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Hagerstown author takes on challenge to write novel in 30 days

November 26, 2007|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN - When Amanda Frederickson writes a novel, she doesn't just tell a story. She builds an entire world.

The 23-year-old aspiring author writes primarily science fiction and fantasy, and she begins each project by inventing a history, geography and cultural system for an imaginary world, then building characters and setting them free to interact.

It's a creative process that could easily absorb years of research and imagination. Right now, she's trying to do it in one month.

Frederickson, who lives in Hagerstown and works at an after-school program at Grace Academy, is one of more than 100,000 writers from around the world participating in National Novel Writing Month, an annual challenge to write a 50,000-word (175-page) novel between Nov. 1 and midnight Nov. 30.

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So far, she's filled one notebook and half of another with a story about a search for a lost city. She started out with some basic ideas about the world, such as a religion that prevented anyone from crossing the sea for 1,000 years, and a few ideas for plot twists. From there, she set the story free to develop on its own.

"I like things to be able to catch me off guard," she said. "That's when you know you're doing something right - when you start to write something and the character says, 'I'm not doing that!'"

The novel will be Frederickson's sixth, including an inch-thick fantasy epic she wrote in fifth grade that helped inspire her to pursue a career as an author. A family friend who works as an editor read that manuscript and encouraged her to write more.

"That's when I thought, 'Hmm, maybe I could actually do this,'" Frederickson said.

More than 10 years and a creative writing and communications degree later, Frederickson said she considers herself a professional writer. In addition to working in the after-school program and selling handmade chain-mail jewelry, she said she sits down most nights with a goal of writing a certain number of pages.

"It does partly depend on whether the characters are cooperating," she acknowledged. "It takes a lot of bum glue. A lot of stick-to-it."

Like many aspiring writers, she's finding it's a slow process to turn writing from a hobby to a career.

So far, her biggest success was a 39-page "chapbook" published by St. Andrews College Press last year after she won a contest at her college, St. Andrews Presbyterian in Laurinburg, N.C. Titled "Enemy Mine," the book follows a character's attempt to save her town from genetically engineered invaders and the moral dilemma the character faces when the fate of one of them falls into her hands.

Like much of her writing, the story was influenced by everything from fantasy books and movies she's seen to real-life observations of human nature.

"Everything goes into the blender," she said.

Lately, Frederickson has shifted to writing short stories and submitting them to magazines and online contests to build up a publication history, a virtual necessity when sending query letters to publishers.

"That's the traditional way to break in," she said.

Her dream is to win the Writers of the Future Contest, one of the most prestigious honors for new science-fiction and fantasy writers. She already submitted an entry this year, but hasn't heard back.

No matter what happens, she'll count it as an effort worth making.

"You have to put the pen to paper," she said. "It doesn't matter how horrible it sounds - just do it. Practice makes better."

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