Today I have a guest post from Selah Janel, author of Mooner, a historical, vampire-centric horror story released earlier this year.
I’ve learned a lot from the writing process, and not all lessons have been easy. The revelations that writer’s block happens to everyone and that not every word I put to paper is golden (or even publishable) were hard to accept at first, but I’ve benefited from them. I’ve always been a reader, but it has taken time for me to realize that I can learn from all different types of fiction and nonfiction and not just the genres I prefer. I’ve also had to realize that the more life experiences I go through, the better my stories become. There came a point where I really had to get over myself and realize that my vast imagination didn’t mean that I knew it all (I’m sure I still have to be reminded of this some days.)
When I was a kid writing school English assignments the phrase “write what you know” irritated me to no end, mostly because I just knew I lived the most boring existence on planet earth. Why the hell would anyone want to read about that? Who cared? I think it’s really easy to forget that the boring, everyday things that happen to you are fodder for all sorts of stories, even in the horror and fantasy genres. Genre fiction isn’t just about world-building. If it’s a story set in the “real” world an author needs to stay true to real places, people, aws, etc. Even if you’ve made up an entire universe from scratch, the emotions of your characters still have to be legitimate and like it or not, you don’t learn to express pain, love, disappointment, fury, fear, or ten million other emotions until you go through them in some way. Let’s face it: the way a person deals with falling in love and breaking up at fifteen or sixteen is far and removed from how a person approaches it in their twenties and beyond. Not only that, but if you pay attention to how people around you deal with their obstacles and triumphs, you start to take a whole different approach to your characters. I’m not advocating lifting anyone wholesale and plopping them in a book, but there is something to be said for becoming an observer. In a classic example of irony I spend much time when I’m writing these days trying to remember all the little everyday things I did as a kid and teen, because I’ve found that I really love writing urban fantasy set in the Midwest with normal people rounding out most of the casts. Yep, I sure knew what I was talking about at fifteen and wrinkled my nose at my teachers!
I’ve always had a rather healthy curiosity, but the appreciation hasn’t always been there. When I was a kid I had the joy of watching all my friends go off during the summer and visit Disneyworld, beaches, waterparks, you know – all the typical things a kid looks forward to doing in the summer. On the flip side, my family packed the car for a few weeks every year and chugged off to visit Revolutionary and Civil War sites, historical villages, and every museum in a twelve-mile area. As a really kid I didn’t care; an adventure was an adventure! As I hit my tweens I definitely felt that I was missing out and voiced my opinion regularly. For better or worse, my parents stuck to their guns, explaining that seeing America’s history for myself would give me a better appreciation of it as well as a leg-up in school. Of course I reacted in a totally mature way and sulked and complained under my breath in the back of the car the entire time we were driving to whatever educational masterpiece we were headed to, or slept a lot and refused to get out of the backseat unless there was food.
Once we actually started delving into the theme of the trip, though, I always came around. It didn’t matter if we were visiting the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde, Civil War sites, colonial Williamsburg, or old Sturbridge Village – there were stories everywhere and that’s what always hooked me. I could’ve cared less about dates and facts, but I was always eager to find out how people lived during different time periods and the challenges they had to go through. Truth be told, I still had some amazing ways of coping with the boring moments – I vaguely remember writing a journal of stories where the spirit of Ben Franklin was stalking my family as we toured historic Philadelphia, but at least I was pretty accurate with my source material. And, admittedly, my parents were right – those vacations did make me a beast at history exams (except for Civil and Revolutionary War dates; we probably shouldn’t have visited sites from both wars on the same vacation.)
It’s amazing that when you’re encouraged to learn about everything, it all suddenly becomes part of your overall awareness. As a writer, I’ve found this to be more than helpful; it’s almost become an extension of me. For some reason I got interested in lumberjacks at some point last year and started realizing that I could do a lot with that period. I’ve always been fascinated by pioneer history and things like it; it’s incredible what people were able to live through and just took as part of their day to day experience. Plus, the vocabulary of the lumber camp culture is just wonderful. It’s beautifully crass and rough. How can you really go wrong with words like ‘mooner,’ ‘yaps,’ and ‘pants rabbits’? At any rate, my love of history and my love of vampire fiction started fueling the writing of Mooner. The historical aspect forced me to be very aware of every aspect of the story – if I didn’t explain or show something right, the readers would have no clue what was going on. The time period gave me an awesome chance to jam a lot of personalities into one room. Some are fairly stereotypical and some are more developed, just like a lot of people are, but everyone has their own motivations and drive, and it doesn’t always matter if their intentions are good if their methods are suspect. The more I delved into the story the more I realized that I could connect with various characters, even though they were far from my personality type. I’ve been in situations where everyone is trying to tell me what’s best, I’ve been the woman that’s trying to take care of people younger than me because I can see what they’re headed for, and I’ve had my moments where I’ve let my selfishness fuel me. The situations and levels of intensity are different, of course, but I found I was able to incorporate a lot into a story that should seem very far removed from who I am.
I think that’s what writing and storytelling really comes down to at the end of the day. It’s all about putting your love of something out into the world via words. The more a writer is willing to get comfortable with themself, learn a lot, and really get in touch with their emotions, than I would consider the story or book produced something that I really want to read.
About Selah Janel:
Selah Janel has been blessed with a giant imagination since she was little when she wondered if fairies lived in the nearby state park and worried that vampires hid in the old barns outside of town. Her appreciation for a good story was enhanced by a love of reading, the many talented storytellers that surrounded her, and a healthy curiosity for everything. A talent for warping everything she learned didn’t hurt, either.
She gravitates to writing fantasy and horror but has a deep love of children’s and YA literature and can be convinced to pursue any genre if the idea is good enough. Often her stories feature the unknown creeping into the “real” world and she loves to find the magical in the mundane.
Mooner by Selah Janel
Like many young men at the end of the 1800s Bill has signed on to work in a logging camp to earn a fast paycheck to start his life. Unfortunately his role model is Big John, the camp’s golden boy known for blowing his pay as fast as he makes it. On a cold Saturday night they enter Red’s Saloon to forget the work that takes the sweat and the lives of so many. Red may have plans for their whiskey money, but something else lurks in the shadows, something that badly wants a drink that has nothing to do with alcohol. Can Bill make it back out the shabby door or does someone have their own plans for his future?