Hello and Happy day 9 of 2017! Today’s post is guest blog post and interview by Jens Lyon. Better yet, today’s post is one of my favorite subjects I like to ask other authors. And that is the story behind the story. So here’s Jens Lyon with “How a Book Was Born.”
For every book, there is a story about how it came to be.
The story behind Red Flags starts in 1997. The figure skating boom of the 1990s was in full swing. The Internet was in its infancy. Instead of blogs and social media, there were primitive websites and Usenet newsgroups. The hive of Internet skating fandom at that time was a Usenet group called rec.sport.skating.ice.figure, also known as RSSIF. The RSSIF-ers were a knowledgeable, passionate bunch. Flame wars between different factions were common, especially during the summer months when there weren’t many skating competitions to dissect. Gossip about skaters’ private lives was discouraged, but it seemed unavoidable in an era where elite figure skaters were A-list celebrities whose latest escapades routinely made tabloid headlines.
At some point during the summer of 1997, the RSSIF regulars got into a heated discussion over which topics should or shouldn’t be allowed. On a whim, I decided to write a little soap opera that covered all of the forbidden topics– closeted gay skaters, eating disorders, extramarital affairs, abusive coaches, crazy skatemoms, bickering pairs– albeit in a fictional skating world populated with characters who were completely made-up; they were not stand-ins for real-life skaters. I titled this soap opera The Strong and the Sequined.
I figured I’d keep the soap opera going for a few weeks, maybe a few months. But each time I posted a new chapter, I would be swamped with requests for back chapters. (Today, I would have posted them on a blog, but blogs hadn’t been invented yet.) I couldn’t believe people were actually reading my little story– I was literally making it up as I went along! I had only a vague idea of what was going to happen next. At that time, I was definitely a “pantser” not a “plotter.” The Strong and the Sequined took on a life of its own.
Larissa Lyubovskaya, the central character of Red Flags, made her debut a couple of months into Season One of The Strong and the Sequined. She was originally meant to be a supporting player to further the storylines of two other characters. (One of whom was Cassandra Rathbone, who also plays a prominent roles in Red Flags.) I introduced Larissa as a twenty-seven-year-old anti-ice-princess with a troubled past and a whirlwind of a present. I wasn’t sure what my readers would think of her, but I ended up receiving so much feedback about this character that I knew I had to make her a main player.
Several months after I started The Strong and the Sequined, my fellow skatefic author Mary “Dejah” Tyler launched a sports fiction website called Private Ice. The site is gone now, but for years– yes, years– The Strong and the Sequined was archived there.
After a few years of working on the soap opera, I decided to write a “proper” figure skating novel set in the same fictional realm as The Strong and the Sequined. The best way to do this, I felt, was to go back in time and tell the backstory of one of the main characters. Larissa and Cassandra were the best candidates. I ultimately chose Larissa because I was fascinated with the idea of researching all that Soviet history as well as figuring out exactly what made that character tick. There was also a time and place where I could “end” a novel about Larissa, whereas Cassandra’s “end” was less clear. This time around, I had to be a careful “plotter” rather than a reckless “pantser.” But as I mentioned earlier, Cassandra does appear in Red Flags, as do several other characters who were “born” while I was writing The Strong and the Sequined.
For about three years, I worked on both The Strong and the Sequined and the novel that would become the original version of Red Flags. During that time, the figure skating boom ended, my computer died, the fans abandoned RSSIF and scattered across cyberspace, and real life got in the way of my writing. I could not find a home for Red Flags. As for The Strong and the Sequined, I simply stopped working on it at some point in 2006. It had no end, no closure. All those characters who had existed inside my head for eight “seasons” fell silent.
They came back in 2013, as the skating world was gearing up for the Sochi Olympics. Another contributing factor was the trial and imprisonment of the Russian punk protest group Pussy Riot. As I looked at photos of leader Nadezhda Tolokonnikova during the trial, something about her reminded me of Larissa. I began to imagine Larissa as a woman in her forties, reacting to the events that were unfolding in Russia. After lying dormant for years, Larissa and her old friends from my fake skating world began to speak again. I took the original Red Flags manuscript out of electronic mothballs and began to work on it again.
Progress was slow at first, as I was also busy working on Time Trip: A Dinosaur Musical. With that shorter book, I learned the ins and outs of indie publishing. (I also had tons of fun putting on the actual play with a wonderful group of Montessori school kids.) Once Time Trip was launched into orbit, I was able to put more effort into polishing up Red Flags and preparing it for publication. It was released on November 17th. It is now available in both paperback and Kindle formats.
1. When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?
When I’m not writing, I like to read, listen to music, go for walks, watch figure skating, ride my bike, draw/paint, and visit museums. I also sing alto in my church choir.
2. What is your favorite scene in the story?
My favorite scene is one where Larissa is nine years old and hears The Beatles for the first time— one of the older skaters at her hometown rink in Murmansk sneaks in a bootleg record. When they get caught, the the coach singles out Larissa for punishment, even though she wasn’t the one who brought forbidden “Western filth” to their rink. Her response brings out both her toughness as an athlete and her nascent rebellious streak.
3. What was the most difficult part in writing Red Flags? What did you enjoy most about writing it?
The novel contains some violent scenes, which were difficult to write. When I wrote the initial draft, I had to make myself stop at a certain time each night and watch reruns of M*A*S*H. Otherwise, I couldn’t sleep.
The part of the writing process I enjoyed most was doing the research. I would discover little details about everyday life in the Soviet Union and work them into the story. I also enjoyed watching old figure skating events from the 1980s. Although the skating competitions in Red Flags are fictional, they are historically accurate in terms of jumps, spins, compulsory figures, and other technical elements. For example, I couldn’t have Larissa landing triple axels because at the time she competed no female skater had landed one in real life.
4. What comes next after Red Flags? What are you working on now?
I’m working on short stories for now. I don’t know what my next novel will be. In the meantime, I may take on some editing work or consult with indie authors who are new to the publishing process. I’ve been through those woods twice now— the first time in 2015 with a children’s play called Time Trip: A Dinosaur Musical, and again with Red Flags. Both were total DIY projects, and I learned a lot in the process.
Red Flags is available in paperback and Kindle at Amazon. This is a link to the US page, but international customers can find it at their country’s Amazon page:
Red Flags is also available at Amazon in most European Union countries. You can order/download your copy here:
JAPAN (ebook only): https://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/B01MXMF3P9/
AUSTRALIA (ebook only): https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B01MXMF3P9/
Author bio: I am a metro Detroit native and a graduate of Wayne State University. In the late 1990s, I began writing a figure skating web serial called The Strong and the Sequined. My first published book was a children’s play titled Time Trip: A Dinosaur Musical, which came out in 2015.
Author of TIME TRIP: A DINOSAUR MUSICAL and RED FLAGS. Now on sale at Amazon.com!