Sarah Elkins: Five Things I Learned Writing Psychic Underground: The Facility

Being psychic is just another aspect of life for Neila Roddenberry. So are dreams of a past life as Nikola Tesla. She’s sure that last part is the result of reading the wrong mind at the wrong time without realizing it. Neither are things she talks about much. Her friends know she’s psychic, but no one knows about the dreams. She’s twenty-three, asexual, and unemployed with ambitions to become a freelance artist and writer.

On the way home from visiting friends, Neila gets caught up in a terrorist attack, then wakes up in an underground psychic testing facility. Raised by a doomsday-prepper father, Neila is unusually prepared for the possibility of being whisked away to a secret lab somewhere. When she is faced with the choice of working for the scientists studying psychics at the facility, she takes the job as both an agent and a test subject.

But not everyone in the facility wants to be there.”

Writing can be a great way to deal with stress and other stuff.

Seriously, I wrote this whole book while dealing with the tendons in my dominant arm turning, effectively to bone. I didn’t know what was happening to my arm at the time I wrote the book. All I knew was that it was getting increasingly painful to pencil and ink comics as well as work as a flatter. Writing helped to get my mind off the pain and still express myself outside of comics and art. The stranger I made the story, the safer I felt, because I could imagine a world and characters far from my own reality. Eventually I was able to see an orthopedic surgeon who diagnosed me with angio fibrodysplasia, also known as chronic ossifying tennis elbow. I learned ways to manage my condition with daily therapy and have continued to write because there is no way in hell I’m going to give up the little life preserver I found in writing.

It’s easier to rewrite when one has feedback.

I used to spend a large amount of time on a shark-themed music site that had a neat chatroom feature. I became friends with folks who liked to listen to the same sort of music as myself. When I mentioned I was writing a book about psychics and shapeshifters in a secret lab they showed interest in reading it. The feedback I got from them was incredibly helpful. They spotted giant plot holes that I was able to patch in later drafts. The group stayed in touch after the streaming site was shut down and members have continued to help look over things I’ve written.

It was amazing to learn that it’s okay to rewrite things and fix problems. Constructive feedback is amazing. I learned that no one writes things correctly the first time. When I started working with my editors at Ninestar Press I learned this all over again and then some. There’s almost always something one can improve on with a project. A line here, a scene there, no remove that scene, okay so that factoid in that scene isn’t quite right can you rework it so it’s a little more scientifically accurate? Cool! The first draft of the book is like a rough sketch for an illustration, ever subsequent pass on it tightens the work and adds to it. While it’s easier to rewrite with feedback it’s good to remember that finished novels wont be perfect but one must move on to the next or the first will never be done.

I like weird. People like weird. Make it more weird.

When I described The Facility that combined all the weird stuff I have interests in- psychics, superpowers, shapeshifting body horror, Nikola Tesla folded in- friends and strangers surprised me. They asked me to tell them more. I was expecting to be shrugged off or looked at funny. Granted the majority of the people I am friends with are folks online who I have never met in person, many of them are artists who could draw said funny looks while others are experts at using GIFs and memes that could be used in response to my explanation. I explored some of the ideas I had for The Facility’s shapeshifters in a short story called DNA-RW that was published by Sparkler Monthly in 2014. I had a lot of fun adding in weird stuff to The Facility and have a lot more strange and unsettling things planned (such as shapeshifters who grow anxiety induced ears on their face, like acne but with earlobes.) It’s just fun to write a character growing part of an extra arm. I think it helps me deal with my own arm problems. Then again, I could probably use a couple extra arms. I’m sure that would help me get more done.

Keep submitting but it may be best to stop counting rejections.

After I wrote the book, and rewrote it a couple times, my right arm’s elbow tendons decided to do their best impression of a AA battery. They stopped being flexible entirely, which made the muscles in my forearm swell up from taking the strain and pressed those muscles against the nerves in my arm. It felt like having a hot icepick shoved through my forearm. I couldn’t sleep for several weeks. At one point I didn’t realize I broke a toe because all I could feel was the pain in my arm.

I knew I could very well spiral into a depression worse than what I was already experiencing from the ongoing physical pain and the idea of possibly never being able to draw again. Up until that point I had worked in comics to pay my bills and express myself so that pretty much defined who I was. I realized I needed a “job” or at least something that could keep me busy. I had this book I had just finished writing, The Facility, so every month I set the goal of sending out 3 or 4 queries while I worked on another book for the few kind souls who supported my Patreon. Suddenly the thing I had been working on to deal with pain and stress was doing a bit more. I couldn’t sleep and if I couldn’t draw ever again I could at least type with my left hand. If something were to happen to my left arm I knew that dictation software was an option. Writing was a possible path I could take as my body continued to betray me. While friends and strangers liked the weird ideas I came up with they didn’t quite resonate with any literary agents. I eventually stopped counting the rejection notices. But they served their purpose. They were proof I was actively trying to do something, anything, to have a future creating.

I have a future in writing.

Flash forward a couple years after I wrote Psychic Underground: The Facility. I learned about #DVPit, a hashtag on Twitter designed to help literary agents and publishers find works written about diverse characters. I am an asexual woman and write primarily asexual protagonists, and the main cast of heroes in The Facility has only one cis heterosexual character in it, so I posted a tweet synopsis of the book using the hashtag. Ninestar Press ‘liked’ my post about The Facility to indicate they would like me to submit. I took some time to rewrite the book again before sending it off. I was, and continue to be, happily surprised they were interested in publishing it. I hadn’t realized until that moment that I no longer thought The Facility would see print. It was just the project I worked on and used to survive and now it was a project that a publisher wanted to handle. It was and continues to be an astounding feeling. Writing this book, I learned I not only have a future creating no matter what I go through, but it may very well be something I’m just meant to do. I love telling stories and writing weird things about characters like myself and my friends and I absolutely will not stop.

* * *

Sarah Elkins is a comic artist and writer who nearly had to give up art entirely due to a form of ossifying tennis elbow that forced her to be unable to use her dominate hand for nearly a year. She spent much of that time writing novels with her left hand as a means to deal with the pain and stress of possibly never drawing again. Thanks to a treatment regimen she is able to draw again albeit not as easily or quickly as she once did.

Sarah enjoys reading science fiction, horror, fantasy, weird stories, comics of every sort, as well as any biographical material about Nikola Tesla she can get her hands on (that doesn’t suggest he was from Venus.) She has worked in the comics industry since 2008 as a flatter (colorist assistant,) penciler, inker, and colorist. She contributed a comic to the massive anthology project Womanthology. Currently she (slowly) produces a webcomic called Magic Remains while writing as much as her body will allow.

Sarah Elkins: Twitter

The Facility: Ninestar Press | Amazon

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