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Parting Notes for The Vampire’s Housekeeper Chronicles

October 1st, 2017 No comments

*** Note: This blog is about my series, THE VAMPIRE’S HOUSEKEEPER CHRONICLES. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure, the first novella in the series –EMPLOYMENT INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE – is currently FREE on Amazon and most major book retailers. I’m totally not biased, but I think you should really check it out. ***

Last week, I sent out copies of SHOWDOWN WITH THE SUPERNATURAL HUNTER to my beta readers. Now it’s just a waiting game, and a I-really-hope-you-don’t-hate-it game. Sending out a vulnerable little draft into the cold, harsh world of critiques is always a nerve-wracking process, but I felt separation anxiety even more deeply this time.

Showdown is – at least for now – the last novella in the VAMPIRE’S HOUSEKEEPER CHRONICLES. It was allllll the way back in the ancient days of 2011 when I whipped up a fun little vampire story for my sister as part of our constant, back-and-forth emailing. My goal was simple. I wanted to write about a vampire who was not young, not handsome, and who did not sparkle in sunlight. Furthermore, knowing many seniors who still struggle with how to understand things like email and phone apps, I always believed that vampires must face similar challenges. If an 80-year-old is completely out of their depth with technology, slang, and culture, how about a 200-year-old? From these thoughts, Nathaniel was born, and it has been a joy writing about my cranky, stick-in-the-mud vampire ever since.

Nathaniel, The Vampire's Housekeeper Chronicles

Not so sparkly, but I love Nathaniel anyway.

What truly surprised me is how much I enjoyed writing from the viewpoint of the protagonist, Deidre. Like Nathaniel, Deidre was hatched as an anti-heroine of the vampire genre. Not that she was evil. Worse. She was average looking. Unlike the Bellas and Elenas of the world, Deidre was overweight, self-doubting, and living a relatively mediocre life (before she met Nathaniel, that is).

Deidre from the Vampire's Housekeeper Chronicles

Just another day in Deidre’s world.

When I scribbled down that very first story, EMPLOYMENT INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, it was just meant to make my sister laugh, but I enjoyed the characters so much, that I wrote another story for my sister, what would become THE VAMPIRE HUNTER COMES TO CALL (now part of the first novella in the series).

I kept writing the stories, not because they were huge sellers (trust me, they weren’t), but because it was a lot of fun. The amazing thing is that with each story, Deidre’s world grew. We met Dex and Sloppy Joe. Then Drew, who would become Deidre’s best friend and love interest. Next up was the bingo crew (Carl, Lenny, Polina, and Rick), and finally, Hunter, the loveable, overachieving vampire apprentice. As Deidre’s world got richer, it also got more complex. The last two novellas – APPRENTICESHIP WITH A VAMPIRE and THANKSGIVING WITH THE WEREWOLVES add interesting themes beneath just the daily weirdness of Deidre’s life. I think that you’ll find that Showdown brings this dynamic to a whole new level.

THE VAMPIRE’S HOUSEKEEPER CHRONICLES always played a second fiddle to the GIRL WITH BROKEN WINGS series. It was much more light-hearted and not as deep or complex as my primary series. I would write VHC stories and novellas between drafts of GWBW.

However, VHC was always a joy to write, and I am really proud of how the series has evolved. I personally believe that APPRENTICESHIP WITH A VAMPIRE is the best thing I’ve ever written to date. I’ve really enjoyed getting messages from fans about how the series has made them laugh.

Deidre, in many ways, became a true hero to me. Her struggles – to lose weight, to find love, to achieve balance in her life, to get the ghosts to stop animating the furniture, and to keep her ficus alive – are real (well, except for the ghosts and the furniture run amok). Deidre’s struggles aren’t sexy. Explosions aren’t involved (though there is always a chance of ectoplasm, which never comes out). But that doesn’t make her struggle less real or less worthy.

SHOWDOWN WITH THE SUPERNATURAL HUNTER will be available soon. (The goal is to release it right around Halloween). I hope you enjoy it as much I enjoyed writing it. I hope it makes you laugh and that the characters – Nathaniel, Deidre, Drew, Hunter, Sloppy Joe, and Dex – feel like your old friends. I am sad to let this series go, though excited about the big science fiction monster that I’m still writing. I am considering starting up a new novella series in the vein of VHC. Something fun, light, and quirky to give me a break and add some laughs to offset my bigger, more serious novels in the works.

And of course, vampires live for a long, long time, so maybe one day I’ll come back to the world of the VAMPIRE’S HOUSEKEEPER CHRONICLES.

J Bennett Builds a World…Or Might Die Trying

August 12th, 2017 3 comments

So, I’m writing this new novel. No, it’s not ready yet. Sorry ‘bout that, but you’re just going to have to hold your horses and let me do my thing. So, new novel. Writing it, that’s what I’m doing. Thing is, it’s some pretty slow going. I really wanted to challenge myself with this WIP. Work in progress sounds so lame. The book doesn’t have a name yet, so let’s call her Sleeping Beauty.

Where was I? Oh yeah, this thing is hard. (Don’t take that out of context.) The challenge is that Sleeping Beauty has a bit of science fiction going on and a bit of fantasy as well. (Yeah, I’m a whole lot of excited about this, too.) It takes place on a totally different planet, and the people on the planet have been doing their own thing, evolving, creating traditions, making up their own looney sports for over a hundred years. Basically, I’ve also got to create an entire planet and all the people on it!

Enter The Planet Construction Kit

It’d be so awesome if there were some kind of manual to create your own planet. Fortunately, my fairy godmother was good to me. She built a time machine (she’s handy like that), went back in time, and convinced a guy named Mark Rosenfelder to just such a manual. And just to make sure I wouldn’t miss it, she somehow convinced him to name his book, The Planet Construction Kit. (Let’s not ask what my fairy godmother had to do to get that favor.)

Planet Construction Kit by Mark Rosenfelder

This book is awesome!

To put it simply, this book is awesome. Rosenfelder is basically the smartest person in the universe. Need to know how two suns would affect a planet? He’s on it. Want to know everything there is to know about making fabrics? He’s got your back. Need to create a whole new language? Well, he actually wrote a whole separate book about that!

In some regards, The Planet Construction Kit is a little overwhelming. There’s just so much here, but Mark’s true genius, I think, is that he forces writers (along with video game developers, conworlders, and D&D Dungeon Masters) to recognize that everything on a planet is interlinked. A planet’s environment is going to affect what foods the people eat, what clothes they wear, and even their attitudes. A society will likely develop a completely different hierarchy and belief system based on if resources are rare versus abundant.

In turn, a society’s social mores will affect what people do, how they act towards one another, and how they evolve as a society. We are all products of our society one way or another (whether we reject normal social mores, embrace them, or seek to change them). Every person is also a product of their own history and so is a society. American culture is still affected by our Protestant roots and by our fight for Independence from Britain. We still also struggle with the implications of how we treated African Americans and Native Americans in the past. Our past illuminates our present.

A fantasy planet is no different. Its people will have a history. That history will affect their current condition. That current condition will play a role in the perspectives and motivations of every character.

Trying to Make Sense of It All

It’s a lot to think about, and it’s one of the reasons I’m plodding so slowly on writing Sleeping Beauty. I want to build my planet the right way, with lots of rich history. I need to take time to learn about the agriculture for the different kingdoms, the leadership structure of their societies, their wealth, their morality. Then I need to figure out how it affects all the characters.

I’ve never done anything remotely like this before. Both of my previous series, Girl With Broken Wings and The Vampire’s Housekeeper Chronicles, layered a slightly altered reality on top of our own. I didn’t have to stretch my imagination very far; certainly not to the extent that Sleeping Beauty is asking for.

It’s a big challenge, and truthfully, I’m intimidated by it. That’s a good thing. I’m of the mind that if you aren’t at least a little scared of your next big project, then it’s probably not big enough. Sure, this book might go down in flames. (Hell, that already happened this year,) but I’m willing to risk it to try and be a better writer and to give you an awesome, unique story that will be worth the wait.

Thanks for your (forced) patience!

Categories: Essay, Writing Tags: ,

I’m Sorry About the Puppy…But It Had to Die

May 28th, 2017 1 comment

Spoiler Alert: This post discusses early plot points in FALLING. You may want to save this post for after you read the book. If you have read the book, then you are the awesomest person ever. Carry on…

Sun in the clouds

I’m not going to be a terrible person and add a picture of an adorable puppy here. So, instead, since this is a blog post about a one star review, here’s one star that I really love…the sun! Photo via Visualhunt

There are a lot of things I’d rather do than read reviews of my books. Most things, actually. Ride a rollercoaster. Watch the grass grow. Manual labor. Even go to a baby shower. Yeah, reading reviews is that bad.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a thrill to read reviews by readers who totally, utterly “got” my book, who loved my characters as much as I did and who cried for their wounds (of body and soul) just like me. However, where such golden treasure lurks, so does danger.

A writer’s ego is a fragile thing, and while a dozen amazing reviews can prop it up on a high marble pedestal, a single bad review can kick out the bottom stone sending the whole thing crashing to the ground.

So, it was quite by accident that my eye wandered over a review when I was checking my book data for FALLING on Kobo. Of course it had to be a one star review.

One star reviews exist for one purpose only. The affliction of pain and devastation. No book I have ever read – and I’ve read a lot – has truly deserved a one star review. Seriously. A one star book, in my opinion means, that an author hasn’t grasped fundamentals, like sentences. A teenager’s angst-ridden diary, where every page is a cringe-worthy soliloquy on the injustice of the world mixed in with doodles of hearts around the name of the football quarterback is still worthy of at least two stars for emotional output alone.

It is my experience that readers give one star reviews out only as a form of punishment, to make a gleefully self-righteous point, and/or to wound. In the case of the one star review I received, the reader had a bone to pick with me, and the reason was simple.

I killed a puppy.

Okay, it wasn’t actually me who did the puppy killing, and I shouldn’t probably mention right upfront that it wasn’t a real puppy either. One of the characters in my book, FALLING does the unhappy deed.

In FALLING, my main character, Maya, changes into a hybrid angel who needs to feed on the life energy of living creatures to survive. During the transition process, she is in desperate need of a quick source of energy or she’ll die. Her two erstwhile rescuers find themselves scrambling, and what Gabe comes up with is to break into a pet store and bring Maya a puppy for her consumption.

It was bloody or gory, but it still isn’t a very pleasant scene. I felt a little queasy writing it, and my characters certainly didn’t feel any better. Gabe – a fan of all things cute and cuddly – was less than thrilled and Maya was disgusted with herself when she got over the whole starving-to-death-need-food-now-now-NOW situation.

For my upset one-star-giving reader, it was all about the puppy. That was it for her. The end. Book closed. Never trying that author again. How could anyone ever write about killing a puppy? What was wrong with that sicko author?

In a weird way, I understand where this reader is coming from, (though I truly wish she had reviewed the book based on the quality of the writing rather than a disagreement with a plot point). The thing is, this reader and I have some stuff in common. I also love animals, and I hate watching any type of animal violence. (Game of Thrones is a challenge on so many levels.) Just as this reader didn’t like reading that puppy scene, I really didn’t like writing about it. In fact, I pretty much hated writing any of the scenes in my Girl With Broken Wings series when Maya drains energy out of animals.

…but here’s the thing. As much as it personally made me uncomfortable, I had to do it for the story.

The foundation of Maya’s story is her struggle to maintain her humanity while fighting the hunger and the need to drain the life force out of others. Maya’s condition means that she can’t just grab a burger and fries when she gets peckish.

As an author, I am obligated to stay true to the characters in my novels and to represent their real actions. When I saw that one star review, a part of me was tempted to go back and rewrite the puppy scene in FALLING, but I stopped myself. That scene is supposed to be uncomfortable to my characters and my readers. It is supposed to showcase that Maya is a new thing.

I watch Game of Thrones, which burns, slices, decapitates, and abuses animals and humans alike with sensational glee, because it is an amazing show that depicts the violence of war and royal politics with a type of gruesome truth that I appreciate when I am not wincing and biting my lip.

So, I want to state right here, right now for the record that I am very, truly, and utterly sorry for the imaginary puppy that I killed, but I am not sorry for that scene or my novel or anything that I write. I know that I cannot please everyone, but I hope that I can entertain, captivate, and please some of you.

So, I Failed…

April 2nd, 2017 1 comment

Sorry that I haven’t been around much lately. No newsletters since last year, not many Facebook posts. Basically, I’ve been pretty busy failing at writing my next book.

One key rule of writing is that your character has to fail. In fact, she usually has to be a pretty huge failure. Great plots are driven by failure. If Scarlet wooed Ashley before the war, we’d never have Gone with the Wind. If Mr. Darcy clicked with Elizabeth Bennett right on the spot, the world would be bereft of Pride and Prejudice.

Heck, if Voldemort could have just ended a baby, Harry Potter would have never been…literally.

Failing is a not only crucial to a story’s plot, it also drives character growth and change. Failure, in other words, is necessary…it just kind of sucks when it happens to you…or to be precise, me.

Anatomy of a Failure

When I finished FLYING, the fifth and final book in my Girl With Broken Wings series, last July, I was faced with a pretty daunting task. It was time to leave the world I’d lived in for seven years and dive into a brand new story with new characters. I was excited but also appropriately terrified.

Being a normal person, I am naturally plagued with self-doubt on virtually every aspect of my life. My writing is not immune. I worried that despite the fact that I finished five books and two novellas in the Girl With Broken Wings series, those were all flukes. Now, cut free from the safety of that series, I would revert back to my pre-GWBW days when I couldn’t finish a novel for all the cupcakes in the world.

I squished all those fears down, womaned up, and started writing a new story that had been swishing around in my head for a few months. This story intrigued me, because it had a really captivating premise and a clear genre, which I thought would make it easier to categorize and sell.

All gung-ho and with doubts securely stowed, I set sail on creating the outline. This is when I hit a little stumbling block that should have been a major red flag. Even as I began to plot out my story, I felt that I wasn’t really connecting with the characters.

I made excuses. It was a new series. Of course the characters aren’t going to feel real like Maya, Tarren, Gabe. I told myself that I just needed to do more outlining, fill out more character sheets.

Boy, did I complete a lot of character sheets. I tried to talk to my characters, interview them, write scenes of their everyday lives, but the whole time they mumbled short answers to my questions, sagged through their scenes, and avoided eye contact with me…because we both were kind of embarrassed by the whole charade. This felt so different than when I wrote FALLING. In that book, Gabe couldn’t wait to chatter in my ear, telling me his whole life story. I would imagine quiet scenes of Tarren while I did my weekend runs. I felt Maya’s rage and her need for vengeance.

I am a character-centric author. The characters lead the story. They are the story. And I somehow found myself writing a book where my characters didn’t want to come out and play.

But, I kept writing, kept making excuses. The first draft was going badly. I didn’t feel inspired to write in the morning. It was more punishment than passionate toil. That was wrong, but by that time I’d put in too much work. Three months and an entire 70,000-word first draft. I couldn’t give up on it now!

After completing the novel’s first draft, I gave myself a break to “let it breathe.” Secretly, I hoped that the manuscript would somehow age and turn into something different and beautiful, like a mellow red wine. In the interim, I did more (yes, even more) character interviews and research.

Admitting Defeat

The week before I planned to jump into the second draft, I left town for my sister’s wedding. During that trip, something started happening. Deep in the pit of my stomach, I felt a seed of dread growing every time I thought of working on the novel again. In the quiet moments before bed, I would close my eyes and try to watch my characters live their lives. I’d knock on their doors, but they were never home.

The wedding was great. The bride and groom showed up, and I didn’t fall into the cake. Success! Even as I danced with my 89-year-old grandpa (whoo-hoo good genes!), a decision was forming in my mind. It was a decision that I think had already been made, but I’d been fighting tooth and nail. It was time to admit defeat.

The Challenge

The next day, I faced an exciting eight hours in the airport. My iPad was loaded up with old episodes of Battlestar Galactica to get me through the ordeal, but instead of hanging out with my favorite band of survivors, I gave myself a little challenge.

I thought, hey brain, let’s do a little experiment. Let’s say you were going to write a totally different book – and not saying that you are, but just imagine – what would that book look like. No pressure. Doesn’t mean anything. You’re still totally going to write that crappy book you hate, but if you weeeere going to write a different book…

I had a notebook with me, because, uh, duh, writer, but it only had two clean pages left. On my first flight, I began to think. Wonder. Imagine. An idea sparked. My heart picked up some beats. My pen began to scribble. The crying baby two seats behind me faded. Suddenly, I was in the woods, riding on a great adventure to find a princess. My pen kept going, scribble, scribble. Characters formed. I needed a prince. Was he an arrogant, foppish prince? No, the prince told me. There’s so much more to me. I don’t want to be on this adventure, but I have to go because of who I am. I have to always be strong, even though I feel so weak and unsure inside. Even while I listened to the prince, a little maid was jumping up and down impatient for her turn. I am cleverer than them all, she insisted. And I’m in love. I’m going to marry the prince. It’s what the stars say. Let anyone try and stop me.

As the plane landed, I was furiously writing on the cardboard back of the notebook. As soon as I walked off the plane for my two-hour layover, I went straight to a small bookstore in the airport. (Okay, bathroom break first, then straight to the bookstore.)

I bought a notepad and two pens, because there’s no way in hell I was letting my last pen give up the ghost in the middle of my next flight. Alas, Starbuck and Apollo had to play alone, because I kept writing and writing from wheels up in Denver to wheels down in San Diego.

Now, a week after I touched down, that new notebook is almost full. My characters have so much to say and they are rearing and ready to go on their adventure. And that other book? After four months and a full draft, I’m stuffing it in a drawer. (Well, a metaphorical drawer. In reality, it’s just hanging on my computer.)

A little ways up the coast from me is a mythical place called Silicon Valley. Some of the coolest, greatest things come from this strange place. Silicon Valley is unique, because it is a place where failure is a badge of honor. It is a stepping stone to success. The people of Silicon Value believe that failure helps define your character, gives you valuable experience, and lessons to learn.

Looking back, I don’t think those four months were a waste, and I don’t regret the draft that is now wallowing on my computer. (Hey, who knows, maybe those characters are just waiting to find their voice.) I am sorry that my readers will have to wait a little longer for my next novel, but I promise, it’s going to be something that I will be proud and excited to share with you. You deserve that.

All I ask is for a little more patience.

I know this sounds super dorky, but a failure is only a failure if you give up. Failure is a powerful learning experience. After all, we are all characters in our own stories, defined by our failures and how we address them; defined by whether we keep striving for our secret dreams.

Fail on, my friends,

J Bennett

P.S. Yes, I have purposefully be super vague on the plots of both books. I’m holding out some hope that the bad scifi book may one day become a good, awesome scifi book. My new project is only in the early stages, so I need to keep it close to the vest until I can at least get through a first draft and see its bones.

Categories: Essay, Writing Tags: ,

Starting Over

December 3rd, 2016 No comments

a.k.a. J Bennett hyperventilates about writing a new novel

 

pen on top of notebook

Starting a new story doesn’t really get any easier.
Photo via Thomas Martinsen via VisualHunt.com

What does it feel like to begin writing a brand new book in a brand new series?

It feels like diving into a lake at night when the water is black and you can’t tell how deep it is.

It feels like meeting strangers who might one day be friends.

It feels like trying to run on ice – awkward and uncertain.

It feels like starting all over again.

I spent seven years writing in the Girl With Broken Wings universe. Maya, Gabe, and Tarren were my best friends. I knew them in the way you know exactly whether your best friend will laugh at your horrible joke, roll her eyes, or throw an even worse joke right back at you.

Now I am trying to make new friends, trying to see the world through their eyes.  The words I use, the tone, the voice are different, because my characters are different. I am learning it all paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter.

There is an excitement to starting over – all the possibilities, all the chances to stretch and reach – but there is also a great unease, diving into that black, unknowable water. How far away is the shore? What is lurking beneath, ready to pull me down? And, of course, the terrifying, secret questions that lurk – Will I be able to write this book? Write any book ever again? Will it be any good? Even with five books and six novellas under my belt, I still wonder if it all wasn’t a fluke. If my best writing is behind me.

I console myself by knowing I have felt these worries and uncertainties and this jittery excitement many times before. I dove into the black waters and made it to shore each time I started a new book. I made new and wonderful friends. I created stories that I am proud of. I know that even if this particular story flounders or even drowns, my head is full of ideas. I can always start over again.

Categories: Essay, Writing Tags:

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.