Thursday, May 1, 2014
Posted by Angel kk at Thursday, May 01, 2014
The Black Butterfly
Penny is furious, and who can blame her? She has to spend Christmas break alone at the Black Butterfly, an old inn at the coldest, bleakest edge of the country—the coast of Maine. This “vacation” is the brainchild of Penny's flaky mother, who's on the other side of the country hunting ghosts. Penny most definitely does not believe in spirits. Or love. Or family.
Until, that is, she discovers two very real apparitions which only she can see…and meets George, the strangely alluring son of the inn's owner…and crashes into some staggering family secrets. If only Ghost Girl didn't want Penny dead. If only George were the tiniest bit open to believing. If only she could tell her mother. Then maybe this could still be a vacation. But it's not. It's a race for her life, her first love, and her sanity.
Shirley has been writing since she learned how to hold a pencil. Her first professional publication, when she was a high school senior, was a pun in Reader’s Digest. The Black Butterfly is her third young adult novel, following the award-winning The Blood Lie and Remember Dippy. Her work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, Salon, Good Housekeeping, and newspapers nationwide.
Shirley is a graduate of Cornell University and an alumna of the Radcliffe Writing Seminars. The first paranormal novel she ever read was Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and it remains one of her favorites. She lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband, two daughters, and two frisky dogs.
Start with an Idea
How one author finds her groove
Shirley Reva Vernick
Ideas are the writer’s lifeblood. You can’t tell a story, after all, unless you have a concept, a purpose for telling it. So where do I get those amorphous and sometimes elusive creatures we call ideas?
For me, the first creative spark usually arrives in the form of a character, or maybe a voice around which a character will eventually congeal. This voice, belonging perhaps to a lost teenager, a frightened child, a desperate angel, or a world-weary ghost, serves as the story’s lynchpin. My job is “simply” to figure out what’s driving that voice. From there, I can determine how to propel the narrative.
The paranormal figures prominently in the storyline for The Black Butterfly, as well as for the novel I’m currently writing. As an author, I’m drawn to the paranormal—that is, phenomena that science can’t currently explain—because it’s so rich in possibilities, so ripe for exploration. Here are some of the questions The Black Butterfly checks out: how do supernatural entities feel about being what they are? How would a nonbeliever respond to undeniable evidence of paranormal activity? What’s the common ground between humans and supernatural beings?
Okay, so I’ve got my characters, both normal and paranormal, and I’ve got my burning questions to investigate, but I still need a plot—you know, action, dialogue, conflict and resolution. And while the element of voice may magically appear in my mind like manna in the desert, the plotting is another matter. It involves more purposeful brainstorming, and for that, I need to mine all my resources.
One abundant source of plot ideas is personal experience, both direct and indirect. That is, things that have happened to me or to people in my circle. For instance, just like Penny in The Black Butterfly, I had a terrifying experience in water, I wrote a short story that no one in my class understood, and I spent high school collecting quotations. And although I was fortunate to have two loving and present parents, I have friends whose parents were either absent or not all there.
I also get ideas by avidly reading the news, as well as journals and blogs of interest. So while I’ve never seen a ghost myself, I’m familiar with many accounts of people who believe they have. I maintain a special file in my office where I keep copies of intriguing articles.
What really ties it all together for me is what I call deliberate daydreaming—using my imagination in a focused way throughout the writing process. Mostly this looks like playing the what-if game. What if the daughter of a failed ghost hunter turned out to be the one with the supernatural gift? What if a boy and a girl were falling in love, but their conflicting beliefs about the supernatural were tearing them apart? What if a ghost felt horribly guilty about something he did in life, something he can’t change or fix?
I rarely have the solutions to the what-if conundrums when I first pose them. It’s really up to the characters to figure it out on the page. I have to write the book to learn the answers myself!
As I close, I’d like to fess up that, on a day-to-day basis, my process is not as systematic as this article might make it sound. It doesn’t feel like “step 1: create character,” “step 2: access idea sources,” “step 3: write.” It’s much more fluid and intuitive than that. Characters and plot are ever evolving. Scenes get created, then deleted. Subplots demand further exploration. Moods and motivations change. Plans derail. Someone does something unexpected and wonderful. It’s an unpredictable and thrilling ride, this writing thing, and I can’t get enough of it.