By SM Webb
Graphic courtesy of usurnsonline.com

Sometimes a story comes to me out of nowhere, and I can’t pinpoint the trigger. But my debut YA novel, Spirited, was different.

It was spring of 2020 when my then 11yo son walked into the kitchen early one morning to fill up his water bottle. He looked at me and said, “I think God needs to bring more people to heaven because the world needs more angels.” Then he just… walked out. On with his day, on with his pre-teen life, leaving me with a gaping mouth and mind spinning in different directions. That night, I drafted a short story set in a dystopian world that I later shelved as too depressing. Depression is a well-saturated market. I wanted to write about hope—about the light at the end of the tunnel and beyond.

So, I embarked on the 2 year journey of writing Spirited between working full time and raising 3 kids. The story spawned from one insightful comment and a whole lot of what ifs. What if the world just needs more angels? What if those angels need help and that help comes in the form of spirit guides? Ohh what if there are spirit warriors, too? What if 2 teens who don’t like each other on earth had to learn to work together as spirit guides in the afterlife? What if the reason those teens don’t like each other is because they have made assumptions about the other, as people tend to do. What if there are secrets that come out in the afterlife? What if, what if, what if…

Last spring, I attended a writer’s conference where a speaker discussed elevator pitches and encouraged writers to follow up their elevator pitch with a statement that begins with “It’s really about…” This exercise brought me back to my son’s comment. I could have just posted it on social media, collected a handful of “Awws” in the comments, and moved on. Why did I feel compelled to write this story? What am I trying to accomplish?

Here is what I ended up with:

Spirited is a young adult series about the afterlife where two teenage girls who annoy each other die in a crash and must learn to work together as spirit guides.

It’s really about bringing comfort and hope to people who fear death or are stuck in grief.

That’s a heavy lift for a teen fantasy novel, I know, but I personally find solace in fantasy. What if I can provide readers with a dreamy alternative to loss? What if something in Cassidy’s or Sienna’s story resonates with readers on a personal level? What if Spirited distracts readers from grief or fear just enough to make room for hope? What if, what if, what if…

What about you? What is the It’s really about… statement for your WIP or most recent book?

I will be releasing Advanced Reader Copies of Spirited in December in exchange for honest reviews by people interested in reading it. Please let me know if you or someone you know has an interest.


38 responses to “What It’s Really About”

  1. GD Deckard Avatar

    Illuminating insights into the writing life, SM. Thank you!

    And please keep me in mind for an Advanced Reader Copy? I’ll happily review Spirited.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. SMWebb Avatar

      You’re in!

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Carl E. Reed Avatar

    Like I always say: It’s theme that makes a story interesting, relevant and reverberant, not the oftentimes frenetic one-damn-thing-after-another pulsing of plot. Thanks for posting! And good luck with the book.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. GD Deckard Avatar

    Hmm. What It’s Really About in one sentence …that’s, boot camp intense.
    Basically, my WiP, Code Blue and Little Deaths, is really about young Americans staying sane in a wartime setting of violent death and casual sex.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. SMWebb Avatar

      Staying sane in wartime is a good one!

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Sue Ranscht Avatar

    The standard advice about writing what you know may be difficult to apply convincingly to the subject matter of fantasy, sci-fi, and the paranormal, but is as important to character, and emotional expression in those genres as in any reality-based genre if you want to draw readers in.

    I personally find solace in fantasy” leads me to believe the more helpful advice is really about writing what you want to read.

    Thank you for sharing this developmental process for your Spirited series. Is your request for ARC readers for the first volume only or the entire series?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. SMWebb Avatar

      Agree – write what you want to read and for that matter read what you want to read.
      The ARC is just the first book.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Perry Palin Avatar
    Perry Palin

    I suppose my fiction WIP is about revenge, specifically against bad bosses, and I’ve had some. (I’ve had some great bosses too.) Specifically, “revenge is a dish best served cold”, “good living is the best revenge”, and “it’s your ego, Dummy, and you’ll get yours in the end”. The secondary romantic theme is an old one, “boy gets girl, boy loses girl (through his own stupidity), girl gets boy (and he’s lucky to be got)”.

    The question of what it’s about reminded me immediately of the writing class I took in college more than 50 years ago. I needed something to read in class, and I was pressed for time. What could I do? I dashed off a one act play for the popular current TV show featuring Rocky J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose. As I recall, they spent some time on the rocking chairs on their covered porch, eating Town House Oval Crackers. I don’t remember the rest of the story. I had no idea what the story was about. I was a little embarrassed reading it in class. My classmates loved it. We had some smart people in the class, philosophy majors, that sort of smart, and they carried on a spirited argument about what the play was about. They warned me not to ruin their fun until they were done; they were working out the meaning of the play. At the end of the hour, they asked me what the play was really about, and I picked my favorite of the three most provocative theories raised in class. I got a good grade in that class. And yes, it was more evidence that I do lead a charmed life.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. SMWebb Avatar

      Ha! I love this. Philosophical debates are fun. Like Penny, Bernadette, and Amy debating how Thor’s hammer works .

      Liked by 3 people

      1. GD Deckard Avatar

        🤣
        I’m pretty sure that Mjölnir’s habit of always returning killed Thor in the end, when he failed to dodge.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. SMWebb Avatar

          😂😂😂

          Liked by 3 people

    2. GD Deckard Avatar

      Imagining “revenge against bad bosses” is a great theme. Oddly, the funniest such scenes that I’ve read were written by Henry Miller. In The Rosy Crucifixion, whenever he talks to his boss, he imagines horrible things happening to his boss’s body right before his eyes (like, what an axe can do.) So, you’re in good company there, Perry.

      Liked by 4 people

  6. Sandy Randall Avatar

    I absolutely love that the inspiration for your story came from the mouth of your child. It proves that writers block can be swept away with anything in our daily experience. I would love to review your book, but at the moment I am in danger of overbooking myself, so I will patiently wait until it is published and enjoy the read.
    Perry, I’m with you and GD on the bad boss revenge. In that vein, when someone finds out I write, I get asked if I am writing about the airline industry. GAWD no. I lived it long enough, I don’t want to rehash any of it. However, working in the service industry does provide excellent study of people, types of personalities and dialogue. So while writing about the industry doesn’t interest me, stealing characters from customers, coworkers and bosses is definitely something I do. I once told a coworker, “Careful, I write. You keep up this behavior and you could wind up in a story just so I can legally off you.” Who knew the fool would take it as a compliment!🙄
    To that end, I did end up writing an episodic tale, using facebook as my medium. For me it was an opportunity to get in some much needed writing practice. For people who read the story, I posted that if they liked, commented or shared the story, they would become a character in a future episode. It was a lot of fun. As to your question … What is it really about? It was about me working on my skill and just getting writing practice. The story is an inane What if … What if the elevator didn’t work like it was supposed to. The first six people who liked the first paragraph became the elevator occupants. The story devolved from there. My first jump into the multiverse. Way less scientific than the one I am attempting now. Which is about the greed of those atop the corporate and governmental ladders.
    As I look back, most of my stories wind up being “what if” humanity continues this trajectory, where will we end up. Today’s politics and global issues provide plenty of fodder. The problem is keeping up! Fortunately we are human and we do repeat our past mistakes, frequently.
    Again, good luck with Spirited. I look forward to reading it!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. SMWebb Avatar

      I like how you crafted the story in Facebook! Very cool idea-highly interactive 👏

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Sandy Randall Avatar

        Thanks … It was a fun experiment and I actually got a fun rough draft of a story out of it. The difficult part was the allowed word/character/file count/size that I could use. As the story got longer I found I couldn’t post the whole thing. For those reading It was hard to find previous episodes and where they last read. So unwieldy at best. I then started posting updates on my blogspot blog and linking to my facebook author page. Still unwieldy. When I retired from airline service, I then created my own website and started blogging on WP. The elevator story has mothballed for now and I am working on another one that is about mythological creatures and some kids. I post each chapter on my blog, but my target audience has been my younger brother who has Down Syndrome. lol Yeah I’m crap at trying to build a following, so I don’t even try. I just enjoy there is a place I can post my writing. Maybe I’ll professionally publish one day … maybe I won’t. As long as I get to write and paint pictures, it’s all good!
        AND hang out here … I love this group!

        Liked by 2 people

  7. mimispeike Avatar
    mimispeike

    I’m wrestling with this.

    What is Sly about? Damned if I know. I just tell my tale and have fun with it.

    My favorite books, Tristram Shandy and Tomcat Murr, what are they about? The two pieces of digression-filled satirical/screwball humor are, I suppose, about human frailty. They have no goal and no message, that I can see.

    The same might be said of Sly. Through him I laugh at all kinds of things, religion in particular.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Sandy Randall Avatar

      It’s about Sly … purrrr (intentional) and simple. What he gets up to, what he pokes fun at. What he gets away with and what gets him in trouble. Now go ask a psychologist and you’ll get a different answer. Ask a Royal and yet another answer. What any story is “about” largely depends on what the reader gets from it.
      “The Alchemist” is the sort of book where any number of readers and the writer Paulo Coehlo, included, will have a different idea of what the story is about. Indeed, it is a favorite book of mine and each time I read it, it means something different to me. It all depends on the mood I am in when I read it.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. GD Deckard Avatar

      Sly may be the Mimi in all of us: Her tale is Sly’s tale and we all have fun with it.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Sandy Randall Avatar

        Which makes Sly, Mimi’s avatar. Purrrfect!

        Liked by 2 people

          1. Sandy Randall Avatar

            !!! if you look at that from an “emoji” POV … looks like cat claw scratches … Sly’s signature purrhaps? Sorry I cannot stop with the cat puns today … I may be over caffeinated (In my defense) …

            Liked by 1 person

    3. SMWebb Avatar

      Sometimes sheer entertainment is what it is really about 🐱

      Liked by 3 people

  8. Sandy Randall Avatar

    Here’s the Elevator story in all it’s first draft glory if your interested. It’s only a link in my FB page now, buried two years ago … SO here is the link to a blog I no longer pay attention too … watch for cobwebs and critters! lol

    https://saoirseandsanctuary.blogspot.com/2019/08/the-day-elevator-did-something-different.html?spref=fb&fbclid=IwAR0KjlgsPAm8oeqt1PWa21Xc6OCHLpoWP5qmdfabjApgvEM3dz_2-jDjgGo

    Perhaps one day I will dust it off and do it justice …

    Liked by 3 people

  9. victoracquista Avatar
    victoracquista

    You mean to tell me the Hokey Pokey isn’t really what it’s all about?
    The story behind the story that you shared is wonderful. I find myself sometimes coming up with a story after contemplating some aspect of reality and asking a series of what ifs. As an aside, I abhor distilling an entire story into an elevator pitch. If your story and characters have substance and depth, why feel compelled to distill it into a pitch? I know it’s one of the expectations and perhaps a requirement, but it doesn’t sit well with me.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. SMWebb Avatar

      The elevator pitch does feel unnecessarily painful 😆

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Sandy Randall Avatar

      “I abhor distilling an entire story into an elevator pitch. If your story and characters have substance and depth, why feel compelled to distill it into a pitch?”
      I can understand this sentiment. Every time someone first asks, what do you write and then, what is your story about, I break out in a sweat. Whether I’ve just come up with a vague idea or a well thought out polished piece, I struggle with this. How much detail do I give? How interested are they really?
      Is it any wonder I have never attempted to “pitch” a story? And to that end … I understand the concept of a pitch, but no idea what the mechanism is for an elevator pitch. If it’s a painful requirement I can skip … sounds good to me!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. curtisbausse Avatar

        The elevator pitch is something I only learned about after writing my first novel. I tried it a couple of times but the elevator got stuck and the repair men didn’t come for ages.

        Liked by 4 people

        1. SMWebb Avatar

          😆😆😆

          Liked by 2 people

        2. Sandy Randall Avatar

          Sounds like you need to read my elevator story … it takes elevator malfunction to the multiverse level lol

          Liked by 2 people

  10. DocTom Avatar
    DocTom

    Hmmm…well, since we’re talking about where stories come from…
    I guess I was always interested in using science fiction to write about the human condition, but to take it to the extreme. Basically, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” ( Mark 8:35-36). So I started asking myself what it would be like if science could give each person their own world, absolutely anything they wanted? The problem, of course, is as one of my characters puts it: “Worlds need inhabitants. Plays need actors. Masters need slaves.” So you need a subclass. Of course, the rulers tend to treat the subclass as there for no purpose other than to gratify their desires. That is until someone decides enough is enough and starts killing them. And so the story begins….

    The result, “The Agony of the Gods, Softly Falls the Snow” was originally published by the late Bookkus Publishing, but I finally decided to just republish if myself. So as of November 30th it will again be available in both ebook and paperback formats. If you’re interested, you can read the first three chapters at http://tomwolosz.com/. (Please note that the webpage is currently being revised, so it might be a bit wonky.)

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Sandy Randall Avatar

      What a terrific idea … I’m totally interested. Until we get more RH VI submissions, I plan to finish reading Phoenix Diary, then I can read Agony. It’s even more fun to read a book, when you have conversed with the author.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. SMWebb Avatar

      Very cool that you are re-publishing on your own. Happy re-launch!

      Liked by 3 people

  11. mimispeike Avatar
    mimispeike

    Here I am, on Thanksgiving, eating salmon. Pip has had her favorite shrimp. Calico has had her favorite roast beef. I have a portion of roast beef set aside for Pretty cat, a gorgeous stray we feed. We’re trying to lure him inside but he’s still too afraid.

    I’ve been going through my poorly named files. I have a lot of NOTES, NOTES 2, MORE NOTES 2, SLY NOTES, etc. I’m investigating them, and naming them more precisely.

    I’m close to the section in which Sly meets Sha-Sha, a monkey at Queen Elizabeth’s court. I just found a file with three poems he wrote to her. I have others I still have to track down. I’m so disorganized!

    What is Sly about? The human condition. He’s as human as we are, though not as in-your-face about it as Tomcatt Murr. BTW, I’ve found another story by Hoffman that sounds in the same vein: Master Flea. I’m getting it!

    To dangle by a toe! How drôle! How blithe!
    To soar, though wing-ed not, how doth she dare,
    except she be an angel? Elsewise, lithe, and bold,
    tree-domiciled from birth, thus, well aware
    of how, aloft, to prosper, how to cling
    to insubstantial scaffolds, for to thrill
    to vistas grand. Recall, she once did sing
    the praises of a world, wild, vast, and still,
    no urgency, naught but abiding ease,
    her most pressing concern, to seek out shade
    and settle, with a sigh, to flick at fleas
    under a dense-thatched-foliage arcade.

    Doth not she cringe to contemplate the cost
    of pinchbeck glamour: priceless freedoms lost?
    _________________________________

    The lady doth dissimulate in vain.
    No paucity of understanding lies
    within a notably audacious brain,
    behind a pair of all-perceiving eyes.

    A depth to her there is, no commonplace
    capacity, she knows more than she shows.
    She weds fierce histrionics to a face
    of disciplined deception which bestows
    no hint of her intent. Nothing displays
    but for that which she would have advertised.
    She keeps such secrets as should quite amaze
    the subtlest of strategists, apprised
    of her complexity. She’s far too sly
    to give her game away. Well done! say I.
    _________________________________

    Sly admires Sha-Sha more for her position at court than for her female allure. Here he attempts to explain himself without insulting her:

    Do not despise a fool who yearns to please,
    though furnishing poor proof of his esteem.
    He prays a sweet flirtation may appease
    a sultry goddess, and promote his dream
    of mutual devotion – to be sure, platonic.
    Alien they be, of different tribes.
    The bond, while fond, must be supremely pure.
    Do not, therefore, diminish him with jibes
    that he be lacking in the masculine
    imperative to render the close care
    a hero owes to his dear heroine
    whom he proclaims the fairest of the fair.

    One mired in the quicksand of the years
    mimes vigor with gay winks and lurid leers.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Sandy Randall Avatar

      Bravo! Bravo!
      Perfect Thanksgiving poetry … Alice’s Restaurant cannot compete!
      Thank you also for being real about how writers organize… I have some boxes I keep eyeing that have old writings in them. I hope for treasure… but I suspect fools gold!
      Happy Thanksgiving to you and I hope Pretty Cat comes in from the cold.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. SMWebb Avatar

      😆 I have a lot of notes too. Yours seem to be serving Sly well! 👏
      Happy Thanksgiving 🍽

      Liked by 2 people

    3. GD Deckard Avatar

      Mimi,
      Ever read of Mehetabel, the alley cat who insisted she was the reincarnation of Cleopatra?
      https://www.stuckinabook.com/the-best-of-archy-and-mehitabel-don/

      Liked by 2 people

      1. mimispeike Avatar
        mimispeike

        Thanks, GD. It’s going in my ‘Books to Buy’
        file. Along with Master Flea. I’m getting myself a few books I’ve wanted for Christmas.

        Liked by 1 person

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