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How Coping Helped Me Cope: Behind the Scenes of Writing Coping

July 6th, 2016 No comments

Cover of Coping by J Bennett

Warning: This blog post contains discussions about the plot of Coping (the novella that follows Falling) and hints about the plots of Landing, Rising, and Recovering in the Girl With Broken Wings series.

Coping, in many ways, is the novella that shouldn’t exist. Well, I should say that it wouldn’t have existed if everything had gone to plan. By 2010, I had already spent two years painstakingly polishing Falling, the first novel I ever felt was good enough to actually publish. I already knew that the story of Maya, Tarren, and Gabe couldn’t be contained in a single book. They had too much more to do. (Not to mention the fact that Maya’s number one enemy, Grand, was still breathing.) However, I faced one itty bitty problem.

While I loved Falling, the book agents I sent the manuscript to weren’t as enthusiastic. Mind you, some showed interest, but that was almost a worst punishment than outright rejection. Sending a manuscript through the slow-grinding gears of the traditional publishing complex is its own form of purgatory. First, you must send a query letter. If, by chance, an agent shows interest, the next phase is to send her the first few chapters, followed by the full manuscript for her review and consideration. Each step takes months.

I rode this snail-paced merry-go-round with three different agents for over a year, which put me in a very difficult spot. (You can read all about this oh-so-fun adventure in my behind the scenes look at Falling.) I already had the concept for Landing sketched out, and I was eager to start writing the next chapters in Maya’s adventure, but I was also wary of writing the second book in a series that no agent yet wanted.

One consequence of all this waiting was that I found myself with a lot of extra time to think. Over those days, weeks, and months, the characters in the universe of Girl With Broken Wings stayed alive in my mind. I watched Maya slowly becoming accustomed to her new life, Tarren trying to figure out how much risk she presented, and Gabe just thrilled he had someone who would laugh at his jokes. Scenes unfurled in my mind – many just fragments of the Fox family’s everyday vigilante life that would never make it to the pages of a book, but some that hinted clearly of things to come. One or two scenes that are in Flying, the last book in the series, were born in those early days.

With the world of Girl With Broken Wings growing exponentially in my head, trapped by my self-imposed moratorium on writing, one character above the rest began to nag at me.

Rain Bailey.

Picture of man looking at the sky

A kind of sad, romantic picture of a man that of reminds me of Rain.

I am going to abruptly change the subject right now, but I promise I’m going somewhere with this. In 2010, the same time my trapped writer’s brain was going into imagination overdrive, the show Battlestar Galactica had just ended. You might assume from the multiple references to the show in the GWBW series that I a bit of a fan. You’d be right. The series rebooted at the end of 2003 with a three-hour mini-series that basically blew my mind. That initial mini-series was filled with many amazing plot twists and greater-than-life characters, but one character in particular stood out to me.

The first time we meet Helo, he makes an incredibly brave decision to give up his seat on the last Raptor escaping the dying planet of Caprica so that a civilian can be saved. Let’s ignore the fact that the civilian in question happens to be Gaius Baltar, making this probably the worst trade in all of history. In the mini-series, that sacrifice is all we see of Helo. For all we knew at the time, he was just a random blip in the plot, a necessary lever to get Baltar off that planet.

[Note: This is where a big picture of Helo would go if I wasn’t totally terrified of getting sued. HERE is a pretty sexy picture of him.]

Those who watch the show know that Helo goes on to become a main character in the series and that his time on Caprica is one of the most compelling plotlines of the first two seasons. Since Helo was always one of my favorite characters, I was pretty surprised when I heard somewhere that he was never intended to be a main character. He was originally intended to just be left behind on Caprica, one more casualty of that mass extinction attack. However, so many viewers were interested in what happened to him that the show’s writers wrote him what ended up being a fascinating and crucial storyline that includes a very unlikely romance.

I always liked Helo, because he was one of the few characters in a show that could be dismally depressing who was thoroughly good. He had a huge heart and always believed that the battered remnants of the human race would find a new home.

Here’s where we go full circle. You might have connected the dots by now, but the truth is that Rain was never meant to come back after his brief encounter with Maya in Falling. He, like Helo, was just a plot blip…except he wasn’t. I couldn’t get Rain out of my head. I wanted to know what happened to him after he saw Maya. It didn’t take long before I realized that he just couldn’t let his sister’s death go or forget that he saw a girl standing over a dead preacher with glowing hands. No, he would need to find answers. I became convinced that he would keep searching and searching…until eventually his path would cross Maya’s again.

I just had one little problem…Rain wasn’t in Landing…like, at all. If you’ve read Landing, then you know that he does make an appearance, but for the most part I couldn’t find a way to fit him into the plot. This was a problem. His part was so small in Falling that I knew readers would forget all about him if he just sat out a whole book. Also, by that time, I also knew that during the events of Landing, Rain wasn’t sitting idly by. He was actively trying to figure out what angels were and hunting Maya with a vengeance.

Man with crow bar

Rain gets all vengeancy

So, in a very real way, Coping was driven by my need to tell just a little bit of Rain’s story. Since the novella is from Maya’s perspective, we only get to see the disastrous results of Rain’s efforts to solve the angel mystery, but Coping is very much the link that keeps Rain alive (figuratively and literally!) for the rest of the series.

We don’t get to learn a lot in Coping of exactly how Rain ended up in that barn in Poughkeepsie, and when we meet him again in the next books in the series (particularly Rising) his life and circumstances have changed drastically. Sorry about that. The untold parts of Rain’s story do exist, but right now they currently reside only in my head. I’ve actually toyed with the idea of writing a spinoff novel or even a novella documenting his journey from Falling through Rising (including his epic introduction to Gabe in Recovering, one of my favorite scenes to write of all time). I would love to get inside Rain’s head and to also explore his friendship with the troubled Chain and the fledging beginning of the Totem. Perhaps one day…

In the end, after sitting on the literary agent merry-go-round for a full year with nothing but a million new ideas for my series to show for it, I decided that I wanted off this was ride. I didn’t need anyone else to tell me that my book was worth publishing or that Maya’s story was worth telling.

Merry-go-round

This picture of a wonderful, fun, and joyful merry-go-round is nothing like the dreary, frustrating literary agent merry-go-round I experienced. Photo credit: chatirygirl via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-ND

As I started prepping Falling for publication, I finally started writing again. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that Coping fell onto the page with amazing ease. (A wonderful experience I wasn’t able to recapture when I finally started writing Landing.)

Coping might be short, and its story doesn’t drive the larger plot of the series, but I love this little novella. It gives readers an important insight into Maya’s growing acceptance of her situation, shows her tightening bond with Gabe, and demonstrates exactly what is on the line in the war with the angels when the Fox family makes its grisly discovery in Poughkeepsie. (A situation that comes to represent the very real risk of what it could mean if angels ever gain the upper hand on the humans.) Most importantly, Coping allows me to briefly reunite Maya and Rain and to keep him in her mind throughout Landing so that I can set up his re-emergence in Rising. And finally, the last chapters of this novella gave me a chance to let Maya seek a small drop of closure in her relationship with Ryan and in the shedding of her old life, which I felt was very emotionally important for her character.

I hope you liked this little novella, too!

Microsoft Kidnapped My Computer…And Beat The Crap Out Of It

April 28th, 2014 No comments

Last Friday, Microsoft kidnapped my laptop for 2.5 hours, and the psychological trauma still seems to be affecting poor Lancelot. He is so distraught he now has trouble connecting to the internet and loading pages despite a previous near perfect record on this WiFi network. (Note: Lancelot is my laptop’s name, because he is gray and came to my rescue when my previous laptop had a computer aneurysm and died without warning).

That Friday, after multiple nagging messages, I decided to finally upgrade to Windows 8.1. I assumed this upgrade would take 10 -15 minutes. It didn’t. It took two and a half hours to be exact.

I am very mad at Microsoft’s new CEO, Sayta Nadella for his assumption that I would just have 2.5 hours lying around for him to use for his glacial upgrade. At no point did I get a message before the upgrade saying something like, “Hey, you might want to go grocery shopping and go to the bank, cause this could take a while” or “Going to bed? Okay, now might be a good time to do that Windows 8.1 upgrade, because it will take FOREVER!”

Lancelot is not old or clogged with downloaded Gif files of cats playing the piano. He’s not some poor, fat old guy huffing and puffing around a track trying to get in shape before his heart explodes from French fry grease. In other words, Lancelot should be able to handle an update at normal speeds.

My perception of time has become severely twisted ever since I started working as a full time freelance copywriter and fiction author. Time is money. Literally. If I’m not working, producing content, I am not generating income. I know how much I need to make each month, each week, and each day to meet my basic expenses and to hit my income goals.

You might be able to see how this can quickly and quite thoroughly screw with someone’s psyche. Any last minute jolts or unanticipated interruptions, and all the building blocks in my daily schedule come tumbling down. A two and a half hour blackout for my laptop is a pretty big deal.

It was interesting, watching the screen do it’s little count up as it downloaded something or other, only to then start a whole new download sequence as soon as the former was complete. I got to really watch myself have a minor, silent meltdown.

I wonder if other people do this, study and muse over their reactions while they occur? Sometimes I feel like I am of two minds — the worrying part of me in the moment, and then the observer watching my thoughts frantically tumble around.

I have a coping mechanism for when I take myself too seriously. It’s pretty simple. It’s a game I’ve dubbed, “At least you’re not/you don’t [Fill in the blank]”

For instance, here are a few choice ones that came to mind on Friday:

— At least you’re not a kindergarten teacher

— At least you don’t live in Syria

— At least you’re not an Untouchable living in India

— At least you don’t live in the Game of Thrones Universe

— At least you don’t have Elephant Man syndrome

— At least you’re not struggling to survive during the Zombie Apocalypse

You get the drift. Feel free to use that little trick if it ever suits you.

The Microsoft 8.1 update was probably in the top 300 worst decisions I’ve ever made. Lancelot is severely traumatized as I mentioned earlier. Apparently it’s okay for updates to actually make computers work worse now rather than better. FYI to Microsoft. Messing with my computer’s ability to connect to my WiFi network and not drop pages while loading is kinda important to me.

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