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?



Supporting Artists

Imagine: you’re at home, you’ve finished the laundry teetering in the baskets, swept the floor, and your children (if you have them) are playing, happy, and quiet. (If they’re quiet, go check them. Now. You’ll thank me later.)

Congratulations! You’ve found a chunk of time to write. You sit down, power up your laptop, and… nothing. The house is too quiet, or too loud, or the incessant dripping from the kitchen faucet makes it difficult to think. You need music. Through a non-scientific experiment of my own, I’ve built a list of composers and artists that keep me writing.

I have a few requirements for music to make my list. First of all, it can’t have words. If it does, I’ll end up humming it all day and my writing will suck. (Or suck more than it already does.) Even if it’s an instrumental version of Adele’s Hello, it’ll distract me. Secondly, it has to fit the genre or scene. If I’m writing a love scene, I don’t want to listen to The Imperial March.

Pull up some of these on Pandora and see if they work for you on your next WIP.

  1. Anything by John Williams (Indiana Jones series, Jurassic Park, Star Wars series, and many others) Something about this man’s music makes me type faster, and the scenes unspool in my head in an epic rush. I’ll admit, though, I haven’t tried writing to Jaws. Just sayin’.
  2. Some of Hans Zimmer’s scores. I like all of the Pirates of the Carribean series and a few tracks on the Inception soundtrack are good. (I’m planning on using Dream is Collapsing for my future WIP’s dark moment.)
  3. Anything instrumental by Lindsey Stirling. The girl with her violin is gold.
  4. Vivaldi is good for just about any genre. His concertos known as The Four Seasons are my favorite.
  5. Warcraft II (the video game) I wrote the battle scene for Spark while listening to it. Again, something about those selections had me writing faster. Some writers claim any video game music will work because it’s designed to allow the gamer to focus on another task other than the music itself.
  6. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves I found this on Pandora one day, and I’m now convinced my current WIP would be an awesome movie. The tracks will give you “delusions of grandeur,” I promise, which is not a bad thing. You have characters who are doing their own thing, a sagging story arc, fantastic plot points that now seem stupid… Any bolstering, real or otherwise, is sometimes needed.

We’re an eclectic household. My two daughters listen to pop music when they write and do homework—I don’t know how they do it. My husband listens to electronica while working. I listen to primarily instrumental music on Pandora. This article http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/24/music-creative_n_5511501.html from Huffington Post also has some interesting facts about music and creativity. Do you have favorites that inspire you? Comment below and share what music you’ve been listening to.


Three Firsts at Realm Makers

Over a month ago, I traveled to Villanova, Pennsylvania, to attend the Realm Makers Conference, a writing conference for Christian speculative fiction writers. It’s the place rm-signsto be if you’re writing Christian fantasy, science-fiction, supernatural, steam punk or any other “weird” genre fiction that doesn’t fit nicely into other categories. To say it was a weekend of firsts for me is an understatement of epic proportions.

But first a little background story: many moons ago in a galaxy far, far away (AKA before I had children), I attended a Christian writers conference. I wrote romance at the time and had a manuscript to pitch to a publisher. (For my non-writing friends, a pitch is a chance to tell an editor, publisher, agent, or person of influence, about your story in the hopes that it catches their interest and doesn’t sit moldering in your filing cabinet). As my first manuscript, it wasn’t ready for publication (and never will be, although I learned a lot while writing it). During my appointment, the publisher was snide, condescending, and less than kind. I came home ready to hang my word processor up for good. Fast forward twenty years later, that incident still sticks with me, like bad Chinese take-out. So much so, that the thought of pitching anything more than laundry in a basket filled me with dread. Still, I had the opportunity at Villanova, and I hoped things had changed in the years while I was off building a family.

My first “first” was the chance to attempt a pitch and leave with a positive experience. Did I want a publishing contract? Yes. But my most pressing need was to leave with the knowledge that I should keep pursuing my dream, I wasn’t a hack, and editors/agents/publishers were nice people who wanted to help writers who were serious about their craft. Mission accomplished. At the end of the weekend, I completed two successful pitches, and all the publishers I talked with were genuinely nice people.


My second “first” was the opportunity to participate in a cosplay event. For the awards banquet the second night, we were instructed to dress up in our favorite fandom. Being the fantasy writer that I am, I pulled out my trusty sewing machine. After watching waaaaay too many You tube videos, I pulled together a medieval mercenary outfit (or at least my interpretation of one), complete with a sword and sheath, and a matching corset and bracers set. It was loads of fun, and I came away impressed with everyone else’s costumes. Doctor Who? He was there. Rapunzel with her frying pan? Also there. At our table, a Vulcan sat next to an elegant vampire (who did NOT sparkle. I’m thinking Stephanie Meyer might have made that up). A couple Reys’ from The Force Awakens, as well as elves, fairies, ladies-in-waiting, and superheroes were scattered throughout the room.

My third “first” was the chance to be in a Nerf war. People, unless you’ve done this before, you’ve no idea how much fun you’re missing! I picked up an inexpensive Nerf gun with LOTS of ammunition before the conference, and came away with the desire to do this a lot more (so much so, that I bought three extra Nerf guns—one for each member of my family!) The conferees split into two teams, named Fury and Doom, and took over two floors of the one dorm. I had so much fun shooting foam bullets at the dude hanging out in the stairwell.

At the conference, I made friends and met face-to-face virtual friends I knew only from the internet. Despite my social anxiety and awkwardness, I came home with a new “tribe,” a group of people who understood what I wrote, and why I wrote it. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt comfortable with strangers that quickly. There were no awkward conversations that went like this:
Friendly Individual turns to me with a smile. “What do you write?”
“Speculative fiction. It’s a portal fantasy, you know, like Narnia.”
“Oh.” The individual’s smile freezes as they nod uncertainly.
Conversation over.

The keynote speaker was Thom Locke (pen name for T. Davis Bunn). An eloquent speaker, he shared encouraging tips to get our butts in the chair and write. Despite authors’ love for writing, it can sometimes be intimidating and very difficult to carve out time to do this. I also attended classes on writing led by Kathy Tyers (Firebird Trilogy, and several Star Wars books) and bestselling author Tosca Lee (Iscariot, The Progeny, and others).

It’s over for this year. You missed it, your bad. But don’t despair because it’s an annual thing. Next year is the fifth anniversary, and it’ll be held in Reno. Bestselling author Ted Dekker will be the keynote speaker. Make the effort to attend this conference and come prepared for learning and fun. You won’t be disappointed.

How Contests Changed My Writing


Do you participate in contests? I never did. I’d receive the Publishers Clearinghouse packet in the mail, and I would do a free throw right into File 13. After all, why bother? Thousands of entries, but hardly thousands of chances. You’d have a better chance of being struck by lightning.

Until I started writing. That was a contest based on skill. Sure, it’s a subjective thing. What one person hates, another loves. But work at the craft, polish the writing, and it becomes great. I entered a few writing contests many moons ago when I was working on my inspirational romances. I never won, but the feedback I received helped me improve.

Fast forward to over a decade later: at a conference by author Hope Clark, she said, “If you don’t enter, you won’t win. So enter as many contests as you can.” It was good advice. I began entering more of my projects—poetry, short stories, the first five pages of novels. Some of the contests were free (yay!), while others had a small fee. After a couple years of losses, I received an honorable mention for a novel in 2012. Then in 2015, I won an Editor’s Choice Award for a short story. But even when I lost, I won. The unparalleled feedback I received was invaluable, especially with ACFW’s First Impressions contest.

Now the ACFW Keystone Chapter is holding the Great Beginnings Contest. They’re not looking for much, just the first five pages of a novel and the synopsis. And the cherry on top of this sundae is the nominal entry fee ($10-15). So polish those pages and send them an entry (or two!) After all, if you don’t enter, you won’t win.

Three Tips to Writing Good Bad Guys

The author, Bethany Jennings (@simmeringmind.com), recently sent out a list of thirty-one WIP Joy Themes. It got me thinking. I had to add my own joy theme: why I love writing about villains.

Writing about villains gives us a chance to be bad. The author gets carte blanche to say bad things, do bad things, think bad things on the page. And each and every choice is legitimate and can be excused because he’s bad, right?

Um, no.

Here are a few tips to writing good bad guys.
1. He or she won’t be bad all the time. If they are, they come across as two-dimensional, cardboard cutout bad guys. Make them interesting by making their choices interesting. For example, he’s a serial killer, but has a penchant for rescuing stray dogs. This leads to my second point.

2. Give him a chance for redemption. To make your bad guy more thought provoking, give him the chance to make a good choice. Think Darth Vader’s saving of Luke in The Return of the Jedi or Severus Snape’s deathbed tears given to Harry in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (I apologize to those of you who haven’t seen either of these movies. If you haven’t, go watch them. Now.) Both Darth Vader and Severus Snape became infinitely more fascinating when they made choices that seemed out of character.

3. Make sure there’s motivation for his behavior, either good or bad. To follow up my theme in #1, he’s a serial killer because his mother beat him all through his childhood. When he kills, he releases the anger and powerlessness he carried all through his teens. In addition, every person he kills resembles his mother. Nothing is worse than excusing his choices by claiming, “He’s a bad guy!” Yes, he is, but there should be a reason for his bad actions.

So check your work in progress. Give your baddie a goal, a story arc, and an excellent backstory. Flesh him out; make him three-dimensional. Don’t allow your villain to be fade-into-the-page boring. After all, there’s no excuse for bad writing.