I stayed up all night last night at my computer, tapping in the final words to the draft of a novel that has been five years in the making--more, if I count the years the story concept simmered in my mind while I finished writing The Gateway Chronicles. I'm sure I've blogged about it elsewhere, but I'm frankly too tired to look it up now, and seeing as how I've written over 10,000 words in the last twenty-four hours (and roughly 35,000 in the past five days), I hope you can forgive me for not digging up the actual genesis of the idea.
Because it has been a long time. Too long. The Breeder Cycle should have been finished years ago, but with the dissolution of my publishing house in the middle of writing the series, I found myself without a publishing home and with two books of a trilogy complete--with disappointed readers hanging on by a cliff-hanger thread at the end of CRIMINAL, desperate to know what happened next, and no way to bring them the book that made any real sense whatsoever. I was teaching full-time with four sons (one of whom was a toddler, another an infant). I had no time, or resources, to write and self-publish a third book that would exist... out there... for sale (with a non-matching cover!) while the other books (books I didn't yet have the rights back for) slowly disappeared from circulation.
It didn't make sense, and I felt stuck.
The only option, as I waited for the rights to revert to me from my publisher for the first two books in The Breeder Cycle was to look ahead to my publishing future--to what I could do with my career. So I wrote another book, one that belonged to me and was not bound to an existing series. I wrote The Girl in the Sea. And I began the process of querying agents, a year-long process that resulted in my represented by Ben Grange with the L. Perkins Agency.
During that year, though, I continued to ponder what I should do about The Breeder Cycle, as I never intended to leave that series unfinished. In the months before I signed with Ben, my husband and I took a road trip to Washington, DC--a key setting in CLONE and someplace I'd never been--so I could take a few notes and get a feel for the location. While driving through the mountains of Virginia, the idea came to me for HUNTER, a prequel novel tied to the trilogy of The Breeder Cycle but standing alone. Something I could, hypothetically, self-publish independent of the rest of the series as an add-on to the universe I'd created. HUNTER arrived to me fully formed, and I started working on it on the drive. I finished it just a few months later.
Once I signed with Ben, of course our focus became working on the new book. The Girl in the Sea needed edits and revisions... about eight months of focused work went into that book before we sent it out on submission. And in that time, I finally got all the rights back to all my previously published works. Eight books--The Gateway Chronicles and the first two books of The Breeder Cycle--had reverted to me. But I was still faced with a question of what to do with them.
It was mid-late 2017 and I had written ten books. Eight of those had been previously published. One was (heading) out on submission, and one was a prequel novel tied to an incomplete trilogy that was a fit of my own fancy. Despite having sold well in indie markets and having won multiple indie awards and all my speaking and outside writing credentials, for all intents and purposes when it came to Big 5 publishing, I was (am) an unknown, and those backlisted books were not going to be of great interest to any larger publisher, now that they had already been out for some time, and (in the case of The Gateway Chronicles) been through a couple iterations.
But I still had readers contacting me about my books, often weekly. Sometimes daily. The longer my books were off the market, the more people wanted to find them. I took that as a good sign, and a sign that I needed to take steps to make my backlist available again, through whatever means I could--even if that meant self-publishing them while also working ahead with Ben on future projects.
In early 2018, Ben and I chatted about what I should be working on next, and that is when I pitched to him my idea for a Middle Grade Science Fantasy series. So from February to April of 2018, I wrote what I will just call O---, the first book of a new series. And after I turned that in, I set to work on re-releasing my back-list in the order I had first released it with my previous publisher--with updates, revisions, and new scenes. That's when the re-releases of The Gateway Chronicles came out from May-September of 2018.
In fall of 2018, Ben and I decided The Girl in the Sea needed a rewrite to make it more appealing for the submission process, so I deeply overhauled the book. It became A Silence in the Deep (still a working title, as these things usually are). After that, and a first round of deep edits on O---, I returned to the re-release project in spring of 2019 and managed to finally get BREEDER and CRIMINAL back out.
And, at last, I was finally able to write CLONE--the manuscript people always ask me about. The one I had started a long time ago and abandoned for all these reasons listed above. I wrote all summer and through the early fall to finish it, pausing here and there just for my other writing obligations. I would love to say it's been easy, finishing this book, since I've known the end for so long, but I knew it was going to be hard. Bringing a series to an end is often like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole: you know it will fit, but you might have to shave off a few corners and wiggle it a little in the process. This was always a complicated story, and I never could have made it work if I didn't plan so meticulously from the very beginning. I do have to say, I am thrilled with how the story has turned out. I've been holding the threads of the resolutions together in my mind for so long, I just hope they are as fulfilling for everyone as they feel, and have always felt, for me.
So... when will the book be out? Well, I've promised a 2019 release for both this story and HUNTER, which has been done and edited for two years now. I am sticking to that, even though the year is slipping away. The manuscript will be off to my fabulous and selfless editor Hayley after I dig in and do some HARD revising this week. Between now and the end of the year, I will work as diligently as I can to make CLONE the best it can be before I release it, at long, long last.
For now, I am sitting back, a little dazed that I finally am done with the draft. Amazed that it took me until 2019 to finish writing this series that I started in 2014 and definitely first dreamed up in 2012 or earlier. Astonished that I wrote three more books and over fifty articles in between CRIMINAL and CLONE. But... happy. Happy with how it's turned out. Excited, and nervous, to share it with the world.
I know, I know, comparing your books to Harry Potter can be kind of a “No, no” for a number of reasons (I mean — it’s setting the bar a little high, right?). But I dare to make the comparison for a few reasons: For those of us who are huge Potterheads, it can be difficult to find another book series to scratch that “itch,” so I appreciate when someone lets me know about a series that has similarities. Also, this is feedback I’ve consistently gotten from my readers. And last, but not least, while writing The Gateway Chronicles, I studied Rowling’s storytelling methods and intentionally told a similarly structured story so that those who love the world of Harry Potter might find similar story beats in my books, as well. So without further ado, here are the top ten reasons why I think readers who love Harry Potter will appreciate The Gateway Chronicles:
1. It’s a story of friendship
One of the prevailing themes of both Harry Potter and The Gateway Chronicles is that of friendship. In both stories, the narrative turns on the relationships between the main character and his (or, in my book, her) friends. When friendships are out of balance, so is the mental health and wellbeing of the main characters. In the first book of my series, The Six, Darcy Pennington’s success hinges on whether or not she will allow some new friends into her life.
2. It’s a “fish out of water” story
As with any good “gateway” fantasy, taking the main character and trapping them in a new world/situation makes for all sorts of fun. This is what happens to Harry when he meets Hagrid (and proceeds to Diagon Alley, Platform 9 ¾, and Hogwarts), and for my main character, Darcy, it’s what happens when her parents drag her against her will to Cedar Cove Family Camp, where she slowly discovers some odd occurrences that could be magical… until she stumbles through a gateway to another world and all doubt is erased. Like Harry, Darcy (and her five friends) find out everyone in this alternate world knows a whole lot more about them than they know about themselves, and not only that, but they have magical abilities.
3. There is a slow-burning, friends-to-more, romance
One of the things I always loved about Harry Potter was the fact that I could tell Harry would eventually end up with Ginny, but Rowling took her time about getting there. Not only was this appropriate for the intended audience of the books, but it made the ultimate romance more believable and satisfying, in the end. In The Gateway Chronicles, Darcy also meets her eventual great love right away in The Six, but she’s only 13, and they don’t terribly like each other. Dislike turns into friendship in books 2 and 3, The Oracle and The White Thread, and into… more as the series progresses and the characters age. It’s a more prominent storyline than Harry and Ginny’s romance in Harry Potter, but a similarly slow burn.
4. Each book is a year-long adventure
There are a handful of things I intentionally patterned closely after Harry Potter, and this is one of them. Each book in The Gateway Chronicles (with the exception of the final book, The Bone Whistle), is a year-long adventure in the world of Alitheia. Just as you know exactly what you’re getting when you sit down to read a Harry Potter novel (one year at Hogwarts, with some adventures preceding and immediately after), likewise, that’s what you’re getting with The Gateway Chronicles.
5. The adults in the story are not wicked, foolish, or pointless
It is not uncommon in YA literature that all (or most) of the adults in the story end up being wicked, foolish, or pointless. J. K. Rowling avoided this trap so well in Harry Potter, and I sought to do likewise. So, if you’re a Dumbledore, Remus Lupin, Molly Weasley, or Sirius Black fan, I assure you that I have adult characters that are similarly not only not wicked, foolish, or pointless, but who have crucial roles to the story and who treat the young main characters with respect and dignity.
6. Episodic books; series metanarrative
As with Harry Potter, each book in The Gateway Chronicles tells a contained story — that concludes itself — while also contributing to a metanarrative. In other words, just as Voldemort isn’t defeated until Deathly Hallows, so my “big bad,” Tselloch, isn’t defeated until the very end of The Gateway Chronicles. But each individual book has its own narrative arc and individual conflict that, while resolving, also furthers the greater story. I patterned this after Harry Potter because I don’t like getting to the end of a book and feeling like it just ended without resolution, but I also think a series should have a clear metanarrative from beginning to end.
7. Unique magical elf-creatures
Every good fantasy series should invent some unique magical creature. J. K. Rowling has house elves (among others), and I created narks — which are elves that switch from day to night personas depending on whether it’s day or night (two beings housed in one body). There are lots of magical creatures in The Gateway Chronicles, but narks have proven to be, based on reader feedback, the favorite addition.
8. You get to grow with the characters
I loved growing up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. That was part of the delight of reading a “There and back again,” yearly episodic story — knowing that in each book, the characters would be a year older with all the unique traits that come along with each new year as a teen. Thus, in writing The Gateway Chronicles, I wanted to do likewise — not just for my young readers who would get to empathize with the characters who were walking alongside them, but for my older readers, too, looking back on those ages and remembering.
9. There is a magical system to learn
The magical system in The Gateway Chronicles is very different from the magical system in Harry Potter (it’s alchemy and enchantments and elemental magic, no wands or charms or anything like that), but when Darcy and her friends arrive in Alitheia, they get there with abilities that are new to them and no idea how to use them. Although there’s no magic school for them to attend, they are privately tutored in magic, and this instruction takes up a good amount of the story in The Six and on into books 2 and 3 (and even book 4, if I think about it). So if you love the classroom scenes at Hogwarts, there is plenty of that to go around in my books, as well.
10. The kids act their age
A recent complaint buzzing around the internet is that teens no longer act like teens in YA lit. Something I have always appreciated about Rowling’s young characters is that they actually act their age. Her authenticity inspired me, and I think it’s so important to have characters like hers. I’ve striven to do likewise — to have characters in The Gateway Chronicles who act like teens, not like miniature adults.
*Get The Gateway Chronicles now on Amazon, or check out my Books Page for all purchasing options*
I'm so happy to welcome Sherry Gomes to my blog this month! Sherry is a longtime blogger and reader of my books—going back to my days when I was published by The Writer's Coffee Shop. I got to know her via the internet as she participated in various book release tours of mine, and recently we got to chatting about book accessibility for the blind and seeing impaired. Sherry, being both blind and a prolific reader and writer, is a wellspring of information on this topic, and she graciously agreed to let me pick her brain! I hope you enjoy learning from her.
1) Please tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Sherry Gomes. I’m sixty-one. I live in a small city in Colorado with my golden retriever guide dog, Petunia. I was born with a disease called Juvenile Rheumatoid arthritis, JRA. JRA is different from adult RA or similar diseases, and it can be either mild or serious. I have the serious kind, so besides having arthritis in every joint in my body, it also damaged the optic nerve, and I have been totally blind since around age five. I really can’t remember, but that’s what my family told me. I only mention all that because we’re talking about books and the ways that accessing books have changed since my childhood is darn near miraculous for me.
2) How did you get into book reviewing?
The internet made book reviewing an easy thing for me. I started by reading and reviewing fan fiction. Back in those years between Harry Potter books, when we were all longing for JKR to publish the next one, someone told me about fan fiction. I found a whole new world of stories, and now read in a variety of genres—and write in some too! From the start of my journey into fan fic, I was committed to reviewing. From there, it was quite a short jump to reviewing books. I have friends who worked at the Writers Coffee shop, and they invited me to review some of their upcoming books. For a while, I reviewed many books from TWCS, which is how I found your books. I ended up loving reviewing, and though I tend not to do it as much now, I try to review books that really make a difference to me.
3) What is your favorite genre to read?
Oh, boy, that’s a hard question. I’d almost say, what genre don’t I like. However, here are some.
Fantasy, both epic and young adult
Historical fiction, the longer the better
Family sagas, the longer the better
Gothic and romantic suspense
Those yummy slow-burn British mystery series
Space stories, fiction and nonfiction
Anything about the American Revolution, fiction or nonfiction
It’s always about characters for me, so if a book has great characters and plenty of them, I’ll give it a try.
4) Do you find, as a blind person, that accessibility to books has improved in recent years? If so, what are some of the developments that have led to these improvements?
And now we get to why I elaborated about my blindness in question one! When I was growing up, I fell in love with reading from the first day they put my hands on a first-grade braille reader. Anyone remember Run Jane Run! Anyway, back then, the only sources for books were through the Library of congress, National library Service for the Blind, NLS. Or, in the town where I grew up, a small local volunteer group that hand-brailled textbooks for blind students and some novels. The NLS books were either braille, or recorded on records, later cassettes and now digital downloads. I wanted to read everything.
I went to public school, and I envied my sighted friends who could walk into a book store, pick up any book and buy it, own it, keep it forever or give it away. I wanted that so desperately. There were few books in either braille or recordings back then, and I hungered for more. Purchasing such books was not feasible as they were very expensive. I dreamed of growing rich someday and buying a big house, so I could have several rooms, stocked with books, floor to ceiling.
Then, in the nineties, commercial audio books hit the scene. Stephen King was the first major author to put his books out in unabridged audio. I worked at a major department store chain, and I would spend my lunch hour at the bookstore in the mall, happily browsing the shelves for new books on tapes. There I was, actually in a bookstore, buying books! It was mind-blowing.
Still, until Harry Potter came along, most commercial audio books were abridged. Beggars can’t be choosers, and I read my share of abridged books back then and discovered wonderful authors I wouldn’t have access to in any other way. But then came Harry, and Harry changed the world, and changed my reading life.
Harry Potter was the first time that commercial audio books were released the same time as the hard cover print books. For the first time in my life, in my forties, I was able to discuss the latest smash with my peers! I wasn’t years behind, because I was able to get my book the same day sighted folks got theirs. NLS was always behind, due to budgets, getting books read, recorded, edited and such. I won’t go into all the other ways that HP affected my life, except to say, that I even went to three midnight release parties, something that could never have happened before commercial audio books came along.
In the early 2000s, I discovered audible.com and that was an amazing adventure. There were thousands of new books, mostly unabridged, and I could access them all, as long as I could afford it, of course. Again, I found books and authors I had never been able to read before. I discovered George R. R. Martin and the Song of Ice and Fire, just as an example. Here again was timely access to contemporary books, more things to discuss with my colleagues and friends, more new worlds to discover.
Around this same time, a service called bookshare came along. This is a special service for people who can’t read print, and has exceptions under the copyright laws, just as the NLS has, so that books can be accessible to those of us who are blind, or otherwise print disabled. This service is both a place where volunteers can scan and upload books, and where publishers can donate clean digital copies of their latest books. It’s also a place where authors can donate copies of their books. We pay a flat fee per year to access this service. Any type of book can be uploaded, so there’s everything from the typical genres, to erotica to text books and highly technical manuals.
And then came kindle. Amazon opened another door for me. Amazon has been committed to accessibility from the start, and when they came out with kindle books, they also had an accessible kindle device. Here I found new books, old books, everything in between books. Along with the ability to self-publish through amazon, I found authors and stories I’ve never found anywhere else. And I’m still finding things I can’t find anywhere else, as well as some old much loved authors, whose books have never been put in any audible format, or perhaps, nobody but me misses enough to have uploaded to bookshare. NLS may have recorded many of these on records long ago, but now they’ve gone digital, and the books that were on records will never get digitized. So, I keep checking amazon for those beloved authors.
And I’ve written a novel about this, but it is a subject dear to my heart and soul. I don’t own a big house with multiple libraries. I have a cozy little two-bedroom condo. But, I have my multiple libraries, on several devices, on several computer hard drives, on many SD cards. I have the library I dreamed of for so long, and I’ve never gotten over the wonder of finally having access to books. It will never be enough. The number of books in some kind of format I can read, compared to the number of print books past and present, well, it’s small. But this is more than I ever thought I could have.
5) Are there any well-kept secrets when it comes to reading accessibility for the blind or seeing impaired?
Not really. Just that for many types of books, we have to own accessible devices that will play or read the books to us. Commercially, both Audible and amazon have gone a long way toward that. For bookshare and NLS, we have to have special devices to play the books.
6) Is there anything you wish authors knew—or would do better—about portraying characters with disabilities in stories?
I’m incredibly picky about this. Characters with disabilities are rarely portrayed correctly in books or film. In fact, I wrote one of my fan fics, just to show how a blind character in the genre might actually live her life, instead of reading the nonsense that was out there. We who are blind, don’t feel faces for instance. Just one myth that is completely false. We’re also not superhuman. We’re just normal people, living our lives, doing our things, trying to get by. I write stories with blind characters where blindness is not the main point of the story, trying to show that we are just like everyone else. So, I would say, if a person wants to write about a character with a disability, do research. The internet is a good place. Look for organizations relating to that disability, whose members have that disability, and talk to them. Don’t ask nondisabled people what a disabled person would do, go directly to the source.
7) Anything else you'd like to share?
Can’t think of anything else. I’ve written my novel just answering these question. I do have a blog, so if anyone is interested, they can read it here:
Archives from my old blog...