Dark Star by Bethany Frenette is the story of Audrey Whitticomb, a typical teenaged girl with some very un-typical superpowers. Bethany was nice enough to stop by Figment to talk about her debut novel, writing fanfic—and she’s got some great advice for aspiring writers. Check it out.
Dark Star’s heroine, Audrey, is going places she shouldn’t and getting herself into trouble. She has an insatiable curiosity. Were you like that as a teenager?
I was definitely curious—but not in the same way as Audrey. It was more of a read-everything-I-can-get-my-hands-on way. And I was not nearly as rebellious. I was actually pretty boring! I never had a curfew, because I never got into trouble, and I’ve always been terrible at keeping secrets. If there was ever something I felt guilty about (like a grade I was embarrassed by), I’d tell myself, “Okay, don’t tell Mom about that!” And then I would immediately tell her, anyway.
Audrey has some pretty strong and powerful women in her life: her mom and both grandmothers. Were there women in your life who inspired these characters?
Definitely! My relationship with my mom was a huge influence on the book. Both of my own grandmothers died when I was very young, but I was raised by a single mother, and I’ve always been close with her. She had three kids, worked full-time, and put herself through school. That’s being a superhero, in my book.
Dark Star is set in the Twin Cities, where you live. What made you decide to set a novel there? Are there any landmarks mentioned in the book that really exist?
I’ve lived in Minnesota my entire life, and as much as I complain about the weather, I do love it here—so I think it was just a natural impulse to place the book in the Cities. Plus, setting it here allows me to make all sorts of Minnesota jokes. Somehow, some way, I am going to work hotdish into one of the books, I promise you! (For all the non-Minnesotans out there now asking what in the world hotdish is: it’s basically casserole. It’s just a much more fun way to say it!)
As for landmarks: Harlow Tower and the Drought and Deluge are both fictional, but I did manage to work in some of my favorite spots. I’m a big fan of the IDS Center, so I made certain to mention it, and I’ve always really enjoyed walking around Nicollet Mall. (And, like Audrey, I am absolutely hopeless at navigating the Minneapolis skyway.)
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Flying! Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve wanted to be able to fly. I used to jump off the back of my mother’s couch and pretend I was airborne.
On the other hand, I get horribly motion sick whenever I’m on an airplane, so maybe I should amend that to, “Flying, as long as I don’t get sick, and no bugs end up in my nose.”
You have an MFA in Creative Writing. How has getting an MFA helped your writing career?
Getting my MFA was a really good experience for me. The community at my school (Hamline University, in St. Paul) was very welcoming and encouraging, and I adored my professors. But I think what it really helped me with was discipline. I’ve been writing since I was very young, and I’ve always known I wanted to write for a living, but I had a tendency to move from one story idea to another very quickly without ever bothering to finish them. Being in an MFA program brought home the idea that if I wanted to be a writer, I had to actually work at it. And once I came to that realization, I became much more focused on achieving my goals.
We’ve read that you used to write fanfic. What topic did you write about? And how did writing fanfic influence your own original writing?
I first started writing fanfic when I was about ten or so, usually based off of books I’d read. Then, when I was fifteen, I got really into the fandom community of the video game Final Fantasy 7, and most of my writing revolved around it in some way. And I loved that, because it was a real sharing of ideas that I hadn’t experienced before.
I’m not sure I can call out specific ways writing fanfic influenced my original work in terms of theme or style, but it has definitely affected the way I think about writing. What I love about fanfic is that it really expands the possibilities of what you can do. With a book, generally there’s a specific story you’re telling—a specific plot and narrative you’re following, events you’re chronicling. With fanfic, you can do whatever you want. You can write vignettes from perspectives that aren’t contained in the main story. You can imagine scenarios taking a slightly different turn, or write scenes that you know don’t fit into the book itself, but that help you understand the characters better. Or you can just play and have fun! There’s a lot of freedom involved with fanfic, so as much as I love writing books, sometimes I just want to take a time-out and explore the stories that haven’t been told.
Can you give us a little hint about what’s next for Audrey in the Dark Star series?
The events at Harlow Tower caused a ripple effect that Audrey didn’t anticipate, so she has quite a bit of fallout to deal with. And some of the big questions left at the end of Dark Star will be answered!
What advice would you give to young writers working on their first novels?
Finish what you start! This was one of the biggest obstacles for me—my hard drive is filled with abandoned projects dating back to when I was fourteen or fifteen. Follow-through is really important, and there’s a great sense of accomplishment in actually bringing an idea to its conclusion. And the more you write, the better you’ll write.
Other than that: Find what works for you, and do it. Experiment. Not everyone writes in the same way; take whatever bits of advice help you, and put them to use.