitcoms, in bed, in the car…basically I’d have read the book to tatters if it had been mine instead of a borrowed copy. I loved that book so hard it became a part of me, and then I realized, hey! This guy wrote this book and people paid him to do it!
How cool is that?
I’d been writing stories forever, since I could form sentences, basically. And, proving my love of horror is DNA-deep, my first stories were about vampires and monsters. Discovering I could write these stories for a living was an epiphany and set the course for all my goals after that. I was going to be a writer, and I was going to write horror (and science fiction and fantasy and weird stuff that nobody can describe, and…and…!)
Fast forward a bunch of years later. I went through high school knowing I wanted to be a writer, and I spent hours pounding away at my typewriter, creating stories of vengeful ghosts and demon deals and yes, ventriloquist dummies that come to life in the wee, dark hours of the night. I even tried submitting a bunch of the stories, and back in the olden days before internet, that meant spending my own money on paper and envelopes and stamps. I wasn’t successful. I got a lot of rejections, mostly form letters. Occasionally there were comments, vaguely encouraging. Once, memorably, I got a rejection back with the first page of my manuscript, upon which someone had scrawled “you wasted my time.”
But I kept up my love of horror and SF and fantasy, and I kept writing. Something changed a little bit, though. As I got older and went to college (for a Journalism degree — I still wanted to be a writer, but I figured I’d better be practical about it and focus on something that would get me a job) I kept writing. The difference was that I was able to research markets. My reading and writing tastes changed. I started writing other sorts of stories and submitting them, instead of the horror.
I was writing different kinds of stories, but for the same reason. I was writing what I wanted to read. I don’t mean simply that I liked horror, so I wrote horror. Or that I liked romance, so I began writing romances. Or even that I have come to enjoy mainstream, literary fiction, so I’ve written novels that fall into that genre. I mean that in reading those various types of books, I found some I loved, some I hated, some that left me entirely unaffected, and there were still times when I wanted something to read that would hit me somewhere, make me feel…something…and I couldn’t find it.
So, I wrote it.
The idea for my novel Contaminated (July 2013, Egmont) sprang out to me based on a pair of first lines — “They keep them in kennels. The unclaimed.” I’d been a long-time fan of stories that explore what happens “after” the big event. In the case of Contaminated, brainstorming revealed the big event to be an epidemic of brain damage caused by contaminated protein water that caused world-wide rioting, looting and general violent behavior in huge numbers of the population. More like 28 Days Later than The Walking Dead, Contaminated became a story I wanted to read, about how the main character, Velvet, deals with what I think is far more terrifying than zombies— the loss of her parents. And worse, having to take care of her mother, who has succumbed to the contamination and is incapable of caring for herself.
I write about what I want to happen, or what I fear happening, and the idea of having to take on the responsibility of becoming the sole caregiver of my mother is vast and horrifying to me. Having to do it as a kid, as well as taking care of a younger sibling, in a world where anyone you pass on the street could suddenly turn murderous…oh yeah. That idea scared me enough to plot a whole book around it, because I’m still that kid who likes to scare herself so much she has to sleep with the lights on.
At this point, I’ve written so many novels, novellas and short stories that I’ve lost track, which can be inconvenient and sort of impressive when I have to answer the question of “so, how many books have you written?” Contaminated, however, is my first full-length horror novel. It is my first Young Adult novel. And oh, how much I loved writing it, because it was exactly the sort of book I wanted to read.
Not every book is going to feel like you’re riding the back of a unicorn sprinkling glitter and rainbows. Some are painful, messy, and nearly impossible to complete. It’s not always possible to write a book that makes you feel like Jack Dawson screaming “I’m the King of the Worrrrrlllllddddd!” But you can always choose to write what you want to read — and when you do that, when you make yourself happy as the author, you’ll always be creating your best work.
About the Author
Em Garner began writing at a very young age, always preferring the stories about what goes bump in the night. Now Em spends most of her time in front of her computer, writing away at all the ideas she has swirling around in her head and hoping she can get them into a story before she forgets them.
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About the Book
After the Contamination—an epidemic caused by the super-trendy diet drink SlimPro that turned ordinary citizens into violent, uncontrollable creatures—the government rounded up the “Connies” to protect the remaining population. Now, two years later, the rehabilitated are being allowed home, complete with shock collars that will either control, or kill, them.
Velvet Ellis has struggled to care for her ten-year-old sister since her parents were taken in the round up. When she finds her mother in one of the “Kennels,” Velvet resolves to do whatever it takes to put her family back together. But the danger isn’t over. It’s beginning all over again…
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