How To Write A Novel

Katie Robison, a University of Minnesota grad student, just published the YA fantasy-thriller, “Downburst.”

by Sarah Harper


“Downburst” is so fresh off the presses that the ink is still wet. But already, on websites like Amazon and GoodReads, readers have voiced their support, giving the novel rave reviews and comparing it to the “The Hunger Games” trilogy.

There’s nothing dystopian about this quick read, and it takes place in Winnipeg, not Panem. But readers who are still riled up from the adventures of Katniss and Peeta won’t be disappointed by the novel’s tense, first-person narration and the tough-as-the-Canadian-wilderness main character.

Katie Robison, a graduate student in the University of Minnesota’s English department, made it all happen. And she plans to write more books for “The Windstorm Series.” How? And how can you do it too?

Step 1: Be bored and cold

It was the dead of winter. Robison had just moved to Minnesota. She didn’t know anyone, and she hadn’t started school yet, and her husband was in the thick of his busy season as an accountant, working late hours.

So Robison decided to write a novel.

“I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember,” said Robison, who is originally from Sandy, Utah. “When I was in high school, I wrote a novel.”

So here in Minneapolis, she brainstormed: What works in stories? What does she like to read? What hasn’t been done before?

“I really just tried to come up with something new,” Robison said.

And she did: Robison invented a new language to fill the pages with.

Step 2: Pack your virtual bags and turn on your laptop

Robison chose Winnipeg as the setting for Kit’s adventure. It’s a city, but it’s close to the elements that were on Robison’s shopping list.

“I needed thick forests and rivers and lakes and mountains eventually. And I also wanted it to have some connection to Minnesota,” Robison said.

The main character Kit is from Williams, a small town in Minnesota.

Robison did go on a trip to northern Minnesota. But she didn’t have the means to travel up to Winnipeg. She had to find another way to get better acquainted with the ins and outs of the city’s streets and neighborhoods.

So Robison used Google Earth.

“I could actually put the little figure on the street, and I could look around. I totally mapped out everywhere she goes,” she said. “It was exciting for me to feel like I was there without having to go there.”

Step 3: Destroy more than you create

“The revision process, for me, is really where it’s all at. I can get a first draft out really fast, but it’s not always that great,” Robison said.

Robison finished the novel before she started graduate school. But this past summer she revisited it and did more than simply revise — she destroyed it.

“I killed the main character, I totally revamped the plot, and I made the switch from third person point of view to first person,” Robison said.

That first person perspective makes us feel like we’re right there with the brave Kit. It leads to cinematic moments like this: “And then I’m only fifteen feet away. Ten. Five.”

Step 4: Be your own publisher

Robison started hunting for publishers back in September, but she quickly discovered that the traditional publishing industry wasn’t the best fit for her.

Publishers prefer celebrities and established authors to brand-new writers. And most of these publishers take a long time to reply to manuscript submissions, if they even do. It doesn’t help that everyone has a novel they’re trying to hawk these days.

“I started learning more about the whole digital publishing movement,” Robison said.

She got together with some friends who were writing novels. “Downburst” is the first book to be published under Quil Books, Inc.

“There’s a history of authors collaborating and then publishing their works together if you go back to the coterie manuscript circulation process of the Renaissance, or the Romantic authors like Coleridge and Wordsworth who would collaborate and publish their stuff,” Robison said.

This model has worked: “Downburst” is out at the bookstore in Coffman Union and online in interactive eBook form. But don’t expect to glean much from the back of the book.

“I kept the description of the book fairly vague,” Robinson said. “There’s one surprise after another, and I want everyone to enjoy having that shock value.”