This month our spotlight shines on NSW Writer’s Centre member Kristyn M. Levis who is an author, freelance writer and photographer with 13 years experience both in Australia and internationally.
Kristyn has worked in various capacities, initially as a broadcast journalist and TV reporter in the Philippines. She has worked as a radio broadcaster with SBS in Sydney. Her experience also includes work as a journalist, editor and subeditor for various online media including Madison, House and Garden, CNet and more. Her stories have been featured in the New York Times and Al Jezeera and she also completed her Masters degree in communication in Singapore.
After establishing herself as a journalist and media writer, Kristyn turned her attention to more creative pursuits and has self-published two children’s books in the last three years. Her latest novel The Girl Between Two Worlds is due to be published this month. It is the story of a Filipino girl, Karina, living in San Francisco as she begins to have supernatural encounters after her sixteenth birthday.
Kristyn also keeps a blog on her website where she discusses the writing process, her experiences within the industry and advice on self-publishing. You can also follow her on twitter.
Your writing journey has been quite varied – from IT journalism to magazines, then to children’s fiction and, now, a Young Adult novel. Has writing fiction always been the end goal for you?
Fiction writing was not something I was aiming for when I began my career in journalism. Like other writers, I kept journals and dabbled in fiction writing but they were very amateur. I sent one of my short stories to a professor in creative writing while I was in university and he said it had potential. But I never really pursued it until after I had my daughter. I wanted to preserve the stories my mother used to tell us when we were kids and so I wrote a children’s picture book. I guess that’s how it started.
Tell us a little about your novel, The Girl Between Two Worlds. What inspired you to write your first YA book?
The novel is based on Filipino mythological creatures. I wanted to introduce my culture to a wider audience. The concept started out as a question. I wondered why Filipinos overseas never “see” these monsters from our books. I grew up with stories of “sightings” of these creatures while living in the Philippines but that never happens once you migrate. So I thought what if these monsters migrated too? The book takes these monsters to San Francisco to kill a 16 year-old girl whose powers had started manifesting. A little warning though, our creatures are nasty. They are stuff of nightmares. I sometimes wonder how I got through my childhood without any psychological scars!
What did you learn throughout the process of writing and seeking publication for your novel?
There are three things I will always remember from this process:
1. Writing is a marathon. Doing 20 minutes a day can create a whole novel without overwhelming you. If your life is very busy, give up 20 minutes to do writing. Maybe skip social media or cut back on TV watching. I worked on my novel while I was on a full freelance writing schedule and raising a toddler. It can be done.
2. Good editors and assessors are angels. I had my manuscript assessed and I also hired an editor. They didn’t just help with my manuscript, they also helped me grow as a writer. It may be expensive but you can put away some money to save up for it. Give something up – a handbag, a pair of shoes. Treat it like a layby and eventually you’ll have the money to get your manuscript assessed.
3. Listen only to those who matter. I had some disheartening feedback about my manuscript and I was so down I didn’t want to do it anymore. But the professional advice I got was very encouraging and put me back on track. Open your ears to constructive criticisms and just ignore the rest of the noise.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given?
Just keep at it. So simple isn’t it? But it’s so true especially during trying times. It is a marathon, you need to pace yourself. If you look at it like a giant project, you’ll get too overwhelmed and give up. Bit by bit will get you there too.
Do you have any advice for emerging writers (freelance or fiction)?
Keep learning. When I decided to work seriously on my fiction writing, I took courses, joined organisations and went to events so I could learn as much as I can. Although I’ve been a writer/journalist for over 13 years, I still update my skills by taking courses and learning from other writers. Never stop educating yourself.
What are you reading at the moment?
I am doing a Goodreads challenge at the moment so my books change from week to week. I have been enjoying so many genres though. I don’t stick to one. It depends what the mood is for that week. You can check out my reading list on my Goodreads feed.
In your opinion, who/what is the most inspiring…
Writer/Poet? Kahlil Gibran.
Book? I have no favourite book. Seriously. I love so many.
Weather? Rainy days.
Time of day? Lunch time – break time for me.
Music? I also don’t have a favourite. It depends on my mood.
Location? Anywhere with lots of trees and utter silence.
Excerpt from The Girl Between Two Worlds
Engkantos are forest spirits that appear in human form. People have believed in their existence for centuries.
When you walk in the forest, say “tabi apo” (excuse me) lest you kick an Engkanto sitting on the path.
Offer something to the Engkanto before you cut a tree so you do not get slapped.
When you cannot find your way home and the road seems to change, wear your shirt inside out to appease the Engkanto.
Never fall in love with an Engkanto. It will take you to their kingdom and you can never return.
The creature was outside the house. Flapping batlike wings. Trying to find a way in. I dropped to the floor and started crawling to the window, hoping it wouldn’t spot me. If it was a dangerous thing that I had managed to attract, then I needed to do something to stop it.
It was so close to the window that I inhaled a whiff of rotting meat. The full moon illuminated the creature as it flew past. I froze and looked up in time to see a pair of red eyes staring at me from the other side of the window. There was a collective gasp from my friends. It was definitely not a bat. There was a faint trace of a human figure—no, the upper half of a human figure with bat wings the size of a sail.
It defied all rational explanation. Despite being cut in half, the monstrous creature was flying in the middle of suburban San Francisco. Its entrails were hanging out of its body. There was nothing where its lower half should be.
There were books I had read about scary folklore when I was a little girl in the Philippines. Creatures that could split their bodies into two. The upper half—head, torso, and arms—would fly across the night sky and hunt for babies to eat, while the lower half remained on the ground. Right now, I desperately wanted to believe those stories were just products of eccentric writers trying to scare little girls and boys. But it looked like they were true sightings.
The creature looked female with long dark hair and pale skin. But what scared me the most was its face. The red eyes bulged and glowed in the dark, like a crocodile sneering at its prey. Its face was like a wolf’s snout skinned down and dripping with blood. Its teeth were like broken glass and its tongue was a meter long and several inches wide. It was wearing a white blouse covered in blood. Was the blouse a part of its disguise during the day so it could blend in with the humans?
I could not move from my spot. None of us said anything, afraid to breathe, shaking in fear. I knew immediately I was in big trouble because I had no idea how to overpower this creature. I was not even sure if it was what I thought it was. I was warned that dark beings would try to kill me, but this monstrosity was more grotesque than what I had imagined.
There was nothing in the room that could be used as a weapon. The creature outside was becoming more aggressive. It was trailing its claws on the walls. We could hear the screech of its nails against the bricks. It was taunting us.
A whip slammed through the windows, pushing it open. We staggered away, half crawling, half stumbling to the other end of the room. The whip sliced through the blinds, except that it was not really a whip. It was the thing’s tongue, stretching longer and longer, trying to reach us.
A thought entered my head, as clear as daylight: I was going to die tonight.