Point Pleasant: A Conversation with Jen Archer Wood



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Jen Archer Wood, author of Point Pleasant, is joining us today to answer a few questions about her first published work, a novel with beautiful illustrations by Svetlana Fictionalfriend. Point Pleasant began life as a Supernatural fanfiction, and Wood began the journey earlier this year of transforming the work into the story of Ben Wisehart, his hometown’s struggle with the Mothman, and his own path in facing up to his past and navigating his future. Actually, Wood is humoring my curiosity, and I appreciate her time!

Join us after the jump as we talk about Wood’s decision to publish, the town of Point Pleasant and one of the most famous urban legends in the United States, and Katie—the best thing to ever happen to Ben. Spoiler-free zone ahead.




I’ve been following your progress on publishing Point Pleasant, which released last weekend, on your blog. With all the work you’ve been doing, and keeping up with the fan interaction on top of it… Whew!! I hope you’ve got a vacation planned soon!

Sigh. I’d love a vacation, but I actually just had the last two weeks off and spent them dealing with Point Pleasant. Worth it, totally, but I definitely need a weekend away soon. With wine. Lots of wine.

What inspired you to write about the Mothman?

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You know, the Mothman storyline just kind of happened. I wanted to write a scary story, and it was originally going to be a very short piece. I don’t tend to plan too much when I write. I like to sit down and see what happens. So I put two boys in the woods at night, and the Mothman was the first idea that popped into my head. I remember reading a book of urban legends when I was eleven or twelve years old. There were some accounts of the Mothman chasing cars near the old TNT factory in Point Pleasant, and something about those stories really captured my imagination. I’ve always loved macabre stuff, and horror is my favorite genre of anything, but the Mothman legend is just really special.

I love that Point Pleasant seems to celebrate the myth. I love that they have a statue of the Mothman in the middle of town. I love that they hold a Mothman Festival every September. It’s delightful to know that they have this old story, and maybe most people don’t believe it, but it’s such an important part of the fabric of the town, and they show it the due respect.

It was important to me to try to do justice to the myth, the town, and to honestly explore some of the issues that come with small-town life. The Point Pleasant of the novel might look perfect on the outside, but there are some dark undercurrents to the (fictional) town and the people who live there. I’m always inclined to think that flaws tend to make things (and people) more beautiful. Like the watermark on Andrew Wisehart’s coffee table, they add character, so it was really interesting to explore them and the ways they parallel the idea of the monster in the woods with the monsters inside of us.

I think that’s what adds to the creep factor of the Mothman legend. There’s this monster residing on the edge of this idyllic little town, and having grown up in small-town America, I can tell you that we are anything but perfect! What are your next projects? Are you working on anything currently?

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My next project is about halfway written, and I’m hoping to have it out by the end of the year, but it might take a bit longer since I am sticking with the illustrated novel route. The novel is a ghost story called Garage Sale Photograph and takes place in Savannah, Georgia, which happens to be the home of the other Abernathy sisters [Marietta Abernathy is Point Pleasant’s resident psychic], so there is a direct tie-in to Point Pleasant. This will set up a series of books I’m planning to start at some point next year, featuring one of Marietta’s nieces as the primary protagonist.

I’m also about halfway through The Blue Tulip, but I won’t be able to finish it until sometime in the new year, after I have published GSP. I think it’ll be a nice break in between expanding the general universe.

What led you to publish? You published independently, correct? Why independently vs. with a publisher?

Honestly, my readers pushed me to publish. I lost track of all the emails and messages on Tumblr and Ao3 telling me PP could be a proper novel or that it should be published. I only really started to consider the idea at some point in late February, which led me to researching all the options.

I am publishing independently, yes. I admire indie efforts in general. I was especially inspired by Kevin Smith charting his experiences with Red State through his various podcasts a few years ago. I remember thinking how rewarding it must be, as an artist, to have full control over the work you put out into the world. So when I was first kicking around the idea of turning Point Pleasant into something original, I had this thought in the back of my mind.

I did some investigating about the general process for trying to go with traditional publishers, but I wasn’t too keen on the amount of time spent waiting for responses, and I am cynical/realistic enough to know that a story featuring m/m romance probably would not be something most traditional publishers would leap toward.

I started reading up on the self-publishing scene and was really impressed with the likes of J.A. Konrath, Barry Eisler, Catherine Ryan Howard, Joanna Penn, and Guy Kawasaki, writers who all treat their work not simply as a business venture but as a craft with a high level of quality involved in the production of their books.

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I was confident enough in Point Pleasant and the idea that it could stand on its own that I decided to go for it. I have experience with book design, so I wasn’t too overwhelmed by the technology and skills required for creating an aesthetically pleasing book (and it’s great I can now add ebook formatting to my list of skills as well, haha). I knew a great editor and a fantastic artist already, because I am lucky enough to be friends with some truly talented people. Also, my partner is actually in the printing industry, so whenever I stumbled over minor issues with formatting or proofing the printing, he was always very helpful.

Basically, I had a lot of pieces in play to make the project work, and I went for it. But I definitely wanted the novelized version to be something special, and I owe a lot to Svetlana [Fictionalfriend, Point Pleasant’s illustrator] in this respect.

I initially had only imagined a cover, and her style is fantastic, so she was the first person I thought to approach. Her initial reaction was so supportive, and it was actually her idea to have the book feature full illustrations, which seemed inspired. It’s rare to find illustrated novels these days (not just special editions), which is unfortunate given the long and successful history between the marriage of text and image, going all the way back to the idea of illuminated manuscripts. As my degrees are in art history, and I actually wrote my thesis on the art and letters of Vincent van Gogh (in which the relationship between text and image within the letters themselves is of great importance), the idea of illustrations—especially ones that share direct symbolic links and flow with the text—appealed to me on a number of levels, and I’m ridiculously pleased with the aesthetic of the book.

The illustrations are beautiful, and I think match the tone of the book incredibly. Most of the fan reaction to the publication of Point Pleasant that I’ve seen has been positive. Has there been any backlash against “going legit?”

I haven’t really had backlash. Yet, at least. I had some snide comments after the initial announcement comparing me to E.L. James, but I think Fifty Shades. . . has made a lot of people pretty dubious about fanfic-to-fiction in general.

Naturally you have to change character names, etc., so as to distinguish it from the television show. But you made deeper-level changes as well. For example, Sam the brother becomes Katie the sister. What was your decision process for the changes you made? Was this an opportunity to tighten up the plot/dynamics between characters/storyline, or were you being careful to not be too close to the show? Or both?


I think the rude messages originated from the certainty that I just did a Find+Replace sweep of the fic to replace names and then clicked Publish. But this wasn’t the case at all, and I actually spent the majority of 2013 working on the novel. Yes, the plot is the same, but I took a lot of time to flesh out each character, their history, their motivations, etc. As you pointed out, there are some deep changes, and there was a lot of thought put into all of them. And I think Point Pleasant is a better piece of fiction, with its own personality, because of all those months of editing and rewriting and rethinking origins and agency.

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As for the brother role transforming into a sister, it had more to do with representation than anything else. At the start, at least. I wanted to have a solid female presence throughout the story, even if Kate is not physically present until the final chapter. The primary narrative is from a male POV, and he interacts with two–three other males quite a bit. I thought a sister would help balance that, but the more I thought about it, the more I loved the idea because I feel that Kate was good for Ben’s general development as a character. She was there for him when he left Point Pleasant, she gave him a sense of stability after their mother’s death, she gave him a connection he desperately needed. I think she also pushes him to be a better person. She calls him on things that seem sexist, for instance, and helps to widen his perspective.

Ben having a sister also helped to bring the females of Point Pleasant into better focus. They do not exist simply for Ben’s needs. He’s a blip on their radars. He could come or go, and this wouldn’t disrupt their lives. They have their own histories and happenings, and none of them are defined by their interactions with the male lead. I think some of this comes from Ben having had such a good relationship with the women in his life (his mother and sister), and the way their influence permeates into his interactions with the ladies of Point Pleasant.

I was also very conscious of his language, as well. For instance, the only time he uses the word “bitch” is when he parrots it from Nic. A sister like Kate would have smacked any desire to use such a term out of his head if he ever used it around her, but I don’t think he was ever inclined in general (unlike Dean’s ever-constant “son of a bitch”), given that he is concerned with delicate issues like not pushing too far with Grant’s lingering PTSD, his awareness that Warren’s perspective is flawed, and his intent to not misidentify Nic when he brings up the fact that townspeople might be uncomfortable with an “openly gay sheriff.” The increased female influence via Kate definitely helped to sort out these details and aspects of Ben’s character, in general, and the treatment of females and certain other characters throughout the story, as well. I am kinda inclined to think that Kate was one of the best choices I made, to be honest...

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Tucker’s character also has some changes, most notably that he is a person of color in the novel. Again, some of this comes down to representation. (I’m really glad that four out of the seven participants in the ritual were people of color, and also that two of those seven were women. I grew up in Atlanta, so my experience of the world was never white-washed. It annoys me so much in shows like The Walking Dead [set in Georgia] when there is only one—if any—person[s] of color because that is simply not an accurate depiction of the world I am familiar with, and it is also an incredibly harmful form of erasure.) I liked the idea of the character fitting into the loner/recluse archetype, but I wanted to explore more of the whys.

Just as Grant Harper was always “that poor boy,” whom people pitied but never really thought to ask if he should get some help. And just as Marietta is “the old witch,” whom people go to when they need help or peace of mind, but probably do their best to avoid on Main Street. And you can’t help but wonder how the town will actually feel about their stoic sheriff once they know he’s in a relationship with another man.

So yeah, a lot of these changes had to do with focusing on some pretty heavy social issues and relating them to the overall story with the Mothman, thus teasing out the idea of skewed perspective and adding a bit of tragic realism to a supernatural story.

You kept your fans closely involved in the steps of the project, posting regular updates on your progress to publish. Did you ever consider keeping things quiet until everything was completed and you could announce a final product?

I actually kept the publishing announcement quiet for a while. I worked from February to late May, and it was at that point I thought it was pretty much close to the way I wanted it for publishing, so I pulled the fic and made the announcement. I had wanted to try and publish by the end of June, but we had some delays with the art, so it went a bit stagnant for a while, which actually did make me wish I had kept quiet about it a bit longer because I hated not being able to say when it would be finished. But the delay was good because I had the idea for the new scenes in the Sheriff’s Department in chapter three while I was waiting on the art, and those have become my favorites in terms of the horror elements, so there’s always a bright side.

I’m glad I did end up including so much about the process on my blog. It kept people interested and aware, and also sparked some interesting private conversations with readers.

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I really would not have thought to rework and publish Point Pleasant if not for all of the support I received from readers, so it’s incredibly important to me to be present and open and answer questions about the story and the process. I try to respond to all the messages I receive, even if it takes me a little while to get through all of them (especially lately, oh gosh).

I’m definitely aware of the fact that money is an issue for some (we’ve all been there), which is why I want to ensure that everyone who loved the original story had the chance to get the new incarnation for free during the first week of release (in ebook format, of course). I wouldn’t have come this far without reader support, and I think it’s the least I can do to be flexible about ensuring that the story is available. I’m so lucky to have this much support at the start, and I can’t thank everyone enough for all of their love and well wishes.

Thanks for taking a little bit of time for the Wenches, Jen. Readers interpret books from their unique perspectives, and each takes away something a little bit different, but it’s been enlightening to learn about Katie’s influence on Ben (oh, what if Dean’d had a bit more of a positive female influence growing up?), as well as how the other characters fit into the town of Point Pleasant. I’m delighted to know of your other projects and how they fit into the Point Pleasant universe, but I have to admit I’m especially looking forward to The Blue Tulip! I was trying to imagine the story for myself as I was reading Point Pleasant. Now not only do we get to read it, but by reading it we get a glimpse into Ben’s state of mind after the confrontation with Nic and Ben’s decision to leave town. There is something wicked in me that is truly delighted by that!


Tell us about Point Pleasant. What have been your favorite parts of the book? What do you hope to see more of in the future? Excited to read about the Abernathy sisters? And what about The Blue Tulip?



Comments

  1. I completely second Jen's statement that Kate was her BEST change. I love the entirety of Point Pleasant, but it was a true pleasure to have Kate in the story because I can relate to her attitude. It also makes me much more willing to love Ben because of that connection he has to the women in his family.

    I cannot recommend Point Pleasant enough. The combination of horror, romance, and small town dynamics really work together to make this a very nuanced piece.

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