Darren Simon, whose book Guardian’s Nightmare is about to be released, has joined me to answer a few questions regarding his inspiration, his heroine and what makes him tick.
It’s a middle-grade young adult urban fantasy novel set in San Francisco. It’s meant to be a fun, exciting read—but one parents can feel comfortable allowing their children to read. The story centers around a thirteen-year-old girl, Charlee Smelton, who is going through a rough patch in her life after the family’s move to San Francisco. The move has left her feeling estranged from her father and like an outcast at her new school, where she finds herself bullied. Then one day, she receives a gift of the ugliest bike she has ever seen, one she just can’t seem to get rid of no matter how hard she tries. And every time she touches the bike she suffers a painful electric jolt. Soon after receiving the bike, strange dreams come of a world across a dimensional divide where a princess is in danger from a dark knight. Little does Charlee know her life is about to take a frightening turn, one where she must discover the hero in herself—with the help of that hunk-of-junk-bike—to save her family, her city, the world from an evil only she can defeat. An evil she allows into this world.
What made you come up with the premise?
As seems to be a growing trend in my writing, I started with one incident from my own youth where I felt like something of an outcast at the school I attended after my family moved. It is kind of difficult to say whether I built the book around a character or an incident or both. Then, a key piece to the book is the bike, and I can tell you that I loved riding when I was a kid, and I always imagined what it would be like to have a bike with powers. It was just a natural fit into this story.
What inspired you to write the book?
I knew at some point I wanted to write a book. That’s why I focused my education and my career on writing. I also knew I wanted to write fantasy and even science fiction for younger readers to inspire them to read the way I was inspired when I was a boy and a teen to read. As a boy, I couldn’t wait to get enough money to go to the bookstore in the mall to purchase a book. I cannot say there was specific inspiration to write this book—just inspiration to write. Before this book, I built up about twenty fantasy and science fiction short stories. I even wrote half of a science fiction novel, which I may return to after other projects are complete, about pen pals across the universe. When I was in school pen pals across states were the big thing as a way to practice our writing. I imagined a story about pen pals light years away who decide to meet. My point is, I just wanted to write, and this particular story, Guardian’s Nightmare, just stuck with me for some reason. When I started it, I had to finish it. By the way, when I first wrote the novel, the lead was a boy named Charlie Smelton, but along the way a recommendation was made that perhaps the character might work better as a girl. I tried the switch for a few chapters and found I really did liked the character as a girl, and so Charlee Smelton was created.
Do you have a favorite character(s) in Guardian’s Nightmare?
Well, Charlee of course because even though she is a girl a lot of her qualities and personality are based on me. That said, I really like the character Sandra Flores because she is based on my best friend growing up—a really tough kid who was good at standing up for himself and others. Keep in mind, again, my lead character started out as a boy as did the best friend, and when I transitioned to girls, both characters kept the qualities that I had instilled in them when they were written as boys. Writing the Sandra character was a lot of fun because it brought back so many memories of my friend. Also, I have to say that writing the villain was enjoyable as well. Writing evil qualities is fun. The things an evil character can do and say adds to the excitement of a story.
There were a couple of pivotal moments in my life that led me down this path. First was when I was just a boy and my grandmother gave me a brown paper bag filled with old DC comic books. I don’t remember where she got them from, but those comic books turned me into a reader. I loved them, and I became a big comic book fan. And from comic books, I got into the Choose Your Own Adventure Dungeon and Dragon books, and from there I got into longer fantasy and sci-fi novels. But it was that first brown bag of comics that made me a reader and once I become a reader I also wanted to write. In school, when the teacher would give the class, a creative writing assignment, most kids wrote one page—I wrote several. I just really enjoyed it. The second moment in my life came in the summer of 1984 when the movie, Ghostbusters, was released. When I saw it, I was amazed at how funny it was and how it made people laugh. I wondered who the writers were because I wanted to create words to make people react the way they had. After seeing the movie, I went home and wrote the opening pages of my version of Ghostbusters II. More importantly, that year I started high school, and as an elective instead of taking wood shop or auto mechanics, I took a journalism class, so I could have a chance to write. My future was set because in college I majored in journalism and I became a newspaper journalist.
For you, what comes first in the early stages of novel plotting? (the
first line, the ending, formulating a character, envisioning a certain
It’s the germination of the idea. That’s what comes. And it may center around a character, it may center around an incident or it may just be that I want to write a particular story – whether it be an epic fantasy, a paranormal story or even a Western. Once I have that concept, I will sit down with my little iPod Shuffle, the greatest gift I have ever received, blast my music and let my mind wander over the concept until a complete story takes shape. Then, I just start writing. I am not suggesting that you should just sit down and start writing. It certainly makes much more sense to map out a story on paper in outline form and to fully develop characters, but so far that has not been my practice. I just sit down to write and let it flow.
How did you start brainstorming Guardian’s Nightmare? Where did your
inspiration come from?
In much the same way as I first described. I began with an incident from my own past and a character based very much on me and then let the story turn into an urban fantasy with a magical bike and a battle against a villain from another dimension. The rest of the story built itself as I started writing.
What do you do when you hit that proverbial wall? How do you handle
getting past it? Is there any advice you can give other struggling with
When I hit that wall, that’s when I return to my iPod and just sit and listen to music and try to work through the issues I may be facing. For me it is less about hitting that wall and more about whether I reach a point in the story where a scene or an incident just doesn’t make sense or really move the story in the right direction. Then I need to think about how to fix the problem and that’s where music makes a difference in helping me ease through such moments and continue the writing process.
For those writing middle grade fiction, what advice can you give them?
Probably nothing they don’t already know, and I cannot say that I am an expert or that my advice has much merit. But I will say this. It is most critical to know the middle-grade and teen language. The best way to do that, I think, is to actually talk to people in that age group. One step I have taken, and continue to take, is that I ask to meet with library teen reading clubs. I will sit down with them during one of their club meetings—with the permission of librarians—and talk to them about my writing project. I wlll even share with them some chapters and let them comment, mostly on the language but also on the story itself. I have learned a great deal from such meetings and I am thankful to those young readers who have taught me their language and given great insights into my story development.
Lastly, is there a book 2 in the works for your readers to enjoy?
What can we expect from Charlee Smelton?
Yes, book two is complete and should be out in late 2014, perhaps in time for the holidays. It is a much darker story and much more epic in scale. It takes the story of Charlee Smelton to the world of her bloodline—the world of Janasara. There she must really come to terms with who she really is and she must grow into the role she cannot escape. Let’s just say, tough times are ahead for young Charlee, but hopefully it makes for a great read for those who wish to follow her story.