Friday, July 28, 2017

0 Writing a Novel is Like Weaving a Web by Author Katie Kennedy

Author Katie Kennedy joins us today with a fun spin on write what you know. I really like her version a lot...except maybe the spiders. :-)  Be sure to check out her new release, What Goes Up, below the post.

For All You Spiders Out There... by Katie Kennedy

People say to write what you know, but I say to know what you write. What I mean is this—and here I’m going to compare you to a spider, so if that’s a deal breaker, scurry along. Writing a novel is like weaving a web, and your silk attaches to the anchors you have available. If you have more anchors—more bits of knowledge—your web-book will be beautiful because the complexity, and the meaning, is in the connections.

The way you get those anchors isn’t to run a search when you’re halfway through your manuscript. Spiders with beautiful webs don’t use Wikipedia. I feel confident about that.

They do read nonfiction, though.

I teach college history and so my work is full of historical examples, even though I write contemp/sci fi. Other people may draw on different bodies of knowledge, but that’s my primary well. For example, in LEARNING TO SWEAR IN AMERICA I mention the Battle of Marathon. Here’s what happened: with overwhelming numbers of Persians getting out of their boats just yards away, the Greeks had to decide whether to run or fight. They took a vote among their generals--and it was a tie. So they turned to the guy who had the tie-breaking vote and said, “With you it rests, Callimachus.” Everybody was looking at him. The Persians were disembarking with a rattle of armor, feet stamping the sand, waves lapping at the sides of their ships. Everything rested on Callimachus’s next words. So yeah, I thought the best analogy to the decision my teenage physicist had to make as an asteroid hurtled in came from the fifth century BCE. That’s not a connection you make unless you already know about Callimachus.

LEARNING TO SWEAR IN AMERICA is based on an Immanuel Kant quote: Do what is right, though the world should perish. But what if, if you did what was right, the world really would perish? I connected Immanuel Kant and asteroids after I taught the Enlightenment in an evening class and was walking out under the stars. Other little web anchors in LTSIA include Michelangelo carving his name on the Pietà and one of Kandinsky’s paintings.

WHAT GOES UP is a YA sci fi/contemp/action adventure/light romance mashup, and not what you’d think of as an erudite book. But look what’s in it: the character of Eddie is based on Scipio Africanus. When I wrote Eddie into a corner (actually, a stairwell), he knew just what to do and borrowed a trick that Scipio pulled twenty-two hundred years ago. So essentially I made Scipio Africanus a seventeen-year-old from Indiana and gave him a spaceship.

My WGU characters face some idiosyncratic tests, and one thing they have to do is figure out how they would untie the Gordian knot. I thought that was fun, but it’s not the kind of thing you can find by running a search on “famous tests in history + that fit my manuscript.”

I learned about oolitic limestone in a geology class at Indiana University several (cough) years ago. I made Eddie from WHAT GOES UP from Oolitic, Indiana, because the little egg-like fossils in that type of limestone can be seen as fossils or as eggs. I thought that was the perfect description for a teenager who’s on the brink of new adventures and breaking into adult life but whose past is holding him back. At one point Eddie’s instructor tells him that he has to choose whether he wants to be the fossil, or the egg. Maybe nobody else likes that, but I liked it a lot.

My WIP has anchor points taken from a biography of Robert Frost, a study of wolves, a detailed knowledge of the Lewis and Clark expedition and Alexander the Great’s campaigns, and some things I learned in nursing school, including the color a neutrophil stains and which bone anchors the dura mater.

My point is this—you never know which direction you’ll spin your next web and what knowledge may come in handy. And sure, you can—and will—do some targeted research along the way. I read lots of astrophysics when I was starting LEARNING TO SWEAR IN AMERICA. But at that point, it was too late to read up on the Persian Wars—that was knowledge I needed to have already. Knowing more is always a good thing, and sometimes you’ll find a perfect anchor point for your story web in a place you’d never have expected. So read some nonfiction.

One last thing: only one person has ever caught a name I embedded in LEARNING TO SWEAR IN AMERICA. Dovie’s high school is named for Edmund Andros, who was an authoritarian administrator in New England in colonial days. I thought that would be a nice echo of Dovie’s arbitrary and heavy-handed principal. The guy who caught the reference? An historian. He’d already done the work—the reading and learning. He didn’t have to wonder if there was something in that name—he knew there was.

That’s my advice: do the work now, learn whatever you can wherever you can pick it up, and when you’re ready, hook your story silk to things you’ve learned reading nonfiction. Then you’ll not only be writing what you know, but knowing what you write.

About the Book:

Everyone knows the law of gravity: what goes up must come down.

What Eddie doesn’t understand is why the thing that goes down always has to be him. With nowhere else to go, Eddie applies to NASA’s mysterious and prestigious Interworlds program, alongside hundreds of the nation’s best and brightest teens. But his troubled past and his aggressive instincts are forces that will either make him or break him.

Rosa has felt the pressure of her brilliant parents’ legacy her entire life. Although she doesn’t know exactly what being a trainee for Interworlds program entails, she’s determined to survive and excel in round after round of crazy-competitive—and sometimes dangerous—testing to earn her spot, no matter what it takes.

And then gravity flutters. Eddie and Rosa know that’s something it probably shouldn’t do. And then something happens that even NASA’s scientists couldn’t predict...and Eddie and Rosa are swept up in another crazy and dangerous test of their instincts and determination.

From the author of Learning to Swear in America comes another action-packed and wildly funny story of two teens and an adventure that’s absolutely out of this world.

Purchase What Goes Up at Amazon
Purchase What Goes Up at IndieBound
View What Goes Up on Goodreads

About the Author:

Katie Kennedy is a college history instructor and the author of Learning to Swear in America. She has a son in high school and a daughter in college. She lives in Iowa—where the Interworlds Agency might be—and has a cornfield in her backyard. She hopes Rosa and Eddie land in it someday.

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