It was one of those things that can only happen through social media. I received a message from an online colleague of mine through Facebook. Another colleague of his wanted to publish some ebooks for young readers, but he needed a writer. I was an unemployed technical writer with dreams of publishing fiction.
But I’d never written for kids. I wrote mysteries for adults. But author Jonathan Mayberry once said, “You’re not a mystery writer, or a romance writer. You’re a writer. You should be able to write anything.” Mayberry himself never passed up an opportunity to write. So I threw my hat in the ring and told my friend to pass my name on to the publisher, Jeff Rutherford.
I spoke with Jeff by phone in June. He had an idea, but was open to others. After kicking it around, I felt the story concept, a child magically transported into a video game, take root.
I conceived of a 13-year old character, Jaycee Hiller. The question for me became, “what about Jaycee would endear her to readers?” I didn’t have to look much farther than my own 12-year old daughter and my middle-school recollections for the answer. Kids at this age are looking for identity amidst some pretty significant physical and emotional change. When you’re on the outside looking in, middle school is a rough place.
Was it possible to write a story where Jaycee’s adventures in her video game land could teach her something about surviving real life? I thought so. Jeff asked me to consider that this would be a series, possibly 10-12 books.
That meant I had to come up with a story arc, and probably more than one. There was the story arc within the game and there was Jaycee’s personal arc. I sketched out three preliminary book treatments. My husband liked them, my daughter liked them. I sent them off to Jeff and he liked them. I started to write.
The hardest thing about writing for 8-10 year olds was not the plot or story. It was fairly easy to avoid foul language, excessive violence, and sex.
Much harder was sounding like a 13-year old narrator. It was more than just putting the stops on my college English-degree vocabulary. The words had to sound like a young teenager, not a nearly 40-year old woman pretending to be 13, was saying them.
To do that, I channeled my daughter. I listened to her and her friends talk to each other – their words, their tone of voice, the very way they addressed adults and each other. I wrote, deleted the words, and wrote again. I showed what I wrote to my daughter. Did this sound like someone her age?
Eventually, I found Jaycee’s voice. And when I did, everything clicked. I tore through the story in less than a month.
As they tend to do, the story took on a life of its own. I handed off the first draft to my husband to be read and I was surprised at some of the things he took away. Things I had absolutely no idea I was writing – but it was too late to take them out. Not merely words, but themes – and once I realized those things were there, I realized I was going to have my work cut out for me.
A couple of writer friends asked how it felt writing for a much younger reader. My response was always, “surprisingly fun.” Not that kids don’t want depth in a story, but it was nice not to have to deal with plot twists, red herrings, and dead bodies. A kid would simply accept things that would have required detailed backstory for an adult or older teen. When Jeff asked if we needed an explanation of just how where Jaycee’s magical controller came from, I thought he might be right. But I deferred to my son, 10. Where would he think it came from? He just looked at me. “It’s magic, Mom, duh.”
I really hope you or your child read’s Power Play. I hope readers can see themselves in Jaycee. Most of all, I hope you enjoy reading the story as much as I enjoyed writing it.
A software technical writer during the day, Mary Sutton has been making her living with words for over a decade. She writes the HERO’s SWORD middle-grade fantasy series as M.E. Sutton. She also writes crime fiction under the name Liz Milliron. Visit her at http://marysuttonauthor.com or on Google+.