Fruita writer’s Old West story told through teen’s eyes
The Colorado Territory town of Burning Mesa has all the dusty markers of the Old West in the 1860s. There are salt-of-the-earth settlers, prospecting hard-rock miners and handsome but emotionally stunted cowboys.
Think you’ve heard it all before? Think again.
The settlers of Burning Mesa fend off gnashing rock-devil lizards the size of horses. Miners dig for the magical and valuable bones of sirens, fairies and unicorns. Cowboys ensure their aim with dragon-claw rifles.
Such is the Old West as reimagined by Renee Collins, of Fruita, in her young adult fantasy “Relic.” Collins calls upon her history background to combine real-life Western situations (literary license granted, of course) with a fantastical world where magical creatures both deceased and living influence the course of human events.
The hero in “Relic” is Maggie Davis, a 16-year-old struggling to provide for herself and her little sister, Ella, after tragedy transforms Maggie overnight from dutiful daughter to responsible young adult. Possessing an unyielding morality helps her avoid the pitfalls of the dance hall girls, but she also learns she can find help and friendship in people very different from herself.
Collins said she sought to portray a different type of character with Maggie. “I think there’s a lot of focus, with ‘Hunger Games’ and others, on strong female characters who can kick butt. I wanted to write a character who was strong in her sense of what’s important — her family — protecting her sister.”
Always intrigued by the magical powers of relics — the bones of magical creatures polished to be carried or worn for their special strengths — Maggie finds opportunity to learn more about the expensive relics, which had been beyond her family’s meager means.
“I went to lift the final relic, a pebble-sized piece as black as obsidian into my hand. But as my fingertip touched it, a deep, angry breath cut through my mind. A stab of hunger reached into my chest, hot and lustful. Startled, I jerked my hand back as if the relic were red hot. I shot a look up to Moon John. ‘Is that what I think it is?’ I asked, my pulse racing. ‘Vampire,’ Moon John confirmed matter-of-factly.”
The plot point of using magical relics was itself a relic of a previous story she was writing that didn’t work out, Collins said. After reading “These is my Words,” a book by Nancy Turner written in diary form and set in the Arizona Old West, Collins was inspired to juxtapose a familiar Western setting with magical creatures.
“I’ve always loved historical fantasies,” said Collins, who has a degree in history from Brigham Young University. “I tried to think of all the sort of tropes of the Old West — the icons — with the twist with the fantasy.”
Although this is her first published novel — publisher is Entangled Teen, an imprint of Entangled Publishing out of Fort Collins — this is the sixth novel Collins has finished.
After her daughter was born, Collins said she decided to get serious about getting published. “It was probably over the course of five to six years from trying to get published to having a book on the shelf,” she said.
Throughout those years, she continued to write and pitch to literary agents, rejection after rejection, until she found the right agent who was enthused about her work.
“I was feeling pretty discouraged by that point, but that’s when I had the idea for ‘Relic,’” Collins said. From there it was revision, rewrites and pitching to publishers, with “Relic” published in August of 2013.
“Even now it’s exciting,” Collins said. “I’ve reached a point where I’ve achieved what I set out to do.” She’s written another novel her agent is pitching this summer.
Collins, who grew up in Hawaii, has a twin sister, and moved to Colorado with her family four years ago, said she likes to talk to aspiring young writers and show that having a writing career is possible if you’re willing to stick with it.
“I like to talk to teen writers and just try to encourage them that it’s possible. I remember thinking when I was younger that writers were a different type of person. But I tell teens that there’s no reason it can’t be you. You’ve just got to work hard, and accept that you will face rejection, but keep going.”
Collins said that even before it was her vocation, she’s “always written,” including “a lot of tragic love poetry to guys I had crushes on!”
“Relic retails for $9.99 and is available at most book retailers and in e-book form. Learn about Collins at reneecollinsauthor.com.