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The Themes of the White Oak Trilogy

Writing novels is a funny thing. At the beginning of this journey, I mostly wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. Some (most?) people write as a creative outlet, but I've never considered myself a particularly creative person. I recently described my musical prowess as "less than zero," and the same could be said for my ability to create in any visual medium. What my brain is built for is solving problems and achieving goals. There is a reason I thrive in a career (professional services marketing) that is a never-ending series of short turnaround deliverables and places a heavy emphasis on winning.

Part of why this project didn't really take off for me when I first started in 2015 was because I hadn't identified a goal beyond "write a novel." I wish I could go back in time and interview my late-20s self, but I'd be shocked if I had the same handle on what I wanted the books to say as I do today. Now, two and a quarter books in, here is how I hope this series would be talked about in an English class:

A relatable protagonist

I am not someone who could write a female character who needed to be saved, but I've never been a fan of the superhero genre either. It was important to me that Erica, my main character, be independent and opinionated while still being vulnerable. I wanted her to have the drive and personality to move the plot forward despite not being among the characters with supernatural inclinations. The reader needed to be on her side, but she needed flaws too. The person who appeared on the page is someone who lets herself be pulled into the problems of others to avoid dealing with her own. She loves fiercely but not selflessly. She is quick to judge but can admit when she's wrong. In the curve between Twilight's Bella and Hunger Games' Katniss, I hope she falls firmly in the middle.

Also, in a series that relies heavily on the romance between the two main characters, I couldn't stand the idea of her being a virgin. Teenagers have sex. They don't wait for the right person. But that doesn't make finding them any less special when they do.

A healthy romance

The best feedback I got during beta reads was that Erica and Xander's relationship was swoon-worthy without being cringy and that it was clear Erica wanted him but didn't need him. This was the vibe that I worked so hard and through many drafts to create. Romance and obsession are not synonyms for me. While their relationship isn't perfect--Erica can be pushy and Xander can be passive--I steered hard away from anything that might be read as abusive, stalkerish, or exploitive. I was worried this would make Xander boring, but many readers have told me he is their favorite character in no small part because he never waivers in his support of Erica pursuing whatever future is best for her even if it doesn't include him.

I also love series that let their characters be together for a while. There is nothing worse to me than setting up a heart-fluttering romance and then putting an insurmountable obstacle immediately in their path. While every romance has to have an element of "will they or won't they," I wanted to make sure it was absolutely clear in mine that without the supernatural elements, they absolutely would. I wanted real conflict, not the kind that comes from simple miscommunication or a lack of emotional intelligence. My goal as I write the last book is to make sure that whether they stay together or split up that readers are rooting for them until the last page.

A real-world setting

For reasons that become clear in about the middle of the first book, the setting had to be in a place of great natural beauty. As a native of Washington who lived in Oregon for ten years, it was wonderful to write about the forests I love so much. That said, the fictional Juniper Falls is a decidedly lower- to middle-class town that is an amalgam of so many places I've driven through or lived in. All of the character in this series deal with the day-to-day realities of life in a place with little economic diversity. There are so many books out there where characters are fabulously wealthy in a way that has little or no bearing on the plot. This isn't a series about struggling with poverty, but it is real about the opportunities, or lack thereof, for those who grow up in rural environments.

In conclusion

If it seems like I tried to take the fantasy out of a fantasy book, I guess I did. I wanted the rest of the elements to feel as grounded as possible so that the supernatural wasn't just part of the window dressing. Acorn goes out for e-book ARC reviews through Hidden Gems on February 14, so I guess the reviews I hope to receive through that effort will tell me if I've hit the mark!

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