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How A Birthday Gift Turned Into A Novel

Broken Forest Cover


Hopeless he’ll never be more than the boy who didn’t save his brother, 17-year-old Avikar accepts his life as the family stableboy, trying to forget the past. But when his sister, Jeslyn, is kidnapped, the thought of losing another sibling catapults him on a desperate quest. With his best friend by his side, and using the tracking skills he learned from his father, he discovers Jeslyn has been taken, kidnapped by one Lucino, the young lord of Daath, a mystical place thought only to exist in fables.

And Lucino has plans for Jeslyn.

Querying, rewrites, contests, and conferences — Eliza Tilton talks about what it took to bring Broken Forest to the page.

Broken Forest started off as a birthday present to my husband, who at the time was my boyfriend.  I was going to college and broke. When it came to gifts, I always used my creative smarts to concoct something special.

Eliza's book 1We were both into fantasy, reading R.A. Salvatore novels, and playing tabletop D&D. I thought it would be awesome to write him a story and create a character based off of him. I wrote thirteen pages, made a cover during art class (I was going to college for visual arts), and bought a cool wooden box to put it in. He was surprised, shocked at how good the story was, and a little pissed I only wrote three chapters.  When he asked when he’d get the rest, I shrugged. I was too busy playing Baldur’s Gate II to care about anything important.

But slowly, the urge to write kicked in and I decided to take a long distance learning course called Writing for Children. The course taught the basics and at the end I had a finished novel, which was so far from the thirteen page adventure I had originally written. The story had morphed into a YA fantasy, full of emotion, and sprinkled with romance. While the only aspect that stayed the same was Avikar’s name, the changes made the story stronger.

Even though I had a completed novel, it wasn’t close to being publishable.

In 2009, I joined the Query Tracker forum and met my first critique partners, both of whom I’m still friends with.  The amount Eliza's book 2of information I learned from Query Tracker was more than valuable, it’s what shaped me. I had my query ripped apart and put back together, discovered plot holes and actively started seeking an agent.

Unfortunately, I queried much too early.

At the time I was querying, I was joining a lot of contests: first lines, first 500 words, and loglines. I ended up going back and forth so much on my first few pages, just to get noticed in contests, that I butchered the beginning.

The real turning point of my writing life was in 2010 when I attended the Backspace conference in NYC. Not only did I meet more critique partners, but the workshops showed me how much more I still needed to learn about writing.

I spent the next year toiling away at Broken Forest and then stopped. While my peers loved the story, I didn’t. I loved the characters and the world, but something about it just didn’t click.

In the drawer went Broken Forest, and I started working on a YA Contemporary Romance called Soulspark.  While writing it, I realized the difference between Soulspark and Broken Forest, and why I LOVED the writing in SOULSPARK more—first person POV.

Broken Forest was originally written in the third person omnipresent and I re-wrote the entire thing in first person with three alternating perspectives: the hero, the kidnapped girl, and the enchanting lord who may or may not be human.

A lot of people will tell you to trunk your first novel and that first novels are more of a learning process. In some cases, I’d agree, but I also believe that some stories are meant to be told. If you’re struggling with a first novel, or any novel, put it to the side and write something else. Your writing will improve with every novel. I know mine did.

So what did I learn from all this?

Stories make great birthday presents and never give up on one you love.

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