Lyn Hawks

Hillsborough resident Lyn Hawks recently released her debut novel, “How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought.” She will hold several book signings in September, including one at Purple Crow Books, 109 W. King St., at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13. Hawks, a former English teacher, feels a strong commitment to her characters. She tends to write about spunky teenage girls struggling with tough issues, acting almost as a social commentary.

The road to authorhood has not necessarily been a smooth one.

But nothing good comes easy, right?

For Lyn Hawks of Hillsborough, the struggle came more in finding the time to dedicate to her book than as a difficulty in putting thoughts into words. “How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought,” Hawks’ debut novel, began as an inkling when Michael Jackson died in 2009.

“I was trying to explain to my step-son, who was 12 at the time, who Michael Jackson was,” she said. “… I started thinking about a girl in 2009 who was a little bit older than him and how she would see Michael Jackson. And then for some reason I was like, well, what if she had a really weird family situation? And all of a sudden I heard a voice, and I knew it was her.”

Words first became a fascination around first grade, and Hawks nurtured that love by writing her thoughts and emotions down everywhere she went. After graduating college, however, she became an English teacher, and hobbies kind of took the backburner.

In the early ’90s, Hawks began tinkering with a novel, but it remained just a work in progress for more than 10 years until she applied for the Elizabeth Daniels Squire Writers-In-Residence Program through the North Carolina Writers’ Network in 2003. There, she studied for a week under renowned author Doris Betts, who supplied the motivation she needed.

“[Betts] gave me a lot of confidence to keep going,” Hawks said. “She basically told me she saw a spark in my character’s voice. I got really motivated after that; OK, I’m going to finish this novel. And interestingly enough, though, I worked on it for another six years, still teaching, busy life—whatever the excuses are.

“And then in 2009, this other novel idea came to me, and I wrote that. I wrote the first draft in six months, and then 25 drafts later I published it.”

Hawks published a book of short stories in January, and her novel came out in March.

“I’m working the double life of writer one day, trying to promote another day,” she said. “It’s been fun so far. I’ve learned a lot.”

The vision for “How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought” began with a character, something Hawks said is typical for her.

“You talk to writers, and we’re kind of schizophrenic; we hear voices,” she said. “That’s usually how my stories start is I hear a character voice kind of talking to me. I’m in a writers’ group where I have these amazing colleagues with these detailed, elaborate plot outlines that they see first. They see the action before they see the character. I always see the character. And I saw this kid, and I thought, how do modern kids react to Michael Jackson?”

From there, the plot unfolded: a 15-year-old girl living with her mom and her mom’s new boyfriend, who begins to sexually abuse her. The story chronicles how Wendy survives the trauma.

“Why all these things came together at once, this weird triad, I don’t know, but I just decided this girl is going to survive this,” Hawks said. “And she also happens to be obsessed with this ’80s singer.”

Throughout 2010 and 2011, the new novelist began looking for agents but couldn’t find the right fit. She then ventured out into the self-publishing world, forming the True North Writers’ Co-operative with two former classmates under Betts and braving the writers’ world on her own.

So far, she’s enjoyed the ride. Hawks said she’s in the process of several other stories, including two more in a series with “How Wendy Redbird Dancing Survived the Dark Ages of Nought”—which she dubbed the Girls Outside series—all with different heroines facing different struggles.

“My characters are precocious teenagers who are eccentric,” she said. “They often get bullied, and so Wendy’s character is like a nerd girl. All my girls that I tend to write about so far are bullied and have brains but are struggling when they show it. They’re not accepted and are trying to find their niche socially and in school.

“I’ve gotten about 20,000 words in the next one. Her issue is actually about coming out of the closet and sexual orientation and being true to herself, so I’m really enjoying that. This one was about a girl surviving abuse and how does she deal with that. I don’t take easy issues, I guess.”

Hawks also has ideas for a true sequel to Wendy’s story, outlining how she deals with the aftermath of the abuse. Not to mention she’s discovered something about her original work, the one she brought before Betts: that novel tells the life of Wendy’s mother.

With more than enough writing ahead of her, Hawks said she has transitioned into the life of a true novelist—something she couldn’t be happier about.

“When I write, I forget who I am,” she said. “I dive into somebody else’s brain and story and live there for a while. … When you talk about athletes being in the zone and they stop thinking about their dribbling the ball or their shooting or their swinging the bat, it’s like you have that space when you know the words are flowing or the story idea is falling and this plot point follows that plot point and the inspiration. That’s just such a high. I think that’s why I keep coming back to it.”