NOTE: I really don’t think I have to say this, but here goes anyway. Warning! This blog post about the behind the scenes writing of RISING includes tons of spoilers (gasp) for RISING. If you have not yet read RISING, you really shouldn’t be reading this post unless you want to punish yourself for some weird reason and deny yourself the enjoyment of all the surprises and plot twists this book contains. Okay, on with the post…
Whenever I lace my fingers, crack my knuckles, and pull up a blank Word document to start a new novel, I always feel an intense amount of — excitement? Hope? Purpose?
Dread. Unvarnished, kick-to-your-gut dread. The blank page is almost mocking, and I feel overwhelmed by the vast task ahead.
However, I have to say that when I sat down to write RISING, I felt noticeably more confident, or at least far less hyperventalaty than usual. By that point, I’d written two books and a novella in the GIRL WITH BROKEN WINGS series, so I knew that FALLING hadn’t been a fluke. More importantly, I knew my story. No, not exactly how everything was going to end, but Maya, Tarren, and Gabe were my best friends. I knew them so well that I didn’t even have to think about how they would react to certain situations.
I did face some big issues when I started to plot out RISING. Firstly, I had kind of killed off the main bad guy, Grand, in the last book. Whoops. My little team of vigilantes would need a new big bad to go after. Also, one of my characters, Gabe was pretty much half dead. What would it look like if the comic relief wasn’t in the mood or shape the crack jokes?
And one other little thing…it was time (finally time, as one of my critique partners put it), to spice things up for Maya with a little romance. Since it was me at the helm of the story, this romance would be awkward in the extreme. Still, I was pretty excited to bring Maya and Rain face-to-face once again. Of course love at first sight isn’t really my jam, so, naturally, instead of getting all dewy-eyed at each other, one would be very ardently trying to kill the other. Romance!
Overall, RISING was a big story, and it needed a lot of words. RISING turned out to be the biggest book I’d ever written by at least 10,000 words. (FLYING would later gleefully smash this record into little pieces.) That was a big deal. Bigger books require more writing, longer critique reads, more editing, and more fine-tuning. Also, there are just more places to screw up.
However, when I finally polished the last page of RISING, I was pretty damn pleased with myself. Overall, I think it turned into a fast-paced story with a lot of twists and turns, some daring rescues, a new bad gal, a little bit of romantic sizzle, some new mysteries, and some deeper lesson. There are a lot of little things that I think are worth mentioning about this book, so I sort of randomly wrote my thoughts about them. It got a little long, so depending on your patience, I’d like to say ”Sorry,” or “Have fun with this!”
Maya and Tarren Team Up
Maya and Tarren have always had a bit of a fraught relationship…you know, with him threatening to kill her in the beginning of the series and then her draining Gabe in the last book. However, what I’ve always endeavored to show is that Maya and Tarren butt heads so much in large part because they are so similar. In the opening scene of RISING, Maya and Tarren have fallen into a comfortable routine.
Writing the first scene in RISING at the strip club was great fun. I like putting Tarren in awkward situations where he can’t be as noble and stoic as he wants. We also see in this scene that Maya has grown a lot! She’s a lot darker and colder. Is she perhaps following a little too closely in Tarren’s footsteps?
Where Does Tarren Go?
Early in RISING, Tarren does one of his frustrating Tarren moves, when he gets a mysterious call and bails on Maya. What was that all about? Yeah, I’m being a capital B here, because you’re going to have to wait until FLYING to find out. (But you will find out!)
Maya and Gabe Get into a Fight
One of the hardest parts of writing this book was to see Gabe brought so low. It was important to me that Maya’s little draining episode in LANDING wasn’t something that Gabe could bounce back from right away. That’s not how major trauma works in real life works. He almost died, and I knew that it was going to take a long time for his body to recover.
Gabe’s body isn’t the only thing recovering. Getting seriously wounded is an emotionally traumatic event too, and I wanted to show that aspect of Gabe’s experience as well. Gabe is someone who, despite the risks of his chosen profession, never took his mortality very seriously. It’s kind of a shock to him to be weak and hurt. Also, he just hates being left behind.
That scene where Maya tapes his hat to the tree and dares him to try and get it if he wants to go on the next mission was excruciating to write. (Especially because I also wrote it from Gabe’s point of view in RECOVERING.) I’d had that scene in my head for a few months, and I’d been dreading having to write it. Annnnd, it was just as hard to write as I imagined.
Maya and the Totem Meet for the First Time
Rain wasn’t much of a presence in LANDING, mostly because I’d already outlined the story before I realized that Rain was going to eventually become a main character. (Read my Behind the Scenes of LANDING post.) However, between COPING and RISING, Rain hasn’t been sitting around twiddling his thumbs. He’s been busy, searching for answers and eventually falling in with a small group of people who, like him, are trying to fight the angels.
The Totem in many ways represents the first hints that the war between the angels and the Fox family is beginning to spiral out of control. The angel population is growing quickly, and it’s just impossible to keep it completely hidden. This little problem is going to grow and grow in the later book.
I spent a lot of time thinking about the Totem and writing character charts for each member. Most of this behind-the-scenes stuff doesn’t come through in the book, but it’s in my head. Maybe one day, they’ll get their own spinoff!
The Big Decision
I think nothing really showcases how much Maya has grown as a character than her decision to spare War’s life and save him from the Totem as a means of going undercover into his nest all on her own. She is a far cry from the uncertain college sophomore who couldn’t shoot a gun a few books ago.
If you read my last behind-the-scenes post, then you know that originally I considered creating Gem as the next big baddie. Ultimately, I thought that planting the son as an extension of the father would be too simplistic. I wanted to make Gem a complicated character – not bad, but not entirely good either.
Diamond picks up the slack. She represents Grand’s certainty that the angels are the next evolution of the human race, but she militarizes the concept, believing that the humans won’t go quietly. Thus, if the angels are to survive, she surmises that the angels must build an army and strike first. Yep, ante upped. Big time. There are all sorts of horrors to imagine with a growing army of angels roaming around. Maya gets that immediately. As a writer, I decided that it was time to take the existential risk from the minor leagues into the majors.
I created War, because I simply wanted to put Maya up against a seriously bad dude. It’s all fun and good to create complex and nuanced bad guys like Nicolas, but sometimes you just need a raging asshole to cheer against. War gladly takes on that mantle. I originally considered making War very handsome and Nicolas very ugly, but I think the extremely handsome bad guy is a little over done. War is ugly on the inside and out, but he does know how to dress.
Nicolas is the type of complicated bad guy that I’ve always wanted to write, mostly because he is most definitely not a bad guy in his own mind. In fact, he sees himself as very righteous. I’ve always been fascinated by the real bad people in our history – the Hitlers and Stalins and Pol Pots. It’s kind of mind boggling to think that they ardently believed they were doing the right thing through so much destruction and death.
Nicolas is my attempt to explore this type of mentality, someone who uses the cloak of religion to justify terrible actions. This is not a repudiation of religion. I believe that religion is a reflection of man: both peaceful and violent depending on your interpretation.
Ah, Gem. He is a complicated dude. I went back and forth on how to craft Gem and really struggled to put my finger on his personality. There were a lot of renditions of him. Should he be quiet and sinister? Should he be suave and witty? Should he be a righteous fighter pretending to be bad to fight the angels from within?
Ultimately, I decided to do something a little unusual. I made Gem muddled. You know why? Because I think most of us are hopelessly muddled. Gem, at his very core, is a mostly decent person who very much wants to live his own life but was raised by a megalomaniac and given unprecedented powers that he doesn’t want in the least. His attempt to live a decent life as an angel inadvertently lead to a small following – the Angels of Mercy – that he reluctantly leads.
Pretty much everything about Gem is reluctant. I imagine his perfect day would be taking a walk in the woods by himself, but instead he is expected to be Grand’s heir, and the Angels of Mercy are looking on him as a leader. His powers also put him in a position where he could do great good or great evil. These responsibilities are overwhelming to Gem, and mostly he finds himself swept along by his name, his history, and the expectations of others.
Of course, Gem can be brave, but it is always in quiet, small ways, like how he set up Maya to be rescued by Tarren and how he then helped ease Tarren’s nightmares. Ultimately, I liked the way Gem came out, but damn, he was hard to write!
You didn’t think I was going to leave Gabe out of action for the entire book did you? Where would be the fun in that? Though Gabe isn’t a big presence in the first half of the book, he isn’t idle at all. In fact, I had to spend a lot of time figuring out exactly what Gabe was doing in order to make his rip-roaring comeback fit into the timeline of the story. You can see his path to his fateful reunion with his family in RECOVERING.
Gabe is great, as usual. Even at half power, he still functions as the glue of his family. In this case, he is the connection between the Totem and the Foxes that unite them as a team. I decided to give him a little reward for all his suffering, and it is Gabe who ultimately kills Diamond and ends her plans of world domination.
Ah, finally. A chance to show that Tarren truly does care for Maya! Earlier in the book we see Maya taking care of Tarren by stealing his watch so that he can sleep. Now, despite the clear rules of Styx, we find out that Tarren stayed behind to search for Maya and risked his life to rescue her from the burning guest house. He doesn’t come out unscathed.
The scene where Gabe tricks Tarren and shoots him with a tranq is my favorite of this book. It’s silly and tender and sad all at the same time. Even though Tarren spends a decent chunk of this book unconscious, I think his actions in staying and running into that burning house speak volumes of the feelings that he is always trying to hide. There are also quite a few tender moments as Maya cares for Tarren.
Rain has the heart of a hero…and pretty much nothing else, and that’s why I kind of love him. It’s easy to be heroic when you’ve had a lifetime of combat training, when you’re tall and handsome and confident and were blessed with no allergies. Try being a hero when you constantly trip over your own two feet and don’t know which way to point a gun!
Rain is completely incompetent, but he is willing to fight and put his life on the line anyway, and to me, that makes him one of the greatest heroes of this series. When I was writing him, I drew a lot on some of my favorite characters, including Xander from Buffy (which becomes one of his pet names) and Simon from Firefly.
Yes, he can’t climb trees and is deathly allergic to peanuts, but he is a hero, and Maya begins to see that too when they have their first official date/stakeout. It probably would have been a little more romantic if they hadn’t ended up burying bodies at the end of it.
Okay, so we don’t know where Tarren went at the beginning of the book, but at least readers get a little revelation, thanks to Gem. We learn a little more about how Tarren was tortured by Grand and that he made a deal to reveal Maya’s existence in order to protect Gabe. Tarren is a very frustrating character with all his secrets and being mostly a total buzz kill all the time, but he is also tragic. We see that in the scars on his body and the bits of history that Maya discovers. His past very much defines his character and we learn in this book that his overwhelming fear is losing the rest of his small family.
Let’s be honest, LANDING, well, landed on a kind of depressing note. Gabe was weak and cranky. Tarren was cranky too. Trust was a big issue, and the Totem had just revealed themselves. For RISING, I wanted to end the book on something a little more comforting, especially given that the characters were entering into a very different and much more serious fight.
The whole concept of RISING is about standing up and dusting yourself off. Of being stronger than you thought you could be. We see this in Gabe’s refusal to stay home, Tarren risking his life for Maya, and Maya caring for her two brothers. By the end of the book, her links with her brothers are stronger than ever, and even if they are facing a terrible fight ahead, at least they’re facing it together. The book ends when Tarren reveals something that he and Lo have been working on – the Prism, a grouping of mirrors that gather and channel sunlight, which will allow Maya to feed from the sun without having to drain small animals. This was great for me too, as a writer, because I hated writing all those scenes of Maya draining rats and goldfish in the earlier books. (Ugh, the pet store scene in this book hurt my heart in a major way.)
The Prism won’t entirely vanquish the hunger, but at last Maya isn’t constantly on the edge of losing control. It felt so good to write this last chapter, to show Maya’s love for her brothers, her squirmy growing feelings for Rain, and the hesitant hope she feels despite all the danger they face. I wanted this hope to echo in the hearts of my readers. We all know the risk for the Fox siblings and their Totem allies is only going to grow. The fight is going to get harder. Casualties are going to rise. But there is and always will be hope!