Comicality: – Welcome to March! We’ve got a new featured author joining the Imagine family this month! He goes by the name, ‘ACFan’, and his story “Memories” has been a successful series from the very beginning, and I’m honored to have him jump in the sandbox to play with us! So let’s give a big welcome to ACFan, and make him feel at home!
Alright, so I’m really interested in finding out where this story came from. I’m sure your readers are as well. Is this a personal, but fictionalized, story of yours? What made you sit down and type this story out for us to read?
ACFan: – As anyone who has ever seen us in chat has heard, IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT! (LOL) It all started with a recurring dream that bugged me for about a week. At the same time, you were terrorizing my inbox with gentle prodding (using a red-hot pitchfork) to try my hand at writing. I gave in, and decided to try to write a couple of chapters for the Comicality Library, and the world has never recovered!
The characters in the story each have a piece of either myself or someone I have known over the years; some more than others. As a victim of abuse, I understand how mental and physical abuse affects youth, and use that to project how my younger self would have liked to solve it. Cory’s memory loss is actually a point I almost hit at 12 1/2 years old myself, when my grandfather passed away. If it wasn’t for one of my uncles, who pulled me away from the funeral and had me stay at his place for a couple of weeks, I would have been in the same place as Cory; to this day there is a blank spot in my memory of that time. Other points are things I have learned helping youth either in person or online – all I can say is that reality is a lot stranger than fiction!
Comicality: – Hehehe, blame me all you want, but my pitchfork is pretty useless unless you’ve got a story to tell! So you did it all on your own, buster! Do you find it somewhat therapeutic to get your feelings out through stories like this? Does it sort of help to sort your thoughts and feelings out while you’re writing?
ACFan: – There is an interesting point about that – my Mom (rest her soul) picked up a book for me once that was for survivors of abuse. ANY type of abuse, mental, physical, or sexual, places the subject in one of two categories – they are either a victim or a survivor. Obviously, the subject is a victim while it happens, but being a victim continues until the mind has healed enough to stop letting what happened control every facet of their life. The classification of survivor starts to apply once they start mentally taking control and turning what happened into something they can actually control. There are a high percentage of survivors in social services, due to their insights of being a victim and their resolve to ensure nobody else has to live through what they did.
One of the points the book brought up was that writing out what happened, with the difference being that the victim empowers their inner child with their knowledge and let them ‘fix’ the situation, can have a healing effect. The thought is that the traumatized child’s thoughts are still in the victim’s head, and by allowing that child to ‘win’ against his/her abuser it gives the brain resolution, and allows healing to begin.
By the way, Com, unlike you, the book said that most survivors never have the need to have others read it – so you’re not off the hook! I’ve got TheEggman on my side! On that point though, I will say that by making it public, I have been told by quite a few readers that reading my stories of healing have started them on their own path towards healing. Telling it in public is not required, but the writer might just help a fellow survivor without intending to.
Comicality: – I’m pretty sure that I never would have written the story out if it wasn’t for an audience waiting for the next chapter. I would have buried it and kept it with me, trust me. I guess reader interest is a part of my writing process. So, that being said, walk us through your writing process. Where do your ideas come from and how do you plot things out, story wise?
ACFan: – I’m supposed to plot things out? NOW you tell me! I actually have a really loose writing style; I’ll start a chapter with a general idea, then just let the characters take it where they want to. Sometimes that will turn into multiple chapters, and other times it will twist into an unexpected side trip. Real life doesn’t follow a set script, so I try to keep things real by going with the flow. Some perfect examples are two of my favorite characters to write, Timmy and Kyle. Both of them had things happen which put them in a position where they could easily turn into bad characters, and neither thing was planned. Those unplanned events have turned into story lines that encompass the story to this day, showing their emotional growth and how they come to terms with the results of the event, learning to use it to better their families.
Comicality: – In that case, without giving anything away, do you have a particular ‘ending’ in mind for this story, or are you just going to continue on with it until you feel you and your characters have said all that they needed to say?
ACFan: – All I’ll say on that is the ending was written back in 2002 – I’m just waiting for the story to get there. The only people who know what it is are other authors in the CSU, and they have swore vows of silence under penalty of being turned then sent on an involuntary sun quest.
Comicality: – Yikes! Hehehe, understood! Now, speaking of CSU…your story is tied directly into the Clan Short Universe, right? How did that come to be, and how do you weave your story into what’s going on with that whole idea?
ACFan: – The Clan Short Universe (CSU) is actually one of the twists I was talking about. It is based off of events that were brought on by a couple of authors who liked Memories, and wanted to include it in their story. One of the stories touched Memories, left its mark, then moved on, while the other merged itself into the main story line. I think it became official when I was approached by Multimapper, who wanted to write a story within the fabric of the Memories story line. (He’s now got his own branches!) The collaboration was tagged on the Fort Family Forums as the “Clan Short Universe”, and the name stuck.
During Part 2 is when things really took off, and the method of working together was sorted out. (Trust me, there are a lot of goofs in our early tries!) At that time, the original ‘Core’ of the CSU was formed; myself, Akeentia, Jeff P, and The Story Lover. We learned by trial and error what it would take to have multiple stories running along the same plot line, and eventually figured out how to do it without repeating ourselves across stories. The biggest thing was being able to hold group chats while writing, and letting each writer decide on how their character would respond at that instant. For a good example, there is a scene in ‘Sentenced to Life’ (By Jeff P) that is known by readers and authors alike as “the logic war”; Jeff P and I were doing just that, and the character response was so funny that we let it ride, despite the fact that we were not really trying to go in that direction.
Comicality: – I noticed that your series sort of switches modes in each chapter, changing character perspectives while displaying different parts of your story. Was this challenging for you as a writer?
ACFan: – I guess I’m weird, because for me it is more challenging to stay on one character’s perspective for multiple chapters. With as large as my story has become, it just makes sense to me to look at things from the perspective of the person most affected. Starting out, I pretty much ignored most of the rules of writing anyway, (that’s what happens when you skip most of high school English to hang out in the auto shop), so I adopted that style early and have stuck with it.
Comicality: – While reading about the blossoming relationship between Cory and Sean, there seems to be a real sense of intimacy and a true bond there. How do you go about creating a sincere sense of romance and affection in your writing? I think that it was really well done.
ACFan: – Thanks! (blush) I think that comes from two things. One: Cory and Sean were the ones that invaded my dreams, and their bond was apparent even then. Two: When I write, I tend to be in the head of the character I’m writing (Which makes for some really interesting Real Life responses to text chats!). With doing that, I can express their feelings more accurately, which hopefully gives the reader a sense of deeper understanding. I have found that the more you identify with the character that you are writing, the more real you can make him or her. Growing up gay in Indiana in the 70’s and 80’s there was not any chance of having a boyfriend in school, so Cory and Sean are doing what I could only dream of when I was their age, which leads to me putting the work into their relationship to make it last. In a recent chapter, I unintentionally showed just how in-tune they are, with Sean taking the incentive to distract the rest of the room while Cory comforted someone who was just starting the road to recovery – without either of them saying a word. That’s the type of relationship I wanted, where the couple works together towards a common life goal, and those two embody it. In my head, no matter what fate or destiny tosses their way, the two of them will always have that special place where it is only them. (Do you realize how hard that was to answer without giving plot lines away?)
Comicality: – What obstacles would you say that you’ve faced, if any, while writing this series? Dealing with your past history of abuse, collaborating with other writers, maintaining your loose writing style, juggling a bunch of different story lines at once…I would imagine that all of these things come with challenges of their own.
ACFan: – The biggest challenge? Keeping enough cookies around to satisfy all of the characters living in my head! As the readers work their way through Memories and the rest of the CSU, they’ll notice one thing: if a character is alive and named, there is a good chance they will show up again somewhere in one of the stories. Just ask Pastor Mills or Julio! (Now you gotta read to see who they are!)
In general, the absolute size of the project is the major concern, as I’m always trying to ensure continuity. For example, in part 3 alone, which is still in progress, over 550 different characters have had at least a mention sometime during the book. Obviously most of them support the story, not drive it, but in the end they are just as necessary as the main characters. Just due to normal story progression, there are four of what I consider ‘Major’ story lines, all of which affect each other. The goal is to have them all merge into one by the end of the book, which seems to be working.
I’d say the biggest challenge, however, was learning how to move from one book to the next with events happening between books. Book 2 had a rocky start, as I didn’t introduce a couple of characters that were added by Multimapper between books as well as I should have. Book 3 worked out a lot better, even with the fact that once again, events happened outside the Memories storyline. This one was mostly my fault; I planned an epilogue to book 2 that was supposed to be stand-alone – that turned into its own story. Book one of that story (CSV-DSM) fills the void between parts 2 and 3, and then takes off on its own tangent with the second book of CSV-DSM.
I found that if you only put pieces of your history into a character, spreading it around so that each one deals with their own element of it, that the effect on me while writing about it isn’t too stressing. There are times that I have to take a break after a particular event is written, but it is not nearly as bad as it would be to deal with everything at once. Like any other part of life, taking things in small chunks saves your sanity.
Comicality: – Just to maybe give some wisdom to future authors who may want to try writing something of their own after reading this (Hehehe, in which case…it’ll be all YOUR fault, this time! LOL!), what would say makes for a great love story? And how should they go about finding the courage to get started?
ACFan: – First off, stock up on keyboards, you’ll need them. Also, laminate or use clear nail polish on the E, A, S, and T keys unless you don’t mind guessing which one is which! Yes, the characters will move into your head, and they’ll tell you story ideas at the most inopportune times… when you are showering, driving, trying to stay awake in a meeting or class, etc… – they think it is funny! Most of all, your worst critic stares at you in the mirror every time you brush your teeth – and that is not a joke. Especially when starting out, find yourself an author that you respect and ask them if they have time to look over your work. Expect them to point out ways that you can improve, and take their advice as a suggestion that could make you better. As much as you might want to, do not go back and re-write a scene once it is done unless you really screwed up continuity and can’t fix it any other way.
The hardest part of any story is the very first chapter, don’t let yourself worry about reception of the story. If by some chance your first attempt at writing falls into the 1% of first attempts that can not be used in any way, listen to what the established authors are telling you might have happened and then try again – even the powerhouses of printed books had false starts occasionally. Prospective writers, remember that even Comicality here can doubt a storyline; Gone From Daylight was an experiment which went insanely well.
The biggest secret to a love story is to be able to become one with the character, letting them use your emotions, even if you are not using that emotion yourself at the moment. Try to keep it real; mortal enemies do not make a good pairing, and you need to either have them be a couple when introduced, or start at the meeting and walk through the stages. Friends, interest, the stress of making the friendship into something more, etc….
There’s no one right way to tell a story. As mentioned above, I let my characters drive it with natural reactions, letting the plot develop as it goes. Other people plan out ‘mileposts’ for each chapter, plotting out the entire storyline before they write the first word. I know one author that writes out sub-plots as he thinks of them, then he puts everything in order at a later date to complete the chapter. All of the above are the proper way FOR THAT AUTHOR to write their story. If anyone points you towards any posted rules of writing – politely pretend to look at it while you watch your characters chase each other around your head, then forget it. Most of those rules only apply to non-fiction writers, or are opinions of people who think they know it all while knowing nothing.
You will ABSOLUTELY get at least one to ten emails telling you that your story is total crap or that you have to do ____ or else they will never read it again. Those emails make great toilet paper, especially after eating six bowls of chili. Otherwise, they are just a waste of bandwidth. I have had readers suggest things for my story, things that fit how it was running at that time – those are fine, and they were added with a big thank-you to the reader. If the feedback would change your story, take it somewhere that you don’t want to go, or is phrased as an order, ignore it. While writing a response is satisfying, sending it is not advised… I was banned by the other authors in the CSU from ever responding to one of those types of emails after they saw the response I wrote — there’s a reason that cussing like a sailor is considered a benchmark! No matter what, it is YOUR story, and only YOU or someone that you have given you trust to for acting in your stead should ever dictate what is in it.
Ask other authors if they have any recommendations for a proofreader or editor. When starting out, they help a lot, and the good ones will explain why they think it would help your story to do what they suggest. After 18 years of writing, I still goof occasionally, and most of the time I don’t see it because my brain knows what is supposed to be there. Once you’ve written a few chapters, sometimes a fan will offer to proofread for you – they actually are a good resource most of the time, and can catch continuity issues that you missed because you were thinking ahead instead of behind while writing.
Feedback: way back when I hadn’t pulled my hair out yet, people would send emails and post comments on story boards with positive comments and encouragement. Those days are long gone, so do not take lack of emails as a bad sign. The Fort Family sites give the authors access to see how many people have read a chapter; that number doesn’t lie. No matter where you post, that’s the number that matters if you can see it – as long as it’s not sitting at zero for a week, you’re doing fine. When you are starting out, the number will be lower than an author who has a few chapters under their belt, but it WILL grow in time. I originally posted the first chapter of Memories on October 22, 2002; I have never had a month where it had zero reads unless there was a site issue that blocked access.
Last but not least – schedules are for when you are getting paid; no matter how many complaints you get, do not post the next chapter until you feel it has reached the point that you want to stop at. If you rush it or push it, the quality of the story suffers. Not all of us can write like Comicality, who has one story for each hand, one for each foot, and a fifth one that I really don’t want to know how he’s typing it, all going at the same time. Normal humans can only do so much, and most of your readers (the silent ones) will appreciate you taking the time to make it right.
Comicality: – With all that being said, do you have any links to your site or social media that you’d like to share with our audience so they can get in contact with you and send you some feedback?
ACFan: – I’ll admit to real life sometimes (Okay, lately a lot!) getting in the way, so sometimes it takes a while for replies! With that in mind, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org – even if I don’t reply right away, I do still read the emails daily.
The official ‘Home’ site for Memories, CSV-DSM, and the other side stories I am writing is https://cornercafe.us – and in general I try to have access to all of the CSU stories I can on there. Thanks to the custom Story Management System that Akeentia designed, we have a central site called the CSU Hub at https://csuproductions.com which is dedicated to chapter announcements for any CSU story on the Fort Family network. That site will link you to the home site of each story, so you can decide for yourself where you like reading it best. Any updates to the home site automatically transfers to the Cafe, and vice-versa, so you can be sure of having the latest copy no matter where you read on the network. Most other Fort Family sites have their own subset of the total CSU collection, so the Hub makes it easy not to miss anything.
As far as any other social media, I really can’t afford to take the time to give them the attention they deserve. I do hang out in a couple of channels in Discord, but most of the time I’m logged in to be able to be notified of site issues more than anything – and the way Discord works, if you are logged in to watch one channel, you are showing as logged in on all channels. I do usually hang out on the Comicality chat, but responses may be quite delayed at times.
Comicality: – Hehehe, well THAT is much appreciated, believe me! I plan to hang out there more often myself soon! So I’ll see ya there!
There we have it, ladies and gentlemen! Our featured author of the month, ACFan, and his new addition to Imagine Magazine, “Memories”! Be sure to check it out when you get a chance! And you’ve got his contact info up above, and our brand new ‘Vote Up’ button for every story and article in the magazine! So give it a click, send him some feedback, and look for more “Memories” in future issues to come!
Thanks so much for the interview, dude! And I hope to see great things from you in the future!