Kit Lyman, the author of Satan’s Garden: A Novel, wasn’t always a writer. For much of her life, she was in fact a non-writer, one who would fill the first few pages of numerous notebooks with illegible chicken scratch before moving on and leaving the remaining pages forgotten and blank. As a child, Lyman dreamed of becoming a Hollywood starlet, and if the bright lights faded out, to live out her days as a forensic scientist.
A 2011 graduate of Cornell University, Lyman has worked as a script reader for IPG, a literary management company, and as a production assistant on the daytime talk show, The Talk.
Lyman, who currently resides in San Antonio, published her debut novel, Satan’s Garden, in March of 2014. Told from the perspective of twin sisters whose lives diverge after one is kidnapped, the book is simultaneously a suspenseful psychological thriller and an emotionally-resonant coming-of-age story.
Learn more at www.kitlyman.com.
If you asked my mother, she would say I was a piece of work. If you asked my father, he would tell you that I ruined all ideas of a fourth child. But if you asked me, I would say I was resourceful. Being the youngest in the family, I came into this world knowing I would have to be creative if I wanted to earn any of the household’s attention. Some of my tactics didn’t make a whole lot of sense, like my impromptu aversion to the entire concept of a sandwich or my habit of flushing large, oblong objects down the toilet. But my rebellious nature was what gave me an early practice ground for storytelling.
“Why, Kit? Why on earth would you do that? Why are you hiding uneaten sandwiches under your bed? What could have possibly made you eat all of the Flintsone vitamins? How did you even manage to get your head stuck in there?” Every question required an elaborate and complex story, causing my parents to eventually forget why they had even asked in the first place. I may have learned a few too many tricks from my Calvin and Hobbes books, but nevertheless, my nonsensical stories were what got me through my younger years.
I may not have known it at the time, but my upbringing set the stage for the rest of my life. The backdrop of my countryside home inspired my early days of storytelling, my two sisters and I spinning fantastical tales to entertain one another. Crooked sticks held together by wild grape vines became impenetrable fortresses against the strongest armies. Rusted bicycles served as lightning-fast steeds, as we scoured the Wild West in search of gun-slinging thieves. Frozen mud puddles transformed into world-class skating rinks, the three of us competing for the Gold amongst cheering crowds of oak and pine.
The writer and person I am today is indebted to that history. I was lucky enough to have a family compassionate enough to bear with me and a childhood that fostered innocence and imagination.
Who have been the biggest influences in your life, creatively or otherwise?
Not everyone knew Robert Boehm. He wasn’t a celebrity or well-known for any one thing. But to those in my family, he captured the limelight every time he stepped foot in a room. He was the type of man who was an active participant in life. He never sat on the sidelines or subbed himself out. And above all, he loved telling stories. Every conversation was an animated saga of thoughtful observation, sharing experiences and allowing you to feel a part of them, too. My grandfather was the greatest storyteller I have ever known, and a great deal of me is—or, is trying to be—a reflection of him.
In terms of my creative influences, I’ve pulled inspiration from many artists over the years. Bill Watterson obviously made a huge impression on me as a kid, as did Brian Jacques and his tales of Redwall. Reading work by Nora Ephron and David O. Russell really impacted my infancy of screenwriting, and learning the intricacies of storytelling through the eyes of Robert McKee and Blake Snyder gave me the foundation to be able to write a book like Satan’s Garden. As an author, I have really turned to writers like Jodi Picoult and Gillian Flynn for examples of the legacy that I’m looking to leave. Picoult’s character-driven style is one that I really connect with, and Flynn’s ability to write captivating stories without having any likeable characters is an art that I strive to achieve. As of late, I’ve also leaned on Austin Kleon and his motivational books for inspiration. His work is somewhat of my lifeblood at the moment because his books remind me about why we write in the first place.
What inspired the story of Satan’s Garden, and how much of it is drawn from personal experience?
Satan’s Garden came out of nowhere. It all started with that first sentence—I had always thought that death would be cold—but I didn’t know the story behind those nine words at the time. I wrote the prologue without having a storyline or an outline for my characters, and it wasn’t until two weeks later that Dani and Keely made their entrance. Unlike my other stories, I didn’t need to pick their names or choose a list of defining traits to mold them into existence. Instead, they came to me as living, breathing beings, their story already in place.
I knew I wanted Satan’s Garden to be about the love between two sisters. Despite it initially being a book about a kidnapping, I didn’t want that to be the lasting impression. Desensitization is a concern for thriller writers because it creates this plaguing pressure to be more shocking than the next, to be darker and more twisted. I was inspired to take a step back and not give in to that pressure. It may capture the horrors and devastations that we may come across in life, but those parts aren’t what I hope to leave behind. As a new member of the psycho-thriller genre, I aimed to write a thriller that could bridge the gap to the “sensitized” audiences.
For the most part, the book is fictitious, but there are certain aspects that are drawn from my own experiences. There are the little things, like characters who resemble those in my actual life and meaningful childhood memories that now belong to Keely and Dani, but there are also some of my emotionally-charged moments in there as well. Keely and Dani’s experience is entirely their own, but some of their fears, hardships, and struggles are pulled from feelings that I have had at different times in my life.
What were the biggest challenges you faced during the writing of Satan’s Garden?
The biggest challenge in anything is committing to it. Writing is a day in and day out type of commitment, and you have to want it enough. Being a recent graduate and working full-time, it really tested me to see if the drive was there. Luckily, I had an incredible amount of support from my family and friends. Whenever I came to a crossroads or hit a wall with the story, they were the ones who I turned to. Even though there is this illusion that writing is a solitary process, I have seen that it is more of a shared effort than people originally think.
Another challenge I didn’t anticipate was the emotional drain that comes from putting your work out there. No matter how much I may tell myself otherwise, I gave a piece of myself away when I released Satan’s Garden. All writers have to relinquish parts of themselves; it’s just part of the job. As a new writer, however, it was still a realization that I had to come to grips with. Not everyone is going to like or even understand Keely and Dani’s story, but I have to focus on the people who do.
Does writing come easy to you? If so, has it always?
I wasn’t always a writer. I was the kid with a dozen composition notebooks tossed into the back corners of her closet. Slanted handwriting covered the first five pages of each, while the remaining sheets were left crisp and blank. All of my journals started out the same — telling my dear Diary the daily recaps of Kit Lyman’s exciting middle school life. Writing never used to come easily for me, because I didn’t yet see the purpose of writing it all down. It wasn’t until my first creative writing course in college that I found my passion and dedication to story.
I’d say that now writing comes relatively easy for me, but I owe a great deal to music and good red wine. I’m not sure “writer’s block” can happen when those two things exist in this world. Music serves as my ultimate catalyst, and I use specific songs when I’m looking to capture a certain feeling. I’m not always certain where the story comes from, and I know my fellow writers will recognize that feeling. What I do know is that each of us has an untapped place; it’s just up to us to find out how to reach it.
From your experience, what were the pros and cons of self-publishing?
I’m a firm believer in work speaking for itself. When it came to self-publishing versus querying agents, it was a decision that I put a lot of thought into and at times struggled with. I didn’t self-publish because I no longer believe in traditional publishers. Instead, I self-published because I think the querying process is overpopulated. Being a debut author gives you very little leverage, and instead of telling agents and publishers to believe in my story, I wanted to show them what kind of impact it could make. Some think that publishing a book yourself places it into the “used goods” pile, but I like to believe that good stories will eventually make their way to the top. Self-publishing has offered me a platform to prove myself and earn my spot as a writer. Instead of it sitting as an unpublished manuscript, it’s out on the market, earning readers and making waves. It puts the cards back in my hand.
The entire process, from writing, editing, formatting, marketing, and promoting, gives you insight into the business side of being a writer as well as teaches you valuable tools. Having total creative control pushes the envelope and forces you to fully realize the story you’re trying to tell. Being a debut author is a lot about the learning experience and feeling the growing pains. Self-publishing is a way for authors to find their place in the market.
The downside to having full creative control is the time commitment. When I first released Satan’s Garden, I wasn’t prepared for the amount of work that I still had to do. Although there is a great deal of support from the self-publishing community, promotion and marketing is a full-time job. Accountability falls entirely on your shoulders when you self-publish, and that pressure does impact the time spent actually writing.
There is also the ugly truth that there is only so much you can do. There are only so many connections you can utilize, and building sales channels from scratch can be an overwhelming process. The support agents and publishers provide is valuable in its own right, and for most writers, having those relationships will be the key to expanding their readership.
What does your writing environment look like?
Surprisingly, I don’t have one set writing environment. I like to have a more portable “office,” where the only constants I truly rely on are my computer and iTunes playlists. I’ve heard from other writers that it is beneficial to have an established desk with motivational quotes and sayings taped up nearby, but I find my writing benefits from changing the scenery.
In my bedroom, however, there is a wooden box that sits on my desk. It’s one that my grandfather made for me a few years back, and inside, I keep all of the fortunes I have collected over the years. Chinese food is one of my greatest weaknesses, and I have formed a habit of keeping all of my Chinese cookies’ gifts, even the bad ones that say nothing important at all. Instead of leaving them out in plain view, I find they have greater value when I only pull them out from time to time. Whenever I’m searching for a moment of inspiration, that is where I’ll go. There is one in particular that I find myself continuously going back to. “Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.” That quote always reminds me to not search for the answers. Stories aren’t meant to be figured out in one sitting. Even though it is important to know where you are heading, there is more beauty that can come from figuring it out as you go.
How did your experience with script reading help prepare you for writing and/or publishing your own book?
Script reading taught me that there is a bit of luck to all of this. It always starts with a good story, but success isn’t always so clear-cut. I realized that when it comes to the entertainment industry, it isn’t solely a meritocracy. The concept of a “resume” and having attractive titles and accolades matter, even if the work isn’t entirely reflective of that. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the trip. No matter how many rejections you get and no matter how many people tell you that you aren’t a right fit, keep writing. There is an endless supply of talent out there, waiting to get noticed. This realization has been daunting at times, but it also encourages me. I see that I am not alone in my efforts, and it’s up to each of us to have a say in our own fate.
What are the biggest mistakes rookie screenwriters make when writing and submitting scripts?
One piece of advice I would offer rookie screenwriters is don’t rely solely on your personal experiences. You can pull from meaningful parts of your life, but don’t fall into the trap of running with the very first idea that comes to you. More often than not, there is something much deeper and more poignant buried under that first idea. Be open to the spider web effect. Unless your personal story is as emotionally gripping as Malala Yousafzai’s or as outlandish as Jordan Belfort’s, I suggest that you don’t write your life as your first script. I’m not telling you to abandon the things you have learned and gone through—those parts are what make you a writer—but don’t stunt yourself by telling a story you know so well. The first script is a huge statement. It reveals a lot about writers, how fresh their voices are, whether they will say something new and tell familiar stories differently. Push yourself to make the most of that opportunity.
It’s been said before, but it cannot be said enough: do not send in your first draft. Think of your script as an admission essay, something that you gruel over, revise, rip apart, and piece back together again. Follow proper formatting, review submission guidelines, and try your best to keep your script under 100 pages. Especially if you are a debut writer, you’re more likely to get a look if you have a tighter script. When I worked as a script reader, I usually read scripts and manuscripts by more seasoned writers, but there were times when I had the opportunity to read “baby writers,” as they called them. It’s stiff competition among that pool, so it is important to have a unique pitch and a script that doesn’t go on for 150+ pages. Remember, you aren’t writing a shooting script but rather giving the bones of the story.
For all screenwriters, I highly recommend taking a look at books/workshops by Robert McKee, Blake Snyder, Michael Hauge, and John Truby. They are some of the industry greats. I not only learned so much from their guidance but also found a great deal of my motivation from them as well.
What’s the best song you’ve heard recently?
When I find a song I like, I play it constantly. If a song puts me in a certain place, I will use it like my own personal weapon. For instance, the song, “Say Something” by Alex & Sierra, has 874 plays listed in my iTunes, and I think 850 of them happened when I was writing the fourteenth chapter of my novel. That song will forever remind me of what happened at the end of Satan’s Garden and how I felt when I wrote it.
My newest addition to the arsenal is “Take It Easy” by Jetta. When I first heard that song, everything around me went still. A woman named Viv popped into my mind, and her story started to take shape in my head. That song made me think about a woman who carried around too much pain with her, and she would rather give up all the good memories to rid herself of the bad ones.
I wrote down this line in my phone after I heard it: They say that it’s better to love and lose than to never love at all. But if you asked me, I’d say they don’t know a thing about love. Losing real love will ruin you, a lethal injection cocktail waiting to leave you dead on the table. I would give anything to give it all back. I’m sure one of these days you will see that as the opening line to one of my books, and I’ll owe it all to one moment and one song.
What are you working on next?
I’ve already started working on my second novel, which will be another psychological thriller. It’s entitled The Sixth Fear, which is in reference to the five basic fears described in psychology. It explores the emotions that make us human and the beauty that can grow out of the depths of tragedy. Like Satan’s Garden, I aim for it to be a thriller that does more than shock an audience. In the end, I don’t want to write stories that are simply dark and twisted. I prefer stories that manage to highlight the sweeter sides of life despite devastating situations.
Also, I am currently working on putting together a collection of my short stories. The series will be called “Second Chances.” I haven’t decided on a plan for releasing them, but readers can sign up for my mailing list to keep up-to-date on future developments.