April 1, 2011

guest post: writing griffin rising

by Darby Karchut

Thank you, Brooke, for inviting me to be a guest. It’s a pleasure to hang out with you today!

Today, I want to share with everyone an excerpt from my article “Wings” in the recently published How I Wrote My First Book: The Story Behind the Story about how I literally backed into this crazy world of writing YA books:

One day, out of the blue, the idea of writing a book ambushed me while I was running in the foothills near my house. A story about a young hero rising above a brutal past with the help of others along the way, with whiffs of fantasy and history and philosophy and even a love story. Maybe something with ... with ... with angels.

Man, I really should have run faster.
For I already had a career. I taught, and still teach, social studies at a junior high school, and during the summers, my husband and I have been building a modest cabin in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. A full life. A happy life. A life with some bloody down time!

But the idea of writing my own story would not die. I kept thinking about writing a book. Which is all good and well, except for one problem.

I had never written anything like a book.
I had never written a short story.
I had never written creative fiction.
I had never written a song or an epitaph or a poem.
Nothing. Nada. Zippo.

I had no idea what I was doing.

Now don’t misunderstand me. All my life, I have consumed books. I have read hundreds of books, thousands of books. Mostly fantasy, but also historical fiction, chick lit, biographies, world history, philosophy, science fiction, and young adult books. A metric ton of young adult books.

If my home library was a continent, it would be Asia.

It was similar to having an eating disorder. There’s an old saying among writers: you read and you read, and then one day you throw up a book. So to purge myself, I decided to write one, too. About a troubled teen angel named Griffin, and his steadfast father-mentor, Basil.

Because my life was getting just too easy and laid back.

Dern Calvinistic streak.

As I wrote my first book, I did everything wrong. I had two characters, but no plot. No plot and no beginning, no middle and certainly no ending. It was like building a house on an empty lot and starting out by purchasing a coffee table and an ice cream scooper.

But I took advantage of the Internet, my local Borders Bookstore, and other writers, and I learned and practiced the noble craft as I wrote. And rewrote. And rewrote. And rewrote.

Then I broke the rules to make the story better. Everything is about the Story.
As well known author, Toni Morrison, once said, “Write the book you want to read.” Best advice ever for any author.

I think I toyed with the idea of writing a book for years, but only on a subconscious level. I was a child of J.R.R. Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, C.S. Lewis, Madeline L’Engle, and many other classics, so I knew if I ever did write one, it would be a fantasy.

As I said at the beginning, I had never written a story before. Oh, I’ve written one master thesis, various reports, and a bazillion lesson plans, but I never created a tale, populated with good guys and bad guys having adventures. I did not like or dislike writing. To me, it was simply a means to other ends.

Then, one day in late June 2009, I happened to re-read C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. It is a curious little text in which he explains the basic tenets of Christianity through a series of letters between a senior devil and his apprentice. In the Introduction, Lewis briefly mentions that the opposite of devils are, of course, angels. Warrior angels. Butt-kicking angels. Not the poufy little cherubs that make me believe childhood obesity began during the Victorian era, but real soldiers of Heaven.

I liked the idea. Of celestial warriors. In fact, I found myself wishing Lewis or someone had written such a book. About an angel teaching and training his young apprentice while fulfilling their roles as guardians of humankind, but with an urban twist.

So, off to Poor Richard’s, my favorite local used bookstore, for such a book. Searching, searching, searching. Rats. Nothing.


While digging around, careful not to get splinters from the plywood shelves, I came across a battered paperback on angelic lore from various cultures. And there it was. From the High Middle Ages in Europe came a description of a lower caste of angels said to control the four elements: earth, fire, wind, and water. Sounded like Jedi knights with halos.

I was hooked. Fate decided that I needed to write the book I was searching for.

And so I did.


All her life, the archetypal hero and his journey have enthralled Darby Karchut. A native of New Mexico, Darby grew up in a family that venerated books and she spent her childhood devouring one fantasy novel after another. Fascinated by mythologies from around the world, she attended the University of New Mexico, graduating with a degree in anthropology. After moving to Colorado, she then earned a Master’s in education and became a social studies teacher.

Drawing from her extensive knowledge of world cultures, she blends ancient myths with modern urban life to write stories that relate to young teens today.
Darby is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Pikes Peak Writers Guild. She lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado with her husband, where she still teaches at a local junior high school. She enjoys running, biking, and skiing the Rocky Mountains in all types of weather.

Her debut novel Griffin Rising releases June 28th. You can read an early review here. And you can read an interview with Darby here.

You can find more about Darby and her writing at her website: www.darbykarchut.com


  1. What a fascinating story behind the story. I knew part of it, but you added some new elements. And Griffin was born. Love your sense of humor that shines through your post. I'm glad fate took control. :)

  2. Hey, Brooke! Thanks so much for having me as a guest. I love the new look, by the way!

  3. What a great story. I love your spunk Darby. I am so excited to read Griffin Rising!

  4. Sometimes the stories behind the stories are just as fascinating as the stories themselves. OMG I think I just wrote a sentence using stories three times! Loved yours.