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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.

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.

Difficult Choices – Why You Can Only Find Some Books On Amazon

April 10th, 2016 No comments
Unlocked handcuffs

Time to break my books out of Amazon exclusivity! Photo credit: Insulinde via Visualhunt / CC BY-SA

As an author, I naturally want my ebooks to be available in as many places as possible. I want to put them on Amazon of course, but also in the Apple bookstore, Kobo, BarnesandNoble.com. Heck, if I could, I would dress up in a pink tutu and magically sprinkle print copies of my books onto every bookshelf in the world – The Book Fairy! (You know, if breaking into strangers’ houses wasn’t considered such a social faux paus).

Despite my personal preferences, you may have noticed in the past that only Falling, the first book in my Girl With Broken Wings series, was available on platforms outside of Amazon. The rest of the books were trapped, Rapunzel-like, exclusively on the giant retailer. Several readers have asked about this, so I’m going to lift the curtain of the publishing world and explain why authors face so much pressure to publish exclusively through Amazon…and why I’ve decided to buck the trend.

A Little Note About Amazon

Amazon is by far the largest book seller in the world; and not by a small margin. Barnes and Noble – one of the last remaining chain book sellers, is like a cute little smart car compared to Amazon’s growling monster truck.

Don’t think Amazon is a courteous, polite driver in that monster truck. No, it is all about rolling over the competition with its huge tires and selling power. Amazon knows that it benefits when books are only available on Amazon.com. It also knows it has a ton of leverage, because it can offer authors access to more readers than any other book selling platform.

Is Amazon – engines growling – going to use this leverage?

Uh, yeah.

KDP Select

Amazon wants exclusivity. Amazon has reader leverage to offer authors. What does it do?

Answer: It builds a program called KDP Select. In a nutshell, the job of KDP Select is to entice authors with all sorts of special privileges in order to convince them to publish exclusively on Amazon. Authors who sign on the dotted line (okay, it’s really just a super easy box that they click) agree to keep their books exclusively on Amazon in exchange for some pretty sweet perks.

What’s so awesome about KDP Select that so many authors would be willing to turn a cold shoulder to all their less cool publishing friends like Kobo, iTunes, and Nook? Lots of stuff, it turns out. KDP Select members can run special promotions on their books not available to other authors and set their books for free, which regular authors aren’t allowed to do on Amazon.

(Note: You may have noticed that, as of this writing, both Falling and Employment Interview with a Vampire are free on Amazon. Yep, there’s a super sneaky, complicated way of making this happen. Let’s just say that I am an author ninja!)

Probably the biggest benefit of going steady with Amazon is that signing up for KDP Select allows an author to enroll their ebooks into the Kindle Unlimited Program. This is Amazon’s book subscription service that lets readers borrow an endless supply of participating books. Emphasis on the word participating. Things may be different for Lee Child or Stephen King, but for us smaller authors, the only way to get into the program is to agree to go exclusive with Amazon.

This is a hard choice for authors. The Kindle Unlimited program offers authors the opportunity to earn more money, oftentimes more than what we can earn on all the smaller book selling platforms combined.

On the other hand, we also want to offer our books to readers across the spectrum. We know that some readers only own Nooks and that others shop through the iTunes store or through Kobo. Seems kind of mean to cut them out or force them to download a Kindle app or purchase a more expensive print book off of Amazon.

Breaking Out

So, what choice did I make? Weren’t you reading the beginning of this blog post? I went for the money, of course! I signed up almost all of my books exclusively with Amazon for the better part of two years. I kept Falling out of KDP Select, because it was already free on Amazon. This led, inevitably, to readers finding Falling on different book selling platforms and then getting justifiably ticked off when all of the rest of the books in the series were on Amazon.

I was never comfortable keeping all of my books on Amazon, but the extra income was…how shall I say, too good to refuse. However, over time, scammers learned how to manipulate the way Amazon paid out royalties on books in the Kindle Unlimited program. It’s this whole big, complicated story, but the bottom line is that legitimate authors started earning less and less. Amazon has promised to fix the system and filter out the spammers, but to me, this was as good a time as any to jump ship and go wide.

Yes, this means losing money, at least in the short term, but my hope is that with a little elbow grease and hard work, I can introduce my books to readers on all the different platforms. Regardless, it feels good to break my books out of the Amazon tower. To be clear, my books are all still for sale on Amazon, but they are no longer participating in the Amazon Unlimited Program.

And…drum roll….all of my books in my Girl With Broken Wings series and The Vampire’s Housekeeper Chronicles are available on:

I’m sorry it took me so long!

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?)

Why Every Indie Author Wants You to Sign Up for Their Mailing List

September 14th, 2015 No comments

When you finish reading any of my books or short stories, you will always be confronted with the same request on the final page. I ask you to sign up for my email list.

Eye roll.

I know. Who wants to get stuck on another email list? Exactly no one.

So why do so many authors ask/beg/plead/bribe their readers to join their email lists? You’ve noticed this haven’t you? If you’ve read any amount of books written by indie authors, you’ve fielded dozens, possibly hundreds of email list requests.

The truth is that we authors love you…but we don’t exactly trust you to come back. It’s not that we think you’re flakey by any means. We just know that you’re busy being a superstar in your own life. When you are confronted with a commotion of new TV shows (anyone else excited about Jessica Jones on Netflix?), work, and an ocean of other books to choose from, can you blame us for being a little nervous that you might, well, forget about us?

The next time we launch a new book, will you notice and rush to grab your copy? Will you stay excited even if ahem hypothetically it takes us a year to craft another book?

Sure, we can Tweet. We can update our Goodreads threads, and our Facebook page, but we can’t know if you’ll even see these posts. And so, we authors like to play it old school – through email. Building an email list of our enthusiastic and die-hard fans is something that we can own and control. Most importantly, it is a way in which we can reach you directly.

We know that you don’t like your inbox stuffed with a never-ending stream of emails – we totally don’t either – which is why most of us try to only send you interesting and useful stuff. We let you know when we’ve posted new blogs, when we’re giving away books, and when we release new works so you can dive right in.

I send out quarterly emails to let my readers know I haven’t croaked over my writing desk and am still hard at work on my next project (currently FLYING, the final book in the Girl With Broken Wings series!), and I always let readers know when I’ve published something new so they don’t miss it. That’s it. No obnoxious daily or weekly newsletters swamping your inbox. Just a few howdys, hellos, and guten tags every once in a while.

Again, I know joining email lists isn’t as awesome as rescuing a kitten from a house fire, getting a promotion at work, or finding that favorite pair of underwear you thought was lost stuck inside the leg of your jeans. But it means a lot to us authors, and if you want to get fun updates from your favorite authors and be in the know when they launch something new, joining their email list is the way to do it.

And if any author abuses your trust by spamming you with vapid quotes or their million and one vacation photos, that’s what the “unsubscribe” button is for.

Oh, and just in case this blog has given you a hankering to join an email list, jump aboard mine. (I know, sneaky, sneaky). Click on the box in the top right corner to sign up.

Categories: Marketing, Writing Tags: ,

My Recipe For Not-So-Instant Novel

June 30th, 2015 No comments
Keyboard

Go on, start typing. You know you want to.

You have a bucket list. Don’t deny it. Even if you haven’t written it down or saved it on your phone’s note app, you’ve got a secret list beating away inside of your heart of accomplishments you want to hit before the coffin closes. And, since we’ve already gone this far, you might as well admit that writing a novel is on that list.

A perennial bucket list favorite, writing a novel is a secret dream for a huge portion of our population. Why? Simple. We all have a story to tell. We’ve watched a less than impressive movie or read a mediocre book and thought, I could do so much better! Some of us dream of amazing fantasy tales or a detective novel with a plot so twisty that even the greatest minds won’t see the ending coming. Others of us have experienced incredible events in our own lives or reached a new understanding of life after many knockdowns, and we want to share our unique story with the world.

So, if writing a novel is on your bucket list, then why is that box still unchecked? Why is it clanging around in your head, all sad and haunty, like Marley’s ghost?

You can write your novel.

It’s easy, I swear!

Here is my famous recipe for not-so-instant novel:

Step One: Go to bed one hour earlier each night.

Step Two: Wake up one hour earlier in the morning.

Step Three: Spend that extra hour in the morning planning/writing/editing.

Step Four: Repeat until book is complete.

There, novel in a box. You’re welcome.

The truth is that writing a novel is no different than any other major undertaking. Generally if you set aside a certain amount of time, even just one hour a day, to focus solely on the project, you’ll eventually get it done. Writing a novel isn’t sexy. It’s about creating a habit and putting your butt in the chair over and over again.

In other words, just write. You will never, ever, ever write your novel if you only talk about it.

Here are a few more tips that will help you along your novel-writing way:

  • Outline your novel first so you know where you are going.
  • Take time to develop your characters so you have a good feel for them. That may mean interviewing them, writing a day in their life, or finding a celebrity who they look like. None of this will make it into your novel, but understanding your character will help them come alive.
  • Write your first draft with reckless abandon. Don’t worry about whether it’s good or not. Don’t overthink it. Just write, write, write.
  • Edit the hell out of your book. Unless you’re working on your 30th novel, your first draft will probably be utter crap. That’s fine. If you even created a first draft, you’re amazing. Now, go back and clean it up. Fill in plot holes. Tighten every chapter, paragraph, and sentence. Make sure your characters are consistent. Cut out all the extra stuff your novel doesn’t need.
  • Find other writers to critique your book. You may be able to find a writer’s group in your area. You can certainly find them online. Writer’s Café, Goodreads, Facebook, and LinkedIn are all great places to start looking for critique partners.

When you complete your first book, congratulate yourself. You did the thing that 99% of the population secretly wants to do but never will. Now, throw it in a drawer, forget about it, and start on your next book.

What? Don’t publish? After all that blood, sweat, and tears? Yep, my fingers didn’t stutter on the keyboard. For all but a few writers, their first book is utter swill. Yours probably will be too. That’s because writing is a craft, and getting good at a craft takes a lot of practice. The Mona Lisa wasn’t Leonardo Di Vinci’s first painting.

Trust me, this advice is for your own good. My first book was so terrible, I think it would have melted any Kindle unfortunate enough to download it. It will never see the light of day.

So, please don’t stare wistfully out the window at work and think, if I had more time, I’d write a novel. (Or insert other secret wish). You do have enough time. Anyone can find at least one hour a day. No excuses. Your bucket list is waiting.

Categories: Essay, Writing Tags:

The Challenge of Finding New Voices

May 7th, 2015 No comments
Name Tag

Meeting new characters can be awkward…
Credit: Enokson, Flickr

I started writing Falling, the first book in my Girl With Broken Wings series in 2010. For five years, Maya, Gabe, and Tarren have been a constant presence in my life. They drop by on a regular basis to tell me about their lives, to give me suggestions for the latest novel, and to let me know quite sternly when I’m not listening to them as I write. In other words, we’re kind of besties.

I recently embarked on a new writing project with new characters, and we are definitely not besties yet. In fact, I feel like all of us are at an awkward networking event with our names scrawled out on dopey nametags. I hate these kind of events, so naturally my hand is shaking as I tightly grasp a glass of wine and attempt a winning smile at the stranger in front of me.

When I write in the voices of these new characters, it doesn’t feel right yet. Their words are clunky and unenthusiastic. I wonder if this is normal. I think back to 2010, to that first terrible draft of Falling and try to remember if Maya’s voice came naturally to me. Was Gabe was already 100% Gabe in my mind?

I also wonder about the authors who pump out six books a year. How do they find and become besties with their characters so easily? Are they the rare extrovert who can work a room full of strangers, turning everyone into a treasured friend overnight?

I started writing my new project too soon. My bond with my characters was weak, and I hoped that we would become comfortable as we started this journey together. Instead, I found myself staring blankly at my computer, trying to peck out a story that didn’t want to move. The characters weren’t showing up. They weren’t speaking.

I realized that it was unfair of me to just throw them into the story without really getting to know them first. So now I’m pulling back, tying the story to the dock so it won’t float away while I spend more time with my characters. I am sitting down with each of them now, asking questions, exploring their lives, finding their voice.

It is adding more time to this project, but it is time well spent. Now my new characters and I are starting to chat and laugh. New friendships are blooming. It will be a while until I can share these characters and their story with you, but I hope you’ll have some new literary besties in the future!

Categories: Writing Tags:

New Covers, New Impressions

March 29th, 2015 No comments
Old and new covers for the girl with broken wings series

The Girl With Broken Wings covers got a makeover.

Readers, you may not realize exactly how much we authors think about you. We think about you a lot. Creepy, right? But it’s only because we want you to notice us, read us, love us, and – of course – post a review about our books when you’re done. Feel flattered that we often spend hours, days, or even weeks sweating and struggling to write a book summary that will stop you in your tracks and hook you. That we fight to get into the genre categories you frequent. That we always wonder what you think about our covers.

Covers. Sigh. Perhaps nothing about publishing a book is so tricky as getting the cover right. A bad cover can break even the best book. A cover has a lot of responsibilities. It must capture a reader’s attention in a split second and whisper promises of the story within. It must be strong, powerful, clean, well-balanced, and intriguing.

But here’s the thing…authors aren’t cover designers. A few are, but most of us, including yours truly, haven’t progressed in our artistic integrity beyond stick figures. That means that we often have to hire cover designers for our books and guide them on what we want while restraining ourselves from breathing down their neck so they can do their magic.

Weird how a cover – so influential in the buying process – is so divorced from the actual creation of the book and story itself. Few cover designers read the books they create covers for. Has it ever driven you crazy that a character on the cover looks nothing like the protagonist in the book? Now you know why.

Readers, here’s a little insight into life as an author – most of us are neurotic freaks when it comes to our covers. In our writer’s groups, we constantly ask each other, “What do you think of my cover?” We send each other endless drafts from our designers, trying to tweak shadowing, fonts, the tagline, everything, all for you.

Recently, I decided to update the covers in my Girl With Broken Wings series. I really liked my previous covers. I thought they were artsy, unique, and invocative, but it was time for a change. After studying the other covers in the paranormal genre, I decided that I wanted something darker, edgier. I worked with a new cover designer for three months to re-do all of the covers in my series, and I am thrilled with the results. Every new cover that my designer sent me was like a Christmas present come early.

The result is the banner at the top of this blog, which showcases my old covers and my new covers.

It will be interesting moving forward to see if these covers influence readers or impact my sales. All I can say is that I love their artistry and grittiness, and I think they promise an exciting story within. I hope readers will agree!