A few weeks ago, I decided that I needed to put my Rapunzel novel on hold so that I could wrap up a few other fiction projects. The first was my Rumpled ebook. The second is entering a submission in The Dark Crystal Authorquest contest.
I found out about the Authorquest about a month ago. I saw The Dark Crystal once as a little girl, and again as a teen. I was always intrigued by the world and I loved the puppetry. When I watched it again after deciding to enter the contest, I realized I’ve been having dreams about the Mystics for years, but was unable to place where the images had come from. Now I know they must have lodged in my subconscious from my earlier viewings of The Dark Crystal. That gave me a sense of connection to the material that confirmed my decision to enter the contest.
I have three books about The Dark Crystal waiting for me at the library, and I’m hoping reading them will spark something. I’ve been making notes, watching the movie and all the commentary, reading everything on DarkCrystal.com. But still, a story hasn’t emerged for me.
I feel like I am absolutely qualified to write something of this nature. The Authorquest is searching for a young adult, fantasy series. I write fantasy. I write young adult. I’ve also written a lot of fan-fiction, so I understand working within someone else’s creation.
But as the days pass and I find myself no closer to an idea, my confidence wavers. I think, if I’m having this much trouble, there’s no way I could win the contest. But it’s not really about winning anymore. Now, it’s about proving to myself that I can do this. Although I write non-fiction on assignment frequently as a freelancer, I’ve only successfully written fiction on assignment once, when I wrote my short story “The Man in the Mirror” specifically for inclusion in Queer Dimensions. But the idea of writing fiction on assignment has always intrigued me, and I know other writers make their living doing this. Consider the ghost writers for the Animorphs series, the V.C. Andrews books that kept being published after she was long-dead, and the James Patterson writing factory.
I remember watching the special features on the JEM DVD collection (one of my favorite TV shows from my childhood), and hearing Christie Marx talk about how she was given the character designs for the JEM doll line and tasked to write a TV series about them. Some people think that this type of work is done “just for the money” or “just to sell the merchandise,” but I don’t agree. I fully believe that, even writing fiction on assignment, even when taking direction from someone else’s vision, you can fall in love with the story you’re writing. It can become just as precious as your totally original work. Erin Hunter (actually a pseudonym for a team of writers) was hired specifically to write a fantasy series about cats. The head writer, Victoria Holmes, doesn’t even like cats — but she is able to write dozens of books, which her readers adore, because she’s taken the cats’ storylines and made them her own, weaving her own personal experiences — such as health crises — into the Warriors plots. If a writer doesn’t come to cherish her fiction, I don’t think it will connect with readers the way that the Warriors series clearly has.
I know I can’t force creativity, but I need to keep showing up nonetheless. Reading, imagining, jotting down the bare wisps of ideas at the corners of my mind. I want to do this not to win the $10,000 or the publishing contract (although those things would be wonderful!) but to prove to myself that it’s something I can do.
I’ll let you know if I turn out to be right.