115: The Process of Writing Stem & Stone
Updated: Oct 18
Howdy! My debut novel, the young adult dark portal fantasy, Stem & Stone will be released on September 19! This project has been a long time in the making. I began plotting all the way back in early spring of 2018, when I was still a security guard working in Albany NY. I spent countless hours pouring over relevant pages on Wikipedia, printing out those I deemed most useful, for future reference. Then I put the project aside for that summer, while I backpacked through Europe.
After returning to the states that August, I then had to figure out a whole new living situation, as I'd concluded with my security position and apartment lease prior to leaving. It wasn't until October that housing and work were properly squared away in my then-new home of Philadelphia PA, just in time for Stem & Stone to become my NaNoWriMo project. This wasn't my first attempt at writing a novel, but rather my third. The first had taken place while I worked at a resort over the summer of 2012, and the second had been after I left my tattoo artist position back in 2016, and got to enjoy the novelty of only working a single full time job. This time, again I only had the one job, and being in a new city, I lacked a social circle to distract me from the endeavor (which is not to imply a complete lack of local friendship! Love you Leah! <3). Meeting the word count was no trouble, but I wanted to like the story.
Much of my research went into fleshing out the initial scenes set in Iceland (where I've yet to visit), and helping me to pin point the most appropriate fae and monsters for Petra's adventure. The Alfarians are my invention, but they're a simple meld of humans, elves, and dwarves, with a more bestial physical description. At no point prior to knocking out the first draft, did I bother to look into how the publishing industry works. By which I mean, I wasn't trying to write for any audience beyond myself which later became problematic. While the protagonist, Petra, is eleven years old, the story touches on violence and gore. At that age, as an example, I was comfortable reading His Dark Materials Trilogy, by Philip Pullman, which had similarly young protagonists and dealt with heavy content. So, in my experience, this was fine for middle grade fiction. However, after later drafts and joining online writing communities, I began to doubt my judgement. What was fine for me mightn't be acceptable for today's youth, and regardless of what preteens believe they can handle, their parents likely disagree.
I revised the book to have an older protagonist to fit more firmly in YA, but Petra's actions only felt real due to her youth. To better fit in MG, I cut the violence and other semi-mature content. The story then felt imbalanced. Meanwhile, I was listening to podcasts on writing, reading about how to improve the skill, and even watching online lectures. After, I don't know, call it five drafts, I began querying the book to literary agents. Feedback varied but I took notes, revising after each big batch of rejections. I discussed the issues with a beta reader friend and my husband. Frankly, I'm a very literal person. I take books at face value, usually not bothering to interpret themes until after the end. In this case, it was during discussions with my now-husband that I realized what my story was really about and how best to emphasize that. In the following drafts, I leaned into the darkness. While a YA novel with a very young protagonist isn't especially marketable, I stand by it being right for Stem & Stone.
I was at least eleven drafts in when I submitted the novel, and had it accepted, by my current publisher Tea With Coffee Media. It was December of 2022 when I signed a contract with them, so four years since that first draft. Working with them has been a great experience and I'm thankful for how helpful everyone has been from day one. It's going to be a strange experience, having my story out in the world, and I'm very much looking forward to it. Thanks for stopping by! I drop a new blog post every Monday. Toodles!