Behind the Book with Andria Buchanan
Living With Pixies—Or How I Sank Into Insanity and Wrote the Chronicles of Nerissette
The Chronicles of Nerissette all began with one simple question. My oldest kid, she was 8 then and she’s 10 now, looked at me after my first (adult) book was published and said “Mommy why can’t you write something I can read?”
After about ten minutes of staring at her gape jawed and stuttering and thought “I don’t know why I can’t actually. Hey, maybe I can,” and that was when I decided to start trying to write a YA novel. The problem was, I didn’t know what to write a YA novel about.
So I did what I always do when I don’t know what the heck I’m doing—I went to the public library. The public library has always been my safe space, ever since I was a kid the library was where I went when I felt lost and I had one of those childhoods where I felt lost an awful lot.
There I am, in the library, staring at shelves upon shelves of YA novels and thinking—I have no idea what I’m doing. Why is my safe place failing me? That’s when it hit me. What if the library, and books, would turn against my heroine? What if one of those fairytales that I used to spend hours poring over, daydreaming that it could be my life, what if it was someone’s life? And what if it totally sucked?
There it was. The basic idea for the Chronicles of Nerissette. One misfit girl (man I knew a lot about that) who gets sucked through a library book and into a fantasy world where she’s a princess and she’s got to fight from day one to keep her throne.
Then I went home and like a good little girl I did what my ninth grade English teacher told me all creative writers did—I laid out a plan. I outlined. I took detailed notes. I spent four weeks trying to figure out each and every little plot twist. I planned that work.
Then I quit my job. That had nothing to do with the Chronicles of Nerissette but I felt like it should be added here.
So there I was, the very first Monday of the rest of my life, technically unemployed but euphemistically calling it “being a full time writer” and I sat down at my desk ready to work that plan. Because that’s how I was taught life went. That was how writers wrote. Wasn’t it?
You planned the work and then worked that plan.
Then the pixies invaded. Right there. On the page. Sassy mouthed pixies. And then one of my characters mentioned that they had found mermaids in the back yard. There it was, right there on the page, he’d found mermaids. Except… my story didn’t have mermaids. Or pixies. Or goblins for that matter. It also didn’t have a killer bed but somehow that ended up on the page too.
So then at the end of the week I had 15 chapters—150 plus pages—and none of it followed anything but the roughest of the outlines that I had. All those detailed notes? None of that had made it into the story. So I had a conundrum—I could either toss the notes and go with my gut, knowing full well that I was going to have to majorly rewrite things in the editing process—or I could toss the 150 pages and try to go back and make things conform.
The problem with tossing 150 pages of work out was that somehow, in that week, I’d fallen in love with the pixies and the mermaids and the goblin with the hoops in his ear. Then, the next week I fell in love with the talking library stand and Kitsuna, and Rhys and all the other characters that suddenly sprang to life there on that page. Characters who weren’t even supposed to exist.
So I went with it. I accepted the fact that I was going to have to do rewrites and I let the characters and the magic and all of it just take over. And ever since then I’ve sold a few more stories, some of them I’ve planned and other’s I’ve let flow and I’ve learned that sometimes—most the time—the process isn’t about me. It’s about the story and what the characters on the page need for me to get them on the page.
I’ve learned one thing though. There’s one thing that’s got to be there with every single story. Every single time I write a story I have to fall in love with the characters on the page. I have to root for them even as I’m writing them. Dream about them. Because no matter what sort of process you have—building a world and planning your story in intricate detail or winging it and filling all the details in later—that one thing is constant. You have to love the characters you’re torturing, otherwise you’ll never save them. They’ll just sit there, rotting away on your hard drive while you move on to other stories.