Paranormal Lite: Lighting up the Dark Side of Teen Fiction

My Twitter Banner. Source: Andrew Haarsager/

I’m back to blogging again. I’ve been off the radar for a while, doing something I told you I’d never do–writing paranormal teen fiction. In a previous blog Would You Rather Go to College or Boarding School I mentioned how I’d never write paranormal. You caught me! Something’s happened since then, an amazing, kinda scary journey into a new realm.

From Contemporary Chick Lit Roots

A Corner of RealityThe first version of my soon-to-be-released novel was a chick lit book set at a small Christian college outside New York City. In my doe-eyed dreaminess I called it A Corner of Reality and focused on the coming-of-age-story of a college freshman. I even tossed in the guy’s point of view, thinking that was so original. Yeah, wrong! Even still, I entered it in contests and took it to writer’s conferences. There I found a mixed, but still rude, awakening.

Advice from Agents and Editors

My first big writer’s conference kicked off with high praise from a popular teen author who loved my writing. She even said I could use her as a recommendation at my agent appointment. Ten minutes later the agent barely looked at my writing, saying my college age bracket wouldn’t work. I’d have to drop the characters down to high school, or bump them up to post-college. Still she handed me her card, just in case I fixed the problems. My editor appointment went about the same, with very kind advice that my story sounded too light and too dark. Say what, you ask? Apparently I needed to pick a tone for my book–light and funny or dark and issue-based. Yeah, shocker, that one through me for a loop.

For months I struggled with how to fix my book, ultimately changing the setting from Christian college to private Ivy League prep school. I polished it enough to semi-final in the ACFW Genesis contest. That earned me attention from an up-and-coming agent who loved my boarding school setting and wanted to brainstorm with me. Three guesses as to what she suggested? Ding, ding, ding . . . she told me to switch to paranormal. She even suggested angels.

My Inner Protest

I never wanted to do a paranormal teen book, but one about angels? No, thank you. Why wouldn’t I want to tackle such a popular subject? Yes, it was overdone, but mostly the teen angel books I came across didn’t portray real angels. They’d fall from heaven only to roam the Earth still undecided about heaven or hell. Nowadays angels don’t fall in love with teenage girls, they don’t marry humans and have half-breed children. The Bible does allude to a time when they did–and got wiped out by the flood. Angels are in the Bible, and I went to Bible college. So why would a Bible college graduate be so afraid to tackle the subject of angels?

With that thought, angels became a challenge for me. If I had to write an angel book, theoretically of course, how could I shape it into something teens would read? How could I be true to the Bible, while still showing angels speaking to today’s teenager? Then it came to me.

Bam! The Great Idea

My first thought, “What if you could see angels exactly as the Bible depicts them?” Angels outfitted in lighting, battling the forces of darkness, speaking to people in dreams and visions. What if only one girl could see this unseen supernatural world? That would be a pretty cool heroine to build a story around. But there was still something missing . . . a plot.

I assumed the Bible didn’t have much to say about angels, so I picked up a topical Bible. Wow were there a lot of verses about angels! They’re everywhere. So I brainstormed any plot points I could think of, but nothing seemed strong enough. I read somewhere that in order to make your antagonist more real, you had to think like a bad guy. Yeah, not my forte for sure, but I gave it a try. What would a villain do with the gift to see angels and demons? How would they try to exploit the one girl who could?

That night I went to wash my face and bam! The idea smacked me in the forehead. (Oh wait, that was me.)

What if a secret society existed whose entire mission was to recreate Genesis 6.

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.  -Genesis 6:4

Some scholars contend that “sons of God” were angels and allegedly produced Nephilim, a blend of half angel, half human. Then the Flood came and wiped them all out. There’s so much debate about what this passage means. So, I decided to invent a secret society who were cultish about this Bible passage, hiding in the fringes of religious organizations. Using an anagram generator, I named the group Nexis, made the boarding school their training grounds, and created a group called the Guardians to fight them. That meant both groups were fighting over my heroine. Suddenly I had a plot.

Changing My Story

I manipulated scenes to fit the new story and added scenes to further the plot. Surprisingly, in many scenes including my two main turning points, not a lot changed. I already had the bare bones for this new plot twist. I even left most the characters alone, except for my bad guy who got upgraded from annoying side character to full-fledged villain. Though I plotted from the antagonist’s viewpoint, I centered the book on the Guardians and my heroine’s struggle to decide between the two groups. Because sometimes I scared myself writing like a bad guy. Yet the story is stronger, the message brighter, with all the changes.

I took The Nexis Secret to two conferences in the past two years. At a big conference, I received two manuscript requests from agents and two from small press publishers. All eventually rejected the book, including the agent who brainstormed with me. So I went to a small conference and submitted an excerpt to a published author for encouragement. She loved it so much that she recommended it to her editor, who was also at the conference. On April 3rd, OakTara‘s editor offered me a contract! (See my previous post, How I Landed My First Book Contract!)

While I’m not going to tell you to switch genres just to get more interest in your novel, I will point out one thing. Be open to new ideas, even if they’re in another genre. Especially if you’re still unpublished. You could find yourself in a whole new world like I did, and my writing is better for it. Not only do I have a great four-part series planned from this one idea, but The Nexis Secret fits better with my future book ideas. The Nexis Secret is something I can build a brand around. That makes it totally worth it.

I wanna know what you think. Tell me your thoughts, concerns, experiences, or pitfalls with writing or reading in different genres.
I’d love to hear from you. 🙂



  1. Pingback: » Lighting up the Dark Side: My Switch to Paranormal Teen Fiction … Blog

  2. Pingback: How I Landed My First Book Contract! | Barbara Hartzler

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