Monday, October 12, 2015

Journey of a Novel

This is the text for a talk I gave to the Midwest Fiction Writers group, the Twin Cities area chapter of Romance Writers of America. It tells the 'Journey of a Novel' - what was involved in bringing the story to the page and the book to market. Our chapter features one such journey at each meeting and it's a great way to learn about different writing processes and the workings of the publishing industry.

Team Guardian – four years in the making –
Team Guardian is a compilation of three novellas, all featuring a team of superheroes operating in a near future world where the use of 'probability bombs' has left the world with many people who have strange powers. Not all of these are law-abiding citizens, so the team is dedicated to policing their own. These stories all tend to be heroine-centric, with heroes who bring these heroines exactly what they need most in a partner.

Sweet Mercy
was my first ever publication longer than a short story. It was published in December of 2012 by Champagne Books, a digital-first publishing house.

Earlier in 2012, I was still working on my later, second-released novel, 'Wonder Guy,' which features a young man granted super powers by his fairy godmother - for the sake of impressing the girl next door. When my critique partner, Nancy Holland heard about a call for super hero novellas for an anthology, she referred it to me and I set out to write a different sort of female super hero.

So many female protagonists in adventure novels are 'kick-ass' heroines, whose strengths are in fighting and martial arts of one sort or another. I thought the world needed someone whose strength lay in her emotional intelligence. Rachel, the heroine of 'Sweet Mercy' is a reverse-empath who can project her emotions to those around her. She has, by necessity, learned meditation techniques to calm and center herself so that she can project peace and serenity to, for instance, defuse conflicts and hostage situations and bring potential suicides in off the ledge. Rachel's hero is, literally, the luckiest man in the world…

Unfortunately, the story was not accepted for the anthology for which I wrote it, but was accepted by Champagne Books and published in December of 2012.

Safe Haven
2013 was a year bringing huge upheaval to my life. Major changes, for good and bad. In April, my first full-length novel, 'Spirited'  was published – also by Champagne, and in June 'Wonder Guy,' my second novel came out via Lyrical Press (now the digital-first imprint of Kensington Books).

Unfortunately, between those events, in late May, my mother passed away after a long-lingering decline – completely overshadowing the fulfillment of my lifelong dream. I didn't feel able to give my books the attention or promotion they needed. I didn't even want to bring them to the attention of my grieving family, beyond making the simple announcement of their publication. 

At the same time, it became necessary for me to move from the house where I'd been renting a room. The long and short of this being that, between early August and late October, I moved house three times in those three months. Both I and my cat were somewhat traumatized by it all, but nonetheless, I never stopped writing.

I wasn't ambitious enough to attempt a novel during all the upheaval, but I worked on 'Safe Haven,' the sequel to 'Sweet Mercy.'  I also participated in a writing retreat with my critique partners, during which I worked on a series of short stories I later published independently in the collection, 'More Wishes,' featuring the Fairy Godmothers' Union active in 'Wonder Guy' and in my first collection 'Three Wishes.'

The heroine of 'Safe Haven,' is Beth Talbot, whose power is rooted in her extreme sensitivity. For her, to touch something is to know its history, to experience the emotional residue of its past. She's often unsettled and confused by the impressions of many different time periods converging on her. This makes her vulnerable, but supplies her Team with vital information to stop the bad guys. Her hero can nullify her ability – giving her a source of strength and stability in her chaotic world.

'Safe Haven' was first released in October of 2013 – when I was also conducting a blog tour for 'Wonder Guy,' and making preparations to move for the third time – to the small apartment where – thank heavens – I still reside.

Shining Hope
In 2014, my financial situation was still marginal, so my energy was divided between working on a variety of low-paying freelance gigs, job hunting for a more permanent position, and writing. My project then was 'Shining Hope' – the third of the Team Guardian novellas. It was released in October of 2014. At that time I was applying for a position with my present employer, and visiting my brother in hospital while he underwent stem cell replacement therapy for his multiple myeloma.

The heroine, Sophia Alvarez has the more conventional power of an Illusionist, but is a survivor of date rape and her sympathy for the 'villain' of the story – a vigilante killer of sexual predators – causes her a moral crisis in helping the Team. Her hero has a maturity and patience that are exactly what she needs.

Two of the three villains in this trio of stories are women: powerful women whose motivations are warped. One by a need to assume ruthless control when she is fearful for her financial security, the other by a need to protect the world of women from sexual predators in whom she can no longer see any humanity.

(Once Shining Hope was completed and sold to Champagne, I moved on to start my more ambitious Holiday Enchantments series. I am currently finalizing 'Thanksgiving,' the first of the five inter-related Fairy Godmothers' Union novels.)

The collection
I first inquired about collecting the three novellas into a boxed set a couple months after Shining Hope came out. I inquired again in January 2015, only to learn I'd missed a communication from my editor. She confirmed that the publisher was planning to go ahead with the idea, and we did some back and forth about title (I wanted 'Team Guardian Affairs) and cover. Ultimately, my suggestions were not used.

After that, I heard nothing until I inquired again in March, when my editor said the publisher was moving the project to the top of her list.

And again, I heard nothing further, until late in May, when I found a pirated version of the collection being offered on a pay-for-use site. Both my editor and I were caught by surprise – the publisher hadn't notified either of us – or given me the opportunity to add forewords to the stories, or add any new dedications etc.

I was especially disappointed, since, if I'd been aware of its release in early April, I'd had a great opportunity to mention the book when I was introduced on a panel about the evolution of the publishing industry, at a science fiction convention over Easter Weekend.

But, happily, all three novellas are now together in a single collection and finally available in print after their long journey!