The write stuff
Local authors prove they have what it takes
By Jennifer M. Aguilar
Have you ever read a book that changed your life? Most people could probably note at least one book that greatly impacted their lives, whether it be a fairytale or fable from their childhood, a gripping novel that took them on a wild adventure or engrossed them in a timeless love story, or simply the book that helped ignite in them a passion for reading. But for three local authors, it might just be the books they have penned, and published, that have impacted their lives the most. After all, the metaphorical pen is truly a powerful thing.
Inspired by movies
Allen G. Bagby was still a preteen when he first remembers writing. “I think I was 12 when I first tried to express an original thought on paper. It was a smattering of lyrics inspired by a Styx song [ha-ha]. Most things I wrote were horrible attempts at poetry. It was just simple teenage angst.“ Bagby said. “I wrote a fragment of a story that was about some guys who had just landed on a distant planet. They were desperately running through a forest as a huge monster chased them. The creature was bigger than a T-Rex and smaller than Godzilla. One guy got snatched up. I remember thinking I described his death screams fairly well.”
Of course, he’s quick to point out that his storytelling days began even sooner. “I started telling stories way back in the 1960s with my army men in the sandbox under the willow tree in the back yard. I was 4 or 5. Of course, it was all in my mind and mostly based on the Rat Patrol,” Bagby said.
Though he wrote a short story for a class in the early 90s, and tried to keep journals in his early twenties, it wasn’t until much later that Bagby got the push he needed to get more serious about his writing. And it didn’t actually come from a book.
“Lord of the Rings [the movie] came out after 2001… when I walked out of the theater, I knew I could not put off serious writing any longer. I would write an epic fantasy fiction one day,” Bagby said. Like so many of the movies
that inspired him as a child, films like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings was another epic tale, filled with powerful moments of storytelling.
“I strive to construct these types of moments into my stories because I believe in the depth of my being that’s what the reader wants from the type of books I write. My motivation for writing stems from a deep desire to create a story that will give impactful feelings, blow your mind, worry you, melt your heart, and make you braver, “ he said.
Though writing proved to be a true labor of love, with dedication he was finally able to finish his first book of the saga, Blood & Soul, in July of 2014. “I started writing about the Creed of Kings world around 2005. In 2007, I finally got to place in life where I could devote many hours of time to it. I floundered for 5 years writing massive sections of what is now the fourth book in the Creed of Kings saga. I wrestled with it for years until the ‘whammo’ moment happened.”
When his tale was complete, Bagby decided to self-publish his debut. Fortunately he received positive feedback, which has certainly pushed him to continue working on the rest of the series.
“Seeing all the wonderful reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, I felt validated and encouraged to continue even though I’m not well-known. Yet, even though Blood & Soul is my first published book, I’ve had people tell me that something I wrote emotionally moved them. Those were the early sparks that kept feeding the flame to give readers more powerful stories. And, I’ve given everything I have to Blood & Soul to reach that goal. My ongoing desire is to do that multiple times and to improve as a writer and storyteller.”
The author has many other books he wants to write. The next book in the saga he’s writing is entitled Out of Oblivion. “I wrote Blood & Soul while I had a part time job, now I have full time job so it’s a lot more challenging to write epic fantasy fiction.”
While writing, Bagby gleaned some great advice from the book, Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks. That said, he also learned, firsthand, the importance of setting aside a specific time every single day, to write. Even now, working full-time as a supervisor at a transportation facility and making time for his cycling hobby, he still makes time to write.
Besides bolstering his own confidence, Bagby also views his slow but steady success as proof that anyone can be a writer, if he is simply willing to put in the work. “Don’t wait for inspiration. Don’t expect the story to just come to you. You’ve got to chisel it out of stone. Study the craft of storytelling and get a professional editor! To stand out you have to be excellent. Think of yourself as competing with the best authors in your genre. That’s who you’ll be compared to,” Bagby said.
Young author, big dreams
Keara Barron was inspired from a young age by the kind of epic stories you would expect from fantasy writers. However, unlike most authors, she didn’t wait long before trying her own hand at penning an epic tale.
“Ever since I was in elementary school, I knew that I wanted to write a full-length novel someday and hopefully have it published. I especially wanted to do this at a young age. I’ve always loved the world of literature, so it was just a dream of mine that never went away. One day, while I was in eighth grade, I finished reading a book and thought to myself, ‘Hey, I can do this too.’ And so I sat down in front of my computer and turned my long-time dream into a reality,” Barron said.
It took her six or seven months, but after logging many hours behind her computer screen, Barron had accomplished her dream. She had written her first novel, and at only fourteen!
“I’m proud that I was able to accomplish this, but I’ve never seen it as something extraordinary, which is good, I think, because it helps me stay humble,” Barron said.
“My debut novel is a two-part fantasy series called Shadow of the Sacred Islands, set in a fictional world and a medieval, Renaissance-like time period. Reading in the fantasy genre was always fun for me, and I wanted to contribute my own work to that part of literature. I knew magic had to be a key feature in my book, and after reading so many fantasy books like The Hobbit over the course of my life, several elements of those books morphed into an idea for my own novel,” Barron said.
“I definitely admire J.R.R. Tolkien and his extensive world-building. I read The Lord of the Rings this year for the first time and it inspired me to keep developing my own fantasy world. Marissa Meyer and her book series, The Lunar Chronicles, also inspire me and continually pull me out of my writer’s block. Some of my other favorite authors include Ray Bradbury, C.S. Lewis, Harper Lee and Diana Wynne Jones,” Barron said.
She has actually been writing stories of her own since she was still in elementary school. “The first time I tried creative writing was in the first grade. I enjoyed learning about figurative language in school and creating my own little stories. They were extremely quirky and awful, but I found a lot of joy in writing them,” Barron said. “I continued to write more of these stories every now and then throughout grade school, and occasionally entered the PTA Reflections contest in the category of literature.”
Of course, those years of writing purely for fun didn’t make Barron immune from doubt. “I had some self-doubt when I was writing my book. There were moments when I thought that I wasn’t a very good writer or that the plot was too simple. And then there were some blissful moments when I didn’t care and I was writing just for the pure joy of it. When I was struggling through my doubt, the quote, ‘A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit’ consoled me,” Barron said.
As a full-time student, and a busy one at that, Barron discovered plenty of challenges when it came to making time to write, not unlike her adult counterparts. In addition to writing, Barron also plays volleyball and the viola. She’s also on her school’s yearbook staff, and is learning to play guitar. Yet even with all those responsibilities and interests, Barron has learned to juggle her time in a way that still prioritizes the craft of writing.
“It’s not possible for me to be a full-time author, so it took more than a couple months to write the book. My habit of time management and outlining chapter by chapter gave me the discipline I needed to stick with it and finish my book. I’m also intrinsically motivated, so that helped spur me on even when it felt like I would never finish the first draft.”
Barron and her father made the decision to self-publish Shadow of the Sacred Islands when it was complete. Her book was published during her sophomore year of high school. “Self-publishing was a cool experience for me because I learned how to talk to people in a business setting and gained some confidence that way,” Barron said.
In order to help spread word about her book, Barron worked with a publicist to embark on a six-week marketing campaign, which included online interviews and a feature story in the Murphy Monitor. “I even had a story aired about me on WFAA. That was pretty cool. Nerve wracking, but cool,” she said.
Besides making plans to go to college after graduating from Plano East Senior High, Barron is currently at work on a trilogy, which is set in the same world as Shadow of the Sacred Islands, only a few hundred years later. “I am beyond excited about this story because the plot is much more involved, the characters are more developed and complex and my writing has improved tenfold. As a busy high school student who’s about to be in college, it’s taking me a bit longer to write these books, so it’s going to be a few years before I’m going to try to publish them. I plan to go the traditional publishing route this time and try to have a literary agent represent me.”
Surprisingly, Barron said her favorite subject in school isn’t literature or writing. “My favorite school subject by far is calculus and, after a lot of thought and indecisiveness, I plan to study engineering in college. My goal is to continue writing novels on the side, even as I go through college,” she said.
That in mind, Barron certainly understands the challenge it can be to consistently carve out time for passionate pursuits, like writing. She said her best advice to other aspiring authors is to have patience.
“Most of us aren’t great writers when we just start out, and it takes time to improve. If you don’t get published right away, don’t despair. We’ve all heard that many authors get rejected several times before publishing a bestselling novel. And sometimes, the time just isn’t right. Regardless, if writing is your passion, you should stick with it. Write what you want instead of following trends. Find what works best for you!” Barron said.
It’s never too late
Like many authors, Monica Tillery was always a passionate reader. However, she’s the first to admit that she began her writing career a bit later than most.
“I’ve always been an avid reader. When I was younger, I loved Sweet Valley High books and as I got a little older, I read a lot of Stephen King and other horror writers,” she said. “I came to writing a little late. A lot of authors will tell you that they’ve always written stories, but I didn’t start until I was in my thirties. I had written one not-very-scary horror short story, but that was it.”
So what specifically inspired her to branch out, and to start writing the kind of stories she’d long been reading? “I actually remember exactly when I decided to write my first book. It was May 2012 and I was talking with my husband about a certain romance that I thought was awful that everyone seemed to love. He simply told me that I should write one. I didn’t know anything about writing books, but it turns out that there is a wealth of information available online about genre conventions, tips and tricks, and plotting.”
After some initial research, and with plenty of inspiration from which to draw, Tillery set out to write her first book. “I started my first book in May 2012, and it was published in June 2013,” she said. “Kiss Me, Katie was my first novel. It’s about a young fiddler whose band joins a very successful singer on tour. Sparks fly and love blooms, but Katie’s tour bus is heading back to Texas with or without her. Will she choose her career, or true love?” she said.
“I take a lot of inspiration for my books from real life. I’ve written so many books based in Texas or small towns. The last book I released is the first in a series that centers around the sons of a guacamole tycoon. I got that idea because one of my relatives started a huge guacamole company. My book has very little to do with guacamole, but it was a fun jumping off point. I’ve modeled characters after friends of mine (a bodyguard in my first book, the heroines of my third and fifth books) and get inspiration from things that I see or do. I try to purposefully find ideas, as I’m not someone who comes up with them very easily,” Tillery said.
For Tillery, accountability was key to completing that first book. “Honestly, I may not have finished my first book if I hadn’t told people I was writing it. Whenever I’d give up for a while, inevitably, someone would ask me about it. So many people knew about it that I didn’t want to admit that I’d given up,” she said.
Fortunately, her hard work – and perhaps even some well-intentioned pestering from those around her – paid off. Since that original publication, Tillery has become a rather prolific writer. She now has seven books to her name, all romantic in nature.
“Sometimes my contract deadlines are what keep me going, because of course I don’t want to turn a book in late. Nothing will force me to write whether I want to or not like a looming deadline,” Tillery said.
“When I’m not writing under contract, I find that writing first, before the rest of the day has time to intrude, can be really helpful,” Tillery said. As a realtor, wife, and mom to two teen sons, she certainly has a lot vying for her time. Fortunately, she’s found great support through local writers’ groups.
“I also try to make every monthly meeting of Dallas Area Romance Authors (a local chapter of Romance Writers of America) and local writing conferences like DFW Writers Conference. Being around other writers, learning new things, and hearing about other writers’ successes can be very motivating,” Tillery said.
In fact, joining a writing group is one of the best pieces of advice Tillery had to offer potential writers. “DFW is home to so many different kinds of writing groups. Find your tribe, and start meeting other writers who do what you do.”
Another thing to remember is that you don’t need a ton of free time to write a book. “A lot of people tell me that they’d like to write a book but don’t have the time. I say that we make time for what’s important to us, and writing can be one of those things. Most people don’t start writing with unlimited time available to them. Most of us have jobs that we need to keep even if we want to write a book or families that need to be tended to. It can be done. Many books have been written thirty minutes at a time before the kids wake up, on lunch breaks, late at night, or in vans while kids are at soccer practice. If you want to write, write,” Tillery said.
“Also, finish your book. Even if it’s awful and you’re convinced that you’ve written the worst book ever written, finish it. No matter what. You can fix a bad book, and you can change a boring story. You can’t fix something that you never managed to write. Like author Nora Roberts says, you can’t fix a blank page.”