Discovering The Catalyst
How Selin Senol-Akin Came to Write her Debut Novel
The writing process… where do I begin? Well, I suppose it makes the most sense to literally start at ‘the beginning’ of how I came to type the mere first page of my romantic suspense novel, ‘The Catalyst’.
Like the female lead in the novel, I too had to initially cope with becoming a ‘bored housewife’ immediately into my marriage- as I also had to relocate to a foreign land and grapple with solitude, like Kaitlin Maverick. Despite the beauty of Stavanger, Norway, the slower tempo of life (in comparison to my native NYC) was difficult for me to adapt to- especially as, I later realized, I’d always idealized a marriage or live-in relationship to be full of more ‘romantic adventures’ than domestic docility.
I refused to allow myself into a depression, however, and knew my need for productivity to maintain my self-esteem; hence, the ‘catalyst’ for my starting to work on my lifelong dream of writing a novel began. I have to admit I began at a place of comfort: a semi-autobiographical compilation of my own life story (at the time), interweaved with indirect/symbolic snippets from my past as well as stories from my own family and social circle. I knew I wanted to write a mystery- I grew up teaching myself English as an immigrant to this country in elementary school, reading ‘Nancy Drew’ and other mystery books borrowed from my local public library. I eventually began reading authors ranging from Agatha Christie to Camilla Lackberg (of modern Scandinavian mysteries), as well as authors dealing with global/cultural issues, such as Elif Shafak and Paulo Coelho.
Now, I’ve never been one of those ‘strict-scheduled’, ‘go-jog-at-6am-and-set-an-hour-each-day-to-write’/routine sort of people. I grapple with attention problems, and with increased responsibilities around the house also suddenly thrown at me-my writing process was equally sporadic.
I knew the characters I wanted to write before I even knew where the story would take me once I began writing- so, I respected them. I let them speak to me rather than try to exert my control over them as the author too much. If I didn’t ‘feel them’ begging to be written into existence on a particular day, I didn’t force it. On other days, I’d be so overwhelmed with ‘sudden bursts’ of motivation to get back to writing, that I even shocked myself. I could go for days without writing a single page on my Word file, and then one day I’d find myself writing out 20 pages! And these pages were rarely in chronological order of the storyline, either. I found that I’d write the beginning of the story for a couple of pages, and then, all of a sudden, I would feel the pull of the character somehow speaking to me from the end of the story- from the ending of what happens to them in the book.
So, how did I manage to complete the novel amidst the mental and typed chaos? I decided I had to give myself some sense of order and structure to keep the book flowing, and divided up the story into 10 ‘chapters’, where some of the ‘in-between’ chapters would simply be blank with (…) dots for months. I had the beginning of the story- I knew I’d always wanted to start with an anonymous murder and then delve into the backstory of my main characters, and I did. Eventually, as I’d already ‘heard’ from the characters and their respective endings, the ‘10’ chapters grew to over ‘20’ chapters over time, and the in-between chapters had to then become more controlled in order for possible loopholes in the story to be corrected- so as not to annoy readers- as well as to add several dramatic peaks so as to never bore the reader (or even myself).
In the 7-8 years in total it took me to complete the novel: life happened. I was a military wife in Norway and the novel took a halt at various points due to relocating, my pregnancy, my husband’s wrongful/political incarceration in Turkey, and my moving back to my childhood home in NYC to adjust to a new life with my parents and my toddler daughter- in that order. I also knew I had to make ends meet, and so took on a lot of classes teaching international students. I felt so much stress in my life at one point in 2019 that I decided to release my emotions in poetry- I felt such a variety of them that I’d even considered at one point to turn my novel into a shorter novella, and publish my variety of shorter poems instead. A chance meeting with a family acquaintance who’d just published her own novel, however, led to her suggesting her publisher to me- and my long-ignored novel reeled me back in, begging to be born into the world already.
After all of the struggles I went through raising my daughter, I felt like maybe everything had happened so that I could finally release it when I was more ready to- at the ‘right’ time. It wasn’t easy- and the story had to be edited and re-edited about 3 times before it could be published (and during a rough time as now too at that, with COVID-19). I still believe in my story so much, however, and believe everything truly does happen for a reason. I know somehow- perhaps slowly but surely- this cumulation of my hard-work and sleepless hours will reach the right hands at the right time and ‘catalyze’ whoever needs to read a story like ‘The Catalyst’ at this particular time in history.
Read Our Galaxy's official review on Selin's debut novel here.
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