Wednesday 27 March 2013

The Origin Story of a Romance Writer Who Hates Romance

Everyone meet Aja Hannah, a librarian on the Big Island of Hawaii who moved there from Maryland after earning a B.A. with honors in creative writing and journalism on the mainland. Interesting enough, romance makes her uncomfortable-going as far as to cover her eyes during kissing scenes in movie theaters-and yet she is a serial monogamist.

Her novel Zarconia Island was released on March 25th (Monday) so I asked her to stop by and talk about where the inspiration for this story came from.

I wasn't expecting the amount of similarities between us when it comes to our writing origins but it's very comforting to know that I'm not alone.

My stomach knotted tighter, winding so hard it hurt.
Kate watched me, rubbing a piece of her hair between two fingers.
I bit my tongue, trying to work the words out.
"The boat …we're going under.”

Possessing powers that are feared and shunned, eighteen-year-old Alexandra “Attie” Hotep is no virgin to attacks. Her ancestors, the Zarconians-- mixed-blood inhabitants of Atlantis--were rumored to be the English fairies who kidnapped children, the Caribbean sirens that sunk ships, and the dream-like apparitions who broke into psyches. By the 1850s, they were hunted to near-extinction, leaving the existence of Atlantis and Zarconians little more than myth.

When a class trip turns deadly, Attie and her friends become stranded on an uncharted tropical island in the middle of the Pacific, and Attie finds herself targeted once more. With a jungle full of extinct and prowling animals, she struggles to find a compromise between keeping her friends safe and keeping her family's secret.

Enter Doug Hutchinson—the school’s soccer star, and a handsome boy with his own secrets. But Attie and Doug soon realize the animals aren't the only threat. There is a traitor amidst the group, one that plans to turn all Zarconians into permanent myths. And Attie is next on the list.

The summer before freshman year of high school, I ended my gymnastics career and—for the first time in my short life—I had absolutely nothing. Up until that point, I was always training, practicing, or competing. In my free limited time, I used to play with my siblings, but they were growing up and had their own friends.

With nothing else to do, I sat down at the family computer and started writing. I had always enjoyed making stories for my siblings, and I imagined that one day I’d be a real author. However, my early stories went no further than ten page chapter books with hand-drawn illustrations.

I decided to try my hand at a novel. I began with a premise I was interested in—uncharted island and exploration—and a main character I thought was underappreciated—the strong, imperfect female lead with unnatural powers.

I had always been fascinated with the Bermuda Triangle. I thrived on the idea that something strange could go undiscovered in our technological and satellite imaging world. So I searched for more places like that and found a map credited to an Ivan Sanderson, floating around on the Internet. It had nine more dead zones set equidistant from each other across the world.

Stories are based on what-ifs and, as I studied the map, I conjured the idea of a nation bigger and more powerful than our mythological Atlantis. What if these dead zones were connected? What if Atlantis was just the capital? What if they are remnants something bigger?

Because no nation fit the description, I got to make my own. I chose the made-up word “Zarconian” because I liked the way it sounded with the hard Z. After I searched in Google and nothing came up, I knew it would be original to my creation. Interestingly enough, the title Zarconian Island was a placeholder until I found a title I liked better. I never quite did.

Between high school and college, I went through countless revisions. LOST came out and an agent gave me the advice to change my plane crash to a boat crash. A plane crashing was now too unoriginal, and no one would care that I wrote it before LOST.

Several times, I set the manuscript aside and started new projects. For months at a time, it would remain unopened on my desktop. But I always came back to it.

In my final years of college, I decided it was time to get serious. I had a queried some agents before and talked to a few editors, but I never put the time in to research or make the appropriate changes. I was stubborn. I also didn’t want to admit my book was a paranormal romance because of the overcrowded market and the expectation that it would have vampires or werewolves. (I am also told that I am a paradox: a romance writer who doesn’t believe in romance.)

So I changed the plane crash to boat crash, fixed and marketed my query letter appropriately, and everything fell into place after that.

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