A Game of “What if” Ends in a Compelling YA Adventure

Meeting Stormy Sweitzer on a video chat was one of those extraordinary experiences where her energy and passion for her craft came through the laptop to me and made me feel like I could conquer the world. I am so pleased to have her on Meyette’s Musings today. Welcome, Stormy. Please tell us a little about yourself.

Storm and WillI’m Stormy Sweitzer. I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until I started writing with my husband Will Swanepoel, that I completed a full-length novel. Will and I have been creative collaborators almost as long as we’ve been a couple. And, while our home base is Salt Lake City, UT, we’ve both been travelers for most of our lives. Our latest (first!) novel together was an opportunity for us to write about the things we care about–animals, travel, adventure, changing the world–while pulling in experiences from those travels, as well as from our own cultural heritages.

 

Talk about the book you’ve written. What was the first seed of an idea you had for your book? How did it develop?

Our first book together is The Drowning Shark: A Sierra Rouge Adventure. We came up with the idea for our heroine years before the idea for the book ever came into being. I guess you could say that Sierra was “born” during a game of What If? that Will and I played to keep ourselves entertained during a road trip. What if there was a girl who had adventures? What if one of her parents had a job that enabled the girl to travel around the world? What if, in those travels, she came across mysteries/opportunities to make a positive difference? And, what if those opportunities were real-life occurrences that kids today could also address?

 

Drowning Shark2Over time, Sierra Rouge took on the traits and characteristics that I imagine she would have if she were our real-life daughter. We raised her up through our writing and ran into the same conflicts about her upbringing that other parents might have.

 

As far as the book, itself, goes, we built the backstory first…who was Sierra, what are the issues we want to write about, what are/were her parents like, what possible scenarios would they find themselves in. Once we had that, we just needed to find the right setting and circumstances for Sierra to shine. When we took a trip to South Africa, Will’s home country, and learned about illegal shark finning and how it affected sharks in the area, we knew we had the focus of our first book.

You two are great collaborators! I love how your “What if” questions shaped your story. How would you describe your writing process? Do you outline? Let the muse lead you? Or something else?

Our writing process is a combination of structure and chaos, outline and muse. It emerged as we wrote the first book and included numerous bumps along the way. That said, with a little polish, we’ve landed on a “process” that works well for us. Here’s how I would describe it:

Before we start a book, we brainstorm ideas for characters, locations, the core topic and conflict, and how we each think the story should flow. A lot of this is organic, and comes up in conversation as we run into things we think might be interesting. Once we have a fairly good idea of what the story is about, Will creates a fairly-detailed storyline and develops the action scenes. I then write the story, adding character interaction, development, and sensory detail as I go. Often, the story takes turns and tangents—sometimes major ones—from the original storyline. This is the muse at work.

 

As the book progresses, we meet somewhat regularly (usually, though, we talk while we’re cooking or driving) to see where we need to make course corrections, add characters or scenarios to round out the story, and to make sure that, despite my being the last one to work on the book so it is all in one voice, the story reflects both of our perspectives.

 

We didn’t plan out this process the first time, but, given our skills and abilities, and the need for collaboration, it’s how it all came together…along with a bunch of fits and starts and not-so-easy conversations. As we get started on book 2 in the series, we are being more intentional about the process and are really aware of both the benefits and potential pitfalls of working with a writing partner.

Sounds like you’ve found a process that works well for you. How do you handle major rewrites?

Day by day.

I think rewriting is probably the most procrastination-inducing activity there is. At least, that’s the case for us.

 

Half way through the second draft of The Drowning Shark, Will and I were totally bored with the way the book read. We knew that something was off. Then two things happened, one by design and one a coincidence, that made all the difference. We put several sample chapters out to a focus group of 12-15 year-old readers (our target audience) and received feedback that resulted in swapping several chapters around in the book. Reweaving the flow of events (timeline, causation, sequencing) was definitely challenging, but led to a much better story.

 

Around the same time, I happened to read a book by South African writer Lauren Beukes that was written in present tense. Within 8 pages, I knew what was missing from our past tense story. My husband was equally excited about the possibilities that present tense offered, so we rewrote the book, including the chapters we’d painstakingly reordered and rewritten already. It ended up taking five more months to revise everything and get it where we felt really good about it.

The funny thing is, once we discovered what needed to change, the rewrite flowed a lot more smoothly. And, now that we know what works and have found our writing voice for the series, future books should be so much easier to write.

 

What is the best piece of advice about writing that you have ever heard or read? What would you tell aspiring writers today?

As we wrote the book, my husband and I often found ourselves at loggerheads about how a character should act or what degree of action to include in the story. We would get so fixated on our point of view that it was impossible to move forward. Then, I ran across an interview given by co-writers Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child about how they work together. When they run into conflicting views about how a scene should be written or how the story should flow, they don’t let it get in the way. Instead, they work together to find an alternative way through that both can agree on, and, which, is often better than the direction each came up with on his own. After that, we adopted this “third way” approach, and it helped us manage conflicting views much better than before, including a couple that almost led to us walking away from the project.

 

If you choose to work with a creative collaborator the way we did, the best advice I can offer is this: communicate, capitalize on each partner’s strengths (is one of you great with plot, the other with words? Do you each see problem differently?), be open to creative compromise when conflict arises, and keep things professional (friendship with/marriage to your writing partner can be both amazing and very volatile – finding a way to keep work on your project separate from the rest of your life can be helpful).

 

Setting some ground rules, work expectations, and regular meeting times early in the writing process that both partners can agree to is one way to do this. It will help you manage conflict, make communication easier, and help keep each other accountable to the bigger picture because you’re operating by the same rules.

 

Contact Stormy and Will at:

Author Website: http://www.metikventures.com/

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/metikventures/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/metikventures/

Amazonhttp://www.amazon.com/Stormy-Sweitzer/e/B008UUTN0U

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/StormySweitzer

 

The Drowning Shark is available on Amazon at:

US:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Drowning-Shark-Adventure-Adventures/dp/0996928308/
UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01AEQA0Z4

N.B. The eBook version of The Drowning Shark will be available for free on Jan 12, 13, and 14!

 

 

Book Blurb:

The Drowning Shark: A Sierra Rouge Adventure

Her life turned upside-down, Sierra Rouge must decide whether to play it safe or take action when the past catches up with her.

When her mother dies unexpectedly, fifteen-year old Sierra Rouge travels to South Africa to live with her celebrity chef father, a man she barely knows.

During a boat tour, she learns from local activists that dead sharks are washing up on the shore without their fins. Sierra decides to take matters into her own hands to find the people responsible.

In her efforts to bring down the shark finning operation, the past sneaks up on her and she discovers that there may be more to her mother’s death—and life—than she realized.

A fast-paced adventure, The Drowning Shark is the story of one girl’s quest to discover answers, find a new sense of normal, and do good in the world.

 

6 thoughts on “A Game of “What if” Ends in a Compelling YA Adventure

  1. Kathleen Shaputis says:

    I can’t imagine working together on a book with my husband, lol. I am excited to read this fascinating new book. It sounds like you’ve included the main ingredients for excitement and learning more about this great blue marble of ours.

    • HI Kathleen,
      Thank you for your kind words – we hope that the book really is exciting to read and maybe even a little educational! And, yes, it is definitely challenging at times for us to work together. Professional can get personal quickly if we’re not careful. : )

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      I agree, Kathleen. Rich and I do most things together, but we would have very different approaches to writing a book 🙂 Stormy, I applaud you and Will for finding such a creative, collaborative partnership. I wish you great success with your first book.

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