Mathematician and writer, Chris T. Acadian, has been trapped in the fourth dimension for a long time. As a professional dabbler, Acadian is a sucker for anything new, be it mountain climbing or oil painting. She is currently an actuarial modeler for a property and casualty company. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below are Acadian’s responses to some questions regarding her first book.
Is there a sequel to “The Shifter”?
There are four books in the “Shifter Extraordinaire” series. All of them are written, but only the first is published. The next one is “The Founder.” I need the first one to do well enough to warrant publishing the next. Although it’s selling much better than I thought it would, we’re still not there yet.
Where did your idea for “The Shifter” come from?
I began thinking about “The Shifter” universe when I was in high school, bored out of my mind and needing something to do in class. I’ve always loved superhero books and movies. I love larger-than-life characters and escaping into a world far removed from my own. Aside from their oftentimes trope-y, one-dimensional characters (pun intended), the problem I have with superhero and fantasy books is their required disconnect from reality. The left side of my brain has issues with simply accepting that magic exists or that being bitten by a radioactive spider gives you super powers. Although not as many issues as it used to. When I began studying the fourth dimension in my early teens, I realized that a four-dimensional person would be an awesome superhero, and it was mathematically explainable. So that became the basis of my teenage daydreams.
Did you always want to be a writer?
I never imagined I’d be a writer. I’m a mathematician—that’s what I always wanted to be. Although I’d read a fair amount because it was “good for me,” I didn’t enjoy reading and had major writing anxiety. I wouldn’t take college courses that required a paper. Or if I did, I’d audit them, drop out right before the paper was due, or just not write the paper. It was bad. But I’ve always loved art—drawing and painting. When I had children, that creative outlet was cut off. It’s impractical to paint while holding a baby, and you can’t leave anything out, or your creation (and your house) will be ruined. But I needed an outlet, so I started writing. That’s when I realized I’d been writing with art all along. It had always been about the story, and I wanted to tell the story to the best of my ability. I think that’s why people commonly tell me there’s a visual element to my writing. Also, as I edited, I was aware that I wanted this book to be a movie someday (I dream big), and I wrote it in a way that could easily be adapted to the screen. That was the intention, anyway.
The other thing that helped develop my storytelling was my compulsive need to lie as an insecure child. On the way home from school everyday I’d formulate what I was going to tell my parents when they asked about my day. At first the question was annoying. As I grew older, I saw it as an opportunity to make my mundane life seem more exciting. I would tell them the absolute best, most dramatic version of the day I possibly could. And if minor details needed to be altered in order to ameliorate the story, so be it.
How long did it take you to write “The Shifter”?
I decided to legitimately write “The Shifter” when I was about 26, a time when there were no other books called “The Shifter.” I’d waited for somebody else to write the story because I wanted to read it, but no one did. So I wrote it myself. I’d never taken a writing course and had no idea what I was doing. But I’d learned to love reading (again thanks to my children and the consequential lack of all other entertainment opportunities), and I’d had some vague notion of this story simmering in the back of my mind for a good ten years.
Then I started teaching middle and high school. As I got to know and love my students, I realized that this book had to be about them. Specifically, I wanted to address the issues of insecurity, body image, acceptance, and self-esteem that were pervasive in my female students. Not only did they give me direction, they also gave me ample raw material with the crazy things they said and did on a daily basis. Essentially, I got to know my audience really well.
When my students discovered I was writing a book, they demanded to read it. Repeatedly. Finally, I gave in and brought them the first several chapters. It was the first time I’d ever let anybody read my writing. It was very intimidating. They read it during lunch and demanded the next chapter. So I went home and wrote it. I brought the next chapter to school a couple of days later. They read it in ten minutes and demanded the next. Soon I was going home and writing a chapter every night. Once the ending of the first book had come to me and I’d written it down, I knew I could actually write a book. That gave me a bit of a boost. I finished it about eight years ago.
Then I wondered what I should do with it. So I researched publishing and tried to get representation. I was rejected hundreds of times. At that point, I thought editing was simply fixing grammatical errors. But there were a few agents who saw something in it, and that was encouraging. One of them was also an editor. She gave me some great advice: learn how to write. So I did. She worked with me for over a year. I finally realized that, instead of piece fixing the book, I needed to give it a drastic overhaul, especially since I had an established voice and a better idea of how to write. I threw away the first one and rewrote the entire thing from scratch in first person. The published book looks nothing like my original, although it’s the same basic story and characters. In the end, although some agents saw the potential, none of them were willing to represent the book, and the constant rejection got old. So I did it myself.
Overall, the book took about a year to write. The process took ten. I like a lot of distance between edits so that I can approach my work with new eyes. Also, sometimes I’ll run into a plot or character development problem I just can’t figure out or see a way around. I’ll sit on these problems, sometimes for a year or two, until the answer comes to me. I’ve learned to trust the process. The solution will present itself if I’m patient. Luckily, before my first book was published, I could afford to be patient. I was unwilling to publish “The Shifter” until the entire series had been written because I feared writing myself into a corner. Although not written chronologically, the entire series was pieced together in about three years.
What is your advice to future writers?
All successful authors seem to say the same thing: writers should write every day. I don’t understand this advice. Not that it’s wrong; I just don’t understand it. The reason I write is because I have something to say. If I don’t have something to say, I don’t speak. I don’t write just to do it. I wait until I’ve already got an idea in my head. I can edit every day, but I can’t do the creative, word vomit thing unless I’m truly inspired.
When I began this endeavor, I was riddled with insecurity. I wouldn’t even call myself a writer. I was a mathematician, not a writer. I told my friend, who’s also an author, my concerns, and he explained to me that being a mathematician gave me a distinct advantage because it was part of what made my writing unique. How many writers could claim to be mathematicians? That opened my eyes a little. Not only are their thought processes unique, but mathematicians have their own way of writing: first person plural. Math takes the reader on a journey simply by the way it’s written.
Still, having read and admired so many great writers, I knew I could never compete. I’m not a poet; I don’t have that intuitive, brilliant way with words. Again, my friend pointed out that if people wanted to read Nabokov or Dickens, they’d go read Nabokov or Dickens. I didn’t have to write like anybody else. I could write like me because that’s essentially all I had to offer anyway.
Once I embraced my role as a writer and shirked off the limitations I’d put on myself, writing became fun because it was an exploration rather than an imitation. I could work the way I worked best, using my own process, and write what I wanted to write exactly how I wanted to write it. Sharing my work was much less stressful, as well, because its acceptance by readers became a matter of preference, not value. Of course, I continually worked to improve. And still do. That’s part of the joy of writing: watching yourself grow.
All in all, your writing has to be, first and foremost, for you. If you don’t enjoy the process, you’re going to struggle. Not that everything about the process is enjoyable; it’s not. But even after receiving hundreds of rejections, you’ll still want to write because you need to. It’s in you, and you can’t make it go away.
Why do you write for young adults?
I don’t consider myself a young adult writer. Although this series is young adult, nothing else I write is. Also, my process is quite different for each book. Essentially, I had a vague notion of the plot of the “Shifter Extraordinaire” series before I began writing it. But the series came to me in scenes. “This would be fun,” or “this needs to happen.” It’s an amalgam of scenes smoothed together after the fact. Chapters were frequently repositioned, even into different books within the series. A lot of things that just weren’t working or did nothing to carry the plot were deleted. That’s always hard.
I did adhere to the young adult formula (savior of the world, excessive aggression, sarcasm and insult, ridiculously attractive boy makes everything better, etc.) because these speak to young adults. I believe they’re one of the major reasons adults have taken to young adult literature. It’s not that nobody’s told teenagers they can’t change the world; it’s that teenagers haven’t bought into the lie yet. There’s a certain amount of hopefulness and freedom in reading young adult literature because it’s written for people who have impressive intellects but aren’t jaded by life. It’s one of the main things I loved about teaching this age group. The excessive aggression is just who I am, and insults are my love language. When questionnaires ask for my native tongue, I check the “other” box and write “sarcasm.” I tried to put a spin on the ridiculously attractive boy, however. In fact, he didn’t start out ridiculously attractive at all. I wanted him to be appealing and mysterious but not attractive in the air-brushed-24-7 kind of way. But while playing with the characters and trying to create the tension between Nic and Faedra, I decided it wasn’t working. Not only did Nic need to be attractive, he needed to be over-the-top attractive, eliciting distance and a strong repulsion from Faedra. I hadn’t read other young adult books until most elements in mine had been established. Like, none. Not even Harry Potter. Then I decided it would probably be a good idea.
As a young adult novel, the book had to be exciting, but not sensational. Appealing, without flitting away into fantasy. It had to be real, even though it was a superhero book and the characters were all “well above average.” The math had to be understandable and maybe interesting, but not didactic enough to cause tears. And the character development had to be a priority if I wanted people to reread it, which I do. There was a lot of agonizing over how far was too far for a young adult audience. I walked a multitude of fine lines, especially with the violence, Hayden Miller’s creepiness, the romantic tension, and the dimensional explanations. And those things only get worse as the series progresses. Originally, I had also wanted to tackle the issue of sexuality, but it was just too much to ask of one book. Ultimately, I abandoned the idea, although I still think it’s an important issue to address. Few of the young adult books I’ve read tackle this in a way that would’ve helped me as a teen.
How do you come up with all the details and ideas for your books?
My ideas come from three things: my passions, my experiences, and a wealth of introspection. My passions are foremost. It’s easy to write about something I truly love, like math or art or ass kicking. Those are foundational.
My personal adventures also play a huge role. I do a lot of crazy stuff just for a story. As I was recently wandering around the desert, lost for hours without water, the honest-to-goodness thought that went through my head was, “This is going to make a great story. If I survive, at least I can accurately describe how it feels to be dehydrated.” I have a lot of those types of stories. In fact, I left most of them out of the book because they’re too farfetched. I’ll do almost anything just to try something new. Nearly everything in the book is based on actual experiences that have been extrapolated for the situation: almost drowning, one of my martial arts instructors pelting me with flicks, riding a motorbike up a tree and jumping off so it fell on my dad, Hayden Miller’s abuse.
Introspection is the third source of my ideas. Although I hate writing about my life or myself (unless it involves my writing process, apparently), the stuff I dwell on definitely comes out in my work. Writing is extremely therapeutic because I can process ideas and emotions in a detached way. For people like me, with Asperger’s or whatever you want to call it, this is very helpful. I can’t write a thank you note for a coffee maker because that type of writing is too emotive and personal, but I can write “The Shifter” because Faedra isn’t technically me and her emotions aren’t technically mine. A lot of the character development, and even the plot, is driven by what I want the characters to learn. Any piece of insight that comes to me, whether it’s from myself or someone else, is immediately written down, especially if it’s uniquely or beautifully worded. I’ve written entire chapters for the benefit of one sentence that needed to be included. I’ll get up in the middle of the night and search for a pencil and paper if a spark goes off. And it doesn’t have to be the profound stuff either; sometimes it’s just a witty comeback.