Alison in Fantasy Land
|by Kim Epp Frenette, April Issue||
Hess has been plotting to be a block-buster author since she was eight years old and has no illusions about the difficulty. Starts and stops, transformative failure, a kid here and there, and a lot of self-knowledge later, Alison got one step closer to her goal last month with the on-line publication of her teen-fantasy novel, The Prophecy.
In The Prophecy, the first in a planned four-part Between Souls series, Alison has created a very cool fantasy world. Teen heroine Lucie has to save the world from Darkness using ancient knowledge she discovers her family has been protecting for generations.
Intricate pasts, unexpected betrayals and romantic complications play out in a world encompassing real-life historical mysteries (book 2 centers around the Rosslyn Chapel for example) and Hess-generated fantasy. Hess pre-tested the concept and the first book on groups of local high school students; they love it.
While Hess identifies with her self-created fantasy world – she and Lucie share a birthday after all – she is hard-core reality when it comes to knowing how much rinse and repeat it will take to get a hit. “I had to start somewhere. Maybe this will be the beginning of something nice and I’ll become a much better writer …and my next series will be a great one… or the next one.”
She didn’t always think this way.
When she was eight Alison Hess created Frankfurt the Fabulous, a book series about a detective who is, you got it, a hot dog. With youthful confidence she bound the books, put a copyright page on the inside cover and an about-the-author blurb on the back. In high school she left the dog behind but worked on some 15 manuscripts to various stages of completion. She confesses that at one point “I fully expected to be a best selling author with the first book I sent out”.
A busy job as a corporate trainer, marriage, and newborns put the dream on hold for a time. Then a germinating story idea, a move to Pittsburgh south hills and a serendipitous encounter with a well-connected editor set Alison back in motion. “The kids were toddlers….I really wanted to hold onto something that was mine.”
Despite two years of intense work Alison and her editor could not get the book to the point they had envisioned and the project was dropped. Alison was seriously demoralized. “I lost inspiration when it didn’t go anywhere. You always think the first try is going to be the best try and it’s just not true. You have to keep trying and keep learning, and I forgot that for a few years.”
After several years of abandoning her writing completely, her ‘spring’ came last year. “I don’t know what inspired me but I just said ‘you know, this is it! It’s not going to happen if you keep on saying ‘someday’”.
Her prior disappointment proved transformational. “It helped me realize what I want may not be what I need…..I don’t think I would have tried this hard if I hadn’t failed the first time…”
Alison’s voice catches at the word ‘fail’ but now that she has embraced the concept of success being a process, she has thrown herself into it with impressive energy.
Alison initially planned pursuing the traditional publishing route but after research realized that the field of POD (publishing on demand) and on-line publishing had come a long way. Motivated by authors who have had tremendous success solo Hess decided to go it on her own despite it meaning the entire marketing effort would be on her shoulders.
Hess thrives on the multi-tasking. In addition to writing, editing, formatting and uploading the book, she designed the cover and maintains two webs sites, two news letters, a facebook page and a twitter feed. Her book is now available on Amazon and CreateSpace in paperback, and Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords and iBooks in e-format. (Check out BetweenSouls for more information.)
“It’s exiting, amazing but terrifying,” confesses Hess. “I wish I was cool, but no, it’s scary!”
Alison is eager for constructive feedback from fans and friends but she has also learned to trust her own judgment and instinct. Her personal growth parallels that of her heroine, Lucie, whom she says “has to make sure she is doing this the right way for her”.
“You have to find the balance when you feel it is ready.” She recalls how her husband, who has been very supportive, felt the book was great and ready to go at least a month before Alison was ready to push the button. “I couldn’t let his excitement make me do it before I was ready.”
Likewise Alison chose to design merchandise; an effort some thought might be premature. For Alison it was part of making it real.
“It was a concrete step in the direction that I thought I wanted to be going. …. It is one more block in the vision. And if my mom is the only one walking around with a Between Souls t-shirt, well then so be it!”
When she is creating her books, Alison O’Neil Hess lives in fantasy land. The rest of the time she has a pretty solid grasp on reality.
Hess has learned to look at her writing career as a process, not a final destination. It’s a good thing, because even with her early start and fitful stops, she now plans to be at it for a long time.
“This is something I will do for the rest of my life. I don’t see this as something I will ever stop.”