Home > Girl With Broken Wings, Writing > Behind the Scenes of J Bennett’s FLYING

Behind the Scenes of J Bennett’s FLYING

September 23rd, 2016 Leave a comment Go to 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!

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.