In Carrie Arcos’s new novel There Will Come a Time, Mark, a Filipino American teen, struggles with grief after the death of his twin sister.
By Carrie Arcos
1. I can write under a deadline.
Writing There Will Come a Time was such a different experience than writing my first book, Out of Reach. With my first, I had all the time in the world because I was writing it for myself, and secretly hoping to publish it. I took my time, sent it to beta readers, and made sure it was as good as I could get it before I started sending it off to agents. Once I signed with my agent, she and I did another revision together before it was bought and then there were the revisions after that.
I sold There Will Come a Time on a proposal with the first three chapters and a synopsis. When it was bought, I had only four months to complete it. I said yes, of course, but inside I wondered if I could produce something as good as my first book this way. What helped was having the synopsis, the blueprint for me to follow. I am happy to say that I’m just as proud of my second book as my first. I also now have the confidence to know that I can write just as well under a deadline.
2. I’m stronger than I thought.
In the midst of writing the first draft of this book, a strange thing happened to me. The whole right side of my body went numb. It was a kind of numb like someone was cutting off my circulation. I was referred to a neurologist and after a series of tests, including a spinal tap that went wrong and sent me to the ER, I was given the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. This was shocking and upsetting. It brought up a tremendous amount of fear and dread for my future. I researched and educated myself on the disease, and have come to feel differently about it now. In those early months, however, I wanted to retreat into my room and lie down in the fetal position.
But I had this deadline. I was deeply involved writing a story of a boy who was grieving the loss of his twin sister. Even though our circumstances were different, I think I was able to write about grief in a more intimate way because of the grief I was experiencing. I felt a little bit like I was in the maze with Mark and we were trying to find our way out together.
I learned that courage comes from facing things that scare you. And that strength, rather than being a huge powerful force, is more like a quiet flame. It builds the more you fan and tend to it.
3. I can get in the head of a 17-year-old Filipino boy.
When friends learned that I was writing a story from the perspective of a seventeen year old musician, Filipino, skater boy, they looked at me a little oddly. I know they were thinking, what could a white woman my age know about that? This is the awesome thing about being a writer. I can get inside the head of anyone I want. How do I do this? Research. It’s how authors can write about the 1600’s or about the criminal justice system or about 1976. Male authors have been writing female characters for years, so I didn’t even think anything about it. I had a story to tell. I wanted to tell it.
A former student, and a boy who used to skate down my street every day without a helmet or pads inspired Mark’s character. He was also inspired by my hometown, Eagle Rock. I wanted the story to reflect the environment of my own kids and my own friendships. To write Mark, I asked questions, hung out with teens, and spoke to friends who were from his cultural background, since it was outside of my own.
While researching, I was saddened to learn that I could not find a single YA book with a Filipino protagonist. There are two collections of short stories from Filipino authors writing about their own youth, but this was all I could find. This sealed the deal for me that I needed to tell Mark’s story.
On a side note, I did a school visit at a suburban Southern California school this year. Stepping onto campus, I was surprised to see that the student population was so diverse in that it felt more like an urban school. (Or maybe this highlights my own ignorance at assuming suburban schools are full of mainly white teenagers.) When I told the librarian what my second book was about, she was happy because of Mark’s ethnicity, the school had a high Filipino population, and that it was what she called a “normal” book. I asked her what she meant and she said that she has a hard time finding books with POC characters that aren’t set in urban environments and about all of the difficult trappings of that kind of setting. She used to subscribe to a series of urban tales, but stopped. Her kids could not relate and didn’t want to read those books, but they also longed to see themselves in what they read.
4. It does not get easier the more books you write.
I thought that the more books I wrote, the easier it would become. I’d write faster and be more prolific. I would have a system or something. I’d know what I was doing. Though there is truth that there’s confidence that builds with the more writing you do, it has not made the process any easier. I read somewhere once that of course it shouldn’t be easier because each book is being written for the first time. Each book will have its own challenges and hiccups. What I do know is that I can finish writing a book because I now at the time of writing this have finished four books. So I have learned to trust the process and work through my doubts or the sections that just don’t seem to be working. I know if I keep going, I will find the story. I will finish.
5. I write novels best with a loose outline.
When I say loose, I really mean loose. I am not one of those who outlines chapter by chapter. I usually begin playing around with a character’s voice and then I get the story. I’ve written a novel not knowing the story at all and meandered around until I found it. I’ve also written with a general outline where more of the plot has been thought through and mapped out. Both require time, it’s just with one there’s more time upfront. I would like it if I could write all my books with the loose outline approach. Having an outline definitely helped me keep my deadlines with There Will Come a Time.