it will be inspiring to anyone struggling to write.
To start, as these things often do, I've always wanted to be a writer. I started seriously trying to write my first novel in my first semester of college. Partway through I set it aside and tried to write my second. It didn't take long before my notebooks were full of scribbled plots and ideas and character names. My desktop gathered a collection of New Text Document 1's and Untitled 3's. I had (and still have) all sorts of started chapters and ideas. But none of them really called to me. When I stopped writing and closed the document, my imagination closed with it. I got rather far into several manuscripts, but they never begged me to finish them.
One day I came up with a great plot and a great cast of characters. My narrator, whose name eventually became Jennifer, was a normal girl in a very normal unmagical world. Then, she crossed paths with a few not-so-normal people and discovered magic. It was certainly something I wanted to write about and sounded like a good plot. Along with Jen, I created several characters that I loved. I loved them so much that now - a good six years later - Dani, Charlie, Mariana, and TS's names have never changed. All four of them still have some of the original quirks and traits that I jotted down long ago. Thomas does too, but his name has changed a couple of times!
But, as much as I loved my characters, the setting didn't speak to me. I wanted, desperately, to take them and write their story, but it never came. I realize now that I was trying to force it. Just because I was finally happy with characters, didn't mean I had a setting to go with them. The plot worked fine, I just couldn't figure out where to put it. And, without a setting, I had nowhere to go.
First it took place in an inn that catered to magics. Jen stumbled into it and got a job. I never got past the first chapter. I scrapped it and changed the setting to a school. Three times. Each time, I got one, maybe two chapters in and then it spluttered out. Every time Jen found out about magic I couldn't come up with where to take it from there.
Jen and the others went off into Desktop/MyDocuments/writing/stories/unfinished limbo and I moved on.
I kept writing. Fast forward a couple of years to the deck of ship. I spent a summer semester taking classes on board and visiting different countries. The first day my ship was rolling over the sea, I was looking out over the waves and said to someone, "I'm never going to get tired of watching the waves." He laughed and told me I would. 63 days later we pulled into our final port and I still wasn't tired of it.
Back to the deck of the ship. I was sitting out with my laptop one evening working on yet another story that still hasn't seen the light of day. Then, it hit me. The ocean! I've always loved the ocean, but nothing I had ever written took place there! What was wrong with me? Write something you know, something you love.
At last, I had a setting. Then I made a mistake and tried to force it again. I spent the rest of the voyage trying to come up with the plot and the characters. When I got home I had a bunch of documents with pirates and mermaids and epic quests on the sea. None of them got past the first chapter. I wasn't in love with any of the characters and didn't know what to do with them.
I feel like there should have been a ray of light and a heavenly choir. Or at least some applause somewhere. The truth is, I don't even remember when My Book finally hit me. Maybe that's how it should be. It feels almost like it was always there, below the surface, just waiting for me to write. One day, I realized that I had a setting I loved and, tucked away in that forgotten folder, the plot and the characters to go with it.
The first chapter flew. I took Jen and Mariana, Dani, Charlie, Thomas, and TS and dropped them into the middle of a cruise. A college cruise. I didn't need pirates and krakens, I just needed to write what I knew. And the plot was there too. Just like a dozen times before, Jen stumbled onto the gang doing something out of the ordinary and soon learned about magic. This time, I kept going. The ship was the setting I had needed all along. The conflict that had never come to me while in an inn or a school came right away. Danger. I needed something on the ship with them. And what better to be attracted to a bunch of dumb college students than a hungry vampire?
And, like never before, my characters started speaking to me. When I drove to work the plot tumbled around in my head. When I stopped writing and went off to do something else the characters kept whispering to me. The chapters sailed by, the characters took on lives of their own, and before I knew it: I had a novel.
To wrap things up, (I am a writer, we get wordy) I have some advice. Don't force it. You may have the perfect characters or you may have the perfect plot, but you can't force one to come if you don't have the other. The characters, the plot, and the setting all need to flow together. If you try to force one, you may get an extra chapter written, but you still won't be happy with it. Don't be afraid to set things aside and let them brew. But, check back sometimes. Don't forget them. You never know when something that never worked will start speaking to you. When you finally start to write Your Book, you'll know it.
I hope that this helps some authors out there! And I hope that you enjoy reading More than Magic: Semester Aboard as much as I enjoyed writing it!
It's available on Smashwords and Amazon. Please also stop by my Facebook page and my Blog. I'll be posting trivia, advice, reviews, interviews, and updates on the upcoming sequel from time to time. I'm also more than happy to chat (be it about Semester Aboard, or writing, or publishing, or anything under the sun), so don't ever hesitate to drop me a line if you like!
I've also added a teaser from the first chapter for you to test the waters!
A taxi cab raced down the dock, came to a stop, and a girl laden with shopping bags flew out. Everyone at the rails of the ship yelled as she rushed toward the gangway. She was a 'runner', one of the students who had pushed the all-aboard time to the limit. She vanished into the ship to a mix of boos and cheers.
"She's going to be cleaning tables tomorrow," my roommate Laurie, snickered.
Most of us had taken the all-aboard time and subsequent punishments for being late seriously, and had been on the ship for over an hour. The majority of the people watching the runners had changed into pajama bottoms or sweatshirts with Semester Aboard-Study Abroad written on them. We were students on a cruise ship that had been turned into a floating campus. Instead of studying abroad for a summer in one country we were traveling down the western coast of Latin America. Our ship had classrooms, a dining hall, dorm rooms, even a work-out room and a pool.
"Look there's another!" called Dani. He pointed to another cab speeding down the dock.
Even though it had been ten days since our voyage had started I still didn't know half of the 307 students. I had just met Dani earlier today. We had ended up next to each other on a bus that took us on a tour of Acapulco. Every country had a bunch of trips to choose from and you never knew who else on the ship would end up with you. It turned out that Dani and I were just four rooms apart and had never seen each other before today! I wasn't entirely sure how I'd missed him. He was really tall, with short hair and tan, olive skin. His hair had looked black on the bus, but once I saw it in the sun I was pretty sure that he dyed it midnight blue. And he was drop-dead gorgeous with a personality to match. He was incredibly friendly and outgoing. We had spent the entire bus ride chatting and when I had mentioned that I didn't recognize anybody else on the bus, he offered to stick around so I'd have somebody to talk to. We ended up spending the entire tour together.
"Dani!" someone called. We both turned to see a boy winding his way between people and tables toward us. He had wavy red hair and looked like he'd gotten sunburned in Mexico. I was pretty sure he could pull off the natural redhead look, but I could see streaks where the red dye, which was a bit too bright to be natural, had faded to orange and blonde. It gave his head an almost flaming appearance, which, I had a feeling applied to more than just his hair. He was in one of my classes and I racked my brain for his name. He didn't sit next to me, but we'd talked a bit before our class had started.
"Hey, Charlie," Dani said.
"How was the city?" he asked, joining us at the rail. I noticed that he wasn't much taller than me. He was sort of stocky, but not overweight.
"It was fun," Dani gestured to me, "Jen, here, was with me."
"See anything good?"
"The fort was pretty splashy," Dani said. "How was your mountain biking?"
"Toasty. I saw like a dozen Chupacabras."
"No, you didn't," Dani laughed.
"Yes, I did!"
I laughed and turned my attention back to the runners while they argued. The last of the late students climbed aboard and dock workers started undoing the mooring lines. By now just about everyone, including faculty, had gathered on the deck. Mexico was our first port and we’d been inside for orientation the first time the ship had left a dock. We cheered as the ship started to pull away.
"Adios Mexico!" someone yelled.
"Vaya con dios!"
We waved at the scattered people on the dock until we were too far away to see them in the dark. The wind started to pick up as the ship cruised along past the lights of the buildings on the edges of the bay. People gradually started to disperse.
"Class in the morning," Laurie reminded me with a groan.
"Ugh." We had classes every day we were at sea and the first one started bright and early at eight.
We wove our way through the crowd and back inside the ship, and joined the scattered people going down to their rooms. After we reached the fourth deck we turned off the stairway and into a brightly lit, long corridor that spanned the entire length of the ship. Doors to our cabins lined both sides of it. Long railings ran along the walls, but so far I hadn't needed to use them. As Laurie and I walked down the hall I spotted two now familiar faces. Charlie was leaning against the outside wall, laughing, while Dani swiped his ID card over and over on a door.
"Would you stop laughing?" Dani grumbled.
"I told you not to put it in the same pocket as your phone," Charlie said.
"Are you locked out again?" cried a voice behind me.
I turned to see a girl striding down the hall toward us. I’d seen her around the ship before; she looked like a supermodel. She was tall with thick, wavy blonde hair that looked like it had green streaks in it. She had dark blue eyes and a figure that women paid thousands for. I noticed that she had on a tee-shirt that said Marlins Swim Team, which explained her green hair. She was probably a great swimmer; she definitely had the body for it.
"How else am I going to carry it? It's not like I have a purse!" Dani asked.
"Get your ID punched and put it on that lanyard they gave us," the blonde sighed. She shoved Dani out of the way, swiped her ID, and opened the door. Halfway in, she turned back to Dani with a condescending look. "If you get locked out one more time, I'm not letting you back in."
Dani had to lunge forward to catch the door as it closed. Charlie laughed and followed them in. Wait...the blonde girl and Dani were roommates? With the exception of some of the professors and staff who had brought their families all of the rooms on the ship were single-sex. I knew for a fact Dani was a student.
"Are they roommates?" I asked Laurie.
"Yeah, that's Mariana and Dani. They're married."
"What? Seriously?" It actually wasn't that hard to believe. Dani was probably the hottest guy on the ship and Mariana could easily be the most beautiful girl. If anyone on the ship would be married to one of them, it would clearly be the other.
Laurie nodded. "I heard Mariana telling somebody that this is like their honeymoon or something. She said they had to fax their marriage certificate the second they got it so that they'd be allowed to share a room."
"Wow." It sounded pretty cool, but I wasn’t sure I’d want to take classes on my honeymoon.
We continued down the hall to our room. Even though I had only slept there for a few nights before we arrived in Mexico, it already felt like home and it was nice to be back. It wasn't a very big room, but it was cozy. We had a narrow alcove that separated our room from the door. Just by standing in one spot and turning I could close our door, open the bathroom door, open the closet, and reach my hand into the bedroom. Our beds were so close together that our nightstands were sandwiched between them, without enough room for even a pencil to roll off. I could have reached out and touched Laurie's bed from mine. We each had a chair and a little desk at the foot of our beds. Aside from some drawers built into the wall and a small TV, there was nothing else in our room.
After brushing my teeth I climbed happily into bed. It didn’t take long for the motion of the ship and hum of the engines to lull me to sleep. All too soon my alarm was ringing for my morning class. By the time I got out of the shower Laurie had returned from her daily trip up to the gym. I stepped out of the bathroom and was dressed before I heard the shower turn on. I smiled at how easily we got back into routine after five days in port. I went up to breakfast and chose a random table. A couple of girls I hadn’t met yet and a professor and her two little boys were sitting there. We exchanged introductions and ate.
I found Laurie after breakfast and we made our way to the huge room that served as the Latin American History classroom. It was the first class of the day and was mandatory for everyone, even the faculty. Across the room I spotted Charlie’s bright hair and noticed that he was sitting with Dani and Mariana. After class I joined the shuffle of students heading to other classrooms. My next class, Plant Use in Latin American Culture, was the one that Charlie was in too.
"Hey, Jen!" Carrie greeted me as we entered the classroom. "The in-port project isn’t due today right?"
"No, it’s due tomorrow," Charlie answered. He was sitting at the desk closest to the door.
"What a relief!" Carrie said. "I did that algae the Aztecs grew. What about you guys?"
"I wrote mine on tomatoes," I said.
"Chilies," Charlie said.
"Ugh!" Carrie wrinkled her nose. "I can’t stand spicy stuff."
"You won’t like me then," Charlie said and winked at her.
We laughed and took our seats across the room.
"He’s cute, but he sets off my gaydar like whoa," she whispered to me.
"Mine too," I giggled.
After class ended I had half an hour to kill. I swung by the dining room on Deck Five and grabbed a quick lunch. Like my Plant Use class, my next class was uneventful. When it was over I passed Dani in the hall on the way to Spanish for Travelers.
"Hola," Dani called as he passed me. "Doin’ alright?"
"I’m bueno," I giggled to him. He laughed and headed for the stairs.
After Spanish I joined the throng of people gathered on Deck Seven. I found a lounge chair and pulled it over to the rails so I could watch the water while I studied.
The next day was pretty much the same, but it started raining early in the afternoon and was a bad storm by the time I went to bed. I woke up in the middle of the night and stumbled over to our bathroom, feeling awful. A bit of quality time bent over the toilet didn’t help at all and I decided to try for some fresh air. I pulled a sweater on over my pajamas, hung my ID card strap around my neck, and slipped out of the room. I made my way down the corridor to the door that led outside. For the first time since getting on the ship I had to keep one hand on the railing. The halls were well lit, even though it was the middle of the night, and it was almost disconcerting to step outside into the darkness. But the moment the cool, damp wind hit my face I felt better. I hadn’t been seasick since our first night, but sometimes I felt nauseous if I stayed in our room too long. Being out on the deck always helped.
I had assumed that I’d be the only one crazy enough to go out in the rain in the middle of the night, but to my surprise I wasn’t. There were people on the other side of the deck. It was too dark to see them well, but the lights from the deck above us illuminated them a little. One of them was Charlie. He was standing under the overhang where Deck Five extended out above Deck Four. He was just wearing a t-shirt and jeans and I shivered in sympathy. A guy I recognized, not surprising since we all lived on a ship, was sitting on the bottom steps of the outdoor stairway that led to Deck Five. He was probably a football player back home or something. He had shaggy, dark brown hair and a fairly large nose. I’d heard a few girls giggling about him, but I didn’t think he was that good looking. I wasn’t sure what his name was. Another guy was sitting in a chair, probably pilfered from Deck Five, with his back to me and his feet up on the rails. Mariana was near him, wearing only a bikini top and a short skirt. I couldn't believe she wasn't cold.
"I didn’t scream!" she said.
"You totally did! You freaked out!" Dani laughed.
It had been too dark to notice Dani until he spoke. My jaw dropped in shock. Dani was sitting on the railing of the ship. Messing around on the rails was one of the first things they’d told us not to do when we got on board. Even sitting on them in the middle of a calm day was suicidal at best. But to sit there in the middle of a stormy night was nothing short of a death wish.
"I was not!" Mariana cried.
"You were all like, 'Oh, Danio, save me Danio!'"
"Well, I...I-don’t be such a jerk!"
As Mariana spoke she spun to face Dani and shoved him hard. Dani’s laugh turned into a yell of surprise and he tumbled backward off of the railing! I gasped in horror. Every second now was critical. If someone went overboard we were supposed to immediately throw them a life preserver and then run and tell a crew member. But not a single one of them did anything! The one in the chair uncrossed his legs and recrossed them with a different one on top. The guy on the stairs threw back his head and laughed! Charlie quickly stuck his head over the railing and then pulled back and shivered. It was as if Dani hadn't gone overboard at all.