Guest Blogger: Writer and Editor Jessie Sanders

Happy new week, my beloved inklings!

Last week, I promised you some more updatingness of the goings-on in my neck of the blogging woods. Or, rather, my neck of the Life-the-Universe-and-Everything Woods. This post kinda sorta falls into the updatingness category, because it concerns a novel that I recently helped edit:

Young Adult novel Into the Flames by Jessie Sanders — who happens to be friend, fellow writer, and my editor.

Into the Flames, Jessie’s first novel, is the intriguing and suspenseful story of Rahab Carmichael, who’s desperate to fit in at her new boarding school. Trouble is, Rahab happens to have some special powers that keep her from fitting in — and send her right into the arms of the other “freaks” at school. Teens will relate to Rahab’s story quite well, as will we adults who remember those “awful” days of being relegated to the “freaks” pile. Superhero powers or no. ; )

To celebrate the new release, I asked Jessie to share with us what sparked (ha ha, sparked, get it?) the idea for Into the Flames and how that idea grew and changed over the years. So, without further ado or adon’t, here’s Jessie:

The world of Grover Cleveland Academy started from something as simple as watching a trailer for the movie Treasure Planet. Yes, the Disney movie based off of Treasure Island only it’s set in space. You see, when I saw the character Jim Hawkins sailing through space on his little hover board, I knew I wanted to write about a character that could fly — for real. Instead of using a futuristic board to soar among the clouds, the character would use her own superpowers to fly, strapping her snowboard onto her boots as she went.

That’s how Jean Elizabeth “Scout” Wren was born. Ten years later, Scout is merely a secondary character in my novel Into the Flames. I never intended it to end up this way.

I can’t really tell you how Rahab came into existence. I just know that by the time I was done writing Born to Fly (Scout’s story), I knew that the next year a new girl would be moving to Grover Cleveland — Rahab Sapphira Carmichael. And I found that I liked her even more than Scout.

Scout was a loud tomboy who would rather play baseball than read a book. Rahab was shoved to the back burner because she was the youngest, and she allowed herself to be forgotten so that no one would notice that she was different. But I wanted people to notice her. I wanted her story to be told. So I told it.

Now just because Rahab came to me complete with swimsuit, goggles, and bangs doesn’t mean that she was perfect from the start. She’s been through some major changes in her development, but at the end of the day, she’s a caring, sensitive girl who just wants to be allowed to do the thing she loves the most — swim. She loves animals and is deathly afraid of fire. She has two older brothers whom she admires but can’t relate to. She’s got a lot of hurt in her past, but now she’s ready for a fresh start at her shiny new boarding school.

I really started working hard on Into the Flames during my creative writing class my senior year of college. What I really wanted was a novel that was driven by characters and just happened to include a fantasy element, not the other way around. When my classmates told me they loved the development of Rahab and her friends, I knew I was on the road to making my dream a reality.

Creating the plot of Into the Flames was hard. I had my cast of rich characters, but what to do with them? Well, knowing Rahab’s fear of fire, I was certain that it had to play into the climactic scene somehow. I also knew that I wanted to include resident bad boy Bracken Carnegie in said climactic scene. For many years, cheesy lines and completely implausible scenarios ran through my head and were subsequently deleted from the bank. Finally, after many cumulative hours of talking to myself, lamenting to others, and scratching through pages of bad dialogue, I hashed something out.

So now, from a small spark of an idea that led all the way to an entire world, I humbly bring to you the first book in the Grover Cleveland Academy series. I hope you enjoy Into the Flames as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Courtney here again. Pick up your Kindle copy of Into the Flames for $2.99 and get to readin’! And don’t forget to tell Jessie how much you enjoyed it. : )

Rogues and Parents and Robots, Oh My!

Greetings, all.

If you’ve been paying attention (and I know you have, because that’s just the sort of sweet, observant dears you are), you’ve noticed that I’ve been rather absent from the blogosphere of late. This is due neither to laziness nor to recalcitrance nor to sudden kidnappedness of my person. But yea verily, I’ve been dealing with some Major Upheaval of Real Life, and thus, the blog has had to slide over to the back burner and stew along without me for awhile.

This won’t last forever, I promise — but still, I will probably remain incommunicado for awhile. I’m sorry for that, but for now, it can’t be helped. I promise I’ll pop in here when I can and also let you know what’s going on with me when I’m ready to. (In the meantime, you’re welcome to peruse the archives; perhaps you’d like to start with the “Popular Posts” over in the sidebar.)

But. Tonight I’m coming out of self-imposed exile to let you know about A Thing. The thing in question is the publication of my friend Joshua Unruh‘s fabulous debut novel, TEEN Agents in The Plundered Parent Protocol.

I’ll let Josh tell you about the novel in his own words below. As for me, all I’ve got to say that in on the dancefloor of YA spy-fi (that’s young adult spy fiction, if you didn’t know), TEEN Agents pops, locks, and does the electric boogaloo. The characters are fun and well-developed, the action is fast-paced, the dialogue is entertaining, and the story structure is solid. The whole package delivers just the kind of read YA readers are looking for. You’re gonna love it!

And now, here’s Josh to tell you more:

I love Young Adult fiction. Most of the time that looks like guys in capes fighting would-be world beaters instead of boy wizards or, God deliver us, sparkly vampires.

But I’m also a lover of a wide variety of genre fiction. One of my favorites is Spy Fi, the genre best exemplified in the past by The Avengers or The Man from UNCLE and, more recently, by shows like Alias and the Middle Man. These two things, YA fiction and Spy Fi, come together in my latest novel.

TEEN Agents in The Plundered Parent Protocol is a novel about three girls, best friends, whose fathers are kidnapped by an evil genius…one who just happens to be ten years old. This is how Elly Mourning, Hea Jung Noone, and Saturday Knight discover the existence of the Teenage Extranormal Emergency Network and how they join its ranks as agents.

There’s plenty of weird gadgets, exciting espionage, and plots for world domination in TEEN Agents. But at its heart, it’s a story about three girls who want to save their dads but have to grow up quite a bit to do it.

Right now, I’m the father of just one kid, a little boy. He and I watch all kinds of adventure cartoons, read comic books, and I continue to take in all that genre fiction I’ve always loved. But now I have an eye as to when I can share it with him.

I’d also like to be the father of a little girl someday. I don’t want to climb a soapbox, but it’s pretty hard to find stuff to excite and empower my hypothetical little girl.

But it shouldn’t be that way.

I should have as much strange and exciting genre fiction with young heroines as I have with heroes. Since I don’t, I decided to do something about that.

So that brings me to Elly, Hea, and Saturday. Elly is sharp and together, a born leader. Hea is a free spirit and incredibly athletic. Saturday has a brilliant scientific mind.

I wrote them to be the kinds of girls I’d like my future little girl to look up to. They aren’t perfect, but they are as accomplished and secure in who they are as thirteen year old girls can be. And they’re learning and growing as they go.

But I didn’t want to write a “girl’s story.” I wanted to write a spy fi story that starred girls. One that would be exciting for girls…and for their brothers and dads. Which is why I can assure you that the genius is evil, the enemy agent is suave and debonair, the traps are deadly, the lairs are secret, and the plan is diabolical.

This book is for girls looking for exciting fiction that makes them feel good about being girls because it’s a book about heroic girls. Not to mention it’s a fun read.

I loved writing this novel for so many reasons. And my beta readers have absolutely loved reading it. I hope you can contribute something to the project. Trust me, if you enjoy reading it half as much as I enjoyed writing it, you won’t be sorry you did.

Because I want everyone to give the book a look, Consortium Books has a very special offer for all you potential TEEN Agents. Today is the official “street day” and for the first 24 hours, this book will be absolutely FREE! You’re just one click away from an exciting spy adventure with three of the most fun girls you’ll ever meet. Give it a shot, will ya?

Courtney again. I can only second Josh’s request and add to it my high recommendation: Check out TEEN Agents in The Plundered Parent Protocol — you won’t be disappointed!

Publishing Colors of Deception

Dear Readers,

We interrupt our regularly scheduled bloggramming to bring you the following News Bulletin, which I just added as an addendum to my About page:

The publishing date for my YA paranormal novel COLORS OF DECEPTION has been moved up to April 2011! I’ll keep you posted on how the process progresses, dear readers — and in the meantime, I’ll be starting final edits soon!

We now return you to your regular blog posts (the newest of which will go live tomorrow). 🙂

The One Where I’m Not An Impotent Bachelor

Soft Watch at the Moment of First Explosion by Salvador Dali

Fishing For Love in All the Wrong Places

So, Gmail has this fantastic little gadget called a spam filter. I don’t pretend to know how it works — I just know that my inbox never sees a shred of spam.

The filter is like that little guy in the office down the hall, doing his job in such a quiet, unassuming way that you never really notice he’s there. But if he didn’t show up one day, an apocalyptic avalanche of junk would come crashing down on your head.

I rely on that little guy, and maybe I even take him for granted. But I do check in on him every so often. And when I do, I get a good look at the trash the poor guy has to wade through every day!

Apparently, my spammers think I’m a customer, and they think I’m a customer who’s simply jonesing for their products. They offer me all sorts of peculiarities. They shake their wares beneath my nose and assume that the pleasing aroma of a great deal is just too delicious for me to resist. They think they know me, and they think they know exactly what I want.

The problem is, my spammers have pegged me wrong in three areas:

1. I am female.
2. I use my smartphone to tell time.
3. I’m married.

You see, ladies and gentlehobbits, my spammers are completely convinced that I’m an impotent man looking for good watches and a Russian bride.

These poor, misguided people just don’t get it. Like fishermen casting out lures, they send me all these emails, hoping I’ll bite. What they don’t understand is that they’re casting into a pond that has no fish in it.

Fishing For The Right Readers

When I finished the second draft of my YA paranormal novel Colors of Deception, I gave it to my mom for proofing. My mother happens to be my foremost beta reader, and she makes better every piece of writing I share with her. She also taught English and Literature to teenagers for 25 years.

After reading and marking-up, she handed back the copy of Colors and said, “You can’t write for teenagers like this.”

All I can remember now is that somewhere in the manuscript, I used the word “elucidate.”

Not that I think teens won’t know the meaning of “elucidate.” But that’s not the only adult vocabulary I wrote into the novel. Throughout the story, my style betrayed the fact that I was used to writing to adults. What did I know about writing to teens? I was casting my lures in vain, because the fish I was looking for were in a different pond.

I had to find different ways of expressing myself without losing the flow and feel of the story. Some re-writing was in order. So I did it.

Whether or not I succeeded in hieing myself to the right fishing spot has yet to be proven. Currently, my editor(s) is (are) putting the manuscript through its first paces toward publication, and I’m sure they’ll have some feedback for me on this score. (And, no doubt, on several other scores, too! These are generous but exacting people.)**

But the point is that I’ve tried to narrow my focus to my target audience. Too bad my poor, deluded spammers can’t learn the same lesson.

Yours Truly,

A Female, Married Heterosexual Who Quit Wearing Watches A Long Time Ago

** Since this post went live, Colors of Deception has been published! The genre is listed as “Christian fantasy,” as both my editor and my publisher deemed it adult instead of YA. Click the link to get your paperback copy for $12.99 or your Kindle edition for $2.99!

I’m Writing About Demons

Greetings, my dears! For my next trick, I’d like to tell you a little bit about my current work-in-progress (WIP). Earlier this week, I mentioned that I’m writing a paranormal fantasy novel. It is, as yet, untitled, so I’m bringing my formidable, literary creative powers to bear upon the title challenge and calling this book Demons 3. Boo-yah.

“So, O Most Formidably Literary Creative One,” you might be thinking, “what does the numeral 3 denote in the title of your work-in-progress?”

Saltmarch, Where The Demons Live

Ahh, my dear Questioning Ones, I am so glad you asked. The “3” in Demons 3 denotes the fact that this WIP is the third in a trilogy I am, thus far, calling “Demons of Saltmarch.” This trilogy consists of:

  • Colors of Deception (projected publishing date: June/July 2011)
  • Shadows After Midnight

and, of course,

  • Demons 3.

The Saltmarch trilogy (hmm…maybe that should be Saltmarch Trilogy — and here you’re witnessing how a writer revises aspects of her work even as she discusses it) had its genesis in vacuuming and vivid dreaming. One night in early 2008, I dreamed that I was standing in the center of a grated bridge. Facing me at one end of the bridge was this human-shaped figure with its jaw unhinged like a snake’s. A ring of darkness came out of its mouth and spread out toward me. Terrified, I knew that the ring should not touch me. I ended up on my hands and knees, scrambling to get away.

But in dreams, we never can get away, can we?

The dark ring engulfed me, and the whole world turned the “color” of TV static. I blinked and was in a different place, surrounded by people who didn’t quite look like people. Somehow, I knew they were demons. They’d used their powers to make this place look like my childhood home. But even though it looked familiar, I knew there was something wrong with it. I knew it wasn’t real. And I knew that the demons called it “Saltmarch.” Then, the dream ended.

Now, some people would have awakened from that dream and felt residual fear and confusion the rest of the day. They would have called it a nightmare and shuddered whilst relating it to friends over mid-morning coffee. Me? I got all excited, wrote it down, and decided it would make a great fantasy novel. If only I could come up with characters for it.

Fast-forward a few months, and I’m vacuuming my hallway, lamenting to myself that I can’t hear my favorite INXS CD over the jarring noise from this behemoth of a dust-sucking apparatus I’m shoving around my home. And, out of nowhere, the thought pops into my head:

What if one of the demons is obsessed with the music of INXS?

I don’t know how these things work. I don’t know why INXS triggered the beginnings of a character description for a character in a story that consisted of nothing but a rather odd dream sequence. All I know is that two months later, during NaNoWriMo 2008, a whole story came pouring out of me, and that dream sequence turned into one of the last scenes leading up to the climax.

That story became Colors of Deception, and it revolves around a young lady named Holly Idaho. Holly’s a sophomore at a Christian university. She’s got her problems: boy issues, tension with her girlfriends, doubts about her faith, an intense crush on the new music teacher, too much homework. Pretty standard stuff for a college student, right?

Until the demon with the INXS obsession shows up. And, as far as Holly is concerned, all hell breaks loose.

Colors of Deception is Holly’s story: how she deals with doubt, terror, love, lust, betrayal, and forgiveness. Her story is filled with the bizarre and the ordinary — a tale I hope will both fascinate readers and connect with them on a basic, I-know-how-that-feels level.

Shadows After Midnight picks up a few months after Colors ends. This second book in the trilogy is the story of Peter Townsend, who is Holly’s somewhat antisocial friend and doesn’t know that he shares a name with several famous people (and wouldn’t care, even if he did know). I won’t tell you much about Peter, because it would give away too much of the first book. But suffice it to say that Peter has a lot of arrogance to get out of his system (oh my word the boy’s got an ego, but I love him!)…and the demon who shows up to plague him has just the tricks to get him to make a mess he can’t clean up on his own.

The unfortunately untitled Demons 3 tells the story of Anne Waylock, another of Holly’s close friends. I feel like a mother hen playing favorites among her baby chicks…but I almost want to say that Anne is my favorite of the three. She’s snarky, unapologetically obnoxious, borderline blasphemous, and deeply, heart-breakingly sensitive. Her external challenges seem more threatening than those Holly and Peter face in their stories — and her internal challenges are far more subtle. I think. I’m not even through Draft 1 of her story yet, so I’m still getting to know her. There are aspects of her that haven’t crystallized yet.

So, that’s my paranormal fantasy trilogy in a shelle du nut. When I talk to people about it, I refer to it as “young adult (YA) paranormal,” but in some ways, I feel this is misleading. No, it’s not “adult” fiction, but if I had kids, I’m not sure I’d want my kids under age 15 to read it. On the other hand, I’m hoping the books will appeal to the wide audience of adults out there who’ve been devouring so much YA fiction over the past decade or so. (Some of you are reading this. 😉 )

Either way, I am so excited to get these books into the hands of readers, I can hardly stand it!