Paranormal Lite: Lighting up the Dark Side of Teen Fiction

My Twitter Banner. Source: Andrew Haarsager/sxc.hu

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. 🙂

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How I Landed My First Book Contract!

Me signing my first contract with OakTara.

I did it! I finally received a contract for my YA book The Nexis Secret from OakTara Publishers. Now I’ve morphed from hopeful writer into budding author. I was so completely shocked that I’m pretty sure I said “No way,” about 20 times. Especially when I read the email from the editor saying she loves the book, my concept is fascinating, and it has great market potential.

Me signing my first contract with OakTara.

Signing my first contract with OakTara, next to mini-Jane Austen.

Back to the Start

Like many writers, I started writing short stories at a young age. I was probably about 9 or 10 when I penned my first story in fourth grade. But for me, writing always seemed like a lofty dream–something I could never really attain. It wasn’t until college that I started to wonder. Maybe I could write a book. Thanks to my drama teacher’s belief in my writing, I took the plunge and signed up for a creative writing class. That’s where I laid the ground work for this story.

After college I continued to work on my story, but it wandered aimlessly. Back then it was a coming-of-age novel with chick lit undertones. In my search for direction, I stumbled upon ACFW, American Christian Fiction Writers, and jumped into local meetings. What an eye-opener. I learned chick lit was dead and college-age heroes weren’t marketable. With much wrestling and prayer, I transformed the story into the paranormal teen novel it is today. My journey from contemporary to paranormal fiction will appears in my blog post, Lighting Up the Dark Side: My Switch to Paranormal Teen Fiction.

Since joining ACFW and interacting with my local KC West chapter, I’ve learned to hone my writing into something publishable. Along the way I’ve made awesome friends. Let’s face it, no one can understand my brand of crazy quite like other writers. They encouraged me to read writing books, enter contests, and attend writers conferences. Without them, and the unwavering support of my wonderful husband, Sam, I wouldn’t have accomplished my lifelong dream. Because what came next was something I would’ve never imagined.

Dealing With Obstacles

Due to budget cuts, my day job turned into a data entry nightmare. Over time, my hands and elbows took the brunt of overuse, screaming their pain at me. Enough so I couldn’t write anymore. I visited many doctors, received several diagnoses, but most of them eventually got ruled out. Meanwhile, my hands and my book chugged along a roller coaster ride of extreme highs and extreme lows. One writer loved my work enough to recommend me to her agent, who hated my story. I semi-finaled in ACFW’s Genesis contest and pitched my way to three manuscript requests. Within 6-8 weeks those requests all came back with rejections.

I’d received so many rejections that I almost didn’t make it to my favorite little conference, the Called to Write Conference in Pittsburg, Kansas. Craving encouragement, I sent an excerpt for critique to Deborah Raney, one of the kindest authors in the ACFW. Not only did she love my writing, but she showed it to her editor friend, Ramona Tucker, co-founder of OakTara Publishers.

A few years ago I reviewed an OakTara book, Yesterday’s Tomorrow, here on my blog. I was still a bit skeptical about this small publisher, until I listened to one of Ramona’s lectures. Her passion for writing and for the publishing industry convinced me that I should take OakTara seriously. Combine that with Ramona’s vast publishing experience working with top authors (like my favorite author of all-time, Madeleine L’Engle) and I was hooked.

A Turning Point

Apparently Deb loved my book so much she even discussed it with Ramona over dinner. On the last day of the conference Deb told me how much Ramona absolutely loved The Nexis Secret and wanted to meet me. Ramona then asked me to submit my manuscript to Oak Tara.

As many writers know, life sometimes gets in the way. My hands were getting worse until I finally lost my day job. Which, as it turns out, was a blessing in disguise. In the months that followed, the pain eased up until I was able to polish up my novel and send it to OakTara. Then I waited . . .

In my impatience, or active waiting depending on your perspective, I entered The Nexis Secret into ABNA, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. My entry made it to Round 2, the top 20% of all entries. The deadline to withdraw from the contest was fast approaching, after that Amazon has first contract refusal rights. One day before the deadline I got the email from Oak Tara offering me a contract.

I admit, it took me awhile to wrap my brain around the concept. What I prayed about for a year, the publishing house with one of Madeleine L’Engle’s editors, wants to publish my book. That night I withdrew from the ABNA contest. The next day I signed and mailed the contract–and haven’t looked back.

My thirty-year dream of getting published is now coming true! (I probably dreamed about becoming an author as a baby, but that’s just a theory 😉 ) A big thank you to everyone who has supported me over the last four years as I sought to turn my dream into a reality. There will be more big news to come–like my book’s release date and its cover reveal. I’ll be sure to keep you posted right here, where it all started.

Insights Into Writing and Publishing with Author Tom Blubaugh

YA author Tom Blubaugh shares the story behind his first novel, and how he got it published. Night of the Cossack follows teenager Nathan Hertzfield’s life-or-death adventures through Russia and Europe during the early 1900’s.

Q:  How did you come up with the idea for your YA historical novel?

A: Both of my grandfathers died before I was born. The older I grew the more I noticed their absence. I tried to find out about them, but there was very little information. One day I found that my maternal grandfather was a Russian Cossack soldier. I took this fact and started creating my grandfather for myself.

Q: Why did you decide to go with Bound by Faith Publishers? Tell us a bit about them.

A: Actually, they came to me. I knew the owners, Dennis & Polly Vance, from church. I had helped Dennis with a website and he came to me for help with his publishing site. I showed him my website, which contains the first chapter of the manuscript I was working on, just to give him some ideas. He and Polly read that chapter and wanted to read the rest. They asked me if they could publish it. Not your usual publishing story.

Q: You’ve used three different publishing methods–a bigger house, an up-and-coming house, and self publishing. Can you tell us about your experiences with each and how they differ?

A: The self publishing was in regard to a ministry I had at the time—a seminar of developing a bus ministry back in the mid-seventies. I used it as a tool of my ministry and didn’t mass produce for marketing. I didn’t even keep a copy of it for myself, but my publisher found it on Amazon.com a couple of months ago and I grabbed it. That title was Behind the Scenes of the Bus Ministry.

I am a member of some online writing groups. One day I received an email telling me Barbour Publishing was looking for male writers to write devotions based on nature and the outdoors. I sent them a sample devotional and they contracted me, flat rate, to write twenty for their publication The Great Adventure. I believe there were fourteen other writers. This did not involve anything other than writing.

The Night of the Cossack is my first foray into fiction writing. This experience is totally different and I am learning a lot. It’s interesting knowing the publishers personally because we talk over everything, brainstorm, and work together. Dennis supports me by attending speaking engagements and book signings. Recently we participated in a Career Day at a local elementary school. He presented the publishing side and I presented insights into an author’s world.

The downside is there’s no distributor, so it is a lot like being self published. It’s hard work getting my books in stores. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. It has given me great insight into what is involved in publishing. Dennis has almost as hard a time getting the book into stores as writers do getting an editor to read a manuscript. We trust the Lord to open the doors.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: Work hard at building a marketing platform from the beginning. Don’t wait until your manuscript is done. Get active on Facebook, Twitter and get your name out there. Don’t think, “If I get published.” Instead think, “When I get published.”

Tom Blubaugh is a freelance writer. He has written nonfiction most of his adult life.  He is also a member of the Missouri Writer’s Guild and speakers bureau. He resides with his wife Barbara in Southwest Missouri where he is currently writing fiction. Tom and Barbara have six children and fourteen grandchildren. In addition to writing, Tom loves macro photography. He was president of Jericho Commission, Inc and still serves as a board member. Tom believes that retirement is about continuing to fulfill God’s purpose. And yes, he is currently working on a sequel to Night of the Cossack.

Tom’s website: www.tomblubaugh.com

Tom’s Blogs:  Tom’s Blog and check out Tom at Blogspot.

For the print version of Night of the Cossack  go to Bound by Faith Publishers. For the ebook version, visit Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.com