Into Tordon: Zena Shapter on writing and publishing a book together

Welcome back to Write Tribe, Zena! The last time you were here, you shared a little about the Northern Beaches Writers’ Group, but this time you’re bringing some exciting news – the launch of a fantasy book for children, collectively written by members of your writers’ group, called Into Tordon.

Firstly, tell us about Into Tordon.

Thank you for having me again, Michelle! Into Tordon is a fantasy novel for 8-14 year olds, set in the near future. Here’s the blurb:

Only champions dare to enter!

Thirteen-year-old Beth has been waiting for weeks to play in the championship of her favourite online game, Tordon. Now tribes of beastmen roar through her speakers. Game on! She plays to win, until her gaming nemesis Zane challenges her to a real-life risk that has them sucked into a strange world. Here they must push their skills to the limit just to survive!

Faced with riddles, a multitude of dangerous creatures, exotic cultures and scientific impossibilities, Beth and Zane are forced to take on challenge after challenge if they’re ever to return home.

Books & Publishing call it ‘a pacy, exciting read’!

You wrote this book with members of your writers’ group. How did that come about?

Back in 2013, I thought it might be nice to start ‘giving back’ to the community, and I suggested to my group that we participate in the Write-a-Book-in-a-Day challenge to raise money for The Kids’ Cancer Project. We’re all so lucky to be (relatively!) healthy and able, and writing a book for charity seemed like the ideal fit (not all of us can run marathons for charity)! Nine other members put their hands up to participate, then together we raised several thousand dollars in sponsorship, completed the challenge, and even won ‘Best Book’ in the open category. We were thrilled! Enthused, we thought we’d write another book together and immediately started writing Into Tordon. We’ve participated in the Write-a-Book-in-a-Day challenge every year since and raised over $10,000 to date for The Kids’ Cancer Project, which as a mum gives me all the warm fuzzies.

How long did it take from conception to finished product? 

With nine authors, it took a while. The short answer is three years!

What’s the long answer? 

Well, we started off in August 2013, brainstorming face-to-face as a group, throwing ideas around. We wanted the story to appeal to young readers today, and a number of us had (or knew of) kids obsessed with online games like Minecraft (my kids still are!). So we soon settled on our main characters, Beth and Zane – two children crazy about an online game called Tordon. We also decided the story would be set in a near future world. Then we talked through possible plots, and with nine imaginations at play there were plenty of ideas! I stood by the whiteboard absorbing all those ideas, combining and reforming them as the group discussed, tracing out the patterns of a story with my marker pen, and slowly we saw a plot emerge… Then, over the next few weeks, we talked more about the plot via email until we had a clear outline, then we met up again at the end of September and divided that outline into chapters. We were finally ready to write! Between October and December we each wrote a section, then met up to read the whole thing through. First draft done! We had the bones of a great story! But it of course needed some rewriting.

To keep things upbeat and positive, everyone sent me their feedback on everyone else’s chapters (there may have been a Feedback Form involved!), and based on this I wrote out a detailed rewrite synopsis, then talked things through with people individually until, at the end of December 2013, we were all clear and happy about what needed to be done next. I set a date for the end of January 2014 when all the rewrites had to be done, and we stuck to it. Second draft done. Then I took some time out to give the entire manuscript its first overall serious edit. I was so impressed! We were really getting somewhere. Third draft done. February involved lots of beta-reading, then we met up again. This was a sensitive time for many writers, because while the story was really starting to take shape, we were each disappearing from the story as individual authors. But we put ego aside and pushed on, more beta-reading, more editing, this time by myself and another writer (Zoya Nojin), until finally in August 2014 we had our fourth draft complete.

Now it was time for line edits and nitty gritty feedback. Everyone read it carefully and by October 2014 we were starting to talk about finding a publisher. That November we worked on writing a synopsis, all the time talking with each other and collaborating over every step. I was the glorious leader, but everyone participated and supported each other. By January 2015 we had our cover letter ready to go, and I had finished a final-final overall edit. We put together a submission package in March 2015 and started submitting to publishers.

By November 2015, we had three offers and had the wonderful experience of choosing a publisher to accept. I negotiated with two of them, and we signed with MidnightSun in January 2016. Woo hoo!

But of course that wasn’t an end to the editing! Over May/June 2016, MidnightSun had an amazing editor read through the manuscript and make suggestions, which we all worked on as a group, amending the original chapters we’d each written. Of course I then gave it another read through, as did Zoya, to check for consistency, and I did a final-final-final edit including some forward and back with MidnightSun over August. At last, it was finished. Time for layout!

The book’s author is Z.F Kingbolt. Tell us how you came up with that name.

Although we were originally going to publish as the ‘Northern Beaches Writers’ Group’, our publisher suggested that kids would more easily identify with a single author name. It would also save the cover from looking crowded! We came up with lots of suggestions, but then I put the first letter of all our first names into a word un-scrambler (along with some vowels and the acronym of our group ‘NBWG’) and came up with ‘Z. F. Kingbolt’. After surveying some young readers we took a vote and agreed that, yes, Z. F. Kingbolt would be a great pseudonym! Z.F. Kingbolt now has a website, plus Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts!

The idea of writing a book together is an exciting one but what are the challenges in this kind of project?

For me as ‘glorious leader’, the main challenge has been to continually balance eight different viewpoints, as well as my own, while maintaining a safe, nurturing and upbeat environment for development and enjoyment. To write collaboratively, egos, individual preferences, words and ideas should ideally all remain subservient to ‘The Story’. At the same time, you want to still be friends once the book’s done, and have some fun along the way. The key, I think, has been to keep everyone talking. In our group, people felt free to speak up at any time about anything, and they still do!

As a co-author, the hardest part was giving up control over my writing, and I think the other co-authors would say a similar thing.

As editor, merging so many different writing voices together, the hardest part was respecting my fellow co-author’s originality yet having the responsibility of quality control – sometimes the two were mutually exclusive.

Do you have any specific advice for other convenors looking to embark on a writing project like this with their group?

Keep everyone talking! So long as everyone’s talking you can motivate them and keep things upbeat. The process has got to be fun! The moment people stop speaking up, you’ve got a problem. Ideas are pure gold. Team members should never be afraid to make them.

What are your future plans for writing projects with your writers’ group?

We have an anthology coming out! “A Fearsome Engine” explores the relationship between man and technology and will be launched on Friday 18th November, 6.30-7.30pm at Manly’s Sunkissed Bar & Grill. Everyone’s welcome! Next year we’ll also be releasing another fantasy novel for middle grade readers, “The Time of the Jade Spider”. More details to follow on our Facebook page, as well as on our website Woo hoo!

Thank you so much for having me Michelle!!

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