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Saturday, May 17, 2014

You Might Not Like My Books...

There, I said it. The one admission most authors are loathe to make. My books are not going to be for everyone, and really, that's okay.

I've been reading through a lot of feedback this week on my first book, The Six - old and new Amazon reviews and Facebook feedback, mainly, and there's a trend I've noticed among it all, both the good and the bad: commentary on how unlikable my main character, Darcy, is. This isn't anything new, but it seems to have come up a lot lately, and it's gotten me to thinking about American consumerism and what we expect out of our entertainment these days.

So if you haven't read The Six, or if you've read it and were turned off by Darcy's attitude in book one, here's what I have to say to you: If you want your heroes to arrive ready-made, spunky, capable, and flawless, then my books are probably not for you. Sorry. I know we live in a culture that demands instant gratification, but I often find instant gratification disingenuous, unrealistic, and false. I believe in developing a character - especially a heroic character - from the ground up, and that means you're going to have to slog through the bad stuff to make the good stuff (when you get there) that much more rewarding.

There are many reasons why I wrote Darcy to be so insufferable in The Six. Here are a few of the main ones:

1) It's realistic. She's 13 in book 1, and while there are some truly delightful 13-year-olds out there (my character Sam is one of them), the greater preponderance of them lean toward selfishness, whininess, and moodiness. And the thing is, they don't even realize it! 13 is a difficult age, an age at which you believe the world revolves around you, and an age during which your emotions border on out-of-control on a daily basis. This is how I was at 13, and I wanted to bring it to life in Darcy.

2) It gives her room to grow - a lot of it! A main character should be dynamic, and the change that takes place should be for the better. I could have started Darcy off as a more likable character and still given her some ups and downs, sure, but I thought a full transformation from self-centered to selfless would pack a greater punch. She has to start off pretty awful for there to be any real change over the course of her story arc. I also didn't want her to hit her heroic high point in book 1 (or 2, or 3...). This is what I felt happened in The Hunger Games. Katniss is as good as she's going to get in the opening chapters of the first book, and it kind of feels all downhill from there. (Just my opinion, of course, feel free to disagree!)

3) The Gateway Chronicles is a six-book series. That's a lot of story to get through, and again, I wanted Darcy to grow at a realistic pace side-by-side with her natural maturing, and to allow the events of the adventures and trials she goes through to shape her into a better person. She definitely has highs and lows as the books progress, but overall, she should be the worst she's ever going to be in book 1, and the best she's ever going to be in book 6. That's been my goal from the beginning. Most people don't change over night, and if I'd had Darcy improve too much by the end of book 1, there wouldn't have been enough transformation left for five more books.

4) The Six is a Nigredo-stage book. This gets a little technical, but if you've read any of the other blog posts I've written about literary alchemy, that's what it's all about. There are three stages of alchemy Darcy has to progress through, and it all begins with the Nigredo, or black, stage of dissolution. This is a burning-away-the-dross stage, a stage during which the character is often beset with both internal and external problems that challenge the character's preconceptions about his/herself. It is the first step in a spiritual journey during which the character has to come to realize that he/she maybe isn't as great as he/she always thought. It is a peeling away of what is bad so purification can take place. This is where Darcy is at in The Six and The Oracle. Because I have six books, there are two books per stage. Darcy begins the Nigredo in The Six and progresses through it in The Oracle, which ends with a sort of crucible that challenges Darcy's notions of what love actually is and launches her into the next stage. By the time The White Thread opens, Darcy is ready to step into the Albedo, or white, stage of purification, and it's at this point that she starts to really learn selflessness.

To wrap up, it really is okay if Darcy turned you off SO much that you just couldn't get into my books. I still appreciate you giving them a chance, and I acknowledge that my books are not going to be enjoyable for everyone. But if you read all this and get what I'm trying to do with her in the stories, maybe you'll want to give them an extra chance. I promise you, she does get better - much, much better - as the story progresses, but you have to be willing to take the journey alongside her. She stumbles a lot along the way, but that's because she's human. And I believe a human character is more relatable in the long run. And if you're one of my industrious fans who have always understood that this is what I'm doing with Darcy from the very beginning, bravo to you! I commend you for giving her a chance, and I hope I don't let you down with how I conclude her story in book 6!

***As a very nerdy aside, I couldn't help thinking about the Marvel superheroes as I wrote this post. I'm a huge Marvel fan (geek), and I have strong and real opinions on all the Avengers. I love them all for various reasons, and while Captain America is probably my favorite Avenger at the end of the day, the two with the best origins stories, hands down, have always been Thor and Iron Man. Seriously, does anybody like Tony Stark before he's kidnapped? Or Thor before his dad banishes him to earth? They are both monumental jerks, and they're supposed to be, but that's what makes their transformations into heroes so satisfying in the end.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Blog Hop: My Writing Process

Hello! This week I was kindly invited by fellow TWCS author Rene Gilley to participate in a blog hop, and as I've been woefully remiss with my blog this year, I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to connect with some new readers. So, if you're new to my blog, welcome! You can also learn about me by visiting my website. If you're an old friend, welcome back, and I hope you take a moment to check out Rene's blog hop post here and encourage her as her debut YA novel, Just Sing, is set to release in one month.

1. What am I working on?

I am working on several books at the moment. First up is the final release of my 6-book YA fantasy series, The Gateway Chronicles. Book 6, The Bone Whistle, will be out this fall (no release date yet, sorry!), and is in the final stages of the editing process. In the early stages of edits is the first book of my NA dystopian trilogy, Breeder, which should be released around Christmas of this year. While those edits are in process, I'm also working on the two sequels to Breeder, Criminal and Clone, and I'm hoping to have those manuscripts wrapped before The Bone Whistle comes out in the fall. So, I have a lot on my plate right now!

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

My fantasy work really hearkens back to an older tradition of storytelling, I think. I'm not saying it's old fashioned, but it will appeal to the adult who loved The Chronicles of Narnia as a child, and to the teenager who's looking for something on their level that is also deep, soulful, and meaningful. I read a lot of YA literature - almost exclusively so, actually, and almost all of it in the speculative genres - and I have not come across anything modern that feels or reads quite like my Gateway Chronicles. Modern YA lit tends to be all about self-actualization. In contrast, my Gateway Chronicles challenges the natural selfish tendencies of teenagers and taps their full potential to be giving, constructive, talented, and selfless members of society - granted, I do this over the backdrop of a fantasy realm with all sorts of adventures, romance, mysteries, and action thrown in for good measure. But I really do think this sets my fantasy books apart from most of the other YA equivalents out there.

As to my dystopian writing, well . . . let's just say, I guess I'm an old soul at heart, because it follows this same trend. Breeder reads more like The Giver than Divergent or The Hunger Games. I say this with some trepidation, because it's not necessarily a good thing to say your book is NOT like the most popular books current in the genre, but I really do think people are constantly looking for new spins on old ideas, and Breeder will deliver just that. As a New Adult novel, it's geared for a little older audience than my YA fantasy material, and this is because the story is really intense, and it deals with mature themes and a truly horrific futuristic world. Thematically, it has the gravitas of the older, classic dystopians, mashed together with the intensity of a good science fiction novel, and the romantic tension of a modern dystopian like The Hunger Games. It follows one girl's journey as she slowly uncovers the layers of reality and illusion in her world, and like a good mystery novel, it should cause the reader to second-guess what she's uncovering at all stages. In the very end of the last book, when all is revealed, I want the reader to sit back and go, "What? What? I can't believe that's what's been going on this whole time!" and then pick up book one and start all over just to see how all the pieces fall together once the truth is revealed. This is a tall order to accomplish as a writer, but it's already tested well with my beta readers, and I'm feeling pretty confident that it will set Breeder apart as unique in its genre once it is published.

3. Why do I write what I do?

There is one primary reason why I do what I do: I want to convey truth to a world that largely doesn't believe in objectivity. There are, of course, subjective things in this world, but I've always strongly believed in the objective nature of right and wrong. I won't go into my personal beliefs or more of my philosophy here, because I'd rather you (readers) read my books and try to figure it out for yourselves, but I will say that you will always find my books peppered with pointers to objective reality. I just realized that sounds kind of boring, so let me add that I also believe the primary function of fiction to be entertainment, and as such, it's a great venue for transmitting ideas in non-offensive ways. I must first write a good story, one that entertains and edifies, otherwise anything I want to say in my books will be lost.

4. How does my writing process work?

My writing process can be broken down into pretty distinct stages.


This is the point at which the idea strikes me. I usually know when an idea is worth pursuing as a novel project. If it sticks with me and builds on itself, like a snowball rolling down a snowy slope, then I know it's a good idea, and I'll move into the next stage with it. And the epiphany can come from anything and strike at any time. For Breeder, it happened when reading an article in a magazine. For my next series after Breeder, it came from looking up at my favorite constellation one night.

-Dreaming and Brainstorming

This stage can go on for any length of time, and now that I'm an actual published author, the length of this stage is usually determined by publishing demands or what I think will sell. For example, I had my "epiphany" for Breeder only about two years ago, and I've had several ideas on the back burner for a lot longer than that, but I know that dystopian is hot right now, and I want to get on that train. So, I quickly moved Breeder into the organizing notes stage and on into planning and writing. But I have many more ideas that are still in the dreaming and brainstorming stage, and it's just a matter of when I will decide to publish those stories that determines moving on to the next stage with them. But this stage is fun - it's comprised of lots of randomness and lots of jotting down things in journals and drawing sketches and stuff like that. I usually come up with names and character and plot details during this stage, but it's very disorganized, and I have to be careful to write things down so I don't lose them. Much of what I work on during this stage doesn't actually make it into the final project, but that's okay, because it's all about dreaming of what could be. I'm in this stage right now with the series I will write after the Breeder Cycle. The next series is a science fantasy (yes, that's a thing) for a middle grade readership, and I've been dreaming and brainstorming this story for about two years, as well.

-Organizing notes

I only move into this stage once I've determined it's time to start actually working on a book (ie. when a publication date or goal is established). I take all the random notes from the dreaming and brainstorming stage (usually handwritten and in no particular order) and plug them in to a typed fact sheet. This is not an official outline, just a way for me to sift through what I've come up with so far and see where I have character, setting, and plot holes. This stage goes pretty quickly, and I will usually add the planning portion to this same document so I don't have to flip between my notes and my outline when I'm outlining and then writing. I will also usually write preliminary summaries of my story/stories at this stage.


Anybody who's ever spent any time on my blog, website, or Facebook page knows by now that I'm a huge believer in planning a novel before writing it. This can be difficult, as I'm not a natural planner and usually I'm very disorganized, but I've found that I can't discipline my mind to finish a novel if I don't have the details spelled out ahead of time as a way to both keep me from following rabbit trails, and a way to keep the story coherent straight to the end. For this stage, I plug my organized notes into a sort of outline. I have utilized traditional outlines in the past, but I usually now use a ring composition chart outline that gives me not only the order of events, but the themes and points of importance that go along with each chapter, as well as the corresponding places to mirror and/or reverse echo those things from one half of the novel to the next. This method keeps my novels from becoming train-of-thought ramblings and ensures that every event is important to the story and moves the plot forward. I should point out, however, that my outlines are not exhaustive. I typically leave blanks and gaps where I don't exactly know what is going to happen, but the beauty of having an outline is that these gaps don't cause me to grind to a halt when I'm writing (the dreaded - and illusory - "writer's block"). Instead it's kind of like going on a journey. I know my destination (you must know the end of your story before you start writing it!), and several stops along the way, so gaps are often just rivers I need to bridge, or forests I need to traverse, and it's just a matter of figuring out how to get to the other side. That might sound cheesy, but it works!


My writing stage goes pretty quickly, all things considered. If I've planned well, then there's no reason to get truly stuck, as I mentioned above. Having my notes organized into a reference sheet, and the linear progress of the story mapped out on a chart and/or outline of some sort, allows me the freedom to just write. My novels tend to be between 100,000-160,000 words each, and I usually knock that out in 6-12 weeks of straight writing. I don't like to be distracted when I'm writing, and I love to engage in what I call "marathon" writing sessions - where I write 5,000-15,000 words in one sitting. I get the least amount of sleep when I'm in this stage, and I'm totally focused on forward progress. I only re-read what I wrote the previous day when I sit down at my computer, and I resist going back for any deep revisions. If something strikes me as needing to change earlier on in the story, I'll make a note to go back and change it later, but I don't let it derail me from moving forward. My writing pace picks up the closer I get to the end of the novel, too, so it usually takes me half or a quarter of the time to write the last half of the novel as it took me to write the first half.


Once the first draft is complete, I try to let it rest for a day or two or three before I start revisions. Sometimes, because of deadlines, I don't have the time for the resting period, but it really is very important whenever I can squeeze it in. I do one complete and thorough read-through revision before I submit the draft to my editors. This is where I go back and make any changes I noted in my writing period, check for story continuity, fix general typos and errors, and get a feel for it. I should love my story at the end of the revision/read-through, and if I don't, then I have a problem, because I probably haven't written a very good story. I will also revise my outline, if necessary, and my notes and preliminary summaries at this time to match the actual draft (because often things change a little as you write.) Once I'm happy with the draft and have it all polished up, I submit it to my editing team (and beta readers, too).

-Panicking, take 1

I spend the few weeks it takes my editing team to read and evaluate the manuscript panicking over whether or not they'll like it. I usually don't start off panicking, because finishing a manuscript and submitting it for publication is a pretty euphoric feeling, but once that euphoria fades, I panic. The anxiety can be so severe that I usually don't read my manuscript evaluations until a few days after my team sends them back, because I need to mentally prepare myself. (My lead editor teases me for this, as they've never actually given me a poor review... knock on wood.)


This stage takes several months and is comprised of three main parts: substantive, copy, and reader edits. My editors do most of the work, and when they send their portions back to me, I basically just have to go through and approve the changes and corrections they've made. I usually don't end up with major rewrites - not anything I would consider major rewrites, at least. And I'm a pretty good sport about the whole process. When you're an author, you have to remember that your editors are trying to make your books better, not worse, so giving them the benefit of the doubt to do their job well is very important. I don't fight anything unless it's changing my voice too much, or unless they're trying to cut something that's crucial to the story, which doesn't happen very often. I have a very good relationship with my editors, and I intend to keep it that way.

-Panicking, take 2

Once the editing is complete, the manuscript is off to formatting, and at some point close to publication date, I receive a final document I have to sign off on. This always makes me panic at least a little because what if there's some major error none of us caught?! But . . . at some point, you have to declare the book done. So I sign off on it, and then spend the next few weeks until publication panicking over whether my readership will like it - which is really what it's all about in the end. It's so much blood, sweat, and tears to write, prepare, and publish a novel, and if nobody likes it after you've published it, I imagine it would feel like a wasted effort - and I know I would feel like I have let my entire team down. Thankfully, that's never happened to me (yet . . .), so I don't have any legitimate reason to panic, but it's hard to shake that anxiety. But, to end on a positive note, maybe I should add one more stage . . .

-Relief and Rejoicing!

Publishing a novel and having your readers respond in positive ways is one of the best feelings on the planet. My panic is replaced with relief, and I have a blast rejoicing with my readers over story details and anticipated conclusions. And then I rejoice a little personally at their agony over having to wait a whole 'nother year for my next book to come out. I'm not going to lie, it's great. :)

Okay, so that's my very thorough breakdown of my writing process. If you made it all the way to the end, huzzah for you! *Long-distance high five*

I hope you tune back in to the blog hop next week to learn all about my friend and fellow author Fran Amerson and her writing process. She writes memoirs about her struggles with infertility and journey to adoption, and she's releasing a new book on Mother's Day! You can find her blog here.

ALSO, I've roped a former student into participating, because she's writing her first novel (that she intends for publication, at least), and is a young and fresh mind, and I'm sure she'll have some excellent insight into the starting-out stage of the journey. Her name is Maggie Rapier, and as she's just now setting up her writing blog, I'll post the link as soon as I have it.

Thanks again, everyone! I hope you've enjoyed the post.