Writing for the Ages

Chris Eboch is the author of 13 books for young people. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. Her book Advanced Plotting, due out July 20, helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn more at www.chriseboch.com or check out her writing tips at http://chriseboch.blogspot.com/.

Chris also writes for adults under the name Kris Bock. Rattled launches her new romantic suspense series featuring treasure hunting adventures in the New Mexico wilderness. Read the first three chapters at www.krisbock.com. The book is available as a $9.99 trade paperback on Amazon, or as a $2.99 e-book on Amazon, B&N, or Smashwords.

I like to say I stumbled into children’s book writing by accident. I started writing for the school paper in college, while studying photography, and got interested in magazine journalism. I eventually went back to grad school for a degree in Professional Writing and Publishing. Though my focus was still magazine nonfiction, I took several short story courses and even a picture book class.

After college I moved to New York and started looking for jobs at magazines. I decided I needed something more interesting to write than resumes. I started a middle grade novel (for ages 9 to 12), because the shorter format was less intimidating than a novel for adults. I chose to write a historical adventure, because I’d enjoyed books such as Island of the Blue Dolphins when I was growing up. I set my book at the height of Mayan culture, because I’d spent a summer traveling through Mexico and Central America and found the Maya fascinating.

And The Well of Sacrifice sold.

Turns out my journalism studies and personal style — a focus on clear, simple language and a fast pace, in contrast to many of my more literary classmates — was a great fit for writing for kids.

I had a lot of setbacks after that first sale, but over the years I sold a number of work-for-hire nonfiction books, ghost wrote a title about a girl sleuth whose name you would recognize, and eventually sold the original Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show. For more than 15 years, I was happy writing for young people.

Then my enthusiasm faded. Several factors played into this. The Haunted publisher fired my editor and lost interest in the series. The market had constricted, making it nearly impossible to sell the kind of historical fiction I loved. (I finally self-published my middle grade mystery set in ancient Egypt, The Eyes of Pharaoh, after my agent warned me that it probably wouldn’t interest a major publisher unless I added zombie mummies). And finally, I was just getting bored.

From a professional standpoint, it might not make sense to change direction just when you’ve gotten really good at what you do. But how can you keep doing something well if it doesn’t interest you anymore? I guess I need to be learning in order to make the experience fun.

I wasn’t sure it was time to change paths. I had made a reputation for myself in children’s books — I wasn’t famous, by any means, but I was at least vaguely known and fairly respected by other writers, and I knew dozens of editors.

Still, I realized that in the previous year I’d hardly even been reading children’s books. My pleasure reading had become romantic suspense. I started pondering ideas. Sketching a few things out in my mind. Making notes, so I wouldn’t forget. Before I knew it, I had my main characters and a rough plot outline. It looked like I was writing a romantic suspense novel. I consulted with my agent, who thought it was a great plan. I moved forward.

I had a great time writing Rattled. My critique group loved it and so did my agent. But best of all, I’d found my enthusiasm for writing again. I was learning, exploring, experimenting, and despite the dangers (could I even write an 85,000 word novel?), I felt rejuvenated. Hmm, maybe it’s not a coincidence that my main character, a bookworm historian, was going through a similar if more physical experience as she faced the dangers of the New Mexico wilderness.

Some people have asked about the difference between writing for children and writing for adults, and I have to say that for me there isn’t much difference. (Except for the length. My novels for children were all about 35,000 words. When I hit 35,000 words on Rattled, I felt like I should be done, not less than halfway through.) Rattled does have a sex scene, and I chose to write my romantic suspense under the name Kris Bock, to separate these sexier works from my children’s books. But whether I’m writing for adults or for children, historical or contemporary, realistic or paranormal, I like simple, clear language and a fast pace. That much hasn’t changed.

Rattled is available now, and I’ve finished my rough draft of my next romantic suspense. What does the future hold? In the short term, probably more romantic suspense. In the long-term, who knows? Maybe a mystery, maybe a traditional romance, maybe a young adult novel. Eventually more books for children. Jumping between age ranges and genres might not be the most practical way to build a career, but it sure is fun.