Tell us about Cloven:
Graves Parish is a young adult fantasy series centering around a group of teenagers living in the fictional town of Graves Parish, Louisiana. Cloven is the first book in the series. I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to talk about Cloven without giving too much of the story away, which oddly is proving to be more difficult than actually writing the book. So much of the first book is about the main characters – Zan, Lucas, Sophie, and Michael – making discoveries about themselves and the world(s) around them, and then the choices these discoveries force them to make. The fun part, and my favorite part of most fantasy series like this, is that the characters are just as clueless to what’s happening as the readers, so everyone is going along on the adventure together.
The story begins with fifteen year-old Zan and her stepbrother Michael moving to Graves Parish. Up until this point, Zan has lived most of her life knowing she’s not normal, not knowing why. When she was seven, she began having drowning nightmares that basically made her feel like her body was ripping into two, her mother began moving them from place to place with no forewarning or explanation, and the world around her began to change mysteriously, and horrifically, with her moods. So, by the time she arrives in Graves Parish, she has finally figured out the key to her survival. Numbness.
But then she’s forced into a study session after her first day of school with two of her new classmates, Lucas and Sophie. When a loud crash sounds through the house that night, the three teens and the eleven year old Michael search for safety in a hidden room only to find themselves blacking out and then waking in the land of Cesura, a world that blurs the line between dead and alive. Now, they are immediately thrust into an adventure where they not only have to figure how they got there, and more importantly how to get home, but what exactly the world of Cesura is, and the very specific reason as to why they’re there. And that’s only the beginning.
Where did the idea for Cloven come from?
Right out of college, one of my roommates and I started developing an idea for a TV show. The original idea started as a mix between the 1980’s movie Little Monsters (starring the then heartthrob Fred Savage) and the TV show version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I will admit up front that I was then and continue to be obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the beginning, my goal with Zan was to create the next 16 year-old badass super-heroine that was a “normal teenager by day” and had to save the world over and over again by night. It has definitely taken a few twists and turns since inception. First off, I soon realized that this story wasn’t meant for TV. Looking at all of my notes, most of which were written on random Starbucks’ napkins, I knew that it was supposed to be a book. Then, after compiling the notes into a 150,000 word first draft, I knew that it was supposed to be a series of books. However, I can’t tell you where the plot came from. I have spent a lot of time studying Buffy and why I love it. Joss Whedon (the creator of Buffy and one of my personal heroes) has this amazing ability to make you laugh, cry, fall-in-love and be terrified for your life (or the characters’ lives) all within the same five-minute scene. I wanted desperately to be able to do that. So, I started with the scenes that I had, focusing on a fifteen year old female who was as equally badass as she was vulnerable, and I kept raising the stakes. But it wasn’t enough to have my heroine fighting for good versus evil. I wanted it to be more complicated than that with no easy solution. But what bigger battle is there than the ultimate Good vs the ultimate Evil? The battle against both of them. And that’s when Cesura was born.
There are good people in the world and there are bad people in the world, but, regardless of your religion, what makes us human is the right to choose which we want to be. Cesura is the place that protects that choice. So what happens if the right to choose is threatened? That’s where Zan comes in. Cloven, as the first book in the series, focuses on Zan discovering the world of Cesura, learning of her place in this world, making friends for the first time, falling in love, making everyday teenage mistakes that she should be making, while at the same time being faced with a decision that no one, not child or adult, should ever have to make. Once all of those building blocks were set, all the other pieces just fell into place.
I moved out to Los Angeles right after college and have spent the past five years working in various aspects of film and TV. So, when I finished writing Cloven, I figured, “Hey, nothing can be as hard as wading through Hollywood, right?” Wrong! I know how difficult it is to get a movie or TV show made, I had no idea the publishing world would be just as hard. With the current economy the way it is, agents and publishers (as well as most industries in the U.S.) are afraid to take risks on the unknown. In this case, the unknown is me. And that’s when I had to do some major soul searching. I asked myself, “What is the most important thing to me?” Telling this story. I started looking into self-publishing as an option and found many more success stories than failures. I’m also not very patient, so the idea of being able to do it myself as opposed to waiting for someone else to give me the greenlight appealed to me greatly. But as with anything, there were roadblocks. I realized that without the backings of a big publishing house and a major marketing campaign, I had no idea how I was going to convince people to spend time and money on something they’ve never heard of. And that’s when I decided – give it to them for free and on their terms. I created www.gravesparish.com where anyone can read the book for free. Right now, I’m releasing it in a rollout format where a new chapter is uploaded every few days. I think part of that comes in still wanting the TV side of things…keep people coming back each week for more. But as soon as the first book is completely online, I’ll begin selling it in paperback and eBook form for those that want a copy they can actually hold. Luckily for me, this is only the first part in the series, so if no one wants to buy it because they can read it for free, that’s ok. My hope is that enough people will fall in-love with Zan and the world of Cesura that they’ll want to continue reading as the next installment is released early next year. Right now, I’m focusing on a completely grassroots marketing campaign. If someone likes the book, I’m asking them to pass the website to someone else they think might like it, and then for that person to pass it on as well. For the moment, it’s all about awareness and getting the story to as many readers as possible in hopes that the rest falls in place from there.
Advice for aspiring authors:
I still consider myself to be an “aspiring writer” so I don’t think I’m qualified to be giving out advice. However, I can share the lessons I’ve learned through this process. The key to writing a book is …wait for it…writing. Sounds dumb, I know. But unfortunately for me, procrastination is in my genes (thanks, Mom). I always thought, “Hey, I love writing, I can do this, it’ll be easy.” Nope. Wrong, again. Writing takes more self-discipline than anything else I’ve aspired to do. The hardest thing for me is to force myself to sit down, block out the world and begin. But once I do that, make myself type to first word, the second word comes easier. Then I have a sentence, then a paragraph, and before I know it, six hours have passed and I have at least one, usually two chapters completed. But, I’m telling you, getting that first word on paper can be a killer. Don’t wait for artistic inspiration or the exact right writing environment, those are just keywords for laziness. And don’t expect it to be perfect the first go around (that’s what second drafts are for). Believe me, I’ve used those excuses, among others, way more than I care to admit. The best and worst part about having a story you want to tell is that only you can tell it. The pressure is all on you. So, go write. I’ve also learned that if you want to make writing a career, make sure you love it. The beauty of writing is anyone can do it anywhere and anytime, for fun or for a release. But as I’m trying to make this into my livelihood, I can easily get bogged down by the marketing and the business and the begging of people to give it a chance. Sometimes it can get frustrating to the point I begin to wonder, “Why am I doing this, again?” But then I start re-reading what I’ve written, and I get so excited by what I’m doing that the rest goes away…because I love the art of storytelling. There’s nothing else I want to do, so I’m ready to take the good and the bad that comes with it. It’s the only career I’ve ever felt this way about, and that’s how I know it’s what I’m meant to do.
Anything else you would like us to know?
I believe that all art, whether it be visual, music, or stories, are gifts from something bigger than us. And the only thing we owe in return is to give these gifts back to the world. If we don’t do that, then they’re wasted. The hardest thing I’ve had to do in writing this book is to let people read it because once you give it to the world, the world is free to judge it. But after the first person (my mom) read it (and loved it…she had to), the second person was easier. One by one, I found myself excited to share it with the next person that came along. Now I freely hand it out to anyone I see reading a YA fantasy book, anyone that looks like they might like to read a YA fantasy book, or just anyone that looks like they can read in general. Some love it and some hate it, and I’ve learned to be ok with both of those reactions. Everyday is a mix of struggle and adventure, but that’s what drives me. At the end of the day, I love this story, and I love these characters. All I can do now is give it to the world, and hope the world loves them in return.
Thank you Emily. It was wonderful getting to know you and your novel better. Readers, if you have a chance, please take a moment to stop by Emily's site and see what Cloven is all about.