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On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, Citra Tenore writes about her inspiration and her writing career, which started at age 12 with the publication of Summer With A Twist.
Written by Citra Tenore
My name is Citra Tenore (my first name is Indonesian and my last name is Italian, so it’s pronounced like “cheetra tenorae”) and I’m an American fiction author from Massachusetts. I love books and reading, and that love for literature is what has helped me produce both a children’s novel and the first installment of my new, adult science fiction series.
I wrote my first novel, Summer with a Twist, a preteen comedy, when I was eleven. After six months of editing, I published it when I was twelve. Despite the young age at which I published, my love for literature blossomed only a short while before writing my first book. To be frank, I hated books with a serious passion all throughout my childhood.
I was incredibly physical; my spare time was reserved for sports and movies. I wouldn’t so much as go near the bookshelf at home. Amusing as it was, my hatred for literature became worrying, as my English Language Arts grades were declining in elementary school.
Naturally, my parents’ concern motivated them to become more creative when it came to motivating me to care about that important part of their child’s education, and it was my father’s idea to rely on the one thing he knew I would pay attention to: cinema.
To help me understand writing and reading comprehension, instead of pulling out books, he relaxed the rules of what I could and couldn’t watch. I was as young as six years old when we started watching very mature, gritty films together. Save for the moments when I left the room during scenes that weren’t age-appropriate (even by my father’s standards), he would point out every little quirk and pointed line in the scripts of the films we watched. We were, in a sense, holding scene study classes in the family room of my childhood home.
Due to my love for movies and my father having been a stage actor back in the day, I was fascinated by acting. As a child, I took professional film acting classes in Boston and was even cast in some small, indie gigs. But something that never slipped my mind was the slight reverence people had for screenwriters. I saw the way casting directors and directors spoke of their writing teams with respect and admiration. It also wasn’t lost on me that when a scene felt flat or clunky, the blame shifted almost entirely to the writers – sometimes not even to the directors and actors at all.
It became clear to me that writers are the creative backbones to the stories we watch. Such a fact is obvious to adults, but to a child, that was mind-blowing. I slowly became fascinated by the unseen figures of Hollywood, the people who aren’t on our screens but are present in the fiction that enraptures us and helps us escape from our everyday lives. And when my little self ever remembered that some of my favorite films were based off of books, for the first time in my life I began avidly reading.
The change was overnight. So suddenly, I’d been converted away from acting and wanted to create and control a work of my own. My love for literature was sudden and exciting. I can’t even list the many stories I read between ages ten and eleven, but the girl who once spent afternoons playing outside with the neighborhood kids was spending all her free time in her bedroom flipping through the books she’d long neglected.
Relationship With Books
My relationship with books wasn’t perfect, though. I loved fictional stories and the idea of storytelling, but even after a childhood of reading only for school assignments and then finally enjoying the activity, something was glaringly obvious to me and my friends: the lack of diversity in our books. It was something I’d noticed in school, back when I had to read for my English class assignments.
However, the prevalence of the issue didn’t register until I began reading for enjoyment. As greatly as my friends and I loved the modern children’s books we read, no matter how far and wide we looked, the books were often poor depictions of the reality we knew. I wasn’t really surprised by it. After all, I had loved acting once. I had read certain casting call descriptions, I heard the things some casting directors said about people who didn’t fit the entertainment industry’s beauty standards. Entertainment in the US is different nowadays, even from what it was just a decade ago.
Starting To Write
The summer before middle school, I went on a vacation on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. That was where my idea for Summer with a Twist, my first book, was born. Inspired by the trip, I wanted to create a story that kids my age could relate to and maybe even feel like the similarly young voice of the author could vicariously be their own. As a bonus, I made the main character Indonesian-Italian, like me, and I worked her heritage into the story in what I hoped would be a relatable twist on the many books that I liked.
I self-published it when I was twelve, and the humble but warm reception was unforgettable. Whether it be the young girls and boys who’d read it and said they could relate to a young author or the fellow children of immigrants who loved reading the bits where my main character poked fun at her Asian American childhood, the fact that I could entertain people with my mind alone compelled me to pursue the far-fetched dream of writing.
By the end of the school year, just a summer away from turning thirteen, my elementary school called and asked if I could speak to a class of children. Standing in that classroom, speaking to kids who had read my novel and were moved enough to seek my advice, I felt humbled, but also a bit crazed by the sight. On that day, I knew I wanted to write forever.
The Dead Planets’ Requiem
Once you’ve published your first book, it’s smooth sailing from there. Ideas are difficult to form, characters can be a struggle to make relatable, but nothing is as stressful as producing one’s first work. When I outgrew children’s fiction at thirteen and redeveloped my love for the dark (albeit inappropriate) films my father let me watch, I knew that veering into a maturer genre of fiction would be one of the hardest, yet somehow easier, undertakings of my life. But I had to do it.
At thirteen, the concept for my newest release, The Dead Planet’s Requiem Vol. I, started coming to me. The ideas were there, but I was still young, immature, and justifiably naive and unaware of many things in the world. I was still young and knew so little. I had to teach myself patience and understand that the story I had in mind probably wouldn’t come to the fruition I had imagined until I was older and lived a bit more. Patience is key, and knowing yourself is just as important as knowing the plot, characters, and details of the stories you may have in mind.
I could have very well published The Dead Planet’s Requiem Vol. I at fifteen instead of nineteen. I could have rushed it, written the concepts for what I pictured as a thirteen-year-old. But sometimes the art should wait for the artist. Sometimes the artist needs character development of their own.
Growing As A Writer
For six years, I dedicated myself to writing the series’s first volume. Instead of hurrying, I forced myself to take my time, to grow with the story and the many imaginary friends my mind had concocted to go into said story. As I grew with my characters, I slowly began to feel like I really knew them. Taking that time was a decision I’m so grateful I made.
For people struggling to finish works of their own, it probably has nothing to do with the story you’ve imagined. The plot is there. The characters are alive. At this point, you’ve done everything right story-wise. Chances are it has nothing to do with the story, but the person behind it. It could simply be the wrong time in your life. Or it could be the right time, but you aren’t quite ready.
No matter how young or old the author, there is always time for growth. Take hiatuses. Learn about yourself as much as you want others to know about your work. And as dichotomous as it seems to be said by a teenager, please never rush anything. The longer it takes, the longer you get to learn about yourself and your secret imaginings. I’ve learned what just a bit of aging and delay can do for a person. Even the smallest burst in wisdom can mean the strongest push for a scene, or even a whole story.
Find more from Citra Tenore now:
Photos of Citra Tenore credited to: Jobey Lee
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