Lighting up the Dark Side: My Switch to Paranormal Teen Fiction

Source: busangane/sxc.hu

Background for my novel’s one page. Source: busangane/sxc.hu

I’m back to blogging again. I’ve been off the radar for a while, doing something I told you I’d never do–writing paranormal teen fiction. In a previous blog Would You Rather Go to College or Boarding School I mentioned how I’d never write paranormal. You caught me! Something’s happened since then, an amazing, kinda scary journey into a new realm.

From Contemporary Chick Lit Roots

A Corner of RealityThe first version of my soon-to-be-released novel was a chick lit book set at a small Christian college outside New York City. In my doe-eyed dreaminess I called it A Corner of Reality and focused on the coming-of-age-story of a college freshman. I even tossed in the guy’s point of view, thinking that was so original. Yeah, wrong! Even still, I entered it in contests and took it to writer’s conferences. There I found a mixed, but still rude, awakening.

Advice from Agents and Editors

My first big writer’s conference kicked off with high praise from a popular teen author who loved my writing. She even said I could use her as a recommendation at my agent appointment. Ten minutes later the agent barely looked at my writing, saying my college age bracket wouldn’t work. I’d have to drop the characters down to high school, or bump them up to post-college. Still she handed me her card, just in case I fixed the problems. My editor appointment went about the same, with very kind advice that my story sounded too light and too dark. Say what, you ask? Apparently I needed to pick a tone for my book–light and funny or dark and issue-based. Yeah, shocker, that one through me for a loop.

For months I struggled with how to fix my book, ultimately changing the setting from Christian college to private Ivy League prep school. I polished it enough to semi-final in the ACFW Genesis contest. That earned me attention from an up-and-coming agent who loved my boarding school setting and wanted to brainstorm with me. Three guesses as to what she suggested? Ding, ding, ding . . . she told me to switch to paranormal. She even suggested angels.

My Inner Protest

I never wanted to do a paranormal teen book, but one about angels? No, thank you. Why wouldn’t I want to tackle such a popular subject? Yes, it was overdone, but mostly the teen angel books I came across didn’t portray real angels. They’d fall from heaven only to roam the Earth still undecided about heaven or hell. Nowadays angels don’t fall in love with teenage girls, they don’t marry humans and have half-breed children. The Bible does allude to a time when they did–and got wiped out by the flood. Angels are in the Bible, and I went to Bible college. So why would a Bible college graduate be so afraid to tackle the subject of angels?

With that thought, angels became a challenge for me. If I had to write an angel book, theoretically of course, how could I shape it into something teens would read? How could I be true to the Bible, while still showing angels speaking to today’s teenager? Then it came to me.

Bam! The Great Idea

My first thought, “What if you could see angels exactly as the Bible depicts them?” Angels outfitted in lighting, battling the forces of darkness, speaking to people in dreams and visions. What if only one girl could see this unseen supernatural world? That would be a pretty cool heroine to build a story around. But there was still something missing . . . a plot.

I assumed the Bible didn’t have much to say about angels, so I picked up a topical Bible. Wow were there a lot of verses about angels! They’re everywhere. So I brainstormed any plot points I could think of, but nothing seemed strong enough. I read somewhere that in order to make your antagonist more real, you had to think like a bad guy. Yeah, not my forte for sure, but I gave it a try. What would a villain do with the gift to see angels and demons? How would they try to exploit the one girl who could?

That night I went to wash my face and bam! The idea smacked me in the forehead. (Oh wait, that was me.)

What if a secret society existed whose entire mission was to recreate Genesis 6.

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.  -Genesis 6:4

Some scholars contend that “sons of God” were angels and allegedly produced Nephilim, a blend of half angel, half human. Then the Flood came and wiped them all out. There’s so much debate about what this passage means. So, I decided to invent a secret society who were cultish about this Bible passage, hiding in the fringes of religious organizations. Using an anagram generator, I named the group Nexis, made the boarding school their training grounds, and created a group called the Guardians to fight them. That meant both groups were fighting over my heroine. Suddenly I had a plot.

Changing My Story

I manipulated scenes to fit the new story and added scenes to further the plot. Surprisingly, in many scenes including my two main turning points, not a lot changed. I already had the bare bones for this new plot twist. I even left most the characters alone, except for my bad guy who got upgraded from annoying side character to full-fledged villain. Though I plotted from the antagonist’s viewpoint, I centered the book on the Guardians and my heroine’s struggle to decide between the two groups. Because sometimes I scared myself writing like a bad guy. Yet the story is stronger, the message brighter, with all the changes.

I took The Nexis Secret to two conferences in the past two years. At a big conference, I received two manuscript requests from agents and two from small press publishers. All eventually rejected the book, including the agent who brainstormed with me. So I went to a small conference and submitted an excerpt to a published author for encouragement. She loved it so much that she recommended it to her editor, who was also at the conference. On April 3rd, OakTara‘s editor offered me a contract! (See my previous post, How I Landed My First Book Contract!)

While I’m not going to tell you to switch genres just to get more interest in your novel, I will point out one thing. Be open to new ideas, even if they’re in another genre. Especially if you’re still unpublished. You could find yourself in a whole new world like I did, and my writing is better for it. Not only do I have a great four-part series planned from this one idea, but The Nexis Secret fits better with my future book ideas. The Nexis Secret is something I can build a brand around. That makes it totally worth it.

I wanna know what you think. Tell me your thoughts, concerns, experiences, or pitfalls with writing or reading in different genres.
I’d love to hear from you. :)

How I Landed My First Book Contract!

I did it! I finally received a contract for my YA book The Nexis Secret from OakTara Publishers. Now I’ve morphed from hopeful writer into budding author. I was so completely shocked that I’m pretty sure I said “No way,” about 20 times. Especially when I read the email from the editor saying she loves the book, my concept is fascinating, and it has great market potential.

Me signing my first contract with OakTara.

Signing my first contract with OakTara, next to mini-Jane Austen.

Back to the Start

Like many writers, I started writing short stories at a young age. I was probably about 9 or 10 when I penned my first story in fourth grade. But for me, writing always seemed like a lofty dream–something I could never really attain. It wasn’t until college that I started to wonder. Maybe I could write a book. Thanks to my drama teacher’s belief in my writing, I took the plunge and signed up for a creative writing class. That’s where I laid the ground work for this story.

After college I continued to work on my story, but it wandered aimlessly. Back then it was a coming-of-age novel with chick lit undertones. In my search for direction, I stumbled upon ACFW, American Christian Fiction Writers, and jumped into local meetings. What an eye-opener. I learned chick lit was dead and college-age heroes weren’t marketable. With much wrestling and prayer, I transformed the story into the paranormal teen novel it is today. My journey from contemporary to paranormal fiction will appears in my blog post, Lighting Up the Dark Side: My Switch to Paranormal Teen Fiction.

Since joining ACFW and interacting with my local KC West chapter, I’ve learned to hone my writing into something publishable. Along the way I’ve made awesome friends. Let’s face it, no one can understand my brand of crazy quite like other writers. They encouraged me to read writing books, enter contests, and attend writers conferences. Without them, and the unwavering support of my wonderful husband, Sam, I wouldn’t have accomplished my lifelong dream. Because what came next was something I would’ve never imagined.

Dealing With Obstacles

Due to budget cuts, my day job turned into a data entry nightmare. Over time, my hands and elbows took the brunt of overuse, screaming their pain at me. Enough so I couldn’t write anymore. I visited many doctors, received several diagnoses, but most of them eventually got ruled out. Meanwhile, my hands and my book chugged along a roller coaster ride of extreme highs and extreme lows. One writer loved my work enough to recommend me to her agent, who hated my story. I semi-finaled in ACFW’s Genesis contest and pitched my way to three manuscript requests. Within 6-8 weeks those requests all came back with rejections.

I’d received so many rejections that I almost didn’t make it to my favorite little conference, the Called to Write Conference in Pittsburg, Kansas. Craving encouragement, I sent an excerpt for critique to Deborah Raney, one of the kindest authors in the ACFW. Not only did she love my writing, but she showed it to her editor friend, Ramona Tucker, co-founder of OakTara Publishers.

A few years ago I reviewed an OakTara book, Yesterday’s Tomorrow, here on my blog. I was still a bit skeptical about this small publisher, until I listened to one of Ramona’s lectures. Her passion for writing and for the publishing industry convinced me that I should take OakTara seriously. Combine that with Ramona’s vast publishing experience working with top authors (like my favorite author of all-time, Madeleine L’Engle) and I was hooked.

A Turning Point

Apparently Deb loved my book so much she even discussed it with Ramona over dinner. On the last day of the conference Deb told me how much Ramona absolutely loved The Nexis Secret and wanted to meet me. Ramona then asked me to submit my manuscript to Oak Tara.

As many writers know, life sometimes gets in the way. My hands were getting worse until I finally lost my day job. Which, as it turns out, was a blessing in disguise. In the months that followed, the pain eased up until I was able to polish up my novel and send it to OakTara. Then I waited . . .

In my impatience, or active waiting depending on your perspective, I entered The Nexis Secret into ABNA, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. My entry made it to Round 2, the top 20% of all entries. The deadline to withdraw from the contest was fast approaching, after that Amazon has first contract refusal rights. One day before the deadline I got the email from Oak Tara offering me a contract.

I admit, it took me awhile to wrap my brain around the concept. What I prayed about for a year, the publishing house with one of Madeleine L’Engle’s editors, wants to publish my book. That night I withdrew from the ABNA contest. The next day I signed and mailed the contract–and haven’t looked back.

My thirty-year dream of getting published is now coming true! (I probably dreamed about becoming an author as a baby, but that’s just a theory ;) ) A big thank you to everyone who has supported me over the last four years as I sought to turn my dream into a reality. There will be more big news to come–like my book’s release date and its cover reveal. I’ll be sure to keep you posted right here, where it all started.

Faith and Music: Is God’s Love Blind?

Recently I came across the sophomore album of the band Lifehouse. When I bought the CD in college, it seemed too moody for me. Relistening to it now, I discovered a beautiful song that portrays an aspect of God’s love I’d never thought about before. Is God’s love blind?

I’d say His love is blind when it comes to our faults, failures, and sins.  Because He loves us anyway. No matter what we do, no matter how big it is. He loves us for who we are. Now that’s what unconditional love is all about.

Yet we struggle to understand it, because in this world there are always conditions to tangle with. People have expectations, sometimes even a list of attributes they want in a person. But that’s not real love. When we try to compare our many forms of human love with God’s love, the scale never balances out.

Aren’t you glad God doesn’t follow our rules? I know I am. Somehow, He can forget all of our sins, and still use the experience to teach us. Not scold us or lecture us, even if we deserve it. What we see as stumbling blocks, He sees as necessary tools for our growth. Most of the time, it’s way beyond our understanding.

So is God’s love blind? Yes. But He also sees all of us, our entire being, and loves us anyway. What greater love is there than that? So many times we try to recreate that love in our relationships with others, when all we need to do is turn back to our creator.

Though this song is mostly about human relationships, I was struck by how much of the lyrics mirror aspects of God’s love.

Free Book Giveaway and Review: My Stubborn Heart

I’ll be giving away a copy to one lucky commenter. Just leave an appropriate comment on the blog by 11:59 pm on October 20, 2012 and you’ll be entered to win. This giveaway is only open to residents of U.S. & Canada.

What a good debut book by author Becky Wade. I really enjoyed this story. I read it in one day–9 hours straight! :) Becky has created some very real characters that everyone can relate to and even feel for. They are by far the best parts of the book for me. I couldn’t wait to see what happened to them.

The author portrayed a great dichotomy between the characters, Kate and Matt. Kate was wonderful to read, and someone you wanted to root for. Becky really nailed the male character’s voice in Matt and made him sound like a real guy. I loved the dual perspectives in this story.

The settings in the novel were also very well-written. It felt like a vacation as Kate restored an old house in a quaint town on leave from her job. I wish I could’ve been there with her, taking a break from everyday life. In a way, I was.

There were some parts of the romance that the author skipped over. You know the ones, those movie montage scenes where the couple is actually getting to know it each other and falling in love.  The author only did this a few times, but the romantic in me wanted all the cute details. However, she made up for it with lots of other great in-depth scenes.

Overall, this was a fun, romantic, get-away-from-it-all kind of book that you could read again and again. I enjoyed the very real characters, young and old, and the fabulous settings. I think you will, too.

Leave a comment on this post by 11:59 p.m. Saturday, October 20, 2012. I will randomly choose a winner and announce it like we’re sharing a birthday on Monday, October 22, 2012.

DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

A Wrinkle In Time Becomes a Graphic Novel

 

Can you believe it? One of my all time favorite young adult books A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle has been made into a graphic novel. Finally, a graphic novel I might actually read! According to Publishers Weekly, the author/illustrators Hope Larson and Margaret Ferguson had a hard time cutting scenes.  That means the story is pretty much as complete as possible. Great news for die hard L’Engle fans like me. Check out the graphic novel review and an interview with the author/illustrators:

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel Book Review

How A Wrinkle in Time Was Made Into a Graphic Novel      

Clinging to God: What To Do with Too Many Opportunities

The ACFW conference fog is slowly lifting.  It’s always such a blast, but so much information to absorb. Over the next several weeks I plan to share the highlights of this year’s conference in Dallas. Today is only the beginning.

One thing I heard from Karen Ball in her class Writing that Sings really stuck with me. We can only do what God has tasked us to do, to the best of our abilities. This hit home because I’m the girl who always wants to help out. I end up taking on too much, and getting seriously overwhelmed. So this piece of advice is something I can use.

The key for me is to bring the opportunities before God, and cling to what he wants. In my own wisdom, I can weigh my next project or the task someone asks me to do with what I actually have time for. But I’ve been doing that, and it hasn’t worked for me.

What if there’s someone else God wants to use to lead that Bible study? Maybe it would be a blessing to them, instead of a burden to me. When Karen said that, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. I can let something go, if that’s what God wants. Without worrying about what everyone else thinks.

In this humanistic society, it’s so easy to worry about what people will think or others’ expectations. Our whole society is built around what other people want. Celebrities, your boss, your family. But no matter what, God is in control. Even when I wrestle Him for control. I know He has a call for each of our lives, and He will see it through. That promise is all we have to cling to for now.

So I pray God reminds us of His promise for us, so we can cling to it tighter than ever.

Need Some Encouragment? Me, too.

Throwing Mountains into the Sea with Holly Michaels

I’ve been so busy writing away on my new and improved story that I haven’t had time to stop and smell the roses, let alone blog about it. A fabulous agent has requested my material, and I’m working furiously on a great new idea.

But it’s a daunting task, made harder by some physical hardships I’ve been dealing with. So if you have a minute, say a quick prayer for me. If you need encouragement too, check out my blogging buddy’s post:

Throwing Mountains into the Sea.

Guest Post on PenTalk Community Blog

Yesterday I guest posted on the PenTalk Community Blog. They’re discussing my post from two weeks ago, Writing Clean for Today’s Teen. Check it out to join the discussion. :)

http://www.pentalkcommunity.blogspot.com/

The Versatile Blogger Award

versatileblogger11Last week I received the Versatile Blogger Award (VBA) from writer and prolific blogger, Holly Michael on her blog Writing Straight.

Here is the link to Holly Michael’s post: Another Award: The Versatile Blogger.

There’s a whole site dedicated to this award: Versatile Blogger Award (VBA)

What is it?

The VBA is a blogger award for quality blogs as deemed by the blogging community. Yep–you guessed it. It’s an award by bloggers for bloggers. And it’s an honor to receive this award that is spreading fast in the blogging community.

Thank you Holly Michael for the VBA nod. Since I was nominated by Holly Michael my site traffic and comments have gone up. No coincidence. It’s nice to know there are other bloggers out there who want to write and support each other.

And the Nominees are . . .

Below I’ve nominated some of my favorite blogs in no specific order. Most are writers, book reviewers, and versatile people with lots of interests. Check them out:

  1. Author and fellow CBC alum Jessica Patch: www.jessicarpatch.blogspot.com
  2. Inspirational Romance writer Christina Rich: http://christinarich.wordpress.com/
  3. Reflections on the River with Susan Mires: www.susanmires.com and a blog she collaborates on with other writes, www.pagesfromstages.wordpress.com.
  4. Write-to-Publish staffer Tammy Eddington Shaw: http://www.tamedingtonshaw.blogspot.com/
  5. Chapter president, writer and editor Sally Bradley: www.sallybradley.com
  6. Darci Webster and her Siberian Husky Nora, who does most of the blogging :) :
  7. The ever funny Katy McKenna: www.fallible.com 
  8. Writer, homeschool circulum guru, and one year novel proponent for kids Dan Schwabauer: www.danschwabauer.com or his blog http://oneyearnovel.com/wordpress/
  9. Journeys of love . . . inspired by Faith with writer Susan Holloway: www.susanhollaway.com
  10. A college student’s journey through the Middle East: http://meintheme.wordpress.com/
  11. Writer and book reviewer Caryn Caldwell: http://caryncaldwell.com/
  12. Historical writer Sandra Ardoin: http://sandraardoin.wordpress.com/
  13. Jalynn on homeschooling, books, and more: http://asimplelifereally.blogspot.com/
  14. Jackie’s back porch with Jackie Layton: http://jackiesbackporch.blogspot.com/
  15. Where Light Pierces the Darkness with Ralene Burke: http://www.raleneburke.com/

The Rules

If you are nominated, you’ve been awarded the Versatile Blogger award.

  •  Thank the person who gave you this award. That’s common courtesy.
  •  Include a link to their blog. That’s also common courtesy — if you can figure out how to do it.
  •  Next, select 15 blogs/bloggers that you’ve recently discovered or follow regularly. ( I would add, pick blogs or bloggers that are excellent!)
  •  Nominate those 15 bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award — you might include a link to the VBA site.
  • Finally, tell the person who nominated you 7 things about yourself.

Seven Things About Me

  1. I love purple, puppies, and dolphins. No surprise to anyone who knows me. :)
  2. The only foreign countries I’ve been to are Venezuela, Romania, and Mexico. All missions trips.
  3. In college I won Best Supporting Actress at the SPAM Awards. (Student Produced Amateur Movies.) Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure I LOST that DVD of me lip-syncing to Etta James and Alicia Keyes.
  4. My favorite sport is baseball, because I actually know what’s going on. Thanks Dad!
  5. I had a friend in high school who thought I was the spitting image of the Star Wars diva Princess Leia, played by Carrie Fisher. Everyone else, including me, thought my friend was crazy.
  6. On my officle wall is a smiley face pic, a shiny pink star, and a dry erase board sponsored by The Office that I write funny sayings on. It’s got a picture of the original gang and a slogan, “Petty behavior. Zero productivity. All in a day’s work.”
  7. I just got a Kindle last week. What took me so long to join the e-reading gang? I’m THAT cheap. :)

My Novel: Would You Rather Go to College or Boarding School?

Neither, right? Actually, I had to ask my character that question. My current WIP (work in progress) was about a teen’s first year in college. I thought it would fit into the YA market because my character is 18. But when I pitched at the 2011 ACFW conference it didn’t fly. Why? Because teens don’t want to read about college life. And college students don’t have time to read fiction. At least that’s what one agent and one editor said.

What One Editor Suggested

When an editor from Thomas Nelson suggested I switch my setting from college to a boarding school, I cringed. It would make my story more teenage-friendly. But who would rather read about boarding school than college? College seems like more fun. In my mind I associate boarding school with a harsh regime, like a reform school. Who knows. Maybe I could make my boarding school as cool as Hogwart’s.

So I took a step back and did some research. There actually are Christian boarding schools in New York. Only a few, but they cater to hundreds of students. It’s a different twist on the ordinary high school drama. But is it interesting enough to relate to?

Will an Agent Get It?

The agent I spoke with at the ACFW conference agreed with the editor. I was devastated. But she said one thing that stuck with me, “Your writing is strong.” And she handed me her card. I was so disappointed by the news that I needed to change my novel’s setting. I only remembered the bad part for a month or two afterward.

As the Genesis contest approached, I suddenly remembered the agent’s praise. And her card. So I updated my story to the boarding school version and sent it off to Genesis to test out the new version. When it semi-finaled (yay!) I sent an updated query to the agent. Last week she sent me another rejection letter. This time with pointed advice. She had a lot of contemporary YA novels on her plate, and my story didn’t wow her. Back to the drawing board.  I’m still looking for the right agent, one who will get it.

A New Market

In the market where paranormal teen romance is a section in Barnes & Noble bookstores, my contemporary YA romantic comedy needs some extra punch. I’m not quite willing to add a paranormal punch. That wouldn’t be true to my story.

But I could change parts of my story. Maybe a prep school in New York City would be a better setting. Or my heroine could be a country girl who has to adjust to the big city. Time to spice it up. :)

Brainstorm With Me

Q4U: Would you rather read about a character in college, boarding school, or prep school? What other plot, character, or setting developments do you think might spice up a ho-hum YA romantic comedy about a girl running away from a heartbreak only to have to face it again? Don’t worry, there’s no bad ideas here.

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