Young novelists learn much about themselves

May 12, 2012|By CHRIS COPLEY |
  • Jensen Roman of Falling Waters, W.Va., wrote the sci-fi/romance novel, "Experiment XIII," about life in 2041.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

The world opens up for high school graduates. Options abound — work, the military, college, marriage.

But two local young women — Diane Draper of Williamsport and Jensen Roman of Falling Waters, W.Va. — took a less common path after school.

They each wrote and published a novel.

In getting their stories into print, Draper and Roman had to confront obstacles — friends' doubts, family expectations and the authors' own fears and insecurities, not to mention the challenge of sticking with the solitary work of writing for months and months.

But they persevered, finished their projects and learned a thing or two about themselves.

They each came into The Herald-Mail to talk about their novels.


Fictional romance reflects real-life love

Roman's novel, "Experiment XIII," tells the story of Ellie, a small-town girl living in Montana in 2041, who meets a dark-haired stranger and falls in love. Turns out the stranger has escaped from a horrific science experiment that gave him extraordinary powers, and the people running the experiment want him back.

Roman, 22, graduated from Hedgesville High School in 2007. She said the sci-fi/romance story idea came to her long before she started writing it.

"I got the main idea in my head when I was a freshman in high school. It wouldn't stop nagging me. I'm like, 'I don't want to write it right now. Just wait,'" she said. "Sophomore year, junior year, senior year, it just kept nagging me. 'Write, write, write.' Then I went down to visit my husband's family in Florida, and I'm like, 'OK, I'm just going to start writing you. That way, you'll leave me alone.'"

Turned out the story reflected Roman's own love life — minus the horrible science experiment.

"I've had my flings. I've had my heart broken at least three times," Roman said. "So the romance is kind of like mine. It's just spur-of-the-moment — first comes friendship, then it becomes romance, then gets stronger."

Ellie first encounters Athen, the experimental refugee, when she and her brother, Lee, exit a movie theater. Ellie is turned off by the sullen, withdrawn, badly injured young man, but Lee insists on helping Athen, and eventually Ellie warms up to him.

Roman said her romance with her husband, Yasmany Roman, also started in a low-key, unexpected way.

"We met (in) a chat room. He lived in Florida and I lived up here. People were telling me, ‘There's no way this relationship's going to happen,'" she said. "Well, one year later, he started calling. He said he wanted to see me. He rode a Greyhound bus for three days to come up here. One year later, we got married."

Now married a year, the couple live near Roman's parents, Curtis and Melissa Jones, in Falling Waters, W.Va. Jensen Roman writes full time and her husband is training to be a law enforcement officer.

Roman said she is largely a self-taught writer. Her imagination took off when she read J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

"That got me started. I started writing in my freshman year of high school — just little scripts of plays," she said.

She also read science fiction, romance novels and books by Stephen King. And although "Experiment XIII" follows some of the traditional pattern of romance novels, Roman said she wanted to tell the story her own way. She didn't want to just do the same-old-same-old.

So she set the story 30 years in the future, when America is recovering from a recent world war. The economy is bad. People are struggling. The story is set in December, so cold and snow factor into the plot. Roman said she wanted to make the setting realistic and not too technological.

"I had to do research. I had to learn about the native wildlife. I didn't want to say 'There (are) cardinals here' and there (are) no cardinals in Montana," she said. "And I didn't want a lot of technology, like floating cars, stuff like that. We've seen it before. I wanted it to be normal — a little bit of high-tech stuff, enough so readers know it's futuristic."

The story is about 110,000 words long and is mainly about relationships among the characters. That came easily to Roman, who said many of the characters developed from people she knew. Ellie is like Roman herself. Ellie's brother, Lee, is a joke-teller similar to Roman's husband. The dark Athen "just came out of the blue," Roman said. "He portrays no one in my life."

And Grace, the evil, chief scientist who cruelly experiments on Athen?

"Grace reminded me a lot of my creative writing teacher," Roman said. "She would read (my stories) ... and she would shoot them down automatically. For no reason. It was just excruciating."

Roman self-published "Experiment XIII" through iUniverse. It's available through in hardcover, softcover and e-book editions.

Getting her book published taught Roman a thing or two about herself, she said.

"I learned I can actually create something. I was always imaginative, but I didn't think I could take it this far," she said. "I always thought of myself that I'd be writing little stories, but going to work at Walmart or McDonald's somewhere. But to know I can do something like this, it's pushing me forward to do another book and hopefully make this a career."

A story of magic and spirituality

Draper, 20, graduated from Clear Spring High School in 2009 and attended Hagerstown Community College, but decided to pursue writing her own way.

"Stories are my life. I love reading about them, in all different forms — video games, books, TV shows, movies, everything. I love the art of it. I've always wanted to create stories," she said.

When she was 14, she started writing the fantasy story that would become her first published novel, "Precious Souls: Book One: The Loathing Oblivion."

From the beginning she was clear about one thing: No magic.

"When I started it, honestly, I didn't want it to be a fantasy. Because I'd written other, smaller stories in middle school that were fantasy stories, but I didn't finish them," Draper said. "So when I started this one, I said, 'OK, there isn't going to any magic at all.' I was slightly fanatic about it."

It didn't turn out that way. "The Loathing Oblivion" is a coming-of-age story about Trinia, a good-hearted, 15-year-old girl whose mother mistreats her but adores Trinia's older sister. Trinia insists on living in the real world, but, to her shock, discovers the dark, magical world of Shadows. When Shadows enslave her, Trinia learns magic is real and she has certain magical skills, which she must develop to survive.

Draper said she didn't want Trinia to be a typical fantasy heroine.

"Many protagonists in fantasy series will accept the magic right away and latch onto it, instead of how I think someone in real life would react," Draper said. "It would be a scary experience to have all these unusual things start to happen."

In Draper's novel, magic is personal. Magical traits connect to a character's personality traits. Trinia has learned to protect herself emotionally from her mother; this leads to Trinia's magical skills in escaping and in creating barriers. 

Draper also incorporated mounds of mythology, some traditional and some invented. She said she researched mythological beasts such as manticores, elves and griffins. She read up on astrology and alchemy. She explored the pagan base elements of earth, air, fire and water and their use in spiritual practice.

She also drew inspiration from contemporary myth-makers, such as anime director Hayao Miyazaki and fantasy authors R.A. Salvatore and Kelly Chan.

"Kelly Chan is an Australian author writing from a Chinese mythology base," Draper said. "Very interesting. Very personal characters. Very personal twist on the mythologies."

One concept Draper adopted from Miyazaki became key to her novel.

"'No matter how fantastical the world, it has to be grounded in reality for (a reader or viewer) to really truly feel it,'" she quoted. "That is my hope. That young readers will take 'The Loathing Oblivion' into their own lives and be more conscientious about the world around them."

"The Loathing Oblivion" took Draper about three years to finish. But it's just the first part of Trinia's story. Draper plans a four-book series to bring readers through the full growth and transformation of her protagonist.

Along the way, Draper will explore themes of identity, self-motivation and control. Draper said she's going through that process herself as an author.

"In high school, it was very rough, because I am a dork," she said. "And so it is very much about finding your identity, and no matter how much life throws at you, you can still have that will to continue."

Her novel series is character-driven, Draper said. She is well into the second book in the series, and she said she has known what would happen in each chapter, in the flow of the book. There are still surprises — a new character popped up unexpectedly in Chapter Two of the second book — but generally, the characters interact and develop as Draper planned.

"The Loathing Oblivion" was self-published through AuthorHouse. Draper designed the cover and worked with someone she knew on her website. She said she's taking a businesslike approach to marketing the book — setting up book signings, contacting vendors, working her networks. She also works full time as a server at Schmankerl Stube in downtown Hagerstown. And she's writing her second novel.

The novel is aimed at young readers, but Draper counts on their growing maturity. "The Loathing Oblivion" has scenes of emotional abuse, physical violence and emotional connection between characters, but Draper thinks young readers can handle them.

"I knew what everything was at (age) 11. And so did all my classmates," Draper said. "Parents may want to shield their children from everything bad. But I feel that introducing it in the way I am, it's showing young readers that, yes, these things can happen, these things are bad. But you just have to have the strength and hope to move past it and deal with it."

Draper said she had to look into her own dark side in order to write "The Loathing Oblivion." That made her uncomfortable, she said.

"Taking the darker part of my personality and exploring it was difficult, because my (ideal) is 'Harm to none' — the pagan, peaceful, nonconfrontational mentality," she said. "So to really push in those conflicts was difficult for me."

But she felt she held true to her values. The first book shows the growth of a girl struggling to learn who she is and what she can do. It's actually an uplifting story, Draper said.

"The big part for me is I want to spread the hope. There's always a reason to keep going. There's always a hope," she said. "You learn from your past and live in the present. And hope for the future. You have to have that hope."

About the authors

Author: Diane Draper of Williamsport

Title: "Precious Souls: Book One: The Loathing Oblivion"

Genre: Magical fantasy

Pages: 550

Price: $28.99, hardcover; $23.50 softcover; $4.50, Kindle edition


Available locally at: Turn the Page Bookstore in Boonsboro and at Washington County Free Library

Author: Jensen Roman of Falling Waters, W.Va.Title: "Experiment XIII"

Genre: Sci-fi/romance

Pages: 371

Price: $21.95, softcover; $3.99, Kindle edition


Available locally at: Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Library in Martinsburg

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