Wednesday

Author Salon Novel Writing Program Review

A Talk With Julie Chapman About Her Writing Life

TITLE:  GRID RIDER
GENRE:  YA/SF
COMPS:  Rick Yancey's THE 5TH WAVE
WORDS:  75,000+

Julie Chapman has held professional positions as a journalist and editor, but fiction is her passion. She received a bachelor's degree in English with a creative writing concentration from Skidmore College, where she was a student of Pulitzer Prize winner Steven Millhauser. She intends to see GRID RIDER published as a trilogy.



I don't like to be scared. And I think in a good sci-fi novel, the reader should experience fear. In previous drafts, I really skirted around my antagonist because I didn't want to be uncomfortable myself. Author Salon's second assignment snapped me out of that. When I was sketching my antagonist, I didn't sleep for a month! I'm still afraid of my antagonist, which I think is a good sign, but I'm no longer afraid of writing about him. Instead, I'm excited.

- Julie Chapman

Author Salon Novel Writing Program Review

AS: Tell us something about yourself as it relates to your writing life. Also, what inspired you to begin the novel?

Throughout my house, very organized piles of notes are inevitably graffitied with words like "dog" and "cup" as well as a multitude of illustrations. It seems my three-year-old daughter is determined to help me write my book. Whenever I see her scribbles, I'm reminded not to take myself so seriously and to go bold with my imagination. I love being in that childlike state of creativity wherein even the craziest ideas make sense. Those ideas are usually the best.

GRID RIDER began as a short story. When my visa expired and I had to leave my life in London, I figured a way to retain my residence would be to set a story there. From previous experience, I knew that dropping a girl from the Southern swamplands into that setting would be hilarious. And I'd always wanted to write about some colorful dreams I had when younger. Somehow and thankfully, a story emerged.

AS: Who are you reading now? Which authors and novels have been an inspiration to you, and why?

My favorite recent read is Rick Yancey's THE 5TH WAVE, about a teenage girl dealing with the aftermath of an alien invasion. Although the book is sci-fi, the story is less about aliens and more about humanity's response to catastrophe and the struggle for survival. Universal themes like these are what make the story relatable and inspire crossover appeal. This is what I intend for Grid Rider.

The book I read that convinced me I could write one myself was THE MISTS OF AVALON by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Another inspiration was Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER series. I gravitate toward books with strong female characters and gripping plot lines, and I am enthralled with characters who travel between worlds.

AS: Can you tell us about your novel?

GRID RIDER is set on the edge of the Everglades in a strange town called The Moods, where sixteen-year-old Eden Thrash is even stranger. All her life Eden has been plagued by visions of spectral shapes, but has no idea what they are or why she sees them. Everyone thinks Eden is crazy. Even she begins to believe it, until inexplicable events begin to happen worldwide. Cities begin to sink, airplanes crash, power outages grow in frequency as the Aurora Borealis appears over Florida. Meanwhile, Eden's visions intensify. When a huge red circle shows up and engulfs Eden, she is thrust into a world known as The Grid, a strange subspace-like environment created by an ancient race of benevolent beings -- a kind of transit station where thousands of worlds throughout the galactic rim interweave, fuse and collide. The Grid is under attack by a predatory alien race, and the chaos on Earth is a symptom of it, a repercussion. Eden soon learns that her visions are clues to saving The Grid, and that she has become a target for the invaders.

AS: What gives you a passion for this story and why are you the one who needs to tell it?

When I was younger, I dreamed about shapes. Sometimes they made patterns; sometimes they appeared up close. As a result, friends called me "Kaleidoscope Eyes." The dreams were so vivid and stayed in my mind long after I awoke. During that time, I remember feeling as if I were living in two different worlds simultaneously -- one seen, one unseen -- which was difficult. Since then, I've been fascinated with characters who are able to exist between worlds. My protagonist, Eden, is one of them.

Even though the dreams provided an escape, they were obviously weird and made me feel different. Then in my adolescence, I wanted to enjoy my dreams and feel accepted at the same time. That's why I love that Eden's visions -- which make people fear and hate her -- ultimately help save the world.

AS: What have you found to be your biggest challenges to writing a successful commercial novel?

I don't like to be scared, but I believe that in a good sci-fi novel, the reader should experience fear. In previous drafts, I really skirted around my antagonist because I didn't wish to be uncomfortable myself. Author Salon's second assignment snapped me out of that. After I sketched my antagonist, I didn't sleep for a month! I'm still afraid of my antagonist, which I think is a good sign, but I'm no longer afraid of writing about him. Instead, I'm excited.

AS: Is there any particular facet of the Author Salon novel writing program that has helped you more than any other? If so, why?

Every assignment in the Author Salon program has proved to be invaluable for me. I was surprised that the antagonist sketch should be done before the protagonist sketch, but I soon understood the brilliance behind this approach. Sketching my antagonist in such detail prompted me to restructure my entire novel. As a ripple effect, I developed a rich new backstory that increased the stakes, made the tone creepier, intensified both inner and external conflict, and energized the plot. I restructured every one of the six acts with the new found knowledge that the antagonist should drive the plot from the beginning of the story. And when the time came to sketch my protagonist, I knew that creating a truly dynamic, captivating antagonist had challenged me to design a protagonist worthy of the opposition.

AS: What bit of advice can you give to other aspiring authors just getting started?

Patience, persistence and positive outlook. That's my mantra.





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