What I Learned While Writing Spark (and Spark teaser!)

When I began writing in 1995, I wrote Christian romance. While writing that first novel, I like to say I made all my mistakes. (Because I made so many, that story will never see the light of day). In each subsequent novel, I continued to learn new things and (hopefully) my writing improved. Spark was no different.

  • If you’re writing a series, seed your stories.

Spark is the first book of The Firebrand Chronicles. It’s about a female teen, Brenna, and the events that occur as she becomes an adult. Because it’s chronological and about one major character, I had to spend a lot of time outlining and thinking about where I wanted the other stories to go. And I had to make sure certain things happened in each book so that the next book would work. My editor was very, very kind. We were deep into edits when I sent her a desperate, yet apologetic email. “We have to change the name of this item. What I have won’t work.” She agreed and changed it. I’m thankful for her flexibility because the sequels would be a lot harder to write without the change. So even though I’m a pantser at heart, outlining the following books ahead of time was necessary.

  • Trademarks matter.

While I was writing, I threw in references to Pop-Tarts and Volkswagen vans. After all, they’re familiar items unless you’ve been living under a rock. But they’re trademarked, which means you need to be careful. After consulting with the Kellogg’s people, they nixed my Pop-Tart references (I still don’t think I’ve forgiven them). And the Volkswagen van reference was scrubbed and changed to “SUV.” We were thrilled when the C.S. Lewis Foundation okayed Lewis’s quote I used at the beginning of the story. I always knew he was a classy guy.

  • There’s no such thing as too much revision.

I haven’t counted how many total revisions Spark went through. But even now, after it’s done and printed, I still see things I’d change. (Part of that is my attractive, neurotic side.) Aside from the revisions I made before it I typed “THE END”, I revised it at least two times before giving it to my family, then again before giving it to my critique group, then revised it three more times before submitting it to a contest, then revised it again before submitting it to an agent. My agent showed me how he wanted it revised (which I did—twice), then my publisher showed me the revisions she wanted (and there were three rounds of those edits). So in all, I revised Spark at least ten times. Although I’m happy with it, it’s no surprise I’m ready to move on.

I’ve begun writing Book Two of The Firebrand Chronicles, titled Flare, and it picks up about eight months after Spark ends. I’m enjoying the process of creating and herding these characters in the direction they need to go. Please pick up a copy of Spark, then leave an honest review on Amazon, Goodreads or Barnes and Noble, telling everyone what you think.

Because the last thing I’ve learned? Authors (this one included) loves reviews!

And as promised here’s a teaser for Spark!

 

Isn’t it amazing? Thanks for watching!

 

Street Teams Uncovered

What exactly is a street team? Many people don’t know what they are or what they do. Street teams started back in the 90’s with urban record labels. Super-fans would pass out demo tapes and handouts to friends and talk up the bands, promoting by word-of-mouth. In return, the street team would receive items like concert tickets, backstage passes, limited edition merchandise, and groupie status.

The trend has now moved to include authors and their books.  The fans promote the author, thereby acquiring rewards and insider status, while the author attains access to a wider audience.

There are several steps to setting up a street team. After the author thinks of a catchy name for his/her street team, a Facebook page is usually set up as a central headquarters.  People can ask to join, and many times, the author will have the individual fill out a short application using an online tool (like Google Form). The author learns a little more about the person, guaranteeing they’re a good fit. As launch day draws closer, the street team is set into motion. What are some things street teams can do? They can:

  • hand out bookmarks to libraries, bookstores, and cafes/coffee shops
  • request the author’s books at their local libraries and bookstores
  • tell friends and relatives about the book
  • share an honest review on Amazon, Goodreads, and/or Barnes & Noble (one of the best ways to show love to your favorite author!)
  • create social media posts and/or tweets to share information

Now the next question may be, what do street teams member get? Pretty much whatever the author chooses. It’s only limited by imagination. For example, my street team (The Pyromaniacs) can receive:

  • the chance to participate in a special drawing; the grand prize is naming a character in my next book Flare
  • exclusive opportunities to complete missions and win prizes
  • insider information on my books and updates on the writing process and  current projects
  • the chance to win an autographed copy of Spark
  • a street team members-only short story written about the characters in Spark

Many authors swear by street teams and the community they provide. I’m a marketing newbie, still learning what works and what doesn’t. But I believe the ability to connect with readers is invaluable.

So if you’ve already joined The Pyromaniacs, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’re the reason I wrote this story. If you haven’t joined The Pyromaniacs yet, why not? I’d be thrilled to have you be a part of this journey.

Guest Post by Sarah Delena White, author of Halayda

Today at Jilligan’s Island, I’m thrilled to have Sarah Delena White joining me.  Sarah has recently released her fantastic debut novel, Haylada. More information on the book is below, along with its beautiful cover! But first, she shares what she discovered while working on the novel.

 

 

Halayda was a first for me in more ways than one. It’s not just my first published novel; it’s the first novel I successfully finished. Don’t get me wrong—I wrote quite a bit before that. I started ten other manuscripts in the space of twelve years, but ended up abandoning them for one reason or another. When I started Halayda, I wanted to see it through to the end. I read up on writing strategies and tried out a lot of different advice. Here are a few of the things I learning during the process.

It’s okay to prioritize writing.

For my entire adult life, I had pushed writing aside, labeling it a fun hobby at best and an utter waste of time as worst. I felt guilty whenever I prioritized writing, always wondering if I could put the time to better use. It took me a long time to realize how hypocritical this was. Stories have tremendous power—it’s not an exaggeration to say that some of them have redefined how I see the world. It’s easy to value other people’s stories—or any kind of art—more than we value our own, but this isn’t doing anyone a favor. I decided to set aside chunks of time and make sure I made progress each day, no matter how impractical it seemed.

Find what works for you, even if it’s weird.

Each writer is wired differently. It’s easy to fall down the black hole of writing advice and end up doing things that worked for someone else but don’t benefit you. For example, I tried to be a “plotter,” writing thorough outlines and planning every detail in advance. This works great for many people, but for me, it killed the story every time. Despite being a natural planner, I decided to approach Halayda differently. I made sure I had a story structure and kept the characterization consistent, and then let everything else unfold in the moment. Each scene held new surprises, which meant I never got bored with the story. Then I broke one of the cardinal rules of first drafts by showing each scene to a critique partner as soon as I wrote it. Getting someone else’s reactions early on was helpful in making sure I was on the good track with the story. In other words, there’s no right or wrong system for writing a book!

You’ll never have the process completely under control, and that’s okay.


This was the hardest part of writing Halayda! I wrote a clean first draft and anticipated a straightforward editing process. My characters had other ideas. I ended up working a major character into the story after the first draft was complete, making some big changes to the world-building, and shifting my main characters’ arcs in order to set up the rest of the trilogy more effectively. It was a long process, and incredibly frustrating at times, but In the end it made for a much stronger book. I had to let go of a lot of preconceived ideas and let the book be what it wanted to be, even when it meant putting in a lot of extra time and effort. Like anything in life, there’s nothing predictable about writing. It’s a journey that will test you at every turn, but it’s ultimately worth it.

Thanks so much, Sarah, for sharing with us what you learned during the writing process. For those of you wondering what Halayda is about, read on!

A mortal alchemist. A faerie king. A bond that transcends death.

Betrayed by a trusted mentor, Sylvie Imanthiya hides on the fringes of society, caring for half-fae orphans and trading her alchemical creations on the black market. She lives for the one night each season when she can see her dearest friend—a man whose destiny is far above hers.

King Taylan Ashkalabek knows better than to exchange halayda vows with a mortal. Even their friendship is a risk; love is an impossible dream. Then a brutal alchemical attack poisons his realm, unearthing a dark power within him—and leaving Sylvie with the ancient mark of Faerie’s savior.

Manifesting unpredictable abilities and aided by allies with their own secrets, Sylvie and Taylan journey into the wilds of Faerie to heal the damage and confront Casimir, an invincible star-fae determined to claim the realm as his own. But only their enemy knows Sylvie’s true capabilities—and Taylan’s weaknesses—and how to use them in his vicious schemes.

Her fate is life. His fate is death. With Faerie in the balance, Sylvie and Taylan must stand together before reality as they know it is destroyed.

Review/buy links:
Author bio:
 
Sarah Delena White was raised by wolves in an alternate dimension. She writes eclectic speculative fiction that reworks mythology with a fine balance of poetry and snark. She’s an experienced world traveler who loves to weave world folklore and ancient concepts into vibrant, original story worlds. She is also the Benevolent Firebird (acquisitions editor) for Uncommon Universes Press. When she’s not writing or editing, she can be found making jewelry, singing Irish ballads, drinking tea, and working a variety of odd jobs. She can be bribed with dark chocolate. 
You can find Sarah here:

 

5 Things You Must Do After Typing “The End”

 

You’ve finished the book. Day after day, month after month, (perhaps even year after year), you’ve slogged away at this manuscript. You’ve poured your heart and soul onto the pages. And now it’s finished right? Well, kinda. Here are five things you must do after typing “The End.”

 

  • Celebrate. Really. Did you know 97% of writers never finish their book? So you’re part of the 3% that completed yours. Congratulations! Go do whatever you do to celebrate: go out to dinner, go dancing, eat some prime chocolate, have a glass of wine, take a nap, whatever. But do celebrate because this is no small accomplishment.

 

  • Avoid the manuscript like the plague. Don’t look at it for a month. Six weeks would be better. Go on vacation. Take up a new hobby or revisit an old one. Let your brain have a break from it for awhile. Then come back to it with fresh eyes.

 

  • Revise. And revise. And revise. Oh, and revise some more. In regards to revision, more is better. One go-through isn’t enough to make the manuscript submission-ready (unless your John Grisham or James Patterson–and I’d bet they revise, too). You’ll need to go through it several times, removing unnecessary  words, strengthening sentences, plugging plot holes, adding description, and whatever else your manuscript needs.

 

  • Get feedback (but not from your parents, siblings, or other family relatives. Do not expect honest feedback from anybody who really loves you.) Maybe a stranger in Walmart would be a good choice. Just kidding–sort of. When you want to hear nice things, give it to a family member. If you want the honest truth, give it to someone who’s not related and doesn’t care about damaging your fragile ego. You might not agree with all of their comments, and that’s okay. It is, after all, your story. But the feedback’s another point of view, and you can make the choice to change the story or not. An important side note: if several beta readers (also known as unprofessional readers) say the same thing, take a good, hard look at the story. They see something you don’t.

 

  • Hire an editor. This is absolutely necessary if you’re going to self-publish. If not, it’d still be a beneficial move. It could be the difference between agent or no-agent. Or contract and no contract.  Listen to their ideas. (These professionals are amazing. In my current novel, my editor suggested action beats to flesh out a scene, flagged misplaced modifiers, and highlighted the actions that didn’t make sense. Spark is better for it–thanks, Michele!) There are a few manuscripts moldering in my filing cabinet. If I ever dust them off someday, they’ll desperately need an editor. Even though I love these cool stories, they need to be overhauled by a professional.

So, even if you’ve typed “The End,” it’s really not. But you’re in the home stretch, so don’t give up. Take some time to do the above five steps. And afterwards? Publish it independently. Send it to an agent. Or submit it to a publishing house. Because the world needs to read the story only you can tell.

 

Spark Cover Reveal: A Picture Worth a Thousand Words

Isn’t the cover for Spark gorgeous? I feel like a proud mother.  Sara Helwe Digital Arts is responsible for all this awesomeness! Click on the link above to check out her work. I’d like to give her a big “thank you” for capturing Brenna and Linneah so well. Oh, speaking of which….

 

Hey guys, how’s it going? I’m Brenna James. J.M. Hackman’s being super-cool and letting me hijack her blog post for a minute. Spark is my story, which believe it or not, actually happened in the alternity (alternate reality) of Linneah. Yes, alternities exist! And portals. Look for them around running water. You know, like reservoirs, natural springs, fountains, that kind of thing.

Yesterday after school, I stopped by J.M. Hackman’s house and she showed me the cover of Spark—coolness! I’m planning to snag a copy to show my griffin Arvandus and my boyfriend Baldwin—both of them are in the book. J. (that’s J.M., even though she hates it when I call her that) and I worked on this story for a long time. Even though it was a team effort, I had the easy part. You know, talk a lot and then go home. Of course, I’ve had a lot going on with school and studying. Which reminds me, I’ve got a history paper due tomorrow. So before I sign off, let me remind you: don’t forget to pick up a copy of Spark. Trust me—you won’t be bored!

 

I’m back. Brenna, Baldwin, and Arvandus are just a few of the characters in Spark. I had a blast telling their story. The back cover blurb is below.  Oh, and I’m working on Brenna’s next story, titled Flare. Meanwhile, keep your eyes peeled—Brenna might stop by again, or maybe even Baldwin, if either of them can carve time out of their busy schedule.

 

Spark: The Firebrand Chronicles, Book One
J.M. Hackman
Release Date: May 16, 2017
Paperback: $14.99, eBook: $4.99 (Pre-order Price: $2.99)
Love2ReadLove2Write Publishing, LLC
Genre: YA Fantasy, 330 pages, ISBN: 978-1-943788-14-9

Back Cover:

Brenna James wants three things for her sixteenth birthday: to find her history notes before the test, to have her mother return from her business trip, and to stop creating fire with her bare hands. Yeah, that’s so not happening. Unfortunately.
When Brenna learns her mother is missing in an alternate reality called Linneah, she
travels through a portal to find her. Against her will. Who knew portals even existed? But Brenna’s arrival in Linneah begins the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy, including a royal murder and the theft of Linneah’s most powerful relic: the Sacred Veil. Hold up. Can everything just slow down for a sec?
Unwilling yet left with no other choice, Brenna and her new friend Baldwin (Um, hello,
Hottie!) pursue the thief into the dangerous woods of Silvastamen and beyond. Exactly what Brenna wanted to do for her sixteenth birthday. Exactly. When they spy an army marching toward Linneah, Brenna is horrified. Can she find the veil, save her mother, and warn Linneah in time? And more importantly, why on earth doesn’t this alternity have Belgian waffles?

 

 

The Love Project

I’m a big fan of Valentine’s Day, although I try to show my loved ones I love them all year round. It was harder when I was younger. So much emphasis placed on couples and dating and well, I was single. Even after I started dating, I still rebelled against the idea. My first year of college I celebrated Valentine’s Day by wearing all black… What can I say? It was an experiment. Now I’m older (and hopefully wiser), and I’ve learned Valentine’s Day is so much more than a day to celebrate that special someone.

I came across the Love Project a few weeks ago before February first. The idea appealed to me, especially after coming across a line in a parenting book. It said to tell your teen often, “There is nothing you can do to make me love you more, and nothing you can do to make me love you less.” (Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregston, Harvest House Publishers) After making that comment to them, we talked a bit more, than I decided to try the month-long project.

The directions are simple. Cut up enough cards so there’s one card for every day of the month (or you can use sticky notes). Every day write one unique thing you love about that person on a card. It can be a physical attribute or something special inside you love about them. Then stick it in a place where they’ll be sure to see it.

I did this with my two girls. I made a list of all the things I loved about them. Some were the same (their beautiful smile) while others were very different (one is calm and cautious while the other is full of energy). When I started placing them on the door of their room, I explained what I’d be doing.

“Why?” my older one asked with a suspicious squint.

I shrugged. “Just because. It’s February, the love month, right?”

In reality, I just wanted to let them know all the ways I thought they were amazing. My youngest has allowed all the notes to accumulate, like a Door of Affirmation, while the older takes some of them off and squirrels them away in her room. But however they deal with these love notes, I never want them to feel we don’t notice and appreciate their differences.

This idea is versatile. It’d work for any month or any special person. You don’t need to wait for Valentine’s Day. Who wants to wait for a special holiday to tell someone how much they’re loved? Or maybe do a month of I love you’s–tell a different person each day how you feel about them.

It’ll be interesting to see the results from this, if any. I’ve already had a few interesting conversations with my oldest daughter.

If you try it or a version of it, let me know. I’d love to hear how your Love Project progresses!

Just Another Blizzard

Today is a snow day. Snow started falling yesterday afternoon and by 5:30 this morning, the school called to declare a two-hour delay. Two hours later, they called again to cancel. So I slept in. This is my typical response to a snow day, because most days I’m up by 6:00. I like sleep and will find excuses to indulge. The snow’s been lightly falling all day, a soft blanket of beautiful white, decorating bare branches and pines with a fleecy white veil. My last check revealed a total of six inches—and it’s still coming.

Yesterday when the snow started, I was at a doctor’s appointment about twenty-five miles from home. After lunch with my husband, I drove home, noting the blinking highway signs reading, “Caution: White-out conditions.” In the distance, the valley looked fuzzy—a sure sign of snow, rain or other precipitation. Still, I continued on. After all, how bad could it be? Not more than a mile down the road, I encountered the white-out. It was like someone drew a line, and that was where the mayhem started. Blowing snow, decreasing visibility, gusting winds. Fun, fun. In our area, we’ve had multi-car pile-ups on the interstate in similar conditions. At the next exit, I drove to the old mountain road which everyone used before the interstate went in. It’s longer, but the trees block the wind and reduce the blowing snow that make I-80 so dangerous. Instead of a white-out, I faced untreated roads and slush-filled tracks. I followed the twists and turns up the mountain while my traction control engaged and disengaged. I’m blessed I didn’t get stuck. After a quick stop at Dollar General for the requisite milk and water (we already had enough bread), I hurried home.

If I had to do it over again, I’d make the same choice. But it made me remember why I hate driving in snow.

I’ve lived in Pennsylvania my whole life and in this small town for most of it. I’m not sure how I’d handle living in another part of the country where hurricanes or tornadoes or earthquakes are the norm. Blizzards and heavy snowfall seem easier to handle. Our preparation checklist looks like this:

  1. Buy enough gas for a generator, if you own one.
  2. Make sure your vehicles have full tanks.
  3. Check your pantry for a stash of canned goods.
  4. Cancel any appointments that may have been scheduled.
  5. Buy milk, bread, and water and “hunker down.”

We’re hunkered down now. I’ll let you know when we get out

House Rules

As the parents of two munchkins, my husband and I have had to lay down some rules. For example: no electronics in the bedroom, always tell the truth, and homework before fun. When the kids were smaller, we also had “Try one bite of everything on your plate.” (That one still sometimes gets pulled out when I feel adventurous and try a new recipe.) Many of these rules are probably very familiar to parents across the world. But we’ve had to institute a few unusual ones, too. One, a holdover from my childhood, is no singing at the table. I’m still not sure why, but I think the logic behind it is, if you’re singing, you’re not eating. And as a kid, I was a slow eater. Very slow.

Most weeknights, our family comes together to have dinner and share about our day. We’re all encouraged to share one good thing, one bad thing, and one interesting thing. Several years ago, we noticed an unusual trend. During dinner, Munchkin One would quote a memorable movie line that was appropriate to the situation. Munchkin Two would give the expected next line. Before you could take another bite of your mashed potatoes, they’d repeated half of the movie’s script, complete with sound effects. Now, there’s a small part of me that felt a motherly pride with their steel-trap memory, something I lost about ten years ago. But after experiencing the movie line phenomena a few times, we lost something precious. My husband and I would walk away from supper without any clue to how their day went.

At their age, I would come home from school, sit on the yellow stool just inside the kitchen doorway and spill my guts while my mom made supper. I had a few rough years dealing with school bullies, and I needed that verbal dialogue as a kind of decompression. If I was still bothered by a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day, I’d practice my piano lesson and lose myself in the music. But my kids don’t follow in my footsteps. Each of them comes home, does their homework, and then plays video games. So that connection at the dinner table is crucial.

In response, we created, “No movie lines, TV lines, or music lyrics at the table.” Sometimes my husband or I will slip with “Everything’s perfectly all right now. We’re fine. We’re all fine here now, thank you. How are you?” (from Star Wars IV) or “I don’t know what they taught you in France, but rude and interesting are not the same things.” (from French Kiss.) But my kids store pages and pages of dialogue from all the Pixar movies, Disney movies, and most recently, anime shows. (You know you’ve experienced a rare thing when your English-speaking kids sing a whole song in Japanese.)

So with the no movie line rule, we eliminated the movie play-by-plays, and they shared what happened at school. But sometimes with Munchkin One (now a teen), we hear, “Cause we were like, ‘whooooa,’ and I was like, ‘whooooa.’ and you were like, ‘whooooaaa…’”

As you can see, it’s a work in progress.

 

A Silent Resolution

Our Christmas tree is still up, the tiny lights filling the living room with a soft glow. Unwrapped packages lay scattered under the tree, and a garbage bag of crumpled wrapping paper slouches in a corner, waiting for trash day.

Amid this scene of a successful Christmas holiday, I’m sad. Post-Christmas blues usually find me, as well as 25 percent of other Americans. I only need to wait it out and focus on some of the plans our family has made before everyone gets back to “the daily grind.” The feeling will blow over sometime in January.

Maybe the sadness materialized because I’ve broken with tradition and made a resolution for 2017. That’s rare. I avoid resolutions because I don’t like feeling like a failure. Typically, a fantastic idea hits in late December, and I decide to lose weight or eat less chocolate (how ridiculous is that?!) Then sometime in the spring, I realize the resolution I came up with several months ago is unattainable, and I revert to my old habits.

But this year, I’ve found a weakness, a behavior I want to fix. I interrupt others, speaking over them as I cringe inside with embarrassment. I could blame it on self-centeredness, or social awkwardness, or narcissism (which, here we go again, makes me feel like a failure, because I don’t like to think I have those problems). But I’ve always talked fast and thought fast, and my amazing family loves me anyway. With people who don’t know me well, I struggle to keep my mouth shut when a thought pops into my head. I’m afraid I’ll forget it. But with 40+ years of living this way, I’m determined to end the rudeness. I’ve had a couple victories in the last week, and I’m looking for many more in 2017.

This thinking about resolutions made me wonder. Do you make them? What were they? If any of them were successful, how did you attain that success? Leave a comment—I’d love to hear about it!