Featured Fig: Jonah Solheim

In the words of world-renowned tenor Andrea Bocelli, it is “Time to Say Goodbye” to NaNoWriMo. December 1, that simultaneously anticipated and dreaded date, will tomorrow brandish an epic “stop sign,” and your fingers will soon cease their typing frenzy. Until that time, however, we’re here to cheer you on for your last push!

Every week since the beginning of November, we’ve featured a NaNo-Fig to inspire you, give you writing tips, and help you procrastinate just a bit. So far, Madeleine Robinson Graham, Karenna Marcela Oner, and Al Howard have given you their insiders’ notes on how to write a great NaNo novel. This week, we’ve got 17-year-old Jonah Solheim, a Wisconsin native who was inspired by dystopian novels to write a post-apocalyptic NaNo story called “Affliction.”


Describe your inspiration for your NaNo story.

I got the idea in Tech Ed in seventh grade, but it’s been on the back burner ever since. The idea kinda popped into my head, and I thought, “Hey, why aren’t there any books about a kid surviving the apocalypse?  I should do that.” And when the opportunity arose to write a novel in a month, I thought this was the perfect idea.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

My third grade teacher told me to set a goal and adhere to it. Since then, I’ve done just that, and now one of my books is going to be published.

You get to invite three authors to dinner. Who do you choose and why?

First I would choose Kirsten Lobe, author of the Paris Hangover books, because she and I have actually met and she has encouraged me and edited for me and I feel obligated to honor her in some way. Next would be Suzanne Collins, just to see how she comes up with such original things! Last would be Michael Crichton, were he alive, because his books are entrancing and far-out and superb, and the way he places basically normal people in extraordinary situations astounds me.

What was your NaNo schedule like?

My spontaneous bursts usually come as ideas late at night or sometimes during school, and I make sure to jot them down somewhere to pump it out later at the computer.

If you could do NaNo over again right now, what parts/aspects of your story would you keep and what would you change?

I might describe some of the settings more, and spend more time depicting the family pre-apocalypse.

In your NaNo story, “Affliction,” the characters live in a post-apocalyptic world full of bombs, lethal rain, and airborne disease. What advice do you have for Figs who want to write dystopic or post-apocalyptic books that avoid clichés?

I like to think of “Affliction” as a pre-dystopian thriller; the stuff that happens before the shining pillar of strength rises. 1984 [by George Orwell] really inspired me, because I thought it was an extremely well-crafted book, even if I didn’t agree with the ending. I thought, “What was that dystopia like at the beginning?  Who started it?  What started it?” And thus “Affliction” was born. Instead of 1984’s all-powerful regime of all-consuming war, it’s about how the regime came to be. What I do to avoid clichés is read as many dystopian books as I can, see what’s missing, and write that.

When you write, are you more focused on quality or quantity, and which focus produces better results?

For NaNo, I’m more focused on quantity than quality, but normally I focus on making each and every sentence as awesome as possible. Then I go back and add if I need to. I think that quality produces better results in the long run. I spent three years on my other novel, “Solis,” before it got accepted for publication, and I spent countless hours editing and adding other parts, and after all that it was over 130 pages.  Therefore, quantity can come from quality.


Are you participating in National Novel Writing Month? Join Figment’s official NaNo Group to participate in adrenaline-filled writing sprints, tag your story nanowrimo11 to get a spiffy new badge, and scribble away!

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