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Behind the Scenes of Writing LEAPING

September 7th, 2016 No comments

Author’s Note: Surprise, surprise — this blog post contains some serious spoilers for the book LEAPING, so um, don’t read this if you haven’t read LEAPING yet. That is all. 

Cover of Leaping by J Bennett

A few random thoughts on religion, love, and My Little Pony.

Poor LEAPING. I like this book, I really, really do, and it was a joy to write, but…well. Even as I sat down to write this book, every single ounce of me wanted to teleport into the future so that I could finally, finally start writing FLYING (the last book in the GWBW series). It’s not that there was anything wrong with LEAPING at all; it’s just that I had so many secrets piling up and there was so much good stuff coming in FLYING. That book was calling to me, but I needed to build one more bridge first, and that bridge was LEAPING.

Considering this antsy mindset I was in when I first started writing LEAPING, I was surprised to find how much fun this book was to write. I still don’t understand why some books are so difficult and painful to write while others seem to spring forth from my fingers nearly complete. Both LANDING and RISING were total grinders, while COPING, RECOVERING, and LEAPING flowed onto the page, smooth as butter.

In particular, I really liked writing the first few chapters of this book where Maya, Tarren, and Gabe infiltrate the mansion of a semi-famous musician/reality star. These chapters can almost exist as their own mini vignette, pulling readers back into Maya’s world. Though the mission looks similar to others she and her family have completed, we begin to learn that their world has changed dramatically. The fight has become all-consuming as the number of angels grow exponentially. The Fox family knows that the threat of the angels won’t stay hidden for much longer, but what else can they do but keep fighting even as fatigue and exhaustion set in?

Love in a Time of Angels

One thing that sets this book apart from the rest in the series is that Maya and Rain’s relationship has slowly bloomed into…something. This being the 21st century, of course it’s complicated. It doesn’t help things that both Maya and Rain are vigilantes constantly on the hunt or that Maya worries she might accidentally kill her kinda boyfriend in a frenzy of passion and hunger. Every relationship has its challenges, but this is kind of a big one.

I really enjoyed exploring the relationship between Rain and Maya in this book, especially as Maya struggles with the question of whether she is putting Rain in danger by being with him. Rain’s injury gave me an opportunity to showcase how much Maya’s feelings have evolved and how vulnerable those feelings make her. How can love survive in such a dangerous world? Maya lost her first serious boyfriend, Ryan, in the first book in the series, FALLING, and it nearly destroyed her. Now she must grapple with the possibility of losing Rain too. Like so many of us, the fear of loss is more powerful than the hope for gain, and Maya caves to her weakness and pushes Rain away. It’s a very human response from her, but of course, we all know it isn’t the right decision.

My Absolute Favorite Scene to Write

This one is a no-brainer. Writing the chapter where Gabe staggers back to the motel room completely wasted and graciously shares his My Little Pony stickers with Maya and Rain was basically the highlight of my entire month. When I wrote this book, I had a strong idea of where the plot would go and what needed to happen in each chapter, but as I write, my subconscious colors in the lines, pulling dialogue, actions, and entire scenes from some mysterious creative stew inside my brain. I have no idea where this particular scene came from. I knew Gabe was upset from trying to push Francesca away (mirroring Maya’s own struggles with Rain). When Gabe gets upset, he self-destructs. I knew he would get wasted, and then I kind of just let the rest play out – let Gabe be Gabe, and somehow My Little Pony entered the picture and what turned out to be a weirdly tender moment between Gabe and Rain and then Gabe and Maya.

I’ll be the first to admit that my stories are often dark, because I believe a lot of human nature is dark, but there is always humor to bring characters, readers, and myself back from the edge. Even in the most dire of moments, I believe you can always find humor, beauty, and light.

Building Up

LEAPING was saddled with the responsibility of getting everyone ready for the big reveals in FLYING. A lot of this book is buildup. What really happened to Rain, and where did that mysterious perfume on Tarren’s clothes come from? Maya is pretty sure the answer is a doozy, but we’re going to have to wait until FLYING to find out. In LEAPING, Maya also reunites briefly with her nemesis from RISING, War. This big, mean bully of an angel hasn’t been idle. We realize that he’s taken Diamond’s idea of building an angel army and made it even more dangerous by adding religious zeal to the mix.

Religion is a very, very tricky subject to address, but fiction can be an amazing vehicle for exploring real-world themes. You might be able to argue that religion has always been a part of this series since I decided to call my bad guys “angels.” My goal in LEAPING and in all of these books is not to excoriate any specific religion but rather to showcase the fact that the mythos of religion can always be twisted to suit very human narratives and needs. We all see this every day in the news. Religion can be a call to peace, love, and generosity, but it can also be a call to war, hatred, and violence. The dual faces of religion reflect the duality of our own human souls.

Okay, so that got deep. If we want to head back to the safer ground of plotlines, we find in LEAPING that War is building a holy army of angels. If that doesn’t make your stomach a little queasy, then I’m not doing my job as a writer.

Angels of Mercy

Speaking of duality, I love complications and challenging readers with worlds of gray. War represents the very worst of the angels, the scary bad guys that Tarren and Gabe assume them to be. However, the battlefield can’t possibly be that simple and clean. I started playing with the idea of “good” angels (or at least “not so bad” angels) in LANDING, when Maya met Kyle and Jane. Then I threw Gem into the mix, a mysterious savior and reluctant leader. Now we meet Fiona, an angel who is clearly trying to be good and who is sheltering other angels. Stir, stir, stir. That black and white worldview is getting mighty gray!

Fiona’s little farmhouse is a challenge to Maya, to Gabe, and to you. It’s a warning not to judge an entire group, to recognize that good and evil lurk inside us all. And…if I’m being honest, it was a handy way to give Raven a decent ending after her disappearance in RISING.

Love in a Time of Angels, Part II

Maya makes the safe (i.e. wrong) decision early in LEAPING to push Rain away to save herself from having to deal with the pain of potentially losing him, but through the events of LEAPING, she finally comes to her senses and realizes that love is always a risk, deadly angels or not.

The end of this book casts a teeny tiny ray of sunshine on an otherwise brewing storm in the distance. This was also my opportunity to show Rain as something other than a bumbling, adorable klutz. I really enjoy the subtle hero, and Rain is my banner man for subtle courage. He probably can’t beat your grandma in a fistfight, but you don’t always win with fists and bullets. Sometimes you win with thoughts and hearts, and those are Rain’s two most powerful weapons.

By the end of LEAPING, you should have lots and lots of questions. It should feel like the world of Maya and her brothers is teetering on a dangerous ledge that is about to break. Well, we’re all going to hurtle into FLYING together, where all will be revealed and the battle for the future of humanity will finally be fought. Ooooh are you getting chills? I am. See you there!