Pannell Scholar turns lifelong passion for fantasy into first stab at novel

Raven Minyard in the library
Pannell Scholar Raven Minyard in the Browsing Room of the library. Minyard spends lots of time in the library working on her project.

There was a light in the woods. A little girl stood at the screen door of her grandmother’s house, her face and hands pressed against the glass, watching. The sun had just set, leaving the sky a navy blue color — dark, but not so dark that the girl couldn’t make out the silhouettes of her grandmother’s flowers or the rubber ball she had abandoned in favor of homemade chocolate chip cookies. But the cookies were long gone now, and the girl’s attention had returned to the outside.

            The light flickered again, mesmerizing her. As if in a trance, she stood on her tiptoes and managed to grasp the door handle. The door let out a quiet groan as she pushed it open. Down the steps and into the dewy grass, her feet padded silently as she waddled toward the trees, her gaze never straying from the light. She could hear faint sounds coming from the woods — voices, laughter, perhaps the beating of a drum.

            Yes, come to us, little one.

(Raven Minyard ’20, from the prologue to her fantasy novel)

JC: I really enjoyed reading the prologue to your novel. Where did the inspiration for it come from?

RM: A few years back, I wrote a short story that was somewhat based on the same idea as the prologue. I did change a lot of themes in the prologue, but I discovered it last year before they actually announced the Pannell Scholarship. I knew this was something that I wanted to develop more into a full story. The Pannell Scholarship gave me the perfect opportunity to pursue it.

Raven Minyard journal

How did your interest in that topic first start?

I have honestly loved fantasy my entire life. One of the first books I read that was similar in topic, with faeries and goblets and such, was a series called “The Spiderwick Chronicles.” I was always intrigued by those books, and mythical creatures in general. In fourth grade, we had to start writing our own stories, and that’s when I realized that I really liked writing. Of course, back then and through middle school, it was really terrible because I didn’t know what I was doing, but I continued reading and taking English classes. I discovered that it was something that I would like to do for the rest of my life.

Were you able to take creative writing classes in high school?

We had one creative writing class, but we didn’t really do anything elaborate. The assignment that I liked the most was “Twisted Fairy Tales,” where we combined two different fairy tales into a short story. That obviously was most similar to my interests. Other than that, I just wrote on my own.

Did you have a lot of support from your parents? Are they writers, or big readers?

It’s never been a big thing for them, but my dad grew up reading. He’s always been big on sci-fi and fantasy, and he’s the one who introduced me to “Harry Potter.” They’ve always been very supportive of whatever I wanted to do. My friends have always been very supportive, too. I’ve written them short little funny stories just as presents. Everyone I care about is really supportive of my ideas. It’s helped me realize that this is something I want to do and to have the courage to do it — even though writing and being an author is not a stable job, so obviously I would pursue other careers, but this is ultimately what I want to do. I’m glad I have the support to go after that goal.

Minyard writing
Minyard, from Hohenwald, Tenn., jots down ideas and outlines for the plot of her novel in her journal.

Is that why you came to Sweet Briar? What brought you here?

I’m from Tennessee, so I hadn’t heard of Sweet Briar until they emailed me. I didn’t really know where I wanted to go. I did want to go out of state, just because I hadn’t really had any opportunities to travel. So I applied just to see how it would turn out. And then I got accepted, so I seriously began looking into it. It seemed like it had a really good English and creative writing program, and now that I’m here, I can definitely say that we do, and I’m very proud of that. I’m very happy to go to a school where we have the opportunity to explore ideas such as this one.

Can you talk more about your creative writing classes at Sweet Briar?

Because at Sweet Briar, we are focused more on the literary aspect, I am trying to work on developing voices and learn how to control a scene, rather than focus on faeries and monsters and what not. I have actually only taken two workshops so far, and I’m in one now. But even after the first few weeks in Intro last year, my writing had improved so much. The workshops are really fun. We’ve had a lot of interesting prompts to develop stories, and the professors are all great, so it’s really wonderful.

What has your experience been like so far with your Pannell Scholarship?

Originally, I was editing as I was writing. But then I realized that I was getting too caught up in making it good, rather than actually writing, and when I got caught up in that, I would just stop. It’s hard for me to stop the editor inside my head from controlling everything. So, I discovered a website called The Most Dangerous Writing App: You can set a word count or a time limit, and it ranges from about five minutes to an hour. If you stop writing for more than five seconds, it erases all of your progress — which is terrifying! I decided to try it, and it has helped me so much in progressing the story and getting the basic skeleton of what I want to happen down. I’m at 25,000 words right now, and my goal for the whole project is about 60,000 words, depending on how everything ends up. I plan to start editing the first half within the coming weeks, and then I’m going to continue the second half the same way I’ve been doing it so far with this app. Hopefully by the end, I can have it all edited, or at least the first half. So it will still be a good amount that I would want people to read. If I were writing this on my own, I would let other things get in the way. But I treat it more like a class or an assignment, like something that I have to do.

Raven Minyard

What about other fields of study? What are you interested in, and how has that influenced your writing?

Before coming to Sweet Briar, I went to a public high school, so all of our history teachers were coaches. We got the basics, but it wasn’t that great. But then I took a history class with Professor Laufenberg my second semester here, and I really liked it. I decided that I’m really fascinated by history, so right now I am considering doing a minor in either history or medieval and Renaissance studies. Possibly both, depending on if I can get the credits and not stress myself out too much. Since I do like to write fantasy, I would like to do a higher fantasy rather than one that is set in our world. I think seeing the different political aspects and the way people lived in times other than ours — and in different places — would definitely help me build worlds in my writing.

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