Today we’re chatting with community member Isabell T. McAren. Isabell joined the community during NaNoWriMo and has been a fixture on the discussion forums ever since. Below we ask her questions about her writing projects on the site — the memoir BECOMING IN BOQUETE and the YA time traveling adventure RIFTERS.
Read on to get Isabell’s inspiring advice about learning to accept harsh feedback!
NG: Welcome to our spotlight, Isabell. Go ahead and describe yourself as a writer in one sentence!
ITM: I am an eclectic writer who doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into one genre!
NG: You’ve self-published a memoir called BECOMING IN BOQUETE. What’s the biggest lesson you learned about yourself as a writer from that publishing experience?
ITM: I learned that it’s important for me to just finish a project and let it go, in order to allow space for the next story to flow through. Previously I’d wasted a decade obsessing over my first novel, because I stubbornly believed that the end goal of writing was to be traditionally published. Self-publishing is empowering because you don’t have to wait for someone else’s approval to put yourself out there. Also, once I gave myself permission to just write for the pure joy of it instead of trying to become rich and famous, my writing improved immensely.
ITM: I do think it’s good to have healthy boundaries when it comes to sharing one’s own story. Disclosing personal details can sometimes hurt the ones closest to you, so I was always mindful of that. People are inherently judgmental, so out of a sheer sense of survival I didn’t divulge my deepest, darkest secrets. It’s nice if a memoir can be relatable. I’m fairly self-deprecating, so I hoped that readers could not only laugh at/with me, but also laugh at themselves a little.
NG: Now let me ask you about your dystopian YA novel on the site, RIFTERS. There’s time traveling involved! What inspired this departure from memoir–and realism?
ITM: My memoir is actually the departure from my normal writing, and was done out of a sudden need for catharsis. I much prefer to write fiction. I have always loved the idea of time travel, and I believe that time is just a construct. If you called someone in China, it would be almost a day later there than here. And yet you would be talking to each other in real time at the same time, so in essence time has no meaning.
NG: RIFTERS is about a teenage girl who passes through a time rift into 2043 and lands in an isolated, government-run compound for accidental rifters called the Village. What an ingenious — and chilling — concept. Will you tell us more about the process of building the world of the Village?
ITM: If people from different places and times ended up in the same place and time, it would really freak some of them out. Think about cavemen showing up now, with our advanced technology. Their brains wouldn’t be able to comprehend anything in this world and they wouldn’t be able to function. So I figured the Village should have different eras and regions divided by locked gates, in order to comfortably preserve each rifter’s worldview. Creating the Village has been a challenge, because I had to do some research about time periods concerning architecture and clothing. I also had to think like the government: How will we feed them? What happens when they hurt themselves, get sick, or die? How can we keep them from escaping? And then I think of all the problems from the rifters point of view. I constantly have to go back and change things that don’t make sense as the story progresses.
This story originally evolved by wondering who we would be if all the constructs of our lives disappeared. If you popped suddenly several — or several hundred — years into the future and maybe even to a foreign country, what would you do? You have no family or anyone you know, and it appears you can’t go home. Would you just give up? Or would you do whatever it takes to gain your freedom? I believe that not only do we all have a strong sense of survival, but we have a strong urge to choose how to live our own life.
NG: In your “Author’s Note” of RIFTERS you ask your reviewers to be as ruthless as they choose: “I promise I can take it. I want to make this as perfect as possible, so no sugarcoating!” I love your attitude! What’s your advice for writers who have a hard time accepting harsh feedback?
ITM: When the agent rejections from my first novel poured in (there were well over 300 of them, so I took a hearty dose of bashing), I told myself that I had to change my thinking and develop a tough skin. Writers lay themselves bare for the world and it does feel very personal when we get criticized. So my advice is to go on Amazon and choose a book that’s on the NY Times bestseller list. FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY garnered thousands of negative 1-star reviews. Do you think the author is quivering in a corner because 6,000 people hate her book? No, because she still snagged a five million dollar movie contract for writing about kinky sex! For every best-selling book on Amazon, there are plenty of scathing comments. It just proves that we all have different tastes, and a book that deeply affects one person will strike another as a piece of crap. It isn’t our job (nor is it possible) to please everyone. It’s our job to write the stories that come through us, and to tell them as well as we can. That’s why Book Country is such a godsend. It’s amazing how well we can spot the mistakes in someone else’s writing but quickly become blind to a lot of our own. If we want to improve we need the objective views of others. I’m so grateful to have met some of the kindest people on this site. I think harsh feedback always has a nugget of truth to it, but I still weigh it against my own intuition. It’s like medicine; it might taste bad going down but ultimately it will make you better.