When I first started writing Mason’s story, I was confident that I was embarking on a series. The long story short is that the original idea for Mason was sparked through four short stories. Mason’s was the most intriguing, and thus the one I wrote first. I was about halfway through it when I realized it was the second book in four, and that I needed to write a novel for each element. Time went on, and I started to like my earth element faery, Leila, less and less. She got demoted, and the series turned into a trilogy centered around Mason, but focusing also on Miriam and Lukas. Then, it became two. And shortly after that, I finally admitted that Mason was a standalone novel.
That is not the case for the Pen boys. Part of me thinks that this is because I did it right this time. I plotted out all three books. It’s a loose plot, and it’s still changing, but I know who my ultimate villain is, and what I want to accomplish in all three books. I have a story arc in sight.
Most of me knows it’s because I want to play with these characters forever, though. It started as just wanting to spend as much time as possible with Oliver and James, but, as I continue to write and reach benchmarks like 120k (yesterday), it’s become more than that. It’s Harrison, too. It’s Charlotte and Ella (spoiler!) and Liana, too. It’s even Allaway and Arthur Arkwright (god, I love alliteration) and the Marlow’s. Somewhere, in between the birth of this idea and right now, I fell in love with every single one of my characters.
And the end is in sight.
Not the end the end, but the end of the first book. I’m a little in shock. I feel like I’ve just gotten to know some of these characters. And some of them, I have. I only just gave Charlotte her own chapter yesterday. I only just started introducing Arthur Arkwright, our big bad for the second two books yesterday. Liana Hollands has been there all along, but I only just saw inside her head last week. And Ella? Well, that’s a spoiler.
But it’s in sight. This feels really weird. I keep coming back to this number–eleven years. I wrote Ronan for eleven years, almost twelve now. That’s more than a decade. That is my middle school, high school, and college years all wrapped into one. It’s my post-school life, my adventures in full time work life, and my early twenties life. I’ve been with Ronan since I was thirteen. And while yes, I have already completed a novel outside of Ronan (Mason), and I’m nearly finished with another (Alex), the Pen boys is something new. Mason was birthed out of short stories that I wrote while still working on Ronan. Alex is actually older than Ronan by two years. I met the Pen boys in April. Of 2017. This year.
Really, it was almost May at that point.
Since I’m here to talk about the end of something beautiful, here, first, is the beginning.
In April, Erin came down to visit for a long weekend. We were due to see Anastasia on Broadway in New York on Saturday, and the Sleeping Beauty ballet in Boston on Sunday. She came down Friday morning, and our day looked a little like this: beach, food, books. I’m not even lying, that’s exactly what we did. We stopped at my parent’s to walk the dogs and get out of the car for a second, and then drove to Wingaersheek (how is that a real word?). We were climbing over rocks, calling war at the waves, and playing in the sand when I said, “I want to write about magic again. And boys.”
Despite everything that had happened recently, I was still writing. Though I was upset with Mason, upset with the way he had been treated by someone I trusted and respected, I was still writing. I was working on Alex at the time, and I was so close to the end, I could almost see it. And then, the beach. Alex is still unfinished. I probably only have 20-30k left, and I’ll go back to it when I’m done with this first Pen boys novel, and I knew this, but I still stepped away from it that weekend and let the magic that is my soul sister happen.
I write best around people. Last night, I created a small crystal and tarot altar for the boys that will appear in a chapter toward the end of the first book in Jen’s room. Just being near another creative person helps me create.
Erin is usually the beginning of things. I jokingly call her my muse sometimes, but I’m not kidding. On the way up to New York, we talked about the world they would live in. It would be contemporary, definitely on the coast, and maybe even somewhere close by. We settled on Massachusetts, and already, I was starting to imagine them in Gloucester. We talked about the school, what it would look like, what they would learn there. We stopped for gas, and when we got back in the car, she asked, “Okay, but who are they? How many?”
“Five,” I said, “All boys. I think two of them are twins. One of them is sad.”
“Give me a Tony Stark.” (She always wants one of these, and undoubtedly, you can find him in every single one of my stories.)
We kept driving. We talked about what they might be like.
“One of them should be kind of obnoxious. Like, you think he’s a frat boy, but he’s actually really sweet.” “So Chris Evans.” “Such a meatball!” “Give him a last name for a first name so he’s pretentious.” “And he listens to Kiss 108 and plays sports and is just a beefcake. But he’s also really adept at magic, and just the nicest person you’ll ever meet.” “He’s their leader.” “What about Harrison?”
“Okay, and the Tony Stark one should be angry about literally everything.” “He’s just rude to everyone. Always causing trouble.” “Oh, he’s Sirius Black.” “Sad and dangerous and messed up, but you just want to help him.” “James.” “Well, that’s ironic.”
“I need a sad boy.” “Make me cry.” “Oliver.”
“And twins. They should have the same first letter.” “But they hate that they’re twins. And one of them is always annoyed with the others.” “And the other one is just a total punk.” “Jasper?” “And Jensen.”
The thing is, I’m actually under-exaggerating. Is that a thing? This took hours. Most of the ride up, and most of the ride back down. Oliver was the easiest one, which makes sense. He is my main character, after all. Harrison changed a lot from his initial creation. James is still angry and volatile, but he’s also a lot sadder than I meant him to be. The twins are exactly what I said they would be.
That night, while we were lying in bed, whispering and giggling about the universe, I was scrolling through old estate names in England. It was late, later than I’d meant to stay up, and Erin was nearly asleep when I whispered, “Penhallam.” She sighed, and said, “Yes. That’s it.”
After that, it was only a matter of time.
Really, it was four days later. Erin left on that Monday, 5/1, and I drew the first cards for the boys on that Thursday, 5/4. The file labeled Chapter 1 was created that Thursday morning. And then, the adventure began.
It’s been 77 days. In that time, I’ve written 120k words, 47 chapters, and the end is in sight. I’ve still got a ways to go. They have an important ritual coming up, Quinn still needs to do something terrible, the boys still need to save the world, and the kiss still has to happen. I have been waiting 77 days for this kiss. I can’t wait. Erin has been very strict with me every time I try to make it happen sooner, and I’ve tried several times.
And why does this all matter? Because after nearly twelve years writing the same story, after half a year recreating old stories, these boys are the first time I’ve ever ventured into something new. They did not come from something else. They’ve only been alive for two and a half months. And really, I think it’s some of the best writing I’ve ever done. There are large chunks of my soul in these words, and I hope that when they are eventually out in the open, you enjoy them. Maybe, even, that you love them a fraction of the amount I do. (It’s a lot.)
I’m a little excited. I’m a lot nervous. I kind of can’t believe it. There’s not that much more to go, and I can really see the end in sight. I know what it is, and I know how to get there, and really, it’s probably only 30-40k words away. Wow. That’s–that’s kind of crazy.
Deep breaths. This is only the beginning.