Featured Fig: Erin Barbeau

What makes Figment Figment? Well, there are forums and blog posts and writing groups and featured books. But what really makes this place special are all of you Figs. So you should get some love.

This week, we’re introducing you to Erin Barbeau (a.k.a. Cassy Blue): Florida native, 16-year-old writer of scifi, and passionate butterfly counter. Keep your eyes on this space for future Featured Figs!


How did you first get into Figment?

Well, I had been on a different writing website called Worthy of Publishing under a different pen name. I had fun writing and sharing my work on it. My mom saw an article about Figment a week after Figment launched. She showed it to me, since she knew how much I enjoyed the other website. I loved Figment’s layout and how user-friendly it is. I signed up and posted a short story called “Dragon Guard” (deleted now). The rest is history; now I’m practically addicted.

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

Oh boy, that is a hard question. Why only three? I would have a dinner party and invite around eight of my favorite authors. But for now, I would most likely choose to invite Michael Crichton, Orson Scott Card, and Diane Duane. I loved Jurassic Park and Timeline by Mr. Crichton. I think he would have been a cool person to talk to since he wrote so many books warning about the dangers of the advancement of technology. Ender’s Game is my all-time favorite, and I would love to ask Mr. Card what he was thinking when he wrote it. Ms. Duane has had an immense influence on my writing. I would like to ask her what inspired her to write The Young Wizards series.

Oodles and oodles of authors have inspired stories or influenced me. I’m like a Borg in that aspect. I’ve been a fantasy and science-fiction fan ever since I was little. I read so much fantasy in grade school, everything from Harry Potter to the Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce. I suppose when I started writing, Diane Duane, Tamora Pierce, and Anne McCaffery were my main influences. Strong heroines and stories that blended science fiction and fantasy were features of my first few stories.

What cliché would you most like to see erased from YA fiction?

It would be supernatural romance–absolutely supernatural romance. This whole pretty-and-sexy-vampire-and-werewolf thing has gone overboard. I walk into Barnes and Noble and the teen section is overrun with supernatural romance. Everything is a cookie-cutter knock-off of Twilight (which I haven’t read and never will). Whatever happened to the fact that vampires and werewolves are evil monsters? Seriously, I gag when I read the flaps of these books. I find it cliché and just yucky. Die sparkly vampires, die sexy werewolves!

When you start a new piece, what are your first steps? Describe your typical writing process.

This might sound strange, but usually my new pieces are from stories I tell myself before I sleep. I have a hard time sleeping sometimes, so I tell myself stories, except they unfold in my mind like a silent movie with subtitles. That’s usually how I brainstorm my stories. Once I have an idea, I try to write down a summary of the plot. Usually I have the beginning and ending, then I make up the middle while I’m writing down the summary of the plot or when I’m riding in the car going around town. Sometimes I make an elaborate outline (which I did for “Nike Phase”), but this is really rare, since once I start writing, I often stray from the outline. I stray even from my small summary!

Sometimes, before I start writing, I doodle and sketch out the characters so that I have a better idea of their appearances. I did this for Aoife and Lee of “Paradox.” But occasionally I do it after finalizing the appearance, which I did for Nadia of “Aurum.”

Next, I sit down and write. I write usually in the evening after school or when I’m waiting for my younger sister (Zara the Shikara Tara) to be done with her different activities. I follow no outline. I just write. Sometimes this method goofs up and I don’t like what I wrote or it doesn’t follow my vision. So then I rewrite what I have. For example, I did not like the first chapter of “Nike Phase.” I rewrote that chapter five times until it was right. It took some time to perfect it.

Otherwise my main writing glitch is my attention span, I have so many story ideas that it makes it hard for me to concentrate on writing one story. I used to be so hard core; I would finish one book and then move on. Now I tend to start a book and then abandon it after two chapters and start on a new one. But I think it’s a matter of me liking the book; if I really, really love the story and the characters, I’ll stick with it. But if I don’t, I won’t. I think this is because once I forced myself to finish a book that I disliked and it felt horrible.

Fill in the blank: “At 2 a.m., I’m most likely . . .”

Sleeping, like any sane person would be. Dreaming about kicking alien butt, though, like any hard core science-fiction fan would be.

What’s your weirdest/most unique hobby?

I count and identify butterflies. (I do not collect or pin butterflies.) I’m conducting a field study at a State Park near my home on butterfly population and diversity. I have a permit from the D.E.P. (Department of Environmental Protection). So once a week I go out in the woods and count butterflies as they flutter by. I’ve identified over 50 species at the park over a span of two years.

I’m the “Butterfly Girl” because of this study, since I’ve used it for science competitions and different educational programs. People have walked up to me and asked me, “Are you the Butterfly Girl?” and I usually say, “Um, yeah . . . ” Also, that’s where Cassy Blue came from. Cassius Blue is a common, tiny, grey and blue butterfly that I like, so I decided to use Cassy Blue as a pen name.

Which book that you’ve posted on Figment do you consider your best/like the best and why?

I’m not really sure, since there are things I like about all my books and things that make me cringe about some of my books. I don’t know what my best is, since everything is very different. I know my favorites are a tie between “Nike Phase,” “Aurum,” and “Paradox.” If you read them, you will notice all three are about Florida or people from Florida.

I love writing Piper in “Nike Phase” because I can alternate between first person and third person, which is never boring. I love the way the characters interact, the way the adrenaline is applied early to the story. I love “Aurum” since it was very much shaped by my childhood. I grew up watching space shuttle launches and have been to the Kennedy Space Center. I’ve been past orange groves upon orange groves. The little things in the book–such as the butterflies in the grove and the koi–are all things from my life.

And then there is “Paradox,” my “wibbly wobbly timey wimey” book. (I just had to.) I love it since most of the places are actually inspired by, or are, real places. For example, the museum in the first chapter is The Norton Art Museum. The wood behind Lee’s home is the State Park where I count butterflies. There is just something fun about writing about your hometown and throwing in time-space distortions, aliens, monsters, and speculations about the future.

You’ve finished your NaNo story, “Paradox.” Now what? How was your epic journey to the finish line?

Well, “Paradox” isn’t really finished yet. I just met my word goal. Now what? I somewhat destroyed the plot line after NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) was over and am now rebuilding the novel from the ashes of whatever I wrote during NaNo. I’m probably going to take a break from writing for some other things I need to do. (I hear the siren call of the SAT and ACT.)

NaNo was pretty epic for me. This was my first year and I made it! I made it by the seat of my pants. I had some obstacles to maneuver around. I started out late. Then I hit a bump called “my mother banned writing until Thanksgiving vacation.” I didn’t have my homework done, so I couldn’t write for four days. Then I wrote feverishly during vacation. It was looking bleak the last two days of NaNo.  I had barely 40,000 words; actually no, I had around 38,000 some words. I had to write more than 10, 000 words in two days. To some figment users, that isn’t a lot; for me it is. I lost sleep the last day, finally forgot spelling, and chugged out the words I needed to reach my 50,000 word goal.

The most epic thing is that I finally started to write the story that’s been in my head for about two years. I tried to write it once, but I could not finish it. I got to the end of the first chapter, then gave up. It wasn’t working. This time, it did. Maybe since I had a longer time to brainstorm and lay out my characters and the event? I finally wrote Lee’s story and continued the story of Shana Davis (known as Aoife) which makes me happy to no end.

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