Archive

Archive for the ‘Girl With Broken Wings’ Category

Behind the Scenes of J Bennett’s FLYING

September 23rd, 2016 No comments

Book cover of J Bennett's FlyingSitting down to write FLYING was both a gigantic relief and also as nerve-wracking as licking a frozen pole. Everything I’d written for the GIRL WITH BROKEN WINGS series had built a path to this final book. Within these pages, I had to reveal some major secrets, put my characters through some pretty terrible stuff, wrap up all the loose threads I’d been leaving scattered around the other four books and two novellas in the series, offer readers a thrilling story along the way, and make sure I gave my characters and readers a satisfying ending. No pressure or anything.

The thing about FLYING is that it had been floating around my mind of years. Not the whole book, mind you, but big chunks of it. In fact, there are scenes in the book that I originally wrote four or five years ago because as I plotted out the full arc of the series, they were so powerful that I had to get them down immediately. I can’t even begin to explain how hard it was to keep this book sitting patiently in my head while I diligently wrote the others in the series. FLYING just did not want to wait its turn.

When it finally came time to put fingers to keyboard, there was just so much to write, and it sure was an emotional rollercoaster. Perhaps some authors like putting their characters through the wringer. Me? I’m wincing and apologizing basically the whole time. It was hard to make my characters suffer, but I’d be lying if it also wasn’t a thrill when I wrote that scene in the parking garage where Tarren finally spills the beans about what happened to Tammy all those years ago.

Okay, so I guess I should create some sort of order to all the swirling thoughts in my mind. There’s lots and lots I want to talk about for FLYING, so get ready for a monster post. I’m going to try and wing it here, writing short chunks on all the major themes, twists, and characters in the book. Gird yourself.

Introducing Danielle

We definitely have to start with Danielle. One of my favorite parts of writing FLYING was finally, finally, finally introducing readers to Danielle. She and I have been good friends ever since LANDING, but to her utter chagrin, she’s had to sulk about in the shadows for the entire series.

Tarren slinks off on several occasions to meet a mysterious stranger, and I wanted readers to wonder if Tammy was still alive. Nope, it was Danielle. Though you didn’t know it, Danielle has been around for pretty much the whole series, pulling Tarren’s strings from the shadows. And she does enjoy pulling Tarren’s strings.

I loved writing Danielle. She is saucy, sassy, and sexy, and she knows it. She is one of those angels in the gray zone – definitely not a good guy, but not entirely a bad guy either. She exploits her powers, drained drug dealers and nursing home patients, and has some sort of history with both War and Gem. I wanted Danielle to be messy and complicated, and I wanted her relationship with Tarren to basically be the same. Those two – whew! Talk about passionate anger sex. Tarren has a death wish, and Danielle loves the rollercoaster of being pushed to the edge of her control.

They had a weird, patently unhealthy thing going, but it was going…until Tammy.

Introducing Tammy

So the next major whopper is that not only is Tarren banging an angel, but he also has a daughter! Tammy gives Tarren a path forward after the angels. There was always this question lingering about what each character will do if they ever defeat the angels. I wasn’t sure Tarren would ever be able to transition into a normal life. That would mean that he would have to finally forgive himself for what happened to his sister, Tammy. Tarren wasn’t ready to do that on his own, but now that he is responsible for a child, suddenly he has a pretty damn big reason to get over his own crap and be a decent father to her.

Both Danielle and Tammy are ways of seeing different sides of Tarren. Because all of the other books in the series (except for RECOVERING) are written from Maya’s perspective, we only get a one-sided view of Tarren – the superhero complex that he showed to his family and the world. FLYING lets us see that Tarren is a flawed human, just like the rest of us. He struggles with his lust for Danielle and the weird emotional and physical outlet she offers. We also get to see him softening inch by inch as he takes custody of Tammy and tries to learn to be a father.

Switching Voices

Before I wrote FLYING, I had to decide how I wanted to approach the book. The easy thing to do would have been to write from Maya’s perspective just like the rest of the books. However, I already knew that there would be a big chunk where Maya was separated from her brothers. In past books, I’ve used a kind of whacky device of each brother telling his tale to Maya when I needed to fill in readers when they got separated. That wouldn’t exactly work here, since the siblings were separated for about three quarters of the book in one way or another.

I realized pretty early one that I needed to write the book from the perspective of all three main characters. Yikes. Writing Maya was second nature to me at that point, and writing Gabe is easy. Gabe just is who he is. His thoughts free flow, and his inner self is a very close reflection to his outer self. Unsurprisingly, it was Tarren who made my life difficult. Tarren’s whole personality is trying to project a certain calculated persona, even to himself. His inner thoughts are cold, strict, and formal. At even the whiff of an emotion, he’s throwing it into one of his endless mental boxes.

What to do? I had to let Tarren be Tarren, but I didn’t want my readers zoning out or kinda realizing that he can be a big dick a lot of the time. I think that sneaking in thoughts of Danielle and Tammy really helped with that. It showed Tarren’s humanity and his struggle with feelings that he hid from the rest of his family.

Rain, Rain Come Again

I’m kind of bouncing all over the place here, so apologies for that. I’m grabbing at major themes and parts of the book as they leap into my mind. So, Rain, he’s pretty awesome. At least in my opinion. At the beginning of FLYING, we’ve jumped about a year and a half into the future from where we left our characters in LEAPING. Maya and Rain’s relationship has heated up.

Maya has lived the last three years as a hybrid angel, constantly reigning in her hunger and her urges. She has to balance on the edge of control every single day, and her greatest fear is that one day she will lose control. Well, that day happens in FLYING. Rain gets too close, Maya is too hungry, she loses focus…and the monster breaks lose. Luckily, Tarren in all of his paranoia, saves the day, but Maya is deeply, deeply shaken. She can no longer trust herself. Worst of all, she hurt the man she loves.

You’d think that something like this would really turn a guy off from his girlfriend, but Rain has always been a little thickheaded, especially when it comes to Maya. Even as she rejects him for his own safety, Rain is determined to get her back again. Either he’s very heroic…or kinda dumb. I’ll let you decide.

At the end of FLYING, I decided that Maya and Rain would reconcile, but I didn’t give them an easy out. Their relationship is still going to be complicated, and Maya will always be a danger to Rain. Is it possible for a relationship with this many challenges to work out? Well, couples overcome huge hurdles in the name of love every day. I want to believe that Maya will keep a better reign on her hunger, that Rain knows what he’s getting himself into. Their love is certainly strong, and Rain is an incredibly brave person. My guess is that their love will win out.

Grinding Gabe’s Heart into a Million Pieces

Gabe doesn’t have a fun trip in FLYING. In a book filled with trying challenges and heart-rending experiences, I’m pretty sure Gabe get the crappiest roll of the dice of all the characters.

Gabe is usually a joyful character, full of wit, charm, and most of all hope. His hope and his heart are his greatest strengths and his greatest weaknesses. Beneath that outer layer of stubborn optimism lies a significant self-destructive streak. Gabe’s heart is too big, and he doesn’t have stone walls and moats built around it like Tarren and Maya. He is easily hurt, and the hurt goes deep. With no other outlet, he deals with his pain by grabbing onto oblivion. We’ve seen hints of this in both RISING, RECOVERING, and LANDING, but that nasty character flaw comes out in full force in FLYING.

When Gabe learns that Tarren killed their sister, Tammy, he goes into a massive spiral that leads him into a righteous suicide mission. It doesn’t get much better from there. I have to admit that it was difficult writing Gabe in this book. He kind of lurches from one major wound to another. When Maya saves him from his death wish, she ends up captured and tortured and Gabe takes the blame on his shoulders. The rescue of Maya leads to Tarren’s apparent demise. It seems like no matter what he does, Gabe loses his family, and it’s all his fault.

When he needs to be strong for Maya, Gabe instead crumbles into misery, self-pity, and lots of time with his new friend, Jack Daniels. This isn’t a pretty side of Gabe, and a few of my beta readers expressed disappointment with him in this book, but I believe this is a very true side of Gabe. He is not the stoic type. He doesn’t box up his emotions like Tarren. He can’t. Everything that we love about Gabe – his fervent hope, his unabashed love, his inability to see Maya as a threat – all of that is a double-edged sword. The fact that he isn’t cold and distant like Tarren is the same reason why he goes to absolute pieces when he loses Maya, then Tarren, and then both of them.

It’s why Gabe can’t live in the world alone. It was very, very hard to write the scene of him at the top of the mountain when he decides to end his own life, but I had to. It was what Gabe would have truly done. He is saved only by the fact that his heart isn’t completely destroyed. There is one piece of it that he gave to Francesca, and he realizes that he needs that one last flame to be snuffed before his world can go completely dark.

For all his suffering, Gabe gets a wonderful ending. Francesca’s character is defined by love and healing. Where once she healed his broken body, she now heals Gabe’s broken heart and spirit. She gives him an alternative path – a world where he can love her from afar and continue to find ways to keep her safe. Of course, Francesca has ideas of her own. She has seen Gabe’s inner beauty, his courage, and his great love. While I wonder what the future holds for Tarren and Maya and if they will ever find happiness, I hold no such worries for Gabe. I know that his and Francesca’s love for each other is that one-in-a-million kind that will not fade or rust or warp. They will be happy in each other’s arms every single day and will carve out a wonderful life with each other. It was a long, dark road for Gabe in FLYING, but he found true love at the end.

Saying Goodbye

FLYING is all about goodbyes, which is one of the reasons why I started the book with a funeral for Dr. Lee. I wanted to set the stage and prepare readers for a story that included loss. There was always the chance that one of the main characters wouldn’t make it through the book, and indeed I played around with the thought of killing each of the characters off at different points in the outlining process. I considered really killing Tarren in the explosion, and then I thought how devastating it would be to lose Gabe at the end. Finally, I actually seriously considered killing Maya as a way of closing out her narrative.

In the end, though, I just couldn’t. I love these characters too much, have spent too many hours in their company. I think some writers kill off their main characters just to shock and devastate their readers. If I felt that killing off one of my main characters was truly the right thing to do for the plot, I would have done it, but in the end, I didn’t believe any of them needed to die.

Of course, this book did contain a lot of death. First, we lost Dr. Lee, and then Gem. That scene was among the hardest to write, mostly because Gem was never a straightforward character, so his death felt messy and complicated emotionally. Gem wasn’t the great leader his followers wanted him to be, but he also wasn’t the coward he believed himself to be. He was a man trying to be good.

In the last quarter of the book, Maya and the Totem unleash “The Cure” which wipes out the angels. Sorry, readers. No huge, Lord-of-the-Rings-esq battle. The Fox family and the Totem win by biological warfare.

Did they do the right thing? Certainly they saved countless human lives by getting rid of the angels, but it’s equally certain that not every angel they killed was bad. Danielle is the embodiment of the moral messiness of war. The Red Death that Maya and the Totem released did not spare innocent angels. It killed and killed and killed. It also revealed angels to the world, and I left the story with the distinct possibility that scientists might some day be able to recreate the angel formula and create new angels.

Not exactly a clean, wonderful ending, right? Well, tough stuffing. The world isn’t a bright, happy, shiny place. From the very beginning of this story, we’ve been dealing with genetic mutations and the results of receiving amazing abilities with a very steep price. Today, in our world, we are facing these same questions. How far can technology and science take us? Do we understand the consequences of the new frontiers we are reaching? Is it moral or right to begin manipulating genes?

My guess is that the march of progress will continue unabated, and I wanted to show that reality in my books. Once a Pandora’s Box has been opened, it is extremely difficult to close it again. There is still hope, of course. We don’t know if the next angel formula will be the exact same as the last. Maybe it will be something entirely new, something that can help humans heal faster without the whole energy sucking mode of feeding. Who knows? The point was that the door cannot be entirely closed, and perhaps my heroes aren’t done saving the world.

Speaking of goodbyes, FLYING was, in itself, one majorly long goodbye. This is the end of the story for Maya, Tarren, Gabe, and Rain. I hope you enjoyed their journey. I hope my characters made you laugh and maybe cry a couple of times (no judgements). I hope you were worried for them, like I was, that you celebrated with them, and they you feel like they are in a good place at the end of FLYING.

What’s Next

Finishing FLYING was exhilarating for me…but also kind of terrifying. I’ve had Maya, Tarren, and Gabe’s story in my head for years. They are all practically my BFFs. Other stories have been swimming around up here, but I’ve always pushed them fervently to the background so I didn’t get distracted from my current book. As I finally let these characters go, I find myself turning away from an old, familiar, and much loved path to the fog-shrouded path of something totally new. That’s pretty frickin’ scary! What if this dim new path leads right off the edge of a cliff, or takes me in endless circles with no end?

Yeah, being an anxious writer prone to mega-doses of self-doubt is fun. However, dear readers, the path is set, and even if I don’t know exactly what it entails or where it leads, I will be taking my first steps down it. In non-metaphorical terms, I have an idea for a totally new and different series, which I am sketching out now and will be writing soon. I can tell you that this series is intended to be more clearly in the science fiction realm. I promise my trademark humor, well-developed characters, and lots of interesting plot twists and turns.

Now, I need to ask something of you. Patience. This new series is going to be, well, a little complicated for reasons I can’t yet reveal. It’s going to take a lot more work to craft and develop and is going to seriously push me as a writer. As a result, I don’t know when I’ll even finish the first draft, much less have a shiny new book on the market.

I know that thousands of new books come parachuting onto Amazon and other book retailors every single day. I ask you not to forget about me! While I write this new book, I invite you to check out my silly series, the VAMPIRE’S HOUSEKEEPER CHRONICLES. I will be introducing a new novella in that series in November.

And finally, thank you, reader, for following me and my characters all the way to the end. I’ve loved writing The Girl With Broken Wings series for you (and for myself). You inspire me every day I sit down to plan, write, and edit. I love hearing from you, so don’t be shy! Wish me luck on this next series, and until then, happy reading!

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!

Behind the Scenes — RECOVERING

August 25th, 2016 No comments

Author Note: For my ongoing series of behind the scenes looks at each book in the Girl With Broken Wings series, I’m re-posting this blog that explains why I had to write an entire novella from Gabe’s point of view and my unique struggles in stepping into the persona of a boy with a really dirty mouth. RECOVERING was completed and published two years ago, but this blog was originally written while I was still in the middle of editing the first draft. It’s pretty interesting for me to re-read this and see my own mindset in the middle of this project. 

Thumbnail Cover for Recovering, Girl With Broken WingsOkay, here’s my problem. Gabe Fox has a really dirty mouth. And a dirty mind. And, basically, he’s a boy.

Gabe and I are pretty much opposites in just about everything. I’m a relatively prim and proper person. Sexual innuendo makes my face go all watermelon-colored. Any talk of bodily functions has me laughing awkwardly or quickly exiting the conversation. If I cuss, it’s usually only because I’ve walked into a wall or door (happens more than I liked to admit).

But I love writing about Gabe, dirty mouth and all. He is one of the main characters in my GIRL WITH BROKEN WINGS series. Here’s the thing about Gabe – he has a huge heart, can spit out a ribald joke in even the most dire of circumstances, and is fiercely loyal to his family. He is the light within the murky and often sad world in which his small family operates.

Earlier this year, I was thrilled to complete RISING, the biggest, most complex book yet in the GIRL WITH BROKEN WINGS series. As with the previous two books and novella in the series, it is written from the point of view of Maya, Gabe’s younger sister. There are so many things I like about this book (and I hope you do too), but something about the book always bugged me.

Not enough Gabe (or cow bell).

I’m going to carefully tiptoe around some spoilers here and just say that Gabe is left behind from the book’s main mission and only gets a brief cameo in the first half of the book. It’s the way things had to be from a plot standpoint, but it doesn’t mean I had to like it.

Gabe didn’t like it either.

When I took long car rides or walks around my neighborhood he kept pestering me about it. I started to listen and discovered that he hadn’t been exactly sitting around twiddling his thumbs during the time Maya and Tarren were hunting a new and dangerous angel threat in Peoria, Illinois.

Gabe wanted me to write his side of the story.

We argued. I kept telling him that I needed to start on book four in the series. More than anything I wondered how I could possibly write an entire novella in Gabe’s voice, in his sarcastic, confident, dirty, hyper-masculine voice.

Gabe was adamant, and the boy can be very persuasive when he wants to be. I buckled like a sandcastle hit by a tsunami.

So, instead of writing book four like I’m supposed to, I am currently in the midst of writing a Gabe novella tentatively called RECOVERING. It has plenty of action, keeping in line with the other stories of the series, but RECOVERING is also really unique in that it will offer a look into Gabe’s personal life outside of the mission.

This novella is proving to be a unique challenge for me, mostly because Gabe is just so…Gabe. He cusses way too much and thinks about sex in ways that Maya would never even consider. Imagine how often my face impersonates a tomato while I write.

I’ve never felt as unsure about a work as this novella. After the second draft I printed out the whole thing and read it out loud. Over and over again I wrote the same thing in the margins: “More Gabe”, meaning that the perspective was drifting back into my voice, not Gabe’s voice. I caught myself over and over again speaking too formally, too politely. Gabe doesn’t do polite. He is candid to the point where the TMI line was three exits ago. He just doesn’t give a flying f…fruit about propriety.

This novella is taking much longer to write and edit than I anticipated, and I’m not sure if readers of the series will even like it. Still, I’m glad I wrote it. Not only was it the right thing to do for Gabe, but it really pushed me (and continues to push me) as a writer to embrace a different voice and to understand Gabe on a much deeper level.

He and I are still polar opposites, but I love him like he was my own brother, and I’m glad that I can give him a voice and his own story. If all goes according to plan, keep a lookout for RECOVERING on Amazon and other online booksellers in September. Or you can sign up for my email list and receive a notice when it hits the market.

Behind the Scenes of RISING

August 15th, 2016 No comments

NOTE: I really don’t think I have to say this, but here goes anyway. Warning! This blog post about the behind the scenes writing of RISING includes tons of spoilers (gasp) for RISING. If you have not yet read RISING, you really shouldn’t be reading this post unless you want to punish yourself for some weird reason and deny yourself the enjoyment of all the surprises and plot twists this book contains. Okay, on with the post…

***

Thumbnail_Rising_FinalWhenever I lace my fingers, crack my knuckles, and pull up a blank Word document to start a new novel, I always feel an intense amount of — excitement? Hope? Purpose?

Nope.

Dread. Unvarnished, kick-to-your-gut dread. The blank page is almost mocking, and I feel overwhelmed by the vast task ahead.

However, I have to say that when I sat down to write RISING, I felt noticeably more confident, or at least far less hyperventalaty than usual. By that point, I’d written two books and a novella in the GIRL WITH BROKEN WINGS series, so I knew that FALLING hadn’t been a fluke. More importantly, I knew my story. No, not exactly how everything was going to end, but Maya, Tarren, and Gabe were my best friends. I knew them so well that I didn’t even have to think about how they would react to certain situations.

I did face some big issues when I started to plot out RISING. Firstly, I had kind of killed off the main bad guy, Grand, in the last book. Whoops. My little team of vigilantes would need a new big bad to go after. Also, one of my characters, Gabe was pretty much half dead. What would it look like if the comic relief wasn’t in the mood or shape the crack jokes?

And one other little thing…it was time (finally time, as one of my critique partners put it), to spice things up for Maya with a little romance. Since it was me at the helm of the story, this romance would be awkward in the extreme. Still, I was pretty excited to bring Maya and Rain face-to-face once again. Of course love at first sight isn’t really my jam, so, naturally, instead of getting all dewy-eyed at each other, one would be very ardently trying to kill the other. Romance!

Overall, RISING was a big story, and it needed a lot of words. RISING turned out to be the biggest book I’d ever written by at least 10,000 words. (FLYING would later gleefully smash this record into little pieces.) That was a big deal. Bigger books require more writing, longer critique reads, more editing, and more fine-tuning. Also, there are just more places to screw up.

However, when I finally polished the last page of RISING, I was pretty damn pleased with myself. Overall, I think it turned into a fast-paced story with a lot of twists and turns, some daring rescues, a new bad gal, a little bit of romantic sizzle, some new mysteries, and some deeper lesson. There are a lot of little things that I think are worth mentioning about this book, so I sort of randomly wrote my thoughts about them. It got a little long, so depending on your patience, I’d like to say ”Sorry,” or “Have fun with this!”

Maya and Tarren Team Up

Maya and Tarren have always had a bit of a fraught relationship…you know, with him threatening to kill her in the beginning of the series and then her draining Gabe in the last book. However, what I’ve always endeavored to show is that Maya and Tarren butt heads so much in large part because they are so similar. In the opening scene of RISING, Maya and Tarren have fallen into a comfortable routine.

Writing the first scene in RISING at the strip club was great fun. I like putting Tarren in awkward situations where he can’t be as noble and stoic as he wants. We also see in this scene that Maya has grown a lot! She’s a lot darker and colder. Is she perhaps following a little too closely in Tarren’s footsteps?

Where Does Tarren Go?

Early in RISING, Tarren does one of his frustrating Tarren moves, when he gets a mysterious call and bails on Maya. What was that all about? Yeah, I’m being a capital B here, because you’re going to have to wait until FLYING to find out. (But you will find out!)

Maya and Gabe Get into a Fight

One of the hardest parts of writing this book was to see Gabe brought so low. It was important to me that Maya’s little draining episode in LANDING wasn’t something that Gabe could bounce back from right away. That’s not how major trauma works in real life works. He almost died, and I knew that it was going to take a long time for his body to recover.

Gabe’s body isn’t the only thing recovering. Getting seriously wounded is an emotionally traumatic event too, and I wanted to show that aspect of Gabe’s experience as well. Gabe is someone who, despite the risks of his chosen profession, never took his mortality very seriously. It’s kind of a shock to him to be weak and hurt. Also, he just hates being left behind.

That scene where Maya tapes his hat to the tree and dares him to try and get it if he wants to go on the next mission was excruciating to write. (Especially because I also wrote it from Gabe’s point of view in RECOVERING.) I’d had that scene in my head for a few months, and I’d been dreading having to write it. Annnnd, it was just as hard to write as I imagined.

Maya and the Totem Meet for the First Time

Rain wasn’t much of a presence in LANDING, mostly because I’d already outlined the story before I realized that Rain was going to eventually become a main character. (Read my Behind the Scenes of LANDING post.) However, between COPING and RISING, Rain hasn’t been sitting around twiddling his thumbs. He’s been busy, searching for answers and eventually falling in with a small group of people who, like him, are trying to fight the angels.

The Totem in many ways represents the first hints that the war between the angels and the Fox family is beginning to spiral out of control. The angel population is growing quickly, and it’s just impossible to keep it completely hidden. This little problem is going to grow and grow in the later book.

I spent a lot of time thinking about the Totem and writing character charts for each member. Most of this behind-the-scenes stuff doesn’t come through in the book, but it’s in my head. Maybe one day, they’ll get their own spinoff!

The Big Decision

I think nothing really showcases how much Maya has grown as a character than her decision to spare War’s life and save him from the Totem as a means of going undercover into his nest all on her own. She is a far cry from the uncertain college sophomore who couldn’t shoot a gun a few books ago.

Diamond’s Plan

If you read my last behind-the-scenes post, then you know that originally I considered creating Gem as the next big baddie. Ultimately, I thought that planting the son as an extension of the father would be too simplistic. I wanted to make Gem a complicated character – not bad, but not entirely good either.

Diamond picks up the slack. She represents Grand’s certainty that the angels are the next evolution of the human race, but she militarizes the concept, believing that the humans won’t go quietly. Thus, if the angels are to survive, she surmises that the angels must build an army and strike first. Yep, ante upped. Big time. There are all sorts of horrors to imagine with a growing army of angels roaming around. Maya gets that immediately. As a writer, I decided that it was time to take the existential risk from the minor leagues into the majors.

War

I created War, because I simply wanted to put Maya up against a seriously bad dude. It’s all fun and good to create complex and nuanced bad guys like Nicolas, but sometimes you just need a raging asshole to cheer against. War gladly takes on that mantle. I originally considered making War very handsome and Nicolas very ugly, but I think the extremely handsome bad guy is a little over done. War is ugly on the inside and out, but he does know how to dress.

Nicolas

Nicolas is the type of complicated bad guy that I’ve always wanted to write, mostly because he is most definitely not a bad guy in his own mind. In fact, he sees himself as very righteous. I’ve always been fascinated by the real bad people in our history – the Hitlers and Stalins and Pol Pots. It’s kind of mind boggling to think that they ardently believed they were doing the right thing through so much destruction and death.

Nicolas is my attempt to explore this type of mentality, someone who uses the cloak of religion to justify terrible actions. This is not a repudiation of religion. I believe that religion is a reflection of man: both peaceful and violent depending on your interpretation.

Gem

Ah, Gem. He is a complicated dude. I went back and forth on how to craft Gem and really struggled to put my finger on his personality. There were a lot of renditions of him. Should he be quiet and sinister? Should he be suave and witty? Should he be a righteous fighter pretending to be bad to fight the angels from within?

Ultimately, I decided to do something a little unusual. I made Gem muddled. You know why? Because I think most of us are hopelessly muddled. Gem, at his very core, is a mostly decent person who very much wants to live his own life but was raised by a megalomaniac and given unprecedented powers that he doesn’t want in the least. His attempt to live a decent life as an angel inadvertently lead to a small following – the Angels of Mercy – that he reluctantly leads.

Pretty much everything about Gem is reluctant. I imagine his perfect day would be taking a walk in the woods by himself, but instead he is expected to be Grand’s heir, and the Angels of Mercy are looking on him as a leader. His powers also put him in a position where he could do great good or great evil. These responsibilities are overwhelming to Gem, and mostly he finds himself swept along by his name, his history, and the expectations of others.

Of course, Gem can be brave, but it is always in quiet, small ways, like how he set up Maya to be rescued by Tarren and how he then helped ease Tarren’s nightmares. Ultimately, I liked the way Gem came out, but damn, he was hard to write!

Gabe

You didn’t think I was going to leave Gabe out of action for the entire book did you? Where would be the fun in that? Though Gabe isn’t a big presence in the first half of the book, he isn’t idle at all. In fact, I had to spend a lot of time figuring out exactly what Gabe was doing in order to make his rip-roaring comeback fit into the timeline of the story. You can see his path to his fateful reunion with his family in RECOVERING.

Gabe is great, as usual. Even at half power, he still functions as the glue of his family. In this case, he is the connection between the Totem and the Foxes that unite them as a team. I decided to give him a little reward for all his suffering, and it is Gabe who ultimately kills Diamond and ends her plans of world domination.

Tarren

Ah, finally. A chance to show that Tarren truly does care for Maya! Earlier in the book we see Maya taking care of Tarren by stealing his watch so that he can sleep. Now, despite the clear rules of Styx, we find out that Tarren stayed behind to search for Maya and risked his life to rescue her from the burning guest house. He doesn’t come out unscathed.

The scene where Gabe tricks Tarren and shoots him with a tranq is my favorite of this book. It’s silly and tender and sad all at the same time. Even though Tarren spends a decent chunk of this book unconscious, I think his actions in staying and running into that burning house speak volumes of the feelings that he is always trying to hide. There are also quite a few tender moments as Maya cares for Tarren.

Rain

Rain has the heart of a hero…and pretty much nothing else, and that’s why I kind of love him. It’s easy to be heroic when you’ve had a lifetime of combat training, when you’re tall and handsome and confident and were blessed with no allergies. Try being a hero when you constantly trip over your own two feet and don’t know which way to point a gun!

Rain is completely incompetent, but he is willing to fight and put his life on the line anyway, and to me, that makes him one of the greatest heroes of this series. When I was writing him, I drew a lot on some of my favorite characters, including Xander from Buffy (which becomes one of his pet names) and Simon from Firefly.

Yes, he can’t climb trees and is deathly allergic to peanuts, but he is a hero, and Maya begins to see that too when they have their first official date/stakeout. It probably would have been a little more romantic if they hadn’t ended up burying bodies at the end of it.

The Revelation

Okay, so we don’t know where Tarren went at the beginning of the book, but at least readers get a little revelation, thanks to Gem. We learn a little more about how Tarren was tortured by Grand and that he made a deal to reveal Maya’s existence in order to protect Gabe. Tarren is a very frustrating character with all his secrets and being mostly a total buzz kill all the time, but he is also tragic. We see that in the scars on his body and the bits of history that Maya discovers. His past very much defines his character and we learn in this book that his overwhelming fear is losing the rest of his small family.

The Prism

Let’s be honest, LANDING, well, landed on a kind of depressing note. Gabe was weak and cranky. Tarren was cranky too. Trust was a big issue, and the Totem had just revealed themselves. For RISING, I wanted to end the book on something a little more comforting, especially given that the characters were entering into a very different and much more serious fight.

The whole concept of RISING is about standing up and dusting yourself off. Of being stronger than you thought you could be. We see this in Gabe’s refusal to stay home, Tarren risking his life for Maya, and Maya caring for her two brothers. By the end of the book, her links with her brothers are stronger than ever, and even if they are facing a terrible fight ahead, at least they’re facing it together. The book ends when Tarren reveals something that he and Lo have been working on – the Prism, a grouping of mirrors that gather and channel sunlight, which will allow Maya to feed from the sun without having to drain small animals. This was great for me too, as a writer, because I hated writing all those scenes of Maya draining rats and goldfish in the earlier books. (Ugh, the pet store scene in this book hurt my heart in a major way.)

The Prism won’t entirely vanquish the hunger, but at last Maya isn’t constantly on the edge of losing control. It felt so good to write this last chapter, to show Maya’s love for her brothers, her squirmy growing feelings for Rain, and the hesitant hope she feels despite all the danger they face. I wanted this hope to echo in the hearts of my readers. We all know the risk for the Fox siblings and their Totem allies is only going to grow. The fight is going to get harder. Casualties are going to rise. But there is and always will be hope!

Will You Take a Moment to Bask with Me?

August 1st, 2016 No comments
Book cover of J Bennett's Flying

FLYING has launched!

We are not supposed to bask. We are not supposed to be outwardly and unapologetically proud of ourselves. Even in the face of great deeds, humility is still called for. We are supposed to say that we couldn’t have done it alone, or that it’s not a big deal, really. Well, watch me offend the world’s delicate senses, because I’m going to bask for just a little bit, and I want you to bask with me.

I just sent out the email to my reader list announcing the publication of FLYING, the fifth and final book in my Girl with Broken Wings series. Seven years ago when I started scribbling out those first few scenes in the first book, FALLING, I wasn’t even sure I was capable of writing a complete book. (Learn the full story behind FALLING.)

The scenes piled up, and eventually a messy, terrible manuscript was born. I worked and worked and worked on the manuscript. I scrubbed it up and down. I found critique partners and beta readers. And finally, I took the deepest, biggest breath possible and published FALLING.

That was pretty freaking scary.

In 2009, I wasn’t capable of writing one book. In 2016, I’ve written five books and two novellas for the GIRL WITH BROKEN WINGS series. I’ve carefully guided my characters and my story to a conclusion. I didn’t do it alone. My critique partners and my beta readers made my story better, and my fans inspired me on all those days when I felt too tired or uninspired to write. I also know that I still have a long way to go as a writer as I continually work to improve my craft.

Just for today, though, I’m going to bask.

Come tomorrow, I’ll start freaking out, convinced that the GWBW series was a fluke, that my next book will suck, regardless of what it is. And what will it be? I’ve got a dozen ideas all fighting for dominance in my mind. How to choose? What if I pick wrong and then end up stalling halfway through? What if FLYING is the last book I ever write?

Hello, anxiety. I will hang with you tomorrow, but today I’m busy. Dear reader, if you’ve read the GWBW series, then we’ve gone on a journey together. We’ve melded minds in a way that’s kind of magical. I hope that you will take a moment and bask with me whenever you read this. Bask for FLYING, for a seven-year journey, for characters that we loved together, and for a shared story finding its completion.

Ahhhh, basking.

Behind the Scenes of Writing Landing

July 18th, 2016 1 comment

Warning! This blog post contains major spoilers for Landing and Falling. Proceed at your own peril.

Note: I suggest reading my behind-the-scenes posts on Falling and Coping before this one.

Cover of Landing by J Bennett

J Bennett gives readers the inside scoop on Landing.

Looking back on Landing with over five years of distance between the fingers that typed that story and the fingers typing this now, my overriding thought is…What the hell was I thinking? Seriously, I killed off the big baddie in the SECOND book in a five-book series. Way to go, J. Bennett.

Seriously though, if I could rewind the years, I think I would have held onto Grand a while longer. I liked him as a bad guy. Not only is there a lot to play with as him being Maya’s biological father as well as the one who changed her, but his motives for carefully cultivating a new generation of angels harkens to a new spin on an old idea – Eugenics. As we approach a time when designer babies could become a reality, I was fascinated in exploring this concept through the eyes of a man who simply wants to make humans “better” (in his opinion).

So, why did I kill Grand? If I could ask my younger self that, I think she would say that Maya needed that closure. Throughout Falling, Maya is primarily motivated by revenge, and I think that I was worried that she wouldn’t be able to grow as a character if she stayed focused only on that goal. In other words, she needed to move on.

A Growing World

If you read the Behind of the Scenes of Falling and/or Coping, you’ll know that Landing was never a certain thing. I certainly knew that I wanted to continue the Girl With Broken Wings series, but in the year or so after writing Falling, I dithered on writing Landing, waiting in vain for a literary agent to tell me that I was the greatest writer she ever had the honor of reading and would I please consider her humble request for immediate representation so that we could immediately begin pitching the biggest publishing houses?

That didn’t exactly happen, so Landing stayed grounded for months and months. It was a frustrating time. I had ideas banging around in my head with nowhere to go. One benefit of all of this waiting was that I got a lot of time to think, and as a result, the world of Girl With Broken Wings grew. I realized at some point that Rain wasn’t just a minor blip of a character in Falling. He was actually a major character who would go on to shape Maya’s life in a big way in later books.

I also started thinking a lot more about the world of the angels. I wrote Falling based on a single scene that popped into my head and had to spend pretty much the entire book and the endless drafts playing catchup. Now I had time to ask myself things like, Why would someone want to be an angel? What kind of life could you lead if you had to feed on a human every few days? Could angels learn how to control their urges? Could an angel ever be good?

I’d spent so much time during Falling trying to understand Gabe and Tarren through Maya’s eyes that I realized that Landing could be my opportunity to learn a little bit more about angels. That question – Could an angel ever be good? – fascinated me.

Black and White

People are entirely good and entirely evil in video games…not in real life. We are all the heroes of our own story. I am unceasingly fascinated by uncovering the complexity behind people’s actions and their beliefs.

Show me a bad guy with a motivation I understand, like the Operative in the movie Serenity, and I’m hooked. Show me a good guy who is just a good guy, and yawn! I’ll take Batman over Superman any day of the week.

In Landing I wanted to turn the tables on readers and on Maya, and the way to do that was simple. I needed to create sympathetic angels. Jane and Kyle were not innocent. They lived by draining criminals (or at least people they believe to be criminal) without a trial or any recourse. So, they definitely are not good, but I wanted to make them at least a little understandable.

Jane and Kyle open Maya’s eyes and perhaps steal a little bit of the glow off of Gabe and Tarren’s gallant mission. After all, Tarren and Gabe also kill people they believe are “bad” without trial or recourse, so are they really so much different than Jane and Kyle? These are uncomfortable questions, but that’s entirely the point. All of my characters live in shades of gray, whether they’ll admit it to themselves or not.

The Big Finish

Oh, that scene in Grand’s warehouse. Wow! I cannot tell you how many times that scene ran through my head as I started writing the first draft of Landing. The entire time I was writing that story, I knew it was leading up to that explosive ending. Gabe is the light of the series, so abusing him so thoroughly was difficult, but it was also incredibly exciting. When I was writing that scene, I felt my heart breaking along with his when he believed Maya betrayed him. I ached as she drained away all that beautiful blue energy from his body. I could hardly write the words of their desperate drive to Dr. Lee’s cabin and the faint hope of salvation.

The Man on the Roof

So, Ding Dong, Grand is dead. What’s next? Well, obviously we need a new bad guy. Will it be the man Maya saw on the roof, the mysterious Gem? This is a bit of a spoiler, so if you want to read Rising with a pristine soul, just skip to the next section.

Originally, Gem was going to be the next bad guy, a Grand 2.0. It made perfect sense, seeing as he was Grand’s biological son and was raised by Grand…and that’s exactly why I couldn’t do it. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how much more interesting things would be if Gem wasn’t a bad guy. Does that mean he’s a good guy? Well, you’ll have to pick up Rising to see. What I’ll say is that Gem is complicated, yet another attempt by me to make the world of Girl With Broken Wings complex and multi-layered.

Where Did Tarren Go?

Where indeed? I’m not telling. You have a long wait to find out, but the answer will eventually be revealed.

Onto Rising

Landing kind of pummels readers in the last quarter of the book. Even though Gabe survives, he isn’t close to whole yet. In fact, he has a long recovery in front of him as you’ll see.

And then there’s Rain. Our favorite misguided vigilante makes an appearance right at the end of Landing, which will help set the stage for Rising. When Maya kills Grand, she closes a big chapter in her own life and throws the angel network into chaos. She and her brothers didn’t realize it at the time, but Grand was very much a restraining hand on the growth of the angel population. With his death, things begin to go a little crazy. The angel population grows quickly as does the risk of the mission and the threat of discovery. The mission begins to take on a hopeless edge, which is a central theme in the rest of the books in the series.

I hope you’ll go ahead and pick up Rising, where you can see exactly what a post-Grand world looks like. In this exciting book, you’ll get to see how Gabe is getting along after his brush with death (hint: not well). Don’t worry, Maya will cross paths with Rain and his Totem Squad and there will be some pretty big fireworks.

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!

The True Story Behind FALLING and the Girl With Broken Wings Series

April 30th, 2016 1 comment

A.K.A., a Long-Ass Post on How I Wrote and Published My First Book

Girl With Broken Wings series

Worth all the tribulations? Definitely!

I am, right now, putting the finishing touches on FLYING, the fifth and final book in my paranormal series, Girl With Broken Wings. This is kind of a big deal for me. Not just finishing another book – which is awesome – but putting this series to bed. When I started writing the first book in the series, FALLING seven years ago, finishing it felt so hard. That was the beginning of my journey within the world of Girl With Broken Wings and my journey into publishing as well. As I gear up to complete the series, I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic about those early days. If you’ve ever been curious about how the GWBW series started or about evolution as a writer and self-published author…well, here are a lot of honest words about it.

FALLING into FALLING

I mostly wrote FALLING by accident. At the time – this was back yonder in 2009 — I was actually struggling to write another book. As a writer, I had floundered for years with trying to complete a full novel. Looking back on it now, my problem was really obvious. I would get inspired by a scene in my head, start writing, and then pray to the universe that the story would just somehow work. This is known as the “seat-of-the-pants” writing method. Some writers (pantsers) do well with this method and somehow manage to cobble together something worth reading. I am not one of them. Too often, my characters would just lurch blindly from one crisis to another or spend scenes just shooting the breeze with each other, because I couldn’t think of what to do with them. My plots would either run out of steam or just hit a wall and combust.

This is exactly what was happening with my novel. I was stuck. So was my plot, my characters, and basically everything related to the book. At the time, I was watching a lot of my favorite show, Supernatural. (The most supernatural thing about the show these days is that it is somehow still on.) One episode in particular captured my attention, and from the seed GWBW would eventually be born. The Supernatural episode that changed my life was Episode Four of Season Four (Metamorphosis). In the episode our hunky heroes Sam and Dean come across a man named Jack. Jack has kind of a big problem. He is a pretty decent normal guy…who (through no fault of his own) just happens to be turning into a Rugaru, a creature who is irresistibly drawn to feeding on human flesh.

Dean, at this point in the series, is the bad ass, straight-up killa’ of the pair. He’s all for blasting Jack’s brains out. Sensitive Sam sees Jack’s humanity and wants to try and find a way to save him. Seeing any similarities between this conundrum and another set of vigilante brothers who have to decide if a certain someone is too dangerous to live?  Yeah, that episode really got to me. I wondered what it would be like to be Jack; to try and fight against terrible urges to hurt others. I also liked the difficult choice Sam and Dean had to make. Could Jack be saved, or by sparing him, were they putting other innocent people at risk? Yummy, yummy tension!

Several months after watching that episode of Supernatural, I had one of those wonderful moments when a scene just flashes through my brain. I saw a girl in a hotel room trying desperately to control her urge to drain the life out of her trusting brother who was sleeping in the next bed. (Here’s another Supernatural influence — Sam and Dean travel the country fighting evil and end up sharing a lot of hotel rooms.) I was fixated on this scene, on the girl’s struggle and the brother’s slumbering innocence. Since I was getting absolutely nowhere with my work in progress, my fingers started typing, and what came out ended up being the prologue to FALLING.

FALLING is Born…and Then I Have to Edit A Lot

As soon as that first scene was down in pixels on my computer screen, I had to know how Maya got into that room. (Fun fact: Maya’s original name was Misha before my sister forced me to change it.)  How had she been turned into an energy-sucking creature? Writing FALLING became about answering that question. It was rocky. It was messy, but the words kept coming. The scenes piled up. Somehow, I managed to do something I had never done before – I made it to the end.

Because I was a pantser, the book’s plot had more holes than a colander, but I knew I had something special. How? Because I absolutely loved the characters of Maya, Gabe, and Tarren. Each of them felt real to me, and I cared deeply about their mission. Even as I was writing that first book, I started to understand Tarren’s deep internal struggles and Gabe’s desperate optimism. I began to fill out their backstories and discovered that Tarren had quite a few skeletons in his closet (some of which will finally come out in FLYING).

I had to work that book to the bone, scrubbing and scrubbing, to get it into decent shape. It took me over a year just to edit (compared to the roughly three or four months it takes me to edit a full novel now). Looking back on my files, I realize that I eventually went through ten separate drafts of the book! Compare that to the four drafts that will take me through FLYING (first draft, first edit, beta edits, grammar/final polish). This terribly long and arduous process along with the fear of repeating it all over again when I started on LANDING is what finally helped me shift from being a pantser to an outliner.

It’s ALLLLIVE…but Unloved

In 2010, I completed what I considered to be the final draft of FALLING. It was still early days for the Kindle and, more importantly, for Amazon allowing authors to self-publish their works. At the time, self-publishing had an incredibly bad reputation. It was considered by many, including myself, to be the last refuge of the author who wasn’t good enough to get an agent and a traditional publisher. In my view, self-publishing meant epic failure.

So, for over a year, I worked to get an agent. I sent out dozens of carefully crafted query letters and attended writing conferences. The first chapters of FALLING won top pick from an agent at one of the conferences. I got a cool certificate. That agent, along with two others showed a lot of interest in the book. Here’s the problem though, the pitching process is SLOOOOOOW. If an agent likes your query, you might hear back from her in a month or two requesting the first few chapters. Now, wait another two months or so, and she might request the full manuscript. Only a very small percentage of authors get this far. When/if you do, most agents request exclusive rights to consider your work, which means you don’t continue to query other agents. I got to this stage three times. In one instance, the agent declined. In another, the agent informed me that she had taken on as many new authors as she can handle. (I realize that this is basically the agent equivalent of the “I’ve decided that I’m not really ready to date anyone new right now and just want to work on myself,” classic dating rejection.) In one instance, I waited four months until the agent came back and told me she was leaving her job.

It was extremely frustrating and disheartening. Each time an agent requested my full manuscript for consideration, I felt like I was on the brink of achieving my one true dream in life, only to get that terrible NO and have to start all over again. In the year that this process was going on, I felt paralyzed. Should I start on the next book in the series? Maya, Tarren, and Gabe were chattering non-stop in my head wanting me to continue their story. But if no agent loved my book, then wouldn’t it be smarter to write something totally new that I could pitch?

Self-Publishing to the Rescue

At the same time I was bogged down in agent-pitching limbo, something curious was happening in Kindle World. Some of those loser self-published authors were actually selling a few books. Okay, not a few books. A lot of books. Amanda Hocking was one of the first self-published authors to sell a million copies of her books. This was also the time that a handful of brave traditionally published mid-list authors decided to experiment with self-publishing. A lot of authors were writing about their journey, and as I read more about their experiences, my mind began to change.

I realized something really important. I had put my writing on hold for an entire year waiting for an agent to tell me that FALLING was worth publishing. I had given them all of the power just because I was afraid that self-publishing was a cop-out. I asked myself one simple question: Do you believe FALLING is worth reading?

The answer was yes, and so the path forward was obvious. I wasn’t going to wait any longer for someone else’s approval. I was going to put FALLING into the world and let the readers decide if it was worthy. I doubt FALLING will ever top any best-selling lists, but since I published it in 2011, it has been downloaded over 10,000 times, reached the top ten ranking in Amazon’s New Adult book category several times, and generated some amazing and heartwarming fan mail. (Which I love getting and always respond to, by the way!)

The decision to self-publish also meant that I could write LANDING, RISING, LEAPING, and finally now FLYING. I could tell the story of Maya, Tarren, and Gabe.

I had that first epiphany of Maya struggling not to kill Gabe in the hotel room in early 2009. Now, seven years later, I am about to say goodbye to these characters for good. It’s been a long journey, but I’ve grown significantly as a storyteller, as a craftsman, and as a person. Thank you so much for coming on this journey with me. Don’t worry, this is only the beginning. Saying goodbye to Maya, Tarren, and Gabe will be hard, but there are many story paths yet to walk, and I hope you will walk them with me.

Sad Endings Make Me Sad, and Other Profound Thoughts

March 31st, 2016 No comments
sad woman

This was pretty much me for the rest of the day after I read the Red Wedding chapter in A Storm of Swords. Photo via Visualhunt.com

I just finished reading a really good book series. As per my usual, I fell right into the story, heart and soul. So when one of the main characters died valiantly saving many innocents from a dire threat and another character was permanently maimed, it felt like I’d lost two dear friends in one fell swoop.

It actually hurt me in my soul.

I definitely had some bad flashbacks to previous reading-related trauma, like the Red Wedding scene in the Song of Ice and Fire series. My favorite character was treacherously murdered in that scene. I remember desperately trying to hold myself together after finishing that chapter and then tearing up as I drove home. (Note to self: Maybe stick to playing Candy Crush at the public car wash.)

That night after completing this latest book series, I lay in bed feeling the loss of those characters. I started thinking about books that end in tragedy and came to this profound conclusion:

Sad Endings Make Me Sad

Sad books don’t sit well with me. It feels like I’ve put in all this time and effort, invited characters into my life, and then the author sucker punches me and skips away laughing at the end.

Happy endings are so much more satisfying. Yep, I clearly see the double sexual meaning in that last sentence, but I can’t figure out a good way around it. Let’s ignore that and move on. I enjoy books that end on a good note, because even after I turn the last page, I can still imagine my favorite characters alive and well living in their new happy circumstances. It’s like knowing your best friend from high school is happily married with two adorable kids just like she always wanted. You two haven’t spoken in years, but it just feels good to know that she’s out in the world doing well.

Sad Endings Are More Powerful

As I lay in bed fretting over the loss of my favorite character instead of, you know, actually going to sleep, it made me realize that tragic endings are usually far more powerful than happy endings. It hurts the reader to lose a character, and it also hurts the other characters in the book as well as the fabric of the story’s universe. It’s like a festering wound that makes the story stick with me.

A happy ending lets me close the book (metaphorically since I read everything on a Kindle), sigh contentedly, and then move onto the next book.

Choosing an Ending

All of these considerations are more relevant than ever as I put the finishing touches on Flying, the last book in the Girl With Broken Wings series. My characters inhabit a very dangerous world that has become ever more perilous at the start of Flying.

When I was originally sketching out the book, I grappled with how I wanted it to end. I could see both an ending of supreme tragedy and an ending of unity and second chances. (Trying so hard not to create spoilers!) Even as I started writing, I wasn’t sure who was going to survive and who was not.

Regardless of the final outcome, Flying is a very dark story. Tarren, Maya, and Gabe each face dire challenges, and no one comes out of the book unscathed. Tragedy has a purpose. It is a sculpting force. It can break survivors, or it can make them stronger and fuel heroic acts.

Not every character will make it to the end of Flying, and the ones who do will bear new scars. Tragedy is hard on characters and readers, but it also gives a story a profound edge, maybe makes us a little more appreciative of the light.

As for whether the book ends in tragedy or joy…you’re just going to have to find out for yourself. (You knew I was going to say that, right?)

Forgiving Tarren — (aka A Frustratingly Vague Blog Post About FLYING)

October 18th, 2015 1 comment
Sad Statue of Man

Kind of a little drunk on PicMonkey photo editing service right now.

I’m worried about Tarren. Okay, holding the truth stick now, I’m always worried about Tarren. He can be exhausting sometimes. How he shoulders all the responsibility for keeping his family safe, and how he has internalized the guilt about what happened with his sister, Tammy. How he pushes, pushes, pushes himself and still never feels like he’s doing enough.

Worrying about Tarren is about as normal as breathing for me. But this time it’s different. As I slowly turn all the thoughts that have been spinning around my brain for years into the first draft of FLYING (the final book in the GIRL WITH BROKEN WINGS series), I’m extra, double worried for Tarren. His secrets are finally coming out, and they’re not all flattering.

Tarren has always held himself to an impossible moral, physical, and mental standard, and Gabe and Maya are often the victims of his burdensome expectations. Behind his back they call him a robot, and sometimes it seems so easy to believe this is true.

But Maya, Gabe, and you, the reader, know better.

Tarren has done such a good job of playing the hero, but every cape has its unraveling threads. In FLYING, you will see the threads of Tarren’s cape, and I hope you won’t be disappointed in him.

I hope you can forgive him for being wonderfully, beautifully, tragically human.

(Look for FLYING to swoop in the first half of 2016.)