In a week with hearts everywhere, meet the member Writespace has given its heart to!
Sophie Bonifaz has been a member of Writespace Houston since 2017. She’s working on her debut series called Long Way Down with her writing partner, Rose Usenica. She’s applying the lessons that she has learned over the years with the organization to write the series and publish it in the future.
To follow along with Sophie and Rose check out their Instagram and newsletter. You can also check out the seasonal floral crowns that Sophie creates here.
Tell us about your series of books. What are they about?
The series, with the working title of Long Way Down, centers around a Catholic man from Northern Ireland named Tylor Goadby. He’s a detective working on a series of missing person cases. People suspect these young women have been killed, but they don't always find the bodies. While looking for clues about a kidnapping case, he meets a young woman named Naveena Kulkarni, who has come back to life, now with powers, and has taken revenge on her murderer. Naveena has been looking for him since he can speak to the dead. She agrees to help him find the missing girl before she’s killed. The story takes place during Allhallowtide.
As the story moves forward, you learn more about these characters.
You work with a partner to write your protagonists. How did this collaboration come about, and how do you compromise with the other person?
We met online on a pop culture forum with a corner where people wrote together. We were RPing, or roleplaying. This is when people come together to write a story by picking a character to play, taking turns writing, and reacting to each other’s work.
We discovered that we were very good at collaborating. Eventually, we broke off from the big groups and started writing little one-on-ones, and it evolved into what we're doing now.
For this series, we split the cast. She writes about Tylor Goadby and his family. I write about Naveena Kulkarni and her family.
We both have input into the story and give each other ideas. Sometimes we accept each other’s ideas, and other times we'll go, “Mmm, that doesn't really fit.”
We compromise to move the story in particular directions. We’re constantly checking in, trying things out, and seeing how the characters react. And then, if they react in a way that doesn’t allow us to continue, we go back to figure it out.
What type of lessons have you learned from your partner?
I learned to write in a way that’s enjoyable to read. It’s also helped me consider different perspectives because you get the point of view, or POV, of multiple characters in the same situation.
It's not just the Naveena show. It's not just Tylor’s show. Their perspectives, and those of secondary characters, matter and actively affect the story.
In addition, I learned to write for an audience. My partner has to read the story and enjoy it because she has to respond.
I’ve also improved my communication skills and my patience, because personal things arise that can keep us from writing.
You’re conducting research for your series. What interesting things have come up during your research?
A lot of interesting things have come up!
For example, when we started, we knew we wanted to include Allhallowtide, which takes place from October 31st to November 2nd.
This decision inspired us to look up other death festivals around the world. We learned that a lot of people, especially in Eastern Asia, like to celebrate similar things in the summer. We also learned that Día de Los Muertos used to take place in August but was moved to October to match the Catholic calendar. In the Philippines, people celebrate a similar event called Undas, and in the voodoo culture, there’s a tradition called Fèt Gede.
It has been a fascinating thing to learn about these celebrations, and I really love telling people about them.
How far along are you in your writing?
We plan to publish once the full series has been written instead of one book at a time to make sure the beginning and the end match.
We’re in the 2 ½ draft of book 1 in the series. We’re pretty solid and close to finishing it.
We also started on book 2, got to 8 chapters, got stuck, and re-plotted things to fix the beginning.
We’re thinking of making the series 3-5 books.
How do you prioritize your writing? Do you have a schedule or routine?
Unfortunately, I don’t have a routine! A part of it is because there’s a lot of research we have to do. We also have online classes.
We do our best since we have different energy levels. Our current goal is to write 25,000 words in November.
When did you first call yourself a writer?
I decided to become a writer when I was 7. We had to write storybooks in first grade, and I went all out with the writer's bio!
It wasn’t until I started writing fanfiction at 9 or 10 that I started to feel like a writer. I didn’t stop for over 10 years. I was constantly writing, publishing them online, and getting feedback.
I have felt very lucky to have fandom spaces where I can write fanfiction and roleplay and have a writing community where the pressure isn't on making money. It's just about having fun and having a great time.
How did you join Writespace Houston?
I lived in Houston and was looking for writing organizations since I was writing this book series. I wanted to meet other writers in person because I never took any creative writing classes in university.
In a group, they advertised a volunteer opportunity. Everything, from their social media to their website, looked appealing, so I volunteered and started to take classes in 2017.
How has the organization helped you with your writing?
I’ve enjoyed talking to other writers. Through them, I’ve learned what the “writing world” is like.
I'm still very much on the periphery. I don’t have an MFA in creative writing nor was my undergrad in creative writing.
The literary world has been a mystery for most of my life, so I feel like Writespace has given me the chance to learn what it looks like, what other writers are doing, and see how I might fit into it since I come from the fandom space.
Tell us about your favorite Writespace workshop. Why was it your favorite?
My favorite workshop is called “Writing Violence” by Matthew J. Hefti. I was interested in the topic because there’s a delicate balance between being honest and true to different types of violence and then slipping into trauma porn, where the goal is to just shock people, and I don’t want that.
In the past, I have been burned by books and other media that have been so insistent on being shocking that they didn’t take the reader into account.
His workshop talked about the considerations that you have to have when you're writing violence, especially in different genres.
He raised important questions. What's the purpose of it? And what are the different ways of presenting it? When do you pull back, when do you go all out, and how does that affect the reader? How does it affect the story as a whole, especially if you want the violence to mean something?
I don’t want my inclusion of violence to re-trigger or traumatize someone. The workshop gave me some insight into things to consider when writing it.
Are there any books or authors that inspired you to become a writer?
Yes and no.
Some books have taught me what books can do, like The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It changed my life, and I feel everyone should read it at one point in their lives.
A Separate Peace by John Knowles and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier both reached through time and described frames of mind I thought no one else had experienced. I was floored by their ability to connect in such a small but profound way.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan has been influential because the book had eight different points of view. All of the points of view made sense, and you could follow them. It was the first time I really appreciated how you could have little stories and create large narratives. It was also the first time I had ever seen non-white culture expressed in English in a way where it was interwoven with what was going on. I felt seen as I was reading the book despite not being Chinese or Chinese-American. I was blown away and impressed. I hope to one day get to her level of storytelling.
What book (or books) are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas. I’ve been really enjoying it. It’s about a trans male brujo who’s trying to break into his own space as part of a family of cemetery caretakers. It covers many subjects, such as death and how cultures view death within a specific context.
It’s exciting and the world-building is full of gems. I love learning while I read. The characters feel very familiar yet new. I’m having a lot of fun with it.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given about writing?
A first draft is always perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It was such freeing advice; I realized I just needed to write things down. If I didn’t write them down, I couldn’t fix them.
Writing is like sculpting a big block of clay. In the same way sculptors are looking for the image in the clay, writers are trying to find the story in it. You take things away or add them as needed in the search for this story, but to do that at all, you need clay. The first draft is a block of clay you can work with.
What is the worst piece of advice you’ve been given about writing?
That you’re not a writer if you don’t write every day. I think that's so unfair. People have a lot of things going on in their lives, and I don’t think that’s fair and true at all.
Don’t get discouraged if you can’t write every day. You can still be a writer.
What advice do you have for an aspiring writer?
If it’s up your alley, write fanfiction and publish it online. You’ll get immediate feedback from people who are reading your stuff out of love, and you’ll quickly see what works and what doesn’t. People are very encouraging and are just excited to have you there. Writing fanfiction definitely boosted my confidence. Embrace fanfiction, love it, and use it as your playground.
Also try writing something while collaborating with someone, especially if you can bring yourselves to split the cast. It’s an exercise that inherently keeps your audience in mind. I’ve learned about the pitfalls in my own writing, what really gets people excited about it, and how to compromise for the better of the story. Collaboration lets a story breathe and helps character development grow exponentially. It's a great way to practice your writing, learn how to surprise yourself, and dig deep into a character.
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Betty Cruz, intern extraordinaire. Find out more about Betty and what she does here.