September 7, 2022 / Esther Choy

Esther Choy and her daughter, AlinaYou know the old adage, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” but I would like to add that the tree cannot predict which way the apple will roll. My eldest child, Alina, is such an apple.

From board books with open flaps, graphic novels with tantalizing visual details, to multipart modern Greek mythology, Alina would rather immerse herself in books than going outside to, say, a beautiful Hawaiian beach.

I am not surprised that Alina loves reading and telling stories, but I didn’t suspect that she would have published her first book, a YA paranormal novel, The Spirit Hunters, days before she turned 14 and then started high school. I had first row seats — reserved for cheerleaders and food preparers — to her process: the months and years writing, drafting, seeking counsel and feedback, revision. Writing, as with storytelling, is a messy process. Though she is prone to be self-critical, Alina persevered to tell a story about a high school girl battling with dark and nefarious forces after she and her friends seek adventure with a little ghost hunting.

Alina’s novel tells the story of Brianna Davis, a teenager who has always seen herself as ordinary. When she and her friends venture into the haunted Smith house life as she knows it changes. While at her most vulnerable, Brianna meets two teenagers, Isabel and Darek, who lead Brianna to the world of ‘Spirit Hunters,’ people with angelic genetics, whose skills allow them to trap evil spirits. Though fascinated with this new world, she is shocked to learn she gave up her right to leave the moment she entered it. Why? Brianna is a born spirit hunter.

How did my daughter create this new world? At age 14, Alina is challenging me to see her as more than my beautiful daughter who brings me joy every single time she accomplishes a new feat, but to see her as an author on her singular journey. She allowed me the honor of doing her first interview about the The Spirit Hunters. I hope you enjoy our conversation.

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Esther: Starting from when you’re 12, you spent 1.5 years writing, revising, editing, and rewriting the book. What was the hardest part of writing the The Spirit Hunters? What was the most fun? What did you learn about your characters? 

Alina: The fun part was writing without a care in the world! Smashing words into a document without caring about the terrible grammar and lack of voice and things like that. Things got hard when I decided to try querying and the story was rejected again and again. That’s when the doubts began creeping in, and I found writing to be stressful to the point where I was afraid to open the document. I had to learn to believe in my characters again and the story I created for them.

I did not outline, because I thought this was just going to be another one of my countless stories that I abandon after getting bored. I knew nothing other than I was going to write about a girl who goes to a haunted house and pays the price. The more I wrote though, the clearer the story became. Now it wasn’t just the next sentence or chapter I was plotting, it was scenes far in the future I wanted to write. It’s a magical experience watching everything explode into existence when all you want to do is tell a story.

I noticed in your novel the main character Bri often must decipher the emotion hidden beneath the surface (and also hide her own emotions). Can you talk about this dynamic and what you hoped to bring to light with these tensions? What do you want people to get out reading this book beyond an entertaining read? 

Most people live with hunger, a desire to be here in this life and a fear of death. Most protagonists in young adult stories feature teens who must battle the evil force threatening their universe while dealing with a romance or perhaps friendship turmoil. But I thought that it would be more interesting and unusual to explore what might happen to someone who is responsible for saving the world, but who doesn’t even know if they want to or if they themselves are worth saving.

The Spirit Hunters is for everyone. But mostly for those struggling. I hope whoever reads this knows that whatever they are going through isn’t going to last forever. I hope they know they’re strong and brave for facing their troubles. And most importantly, I hope they know they’re not alone.

There were some unanswered questions at the end. Do you think there will be a second novel? 

A series is an idea I’ve entertained, and I’m still considering writing more, but it is likely that this is where Brianna’s story ends (on pages, at least). The point of the unsteady ending is a reflection of my view on life; some questions will never be answered, some things will never end happily or be resolved. You have to learn to choose joy anyway.

What have you learned about yourself in the process of completing this book?

I learned I am fragile to criticism, and I crumble easily under pressure, but that doesn’t make me weak. It makes me susceptible to the world and sensitive to the things going on around me. I’ve learned that regardless of how I feel, I should never judge myself for it. Life is never easy, saying you’ll change is always so, so much harder than you anticipate. But life is worth fighting for and even when you feel hopeless, don’t give up.

Tell the right story for any business situation - we'll give you the tools.Do you have advice for other young people who want to write novels? 

There’s no rush. You have to experience things to know them. Advice is something you know in your head, but experience is something you know in your heart. So take this advice for whatever it’s worth: if you’re young, just enjoy writing. Don’t think about what will sell, what will be popular. Think about what you love to write, whatever makes you excited just thinking about it, and then write that. It’s so much more enjoyable and worth it if the story comes from the heart and not a place of fear and criticism.

How do you feel now that your writing is out in the world for people to read? 

It’s so surreal and amazing but also terrifying. I’m scared no one will like the book, no one will buy the book, and all that work will be for nothing. But there’s not much I can do about it. People’s opinions are out of my control and I just have to trust that there are readers out there who will appreciate the story. Thank you to anyone who takes the time to go on Brianna’s crazy, emotional journey.

 

***

I know there is a lot of Alina in the protagonist Bri. I’m in awe with the fact that the life of a twelve-year-old Alina and the struggles and triumphs she had as the world was shutting down because of COVID-19 shows up in this magical, fictional world that Bri lives in. She and I both hope that readers will enjoy Bri’s story in The Spirit Hunters and find hope, strength and joy in fighting for themselves.

 

 

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