Alum pens NY Times best-seller

Kiersten White poses with Triana, a reader from San Francisco at Kepler’s Books and Magazines. (Kiersten White)

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She swirled her pink Sharpie across the title page of her latest book, “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein,” at the Barnes & Noble signing. New York Times best-selling author and BYU alumna Kiersten White said she always signs books with a bright color.

Her novel was released on Sept. 25, debuting fourth on The New York Times young adult hardcover best-seller list.

This year was the 200th anniversary of the acclaimed classic “Frankenstein” penned by science fiction writer Mary Shelley in 1818.

White said Shelley’s work inspired her to write her modern-day Frankenstein novel. At the time of her Barnes & Noble visit, White was on a promotional tour meeting readers all over the country. 

“The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” follows main character Elizabeth Lavenza, the fiancee of Victor Frankenstein, spiraling into darkness as she realizes her place within the Frankenstein family depends on keeping Victor alive. When Victor goes missing in Ingolstadt and doesn’t return any letters, Elizabeth goes off on her own in 18th century Europe to find him and discover the truth.

White’s version of Elizabeth is a different character than the one Mary Shelley originally created.

According to Inquires Journal, the female characters in “Frankenstein” are passive and disposable. None survive the novel. These anti-feminist themes were more common when the book was first published in 1818. White’s depiction of Elizabeth shows her traveling across Europe as a young woman driven by her need to stay alive and bring her fiance home.

In homage to Shelley, White said she wrote the draft of “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” in a week’s time. She said she relates to Shelley quite a bit, as they both used writing to support themselves financially and satisfy their storytelling passions.

“I feed my anxieties with stories,” White said, rubbing her sore wrists from hours of typing and signing books. She said she’s careful to not set any goals she can’t control.

When White took her first creative writing class at BYU, she said she wasn’t interested in taking another. Instead, she wrote poetry in her spare time and published a story in BYU science fiction and fantasy magazine “Leading Edge” while she was an undergraduate student.

She didn’t plan on turning writing into a lifelong career. However, after completing her bachelor’s degree in English, getting married and having a baby weeks after donning her cap and gown, the writing bug began to manifest while caring for her newborn.

White landed a publishing deal with HarperCollins in 2008 for her first published work, a novel called “Paranormalcy.” Since then, White has published 13 distinct works and multiple short stories. She also has an upcoming young adult novel called “Slayer,” a spin-off of the television show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

However, White said her writing success didn’t come easily. She said it took her three unsold books until “Paranormalcy” was published.

“Paranormalcy” is a fantasy book filled with nearly every creature imaginable, from faeries and vampires to shapeshifters and mermaids. The novel sold, pushing White’s career as a fantasy author from American Fork, Utah, to a critically acclaimed storyteller.

This novel, about werewolves and pixies, is unlike her recent novel about villains. If one were to read her books in publication order, they would find her style progressively becoming darker, with themes discussing abuse, death and the complexity of morals.

White said she didn’t necessarily plan on embarking on a writing career, but she uses it to be both a stay-at-home mom and to financially support for her family.

“You need to have something that is just yours,” she said. “It’s OK to be a little selfish.”

According to White, not only does writing books help her balance parenting duties, but her success and dedication are also examples to her children as they grow up with two working parents.

White said her best advice for aspiring writers is to “get critique partners — friends who are also working on a book that can get another pair of eyes on your work.” These “drafting buddies,” as she coined it, can keep a writer motivated and help create and enforce deadlines.

Fellow author Natalie Whipple is White’s personal deadline setter.

“We met over ten years ago now in early 2008 when we were both aspiring, agent-less writers,” Whipple said. “We ‘alpha read’ for each other, meaning we trade chapters as we draft to encourage each other to keep writing. It works for us, though it’s not for everyone. In-depth editing comes later.”

Drafting partners also provide writers with encouragement and support, Whipple said. 

“Sometimes you need a cheerleader more than a critic early on,” Whipple said. “That’s what we do. We keep each other from giving up.”

While friends may be crucial to the writing process, an MFA or English degree is not, White said.

“A good story nourishes and engages the reader. You don’t need a degree to do that,” she said.

According to White, having an unattainable view of personal success is a fast-track to losing motivation in a story. White said her background in publishing taught her about setting plausible goals and attaining them.

Publishing is a fickle industry that fades and strengthens with the trends, White said. According to The Balance Careers, the Young Adult industry is currently thriving, but certain topics or trends fade quickly with an audience made up primarily of teens.

White said there is no expiration date on somebody’s writing ability. However, that doesn’t mean a writer can remain relevant forever.

As 2019 approaches, the first book of White’s new duology, “Slayer,” hits shelves on Jan. 8, with a secret project debuting in the fall.

“If writing is a part of you, it’s not going to be easy,” she said. “That’s exactly why you should do it.”

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