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Behind the Scenes of Writing Landing

July 18th, 2016 1 comment

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

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

Cover of Landing by J Bennett

J Bennett gives readers the inside scoop on Landing.

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

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

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

A Growing World

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

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

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

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

Black and White

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

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

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

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

The Big Finish

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

The Man on the Roof

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

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

Where Did Tarren Go?

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

Onto Rising

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

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

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

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

July 6th, 2016 No comments

Cover of Coping by J Bennett

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rain Bailey.

Picture of man looking at the sky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man with crow bar

Rain gets all vengeancy

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

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

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

Merry-go-round

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

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

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

I hope you liked this little novella, too!

Book Review – The Amulet of Samarkand by Johnathan Stroud

June 16th, 2016 No comments

Cover: The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan StroudMagicians walk the streets of London, summoning demons to assist them in their endeavors as they rule benignly over the commoners of London…or at least this is what the young boy Nathaniel is told when he is thrust into the care of the middling magician Arthur Underwood as Underwood’s apprentice.

The djinn Bartimaeus has a different take on the situation. With sarcastic wit aplenty, he describes the poor plight of demons who are forced into slavery at the behest of their masters who use their power to cower the commoners into submission.

The paths of Nathaniel and Bartimaeus cross when Nathaniel, seething from a public embarrassment at the hands of hotshot magician Simon Lovelace, summons Bartimaeus in an effort to seek revenge. Nathaniel order Bartimaeus to steal a treasured token from Lovelace, the Amulet of Samarkand. Little does the boy know that this act will drag him and his skeptical djinn into a massive and dangerous conspiracy that reaches into the highest levels of the government.

Author Johnathan Stroud gives us a fresh new magical taste of London, but not all is what it seems. The magicians who proclaim their greatness are greedy, paranoid, and arrogant. The spirits they summon come in a variety of flavors, but Bartimaeus is certainly more than the wisecracking, cruel, and viscous demon that Nathaniel assumes him to be.

Speaking of Bartimaeus, he is now officially my favorite demon of all time. His sharp wit threads the book with refreshing humor, adding an extra shine to his adventures with the taciturn and often angry Nathaniel. Stroud performs a unique dance, smattering Bartimaeus’s first person narratives with a steady stream of footnotes. They take a little getting used to at first, but then they become a natural part of Bartimaeus’s story.

Though one could argue that this book is written for a YA or even Middle Grade audience (though the vocabulary seems far more advanced than most middle graders could handle), it will easily delight adults as well. Nathaniel is a complicated character who hovers right on the line between hero and anti-hero. A part of me always wanted to root for the young boy who felt so stepped upon, but it was also easy enough to see how dangerous he could become as he gave into his anger, his ambition, and his pride. Likewise, Bartimaeus is far more complicated than he or Nathaniel are willing to admit. Beneath his jokes and jabs is a spirit who has seen civilizations come and go throughout the ages, and he doesn’t hold out much hope for London.

The Amulet of Samarkand is a fascinating book filled with multi-layered characters, a simmering plot, hilarious wit, and some deep questions to consider for the next book in the Bartimaeus Trilogy, the Golem’s Eye.

Five stars!

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.

Book Review of The Rosie Project

April 24th, 2016 No comments

Cover -- The Rosie ProjectDating is awkward, messy, and most damning of all – inefficient. Don Tillman is not a man who likes to waste his time. See: his stringently mapped out daily schedule which provides no room for deviation. Don jumps to the natural conclusion that rather than waste him time dating from an unknown pool of women, he will simply design an extensive scientifically valid survey that will efficiently filter out women who do not possess the characteristics of an ideal life partner.

Thus starts to Wife Project.

Author Graeme Simsion does the literary world a solid by bringing Don Tillman to life. We readers spend the story looking out through Don’s highly organized, logical, and entirely socially inept perspective. See: Don calmly explaining why his high-tech cycling jacket is far superior to the sports coats required at a fancy restaurant and should thus be accepted.

Simsion presents us with a fresh worldview from the mind of an individual with Asperger’s but never turns Don into a stereotype. He is simply Don, and it didn’t take long for me as a reader to begin cheering him on, groaning when he failed to pick up an obvious social cue, and watching with great curiosity as he navigated a world where people again and again failed to act logically.

When a young bartender (not barmaid) named Rosie comes into the picture, Don quickly dismisses her as a wife candidate, but something intrigues him about her. Without quite knowing why, Don agrees to lend her his expertise as a genetics professor as they search for Rosie’s biological father.

The Father Project soon usurps Don’s concentration from the Wife Project as he and Rosie find themselves fibbing, slinging drinks, and jetting across the world to solve the mystery. Don begins to notice that the barmaid possesses some likable qualities.

The Rosie Project is a romantic comedy turned on its head. Don is just about the least sexy knight in shining armor that you can imagine, but the chemistry between him and Rosy is real. Simsion is an extremely talented author who manages to mine great humor from his main characters without ever denigrating them.

If you’re like me, you’ll quickly fall head over heels for The Rosie Project.

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 You Need to Care About What’s Going on in America’s Most Violent and Hopeless Neighborhoods; My Review of Ghettoside by Jill Leovy

March 18th, 2016 No comments

Cover -- Ghettoside by Jill LeovyI picked up Ghettoside, because I wanted to try and understand why crime was so rampant in certain neighborhoods across the country. Was it poverty? Gangs? Drugs?

Ghettoside, by Jill Leovy took me across the the train tracks and into the living rooms within the ghetto as well as inside the police station where detectives work unrelentingly to solve the black-on-black murders that almost never make the news.

Leovy tackles the tragic statistics of black-on-black murder head on and digs into the causes that have turned small enclaves in Los Angeles into festering dens of gang activity, crime, suspicion of the police, and a heavy sense that the rest of the outside world doesn’t care.

Leovy’s greatest talent is her ability to humanize those who call the ghetto home and those who try to make it a little safer by putting murderers behind bars. We meet dedicated detectives, kids who join gangs for the protection they provide, prostitutes who risk their lives to testify in court, and broken-hearted parents who lose their children.

I couldn’t stop reading Ghettoside. Every page pulled me deeper and deeper into a place within my own country (actually, my own state of California) that I know so little about. The primary story of the murder of a black police detective’s son drives the plot forward, but truly Leovy’s deft portraits of the people who live and serve in the ghetto that stuck with me long after the last page.

This book was enlightening. I walked away with a much greater sympathy for the people trapped in the ghetto, incredible respect for the officers who serve these areas, and a better understanding of the highly complex problem of violence that requires the attention of a nation to fix.

Ready Player One Review: A Must-Read For Anyone Who Grew Up In The 80’s, Loves Videogame Culture, Or Who Always Roots For The Underdog.

February 10th, 2016 1 comment

Book cover, Ready Player OneThe world is a crappy place in 2044. People are starving. Indentured servitude is a thing. Murders are so common they barely make the news. The one escape is the Oasis, a massive virtual reality world teeming with possibility. Within the Oasis, a clever avatar can gain power, prestige, and just about any ability they can imagine.

In the real world, Wade Watts is a chubby, shy, and impoverished orphan trapped in “the stacks.” In the Oasis, however, he is Parzival, dedicated Gunter. Both Wade and Parzival have one singular purpose in life. They will find Halliday’s egg.

Five years in, most people assume that Halliday’s egg is a fantasy. When co-creator of the Oasis, James Halliday died, he hid the egg somewhere within the Oasis, trapped behind three gates that can only be opened with three keys. The one who finds the egg, earns Halliday’s massive fortune, and – even more valuable – control of the Oasis. For five years the first key remained hidden, that is until an avatar’s name finally hit the scoreboard. That name was Parzival.

When Wade discovers the first key to the gate, the race is on to find Halliday’s egg. Wade will have to use all of his cunning not to mention his encyclopedic memory of 80’s pop culture to stay ahead of his fellow gunters, as well as Innovative Online Industries, a merciless business enterprise that is willing to find the egg (and take control of the Oasis) at any cost.

Ready Player One was a constant and enjoyable adrenaline rush. Author Ernest Cline does a fantastic job of creating a believable and fantastic world, where reality and fantasy merge so deeply that the line is hard to distinguish. The Oasis springs vividly from the MMORPGs today, and is kind of like World of Warcraft mixed with Second Life mixed with Cline’s own imagination. The fact that these kids of the future are steeped in 80s trivia just adds to the fun. The clash of past and future works in dazzling fashion.

The exciting plot and engaging characters of Ready Player One is worth the read on its own. Wade is a sympathetic character, and it won’t take you long to start seriously rooting for him to somehow outsmart the well-moneyed and malicious IOI. However, there is a lot more to this novel if you want to dig deep. Cline challenges us to consider the risk of giving into the siren’s call of technology as a cure-all and of ignoring the decline of our real world in the process.

A must-read for anyone who grew up in the 80’s, loves videogame culture, or who always roots for the underdog.

I’ve Just Realized That I’m A Total Review Hypocrite

February 4th, 2016 1 comment
Embarrassed baby

Total review hypocrite here, nothing to see! Photo credit: Mandajuice via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

Trying to get reviews for my books is kind of the bane of my existence. Reviews are more important than most readers realize. They help give an ebook credibility. Think about the last time you scrolled through a list of books on Amazon. Your eyes scanned the title and the book cover…and the star rating. You probably looked at the number of reviews too. It’s hard to miss, since the book’s rating is right at the top of each book’s page.

Reviews are also important, because many of the best advertising opportunities for authors only accept books with a certain star rating (usually at least 3.5 stars) and a minimum number of reviews, (anything from 10 reviews to 50). This is the reason you’ve probably noticed that most indie books, (including mine), conclude with a slightly desperate request from the author for their readers to leave a review.

<<< Want to write a review, but not really sure how? Here’s my quick and easy guide to writing an awesome book review>>>

But Writing a Review Is Hard…

Here’s the rub…writing reviews more than kind of sucks. At least for me. I always feel like I have to be thoughtful, clever, and insightful in my reviews, but what I really want to do is just start reading the next book in my list. Writing a review seems like homework, and once I’ve got that thought in my head, it gets lodged there. Writing a review becomes just about the last thing I want to do, along with cleaning the grout in my bathroom and clipping my bunny’s nails (which he treats with the same amount of hysterics as if I were giving him a live autopsy).

Manning Up….er, Womaning Up

But I know that reviews are incredibly important, so my goal this year is to write a review for every book I read. I’ve come up with a fail-proof system for accomplishing this – I simply won’t start a new book until I’ve written and posted a review for the previous one.

Imagine how smug and self-congratulatory I felt after making this resolution. Yeah, J Bennett’s getting serious this year. Helping authors. Doing her part. A hero? No, no, well, maybe a little.

Then, this morning, a realization hit me with the gentle tap of an aluminum baseball bat. I am a total review hypocrite.

Books Aren’t the Only Things That Deserve Reviews

This whole time, I’ve been patting myself on the back just for writing a handful of book reviews, as if books are the only things in the world that need reviews. All around me, every day I consume media, use products, and patronize businesses that live or die in a big part on reviews. Have I written a positive review of the CrossFit gym where I’ve been a dedicated member for over two years? What about the brilliantly made podcasts that I gobble up like the last chocolate cupcakes on the planet? Or any of the myriad things that find their way to my Amazon cart?

I never once considered writing reviews for any of them.

Shame on me.

My rating and review might convince another person to try out a product, business, or media that I love. That person could then become a loyal fan and continue the positive cycle.

My new challenge to myself is to be an equal-opportunity reviewer, to support all the things I really like, whether it be a book, my dentist, or the new headlamp I just bought on Amazon. I encourage you to consider posting more positive reviews as well and give a little boost to the businesses and products that have served you well.

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