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My Recipe For Not-So-Instant Novel

You have a bucket list. Don’t deny it. Even if you haven’t written it down or saved it on your phone’s note app, you’ve got a secret list beating away inside of your heart of accomplishments you want to hit before the coffin closes. And, since we’ve already gone this far, you might as well admit that writing a novel is on that list.

A perennial bucket list favorite, writing a novel is a secret dream for a huge portion of our population. Why? Simple. We all have a story to tell. We’ve watched a less than impressive movie or read a mediocre book and thought, I could do so much better! Some of us dream of amazing fantasy tales or a detective novel with a plot so twisty that even the greatest minds won’t see the ending coming. Others of us have experienced incredible events in our own lives or reached a new understanding of life after many knockdowns, and we want to share our unique story with the world.

So, if writing a novel is on your bucket list, then why is that box still unchecked? Why is it clanging around in your head, all sad and haunty, like Marley’s ghost?

You can write your novel.

It’s easy, I swear!

Here is my famous recipe for not-so-instant novel:

Step One: Go to bed one hour earlier each night.

Step Two: Wake up one hour earlier in the morning.

Step Three: Spend that extra hour in the morning planning/writing/editing.

Step Four: Repeat until book is complete.

There, novel in a box. You’re welcome.

The truth is that writing a novel is no different than any other major undertaking. Generally if you set aside a certain amount of time, even just one hour a day, to focus solely on the project, you’ll eventually get it done. Writing a novel isn’t sexy. It’s about creating a habit and putting your butt in the chair over and over again.

In other words, just write. You will never, ever, ever write your novel if you only talk about it.

Here are a few more tips that will help you along your novel-writing way:

  • Outline your novel first so you know where you are going.
  • Take time to develop your characters so you have a good feel for them. That may mean interviewing them, writing a day in their life, or finding a celebrity who they look like. None of this will make it into your novel, but understanding your character will help them come alive.
  • Write your first draft with reckless abandon. Don’t worry about whether it’s good or not. Don’t overthink it. Just write, write, write.
  • Edit the hell out of your book. Unless you’re working on your 30th novel, your first draft will probably be utter crap. That’s fine. If you even created a first draft, you’re amazing. Now, go back and clean it up. Fill in plot holes. Tighten every chapter, paragraph, and sentence. Make sure your characters are consistent. Cut out all the extra stuff your novel doesn’t need.
  • Find other writers to critique your book. You may be able to find a writer’s group in your area. You can certainly find them online. Writer’s CaféGoodreadsFacebook, and LinkedIn are all great places to start looking for critique partners.

When you complete your first book, congratulate yourself. You did the thing that 99% of the population secretly wants to do but never will. Now, throw it in a drawer, forget about it, and start on your next book.

What? Don’t publish? After all that blood, sweat, and tears? Yep, my fingers didn’t stutter on the keyboard. For all but a few writers, their first book is utter swill. Yours probably will be too. That’s because writing is a craft, and getting good at a craft takes a lot of practice. The Mona Lisa wasn’t Leonardo Di Vinci’s first painting.

Trust me, this advice is for your own good. My first book was so terrible, I think it would have melted any Kindle unfortunate enough to download it. It will never see the light of day.

So, please don’t stare wistfully out the window at work and think, if I had more time, I’d write a novel. (Or insert other secret wish). You do have enough time. Anyone can find at least one hour a day. No excuses. Your bucket list is waiting.

Why Every Indie Author Wants You to Sign Up for Their Mailing List

When you finish reading any of my books or short stories, you will always be confronted with the same request on the final page. I ask you to sign up for my email list.

Eye roll.

I know. Who wants to get stuck on another email list? Exactly no one.

So why do so many authors ask/beg/plead/bribe their readers to join their email lists? You’ve noticed this haven’t you? If you’ve read any amount of books written by indie authors, you’ve fielded dozens, possibly hundreds of email list requests.

The truth is that we authors love you…but we don’t exactly trust you to come back. It’s not that we think you’re flakey by any means. We just know that you’re busy being a superstar in your own life. When you are confronted with a commotion of new TV shows, work, and an ocean of other books to choose from, can you blame us for being a little nervous that you might, well, forget about us?

The next time we launch a new book, will you notice and rush to grab your copy? Will you stay excited even if ahem hypothetically it takes us a year to craft another book?

Sure, we can Tweet. We can update our Goodreads threads, and our Facebook page, but we can’t know if you’ll even see these posts. And so, we authors like to play it old school – through email. Building an email list of our enthusiastic and die-hard fans is something that we can own and control. Most importantly, it is a way in which we can reach you directly.

We know that you don’t like your inbox stuffed with a never-ending stream of emails – we totally don’t either – which is why most of us try to only send you interesting and useful stuff. We let you know when we’ve posted new blogs, when we’re giving away books, and when we release new works so you can dive right in.

I try to send out quarterly emails to let my readers know I haven’t croaked over my writing desk and am still hard at work on my next project (currently HOW TO DEFEAT A HERO, the second book in the Henchman’s Survival Guide series!), and I always let readers know when I’ve published something new so they don’t miss it. That’s it. No obnoxious daily or weekly newsletters swamping your inbox. Just a few howdys, hellos, and guten tags every once in a while.

Again, I know joining email lists isn’t as awesome as rescuing a kitten from a house fire, getting a promotion at work, or finding that favorite pair of underwear you thought was lost stuck inside the leg of your jeans. But it means a lot to us authors, and if you want to get fun updates from your favorite authors and be in the know when they launch something new, joining their email list is the way to do it.

And if any author abuses your trust by spamming you with vapid quotes or their million and one vacation photos, that’s what the “unsubscribe” button is for.

Oh, and just in case this blog has given you a hankering to join an email list, jump aboard mine. (I know, sneaky, sneaky). Click on the box in the top right corner to sign up.

I Wish I Could Tell You When My Next Book Come Out

“When’s your next book coming out?”

I love this question. And I hate this question.

I love it, because it means my previous book did its job of pulling that reader into my world (MUWHAHA!)  filled with detailed characters and twisty-turney plots. I hate this question, because I can usually only offer the vaguest of answers.

Some authors are startingly good at scheduling their book writing, editing, and release process. They can say months in advance exactly when the public can get their greedy little hands on that author’s novel.

Me? Not so much. My writing process is not serene and consistent. It is messy, frustrating, thrilling, and unpredictable. Some authors I know are hella’ good at writing in-depth outlines and following those outlines to a tee.

I outline, too. Really, I do, but my characters don’t always feel like staying on the paths I lay out for them. An outline is just a starting point, and as I dive into a crafting the novel, often the story veers in directions I never imagined as I was cheerfully typing up the outline, thinking, Yep, this is solid as can be.

As a result, I often have no idea how long a book will be, which can stretch the writing days. My most recent book, How to Become a Henchmanweighed in at a respectable 78,000 words. My second book in the series, How to Defeat a Hero, currently bends the scales at almost 95,000 words! (Not respectable at all.)

I admire (cough… envy) authors who can breeze right through that first edit of their rough draft. That happens sometimes to me… you know, once. Most of the time, though, the first draft of a novel is really just a suggestion. It’s like half a shape of the thing it’s meant to be, and it’s up to me to take the chisel (okay, chainsaw) and carve out its true form. This takes tons of mental sweat and muscle and sometimes very real tears.

The first draft of How to Defeat a Hero was so rough, (sorry, book, I love you!) that I actually had to do a second edit just to stitch my darling little Frankenstein monster back together again. And then it was time to throw it to the hounds.

I mean, my sweet, understanding beta readers.

If my beta readers were terrible, unhelpful people, they would tell me my book was great and I would smile and delightfully toss the manuscript into the Amazon Kindle store where it would slowly sink into the murky depths of forgotten books.

My beta readers really are awesome people. They don’t pull their punches. They tell me when my characters suck, when my plot is slower than a one-winged duck trying to fly against a hurricane, and when there are plot holes the size of a moon crater in the story.

That means more edits. More time.

So, add it all together, and it’s nearly impossible to predict when my book will be polished and ready until I’m pretty much done with the last word of the last round of edits.

This situation makes it frustrating for me to try to plan my book launch, and I know it drives some of my readers batty. (Sorry, readers, I love you!)

But—and here’s the important thing—I wouldn’t have it any other way. My timeline is so whacky because I won’t publish a book until I’m sure it’s the best I could make it, until I know that I can give you a story that I’m proud of. You know it’s worth the wait for Grandma’s famous, handmade lasagna even if you’re practically starving.

This is me making my lasagna. Slow. Haphazard. But filled with love.

Thanks for waiting!

Author J Bennett edits How to Be a Henchman Manuscript

Book Is Coming… Eventually

he bank gets heisted at least once a week. Superheroes spend more time showboating for the cameras than helping the citizens. And everyone who isn’t already a hero or a villain wants to become one. Well, almost everyone. Alice just needs to keep her head down, earn her college degree, and then she’ll finally be able to find a real job, far, far away. Too bad a super scary villain just blew up the restaurant where she worked and her paycheck along with it.

Now, one of the town’s most famous villains is coming out of retirement, and he’s holding henchmen auditions. For Alice, her only way out of this crazy town might be to embrace her evil side.

***

There you have it. The premise of the book I’m working on, The Henchman’s Survival Guide. Pretty cool, right? (Please let them say yes. Pretty, pretty please let them say yes!)

There’s just one little, itty, bitty, ritty, vitty, jitty problem.

It’s going to be a while until you can read it.

I know, it’s already been a long wait. If you want to know why I’ve been pulling a George R.R. Martin on my readers (sorry, George, I love you and am insanely jealous of your world-building skills), check out my last blog post about how I wrote not one, but two failed first novel drafts before finally getting my writing groove back.

The good news is that things are coming along with The Henchman’s Survival Guide. The first draft is written, the first round of edits are done, and my beta readers are tearing it to shreds.

The not-so-good news is that I’ve decided to hold off on publishing the first book until I finish a solid draft of the second book in the series.

The reason I’m doing this is both for writing purposes and businessy stuff (yuck). The writing reason is that The Henchman’s Survival Guide takes place in a slightly futuristic world. It’s taken me a while to become comfortable with the world and the backstory that comes with it. As I write the second book, I want to ensure that it all matches up with the first book and presents a consistent world and narrative. I wouldn’t want to run into a big issue in the second book and realize that I’ve cornered myself in the first book.

The second reason for delaying the book launch is pure business (bleh). I know you all are loyal to the last and would wait years between books if you had to. Decades even. Hell, you’d cryogenically freeze yourselves just so you could read my entire lineup, right?

… Right?

But most readers aren’t so talented, wonderful, loyal, and practically a genius like you. With so many books constantly hitting the market, an author who can’t produce quickly is apt to be forgotten. By waiting to publish the first book until the second book is at least halfway through the development process, I can publish them closer together, limiting the down time between books, and keep readers engaged in the world so that they will be more likely to wait for the next book in the series.

It’s a totally practical plan, but it sucks, because it means that you’re going to have to wait a little longer to get your mitts on this fun and exciting story I’m weaving.

That’s why I’m asking for your patience… again. My goal is to publish The Henchman’s Survival Guide this year, but it will likely be toward the end of the year. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the readers who have stuck with me and encouraged me even when I had to toss the previous two books I was working on.

I think you’ll find that The Henchman’s Survival Guide is going to be worth the wait, and I hope to post some cool, behind-the-scenes looks at the process of creating that story sometime in the future.

So much to do! Back to editing.

Hard at work writing an awesome book!

Quick Update–Everything Exploded

Hi there. I’m still kicking. You can be forgiven for possibly questioning the continuation of my existence. My last blog post was on October 17th of 2017. My Facebook author page is actually growing virtual spider webs.

I’m here, and I’m still writing. It’s just that everything kind of exploded last year. Well, if I want to be honest, it exploded… and then exploded again.

If you read my blog post from April of last year with the uplifting title of, “So… I Failed,” you know that the new novel I started after completing my Girl With Broken Wings series didn’t work out so well. I wrote the first draft, annnnnnnnd kind of hated it. Hated it to the point that I was yelling at the manuscript. Don’t worry. The manuscript didn’t yell back. That would be crazy.

My blog post started out a little negative, but it had an uplifting ending. I was working on a new manuscript. Something totally different. A science fiction novel. It was going great. I was super excited about it. I even wrote a follow up blog post about how I designed the new world.

Well, about that awesome new novel.

Turns out, not so awesome. I wrote the first draft.

Read the first draft.

Screaming and accusations ensued.

I am now legally not allowed to come within 100 feet of the laptop on which that file resides.

So that was the second explosion. Now, some authors would take two failed drafts poorly. Not me. Except for the month I spent seriously wondering if I would ever write a novel again. Also, it was not a smart budgetary decision to hire that violinist to play sad, willowy music while I watched rain drops streak down a window. I live in San Diego, so I had to put a sprinkler on my roof to get the water effect.

raindrops on window
So Sad. So Rainy.
Photo credit: Javier Vieras on Visualhunt.com /CC BY

Seriously though, I’ve had to work through a lot of self-doubt. I know I learned a lot from each experience, but I couldn’t help feeling time slip by with nothing to show for my efforts. The virtual cobwebs were growing, but what could I tell my four blog readers and the three friends who sympathetically check my author Facebook page?  They were all counting on me, and I failed them. It’s been an entire year since I’ve released a novel!

I moped. I stared really hard out that window. I watched the rain drops, until I got my water bill. Then I shut off the sprinkler.

I also did one other thing. I kept writing.

I have a new idea. I think it’s really great. It involves superheroes, supervillains, reality television, and a bad-ass female lead.

I’ve finished a first draft. It’s going really well.

I’m super excited about it.

What can possibly go wrong?

Don’t answer that. I really think I’ve on the right track here, which is why I gathered up the courage to write this post, to get real with the four of you about what’s been going on, and to formally announce the title of the book. (Note: Announcing the title of a book basically means you have to finish and publish it.)

I don’t know when it’s going to be done or how I’m going to whip this messy draft into shape, but when it’s ready, I can’t wait to introduce you to:

The Henchman’s Survival Guide

Parting Notes for The Vampire’s Housekeeper Chronicles

*** Note: This blog is about my series, THE VAMPIRE’S HOUSEKEEPER CHRONICLES. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure, the first novella in the series –EMPLOYMENT INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE – is currently just $0.99 on Amazon and in the Kindle Unlimited program. I’m totally not biased, but I think you should really check it out. ***

Last week, I sent out copies of SHOWDOWN WITH THE SUPERNATURAL HUNTER to my beta readers. Now it’s just a waiting game, and a I-really-hope-you-don’t-hate-it game. Sending out a vulnerable little draft into the cold, harsh world of critiques is always a nerve-wracking process, but I felt separation anxiety even more deeply this time.

Showdown is – at least for now – the last novella in the VAMPIRE’S HOUSEKEEPER CHRONICLES. It was allllll the way back in the ancient days of 2011 when I whipped up a fun little vampire story for my sister as part of our constant, back-and-forth emailing. My goal was simple. I wanted to write about a vampire who was not young, not handsome, and who did not sparkle in sunlight. Furthermore, knowing many seniors who still struggle with how to understand things like email and phone apps, I always believed that vampires must face similar challenges. If an 80-year-old is completely out of their depth with technology, slang, and culture, how about a 200-year-old? From these thoughts, Nathaniel was born, and it has been a joy writing about my cranky, stick-in-the-mud vampire ever since.

Nathaniel, The Vampire's Housekeeper Chronicles

Not so sparkly, but I love Nathaniel anyway.

What truly surprised me is how much I enjoyed writing from the viewpoint of the protagonist, Deidre. Like Nathaniel, Deidre was hatched as an anti-heroine of the vampire genre. Not that she was evil. Worse. She was average looking. Unlike the Bellas and Elenas of the world, Deidre was overweight, self-doubting, and living a relatively mediocre life (before she met Nathaniel, that is).

Deidre from the Vampire's Housekeeper Chronicles

Just another day in Deidre’s world.

When I scribbled down that very first story, EMPLOYMENT INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, it was just meant to make my sister laugh, but I enjoyed the characters so much, that I wrote another story for my sister, what would become THE VAMPIRE HUNTER COMES TO CALL (now part of the first novella in the series).

I kept writing the stories, not because they were huge sellers (trust me, they weren’t), but because it was a lot of fun. The amazing thing is that with each story, Deidre’s world grew. We met Dex and Sloppy Joe. Then Drew, who would become Deidre’s best friend and love interest. Next up was the bingo crew (Carl, Lenny, Polina, and Rick), and finally, Hunter, the loveable, overachieving vampire apprentice. As Deidre’s world got richer, it also got more complex. The last two novellas – APPRENTICESHIP WITH A VAMPIRE and THANKSGIVING WITH THE WEREWOLVES -add interesting themes beneath just the daily weirdness of Deidre’s life. I think that you’ll find that Showdown brings this dynamic to a whole new level.

THE VAMPIRE’S HOUSEKEEPER CHRONICLES always played a second fiddle to the GIRL WITH BROKEN WINGS series. It was much more light-hearted and not as deep or complex as my primary series. I would write VHC stories and novellas between drafts of GWBW.

However, VHC was always a joy to write, and I am really proud of how the series has evolved. I personally believe that APPRENTICESHIP WITH A VAMPIRE is the best thing I’ve ever written to date. I’ve really enjoyed getting messages from fans about how the series has made them laugh.

Deidre, in many ways, became a true hero to me. Her struggles – to lose weight, to find love, to achieve balance in her life, to get the ghosts to stop animating the furniture, and to keep her ficus alive – are real (well, except for the ghosts and the furniture run amok). Deidre’s struggles aren’t sexy. Explosions aren’t involved (though there is always a chance of ectoplasm, which never comes out). But that doesn’t make her struggle less real or less worthy.

SHOWDOWN WITH THE SUPERNATURAL HUNTER will be available soon. (The goal is to release it right around Halloween). I hope you enjoy it as much I enjoyed writing it. I hope it makes you laugh and that the characters – Nathaniel, Deidre, Drew, Hunter, Sloppy Joe, and Dex – feel like your old friends. I am sad to let this series go, though excited about the big science fiction monster that I’m still writing. I am considering starting up a new novella series in the vein of VHC. Something fun, light, and quirky to give me a break and add some laughs to offset my bigger, more serious novels in the works.

And of course, vampires live for a long, long time, so maybe one day I’ll come back to the world of the VAMPIRE’S HOUSEKEEPER CHRONICLES.

J Bennett Builds a World…Or Might Die Trying

[Sad author update: Sleeping Beauty, the manuscript alluded to in this blog is still slumbering on. In spite of lots of work, the story never came together, at least not to my liking. I’m committed to only giving you, the reader, the best stories I can write, so Sleeping Beauty won’t be waking up anytime soon. The silver lining, however, is that a lot of what I learned about world building for that project, I applied to the world of THE HENCHMAN’S SURVIVAL GUIDE, so as you read this post, know that it all (mostly) worked out in the end.]

So, I’m writing this new novel. No, it’s not ready yet. Sorry ‘bout that. Thing is, it’s some pretty slow going. I really wanted to challenge myself with this WIP (Work In Progress). The book doesn’t have a name yet, so let’s call her Sleeping Beauty.

The challenge is that Sleeping Beauty has a bit of science fiction going on and a bit of fantasy as well. (Yeah, I’m a whole lot of excited about this, too.) It takes place on a totally different planet, and the people on the planet have been doing their own thing, evolving, creating traditions, making up their own looney sports for over a hundred years. Basically, I’ve also got to create an entire planet and all the people on it!

Enter The Planet Construction Kit

It’d be so awesome if there were some kind of manual to create your own planet. Fortunately, my fairy godmother was good to me. She built a time machine (she’s handy like that), went back in time, and convinced a guy named Mark Rosenfelder to just such a manual. And just to make sure I wouldn’t miss it, she somehow convinced him to name his book, The Planet Construction Kit(Let’s not ask what my fairy godmother had to do to get that favor.)

Planet Construction Kit by Mark Rosenfelder

This book is awesome!

To put it simply, this book is awesome. Rosenfelder is basically the smartest person in the universe. Need to know how two suns would affect a planet? He’s on it. Want to know everything there is to know about making fabrics? He’s got your back. Need to create a whole new language? Well, he actually wrote a whole separate book about that!

In some regards, The Planet Construction Kit is a little overwhelming. There’s just so much here, but Mark’s true genius, I think, is that he forces writers (along with video game developers, conworlders, and D&D Dungeon Masters) to recognize that everything on a planet is interlinked. A planet’s environment is going to affect what foods the people eat, what clothes they wear, and even their attitudes. A society will likely develop a completely different hierarchy and belief system based on if resources are rare versus abundant.

In turn, a society’s social mores will affect what people do, how they act towards one another, and how they evolve as a society. We are all products of our society one way or another (whether we reject normal social mores, embrace them, or seek to change them). Every person is also a product of their own history and so is a society. American culture is still affected by our Protestant roots and by our fight for Independence from Britain. We still also struggle with the implications of how we treated African Americans and Native Americans in the past. Our past illuminates our present.

A fantasy planet is no different. Its people will have a history. That history will affect their current condition. That current condition will play a role in the perspectives and motivations of every character.

Trying to Make Sense of It All

It’s a lot to think about, and it’s one of the reasons I’m plodding so slowly on writing Sleeping Beauty. I want to build my planet the right way, with lots of rich history. I need to take time to learn about the agriculture for the different kingdoms, the leadership structure of their societies, their wealth, their morality. Then I need to figure out how it affects all the characters.

I’ve never done anything remotely like this before. Both of my previous series, Girl With Broken Wings and The Vampire’s Housekeeper Chronicles, layered a slightly altered reality on top of our own. I didn’t have to stretch my imagination very far; certainly not to the extent that Sleeping Beauty is asking for.

It’s a big challenge, and truthfully, I’m intimidated by it. That’s a good thing. I’m of the mind that if you aren’t at least a little scared of your next big project, then it’s probably not big enough. Sure, this book might go down in flames, but I’m willing to risk it to try and be a better writer and to give you an awesome, unique story that will be worth the wait.

Thanks for your (forced) patience!

I’m Sorry About the Puppy…But It Had to Die

Spoiler Alert: This post discusses early plot points in FALLING. You may want to save this post for after you read the book. If you have read the book, then you are the awesomest person ever. Carry on…

There are a lot of things I’d rather do than read reviews of my books. Most things, actually. Ride a rollercoaster. Watch the grass grow. Manual labor. Even go to a baby shower. Yeah, reading reviews is that bad.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a thrill to read reviews by readers who totally, utterly “got” my book, who loved my characters as much as I did and who cried for their wounds (of body and soul) just like me. However, where such golden treasure lurks, so does danger.

A writer’s ego is a fragile thing, and while a dozen amazing reviews can prop it up on a high marble pedestal, a single bad review can kick out the bottom stone sending the whole thing crashing to the ground.

So, it was quite by accident that my eye wandered over a review when I was checking my book data for FALLING on Kobo. Of course it had to be a one star review.

One star reviews exist for one purpose only. The affliction of pain and devastation. No book I have ever read – and I’ve read a lot – has truly deserved a one star review. Seriously. A one star book, in my opinion, means that an author hasn’t grasped fundamentals, like sentences. A teenager’s angst-ridden diary, where every page is a cringe-worthy soliloquy on the injustice of the world mixed in with doodles of hearts around the name of the football quarterback is still worthy of at least two stars for emotional output alone.

It is my experience that readers give one star reviews out only as a form of punishment, to make a gleefully self-righteous point, and/or to wound. In the case of the one star review I received, the reader had a bone to pick with me, and the reason was simple.

I killed a puppy.

Okay, it wasn’t actually me who did the puppy killing, and I should probably mention right upfront that it wasn’t a real puppy either. One of the characters in my book, FALLING does the unhappy deed.

In FALLING, my main character, Maya, changes into a hybrid angel who needs to feed on the life energy of living creatures to survive. During the transition process, she is in desperate need of a quick source of energy or she’ll die. Her two erstwhile rescuers find themselves scrambling, and what Gabe comes up with is to break into a pet store and bring Maya a puppy for her consumption.

It wasn’t bloody or gory, but it still isn’t a very pleasant scene. I felt a little queasy writing it, and my characters certainly didn’t feel any better. Gabe – a fan of all things cute and cuddly – was less than thrilled and Maya was disgusted with herself when she got over the whole starving-to-death-need-food-now-now-NOW situation.

For my upset one-star-giving reader, it was all about the puppy. That was it for her. The end. Book closed. Never trying that author again. How could anyone ever write about killing a puppy? What was wrong with that sicko author?

In a weird way, I understand where this reader is coming from. I also love animals, and I hate watching any type of animal violence. (Game of Thrones is a challenge on so many levels.) Just as this reader didn’t like reading that puppy scene, I really didn’t like writing about it. In fact, I pretty much hated writing any of the scenes in my Girl With Broken Wings series when Maya drains energy out of animals.

…but here’s the thing. As much as it personally made me uncomfortable, I had to do it for the story.

The foundation of Maya’s story is her struggle to maintain her humanity while fighting the hunger and the need to drain the life force out of others. Maya’s condition means that she can’t just grab a burger and fries when she gets peckish.

As an author, I am obligated to stay true to the characters in my novels and to represent their real actions. When I saw that one star review, a part of me was tempted to go back and rewrite the puppy scene in FALLING, but I stopped myself. That scene is supposed to be uncomfortable to my characters and my readers. It is supposed to showcase that Maya is a new thing.

I watch Game of Thrones, which burns, slices, decapitates, and abuses animals and humans alike with sensational glee, because it is an amazing show that depicts the violence of war and royal politics with a type of gruesome truth that I appreciate when I am not wincing and biting my lip.

So, I want to state right here, right now for the record that I am very, truly, and utterly sorry for the imaginary puppy that I killed, but I am not sorry for that scene or my novel or anything that I write. I know that I cannot please everyone, but I hope that I can entertain, captivate, and please some of you.

So, I Failed…

Sorry that I haven’t been around much lately. No newsletters since last year, not many Facebook posts. Basically, I’ve been pretty busy failing at writing my next book.

One key rule of writing is that your character has to fail. In fact, she usually has to be a pretty huge failure. Great plots are driven by failure. If Scarlet wooed Ashley before the war, we’d never have Gone with the Wind. If Mr. Darcy clicked with Elizabeth Bennett right on the spot, the world would be bereft of Pride and Prejudice.

Heck, if Voldemort could have just ended a baby, Harry Potter would have never been…literally.

Failing is a not only crucial to a story’s plot, it also drives character growth and change. Failure, in other words, is necessary…it just kind of sucks when it happens to you…or to be precise, me.

Anatomy of a Failure

When I finished FLYINGthe final book in my Girl With Broken Wings series, I was faced with a pretty daunting task. It was time to leave the world I’d lived in for seven years and dive into a brand new story with new characters. I was excited but also appropriately terrified.

Being a normal person, I am naturally plagued with self-doubt on virtually every aspect of my life. My writing is not immune. I worried that despite the fact that I finished five books and two novellas in the Girl With Broken Wings series, those were all flukes. Now, cut free from the safety of that series, I would revert back to my pre-GWBW days when I couldn’t finish a novel for all the cupcakes in the world.

I squished all those fears down, womaned up, and started writing a new story that had been swishing around in my head for a few months. This story intrigued me, because it had a really captivating premise and a clear genre, which I thought would make it easier to categorize and sell.

All gung-ho and with doubts securely stowed, I set sail on creating the outline. This is when I hit a little stumbling block that should have been a major red flag. Even as I began to plot out my story, I felt that I wasn’t really connecting with the characters.

I made excuses. It was a new series. Of course the characters aren’t going to feel real like Maya, Tarren, Gabe. I told myself that I just needed to do more outlining, fill out more character sheets.

Boy, did I complete a lot of character sheets. I tried to talk to my characters, interview them, write scenes of their everyday lives, but the whole time they mumbled short answers to my questions, sagged through their scenes, and avoided eye contact with me…because we both were kind of embarrassed by the whole charade. This felt so different than when I wrote FALLINGIn that book, Gabe couldn’t wait to chatter in my ear, telling me his whole life story. I would imagine quiet scenes of Tarren while I did my weekend runs. I felt Maya’s rage and her need for vengeance.

I am a character-centric author. The characters lead the story. They are the story. And I somehow found myself writing a book where my characters didn’t want to come out and play.

But, I kept writing, kept making excuses. The first draft was going badly. I didn’t feel inspired to write in the morning. It was more punishment than passionate toil. That was wrong, but by that time I’d put in too much work. Three months and an entire 70,000-word first draft. I couldn’t give up on it now!

After completing the novel’s first draft, I gave myself a break to “let it breathe.” Secretly, I hoped that the manuscript would somehow age and turn into something different and beautiful, like a mellow red wine. In the interim, I did more (yes, even more) character interviews and research.

Admitting Defeat

The week before I planned to jump into the second draft, I left town for my sister’s wedding. During that trip, something started happening. Deep in the pit of my stomach, I felt a seed of dread growing every time I thought of working on the novel again. In the quiet moments before bed, I would close my eyes and try to watch my characters live their lives. I’d knock on their doors, but they were never home.

The wedding was great. The bride and groom showed up, and I didn’t fall into the cake. Success! Even as I danced with my 89-year-old grandpa (whoo-hoo good genes!), a decision was forming in my mind. It was a decision that I think had already been made, but I’d been fighting tooth and nail. It was time to admit defeat.

The Challenge

The next day, I faced an exciting eight hours in the airport. My iPad was loaded up with old episodes of Battlestar Galactica to get me through the ordeal, but instead of hanging out with my favorite band of survivors, I gave myself a little challenge.

I thought, hey brain, let’s do a little experiment. Let’s say you were going to write a totally different book – and not saying that you are, but just imagine – what would that book look like. No pressure. Doesn’t mean anything. You’re still totally going to write that crappy book you hate, but if you weeeere going to write a different book…

I had a notebook with me, because, uh, duh, writer, but it only had two clean pages left. On my first flight, I began to think. Wonder. Imagine. An idea sparked. My heart picked up some beats. My pen began to scribble. The crying baby two seats behind me faded. Suddenly, I was in the woods, riding on a great adventure to find a princess. My pen kept going, scribble, scribble. Characters formed. I needed a prince. Was he an arrogant, foppish prince? No, the prince told me. There’s so much more to me. I don’t want to be on this adventure, but I have to go because of who I am. I have to always be strong, even though I feel so weak and unsure inside. Even while I listened to the prince, a little maid was jumping up and down impatient for her turn. I am cleverer than them all, she insisted. And I’m in love. I’m going to marry the prince. It’s what the stars say. Let anyone try and stop me.

As the plane landed, I was furiously writing on the cardboard back of the notebook. As soon as I walked off the plane for my two-hour layover, I went straight to a small bookstore in the airport. (Okay, bathroom break first, then straight to the bookstore.)

I bought a notepad and two pens, because there’s no way in hell I was letting my last pen give up the ghost in the middle of my next flight. Alas, Starbuck and Apollo had to play alone, because I kept writing and writing from wheels up in Denver to wheels down in San Diego.

Now, a week after I touched down, that new notebook is almost full. My characters have so much to say and they are rearing and ready to go on their adventure. And that other book? After four months and a full draft, I’m stuffing it in a drawer. (Well, a metaphorical drawer. In reality, it’s just hanging on my computer.)

A little ways up the coast from me is a mythical place called Silicon Valley. Some of the coolest, greatest things come from this strange place. Silicon Valley is unique, because it is a place where failure is a badge of honor. It is a stepping stone to success. The people of Silicon Value believe that failure helps define your character, gives you valuable experience, and lessons to learn.

Looking back, I don’t think those four months were a waste, and I don’t regret the draft that is now wallowing on my computer. (Hey, who knows, maybe those characters are just waiting to find their voice.) I am sorry that my readers will have to wait a little longer for my next novel, but I promise, it’s going to be something that I will be proud and excited to share with you. You deserve that.

All I ask is for a little more patience.

I know this sounds super dorky, but a failure is only a failure if you give up. After all, we are all characters in our own stories, defined by our failures and how we address them; defined by whether we keep striving for our secret dreams.

Fail on, my friends,

J Bennett

P.S. Yes, I have purposefully be super vague on the plots of both books. I’m holding out some hope that the bad scifi book may one day become a good, awesome scifi book. My new project is only in the early stages, so I need to keep it close to the vest until I can at least get through a first draft and see its bones.

Starting Over — AKA I Hyperventilate About Writing a New Novel

What does it feel like to begin writing a brand new book in a brand new series?

It feels like diving into a lake at night when the water is black and you can’t tell how deep it is.

It feels like meeting strangers who might one day be friends.

It feels like trying to run on ice – awkward and uncertain.

It feels like starting all over again.

I spent seven years writing in the Girl With Broken Wings universe. Maya, Gabe, and Tarren were my best friends. I knew them in the way you know exactly whether your best friend will laugh at your horrible joke, roll her eyes, or throw an even worse joke right back at you.

Now I am trying to make new friends, trying to see the world through their eyes.  The words I use, the tone, the voice are different, because my characters are different. I am learning it all paragraph by paragraph, chapter by chapter.

There is an excitement to starting over – all the possibilities, all the chances to stretch and reach – but there is also a great unease, diving into that black, unknowable water. How far away is the shore? What is lurking beneath, ready to pull me down? And, of course, the terrifying, secret questions that lurk – Will I be able to write this book? Write any book ever again? Will it be any good? Even with five books and six novellas under my belt, I still wonder if it all wasn’t a fluke. If my best writing is behind me.

I console myself by knowing I have felt these worries and uncertainties and this jittery excitement many times before. I dove into the black waters and made it to shore each time I started a new book. I made new and wonderful friends. I created stories that I am proud of. I know that even if this particular story flounders or even drowns, my head is full of ideas. I can always start over again.

Deidre


Age: 24
Occupation: Housekeeper to Nathaniel Hayward
Hobbies: Playing the cello

About: Deidre may not be a particularly good housekeeper, have a lot of natural talents or ever be able to tame her frizzy red hair, but what she lacks in life skills she makes up for in perseverance.  She needs a lot of it as she dodges the practical jokes of the haunted mansion's two resident poltergeists, makes sure The Thing In The Basement has fresh cow heads to munch on, and puts up with her cranky boss Nathaniel who is libel to drain whoever knocks on his door (usually Mormons) if she doesn't watch him.

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Nathaniel


Age: 266
Occupation: Vampire of leisure
Hobbies: Cleaning musket, reading biographies, watching I Dream of Jeannie, campaigning for Dwight D. Eisenhower

About: Nathaniel doesn't understand why everyone gets so uppity about newfangled fads like the telephone and horseless carriage. He also doesn't approve of the loose today's loose social morals, what with women walking around wearing pants and making it to age 20 without at least one child on their hip. This isn't what Nathaniel fought in the Revolutionary War for (only at night). The worst of the lot is his housekeeper, Deidre, a bitter old maid who insists he stop sucking the life blood from the Mormons who knock on his door and can't even get prune juice stains out of his kerchiefs.

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Dex


Age: Unknown
Occupation: Conveyor of Extreme Emotions
Hobbies: Guiding unwilling individuals to the conclusion that true fear resides in the devastation we bring to our planet and to our society.

About: Dex is dedicated to transcending the poltergeist stereotype by delving deeper into the nature of fear and showing his unwilling victims that our own reality is what truly deserves our fear and notice. He accomplishes this by through artistic haunting - murals, dioramas and even living projects (which tend to scurry away and end up jumping out at Deidre from the kitchen cabinets). Dex is a ghost with a cause, and he won't rest in peace until you've heard it.

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Sloppy Joe


Age: Unknown
Occupation: Scary-ass Poltergeist
Hobbies: Making Girl Scouts piss their skirts

About: Sloppy Joe grew up on the mean streets of Zanesville, Ohio  where he was pursuing a career as the world's latest and greatest skinny white rapper when he met his untimely death. Nathaniel's mansion is his first official haunted residence. He's still getting used to his powers, but that doesn't stop him from trying to make Deidre's life hell and demonstrate that death doesn't keep down a brother from Zanesville.

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Silas


Age: 79
Occupation: Retire factory worker/part-time vampire hunter
Hobbies: Collecting lawn gnomes, killing vampires

About: Silas was all set to marry his high-school sweetheart in the 1950s until she came home one day a couple of shades paler and with some dental enhancements. After staking his fiancé, Silas vowed to  kill the vampire who had turned her. This led to a 50-year stint as a part-time vampire hunter  and eventually brought Silas to Nathaniel's door. With his fanny pack filled with stakes, Silas is ready to avenge his long lost love.

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Silvia


Age: Claims to be 45
Occupation: Between jobs
Hobbies: Bingo, shopping on QVC, flirting

About: Silvia is proof that some gold diggers never stop digging. When she sets her sights on Nathaniel, she's not worried about his fangs as long as his bank account is just as sharp. Not one to put all her eggs in one basket, Silvia also treats Henrick the werefrog to a little of her wrinkly good stuff. Sure, the extra long tongue is a bit of a turnoff, but she just saw the cutest pair of heels on QVC. No time for scruples when there's sexy footwear on the line.

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Henrick


Age: Unknown
Occupation: Insect control
Hobbies: Taking a snack break at the dumpsters behind the nearest buffet (he only comes for the flies)

About: Henrick is an obese werefrog who was quite the monster back in his day. Now, confined to an electronic scooter, his terrorizing the human populace days are well behind him...unless something really gets him riled up.

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Drew


Age: 25
Occupation: Assistant shift manager at Arbys
Hobbies: Rooting for the Browns, playing Xbox

About: Drew just wants to be your everyday slacker jock. He's got the good looks, nowhere job and deep thought avoidance radar that would make him the perfect addition to any state college frat keggar. Unfortunately, a small genetic inheritance keeps getting in his way, as Deidre learns first hand. Even the knowledge of Drew's dark secret can't douse the flames of Deidre's crush though she knows that the handsome jock never falls for the chubby nerd...or does he?

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The Thing in the Basement


Age: Unknown
Occupation: Vortex of destruction
Hobbies: Anything that involves mayhem

About: The Thing In The Basement shall not be spoken of.

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