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*
As many of you reading this may know from reading my newsletter, I've been preparing my backlisted books for re-release this summer, 2018. This project is HUGE, as my backlist comprises of 8 titles across two series, and since I have the opportunity to re-release them on my own terms, I'm taking full advantage of this opportunity to edit, update, revise, and basically bring my old titles up to my new standards. I've been writing professionally for many years now, and I've learned a lot, so (as you can imagine), looking back on my earliest books has always left me with a desire to apply what I've learned to the stories I still love in order to make them better. What I'm able to do now with these books, and most particularly with The Gateway Chronicles, is, therefore, really a gift.
I do want to assure any of you who are fans of The Gateway Chronicles and are reading this post with any worry or dismay: I am not changing anything that is fundamental to the story. My edits, revisions, and updates have more to do with cleaning up the manuscripts than anything else, so here follows a basic rundown of what I have been doing on books 1-2 (and will continue doing to books 3-6) for the past 8 weeks.
#1 - Fixing sloppy writing, such as creative dialogue tags
When I first started out, I didn't realize how lazy and amateur certain writing habits, like the wide use of creative dialogue tags, are. In my edits, therefore, I am deleting most of them and/or replacing them with "said" or some sort of "showing" action. I'm also cutting many ly-adverbs, fixing "telling" scenes, cutting usages of "that" and "just," fixing any voice inconsistencies I find, etc. Minor "house cleaning" details like that.
#2 - Cutting redundancies
Redundant writing is also a plague of the inexperienced writer, and I've found a lot of it in my earliest manuscripts. Expressions such as "She nodded her head," or "He shrugged his shoulders," or "She covered her face with her hands," or "He sat down." All of these are needlessly wordy because the added clarifiers are redundant. How else can one nod but with your head? Shrug, but with your shoulders? I suppose you can cover your face in your arms, but if that really needs to be said, then you can clarify that. When you sit, you sit down. So: "She nodded." "He shrugged." "She covered her face." "He sat." If you can say what you need to say in fewer words, it's almost always best to do so.
Redundancies also show up in dialogue, especially when dialogue is paired with action. I find that I, personally, tend to be redundant when I'm having characters explain things because I'm an over-explainer. It probably comes from being a teacher.
#3 - Simplified and clarified passages of explanation, while cutting needless exposition
Speaking of being an over-explainer, I have some passages in both The Six and The Oracle that go overboard in the explanation department, and probably, I think, to the detriment of actually understanding what it is I'm trying to have the characters explain. In my read-throughs, I noticed how often, and in how many ways (for example) I tried to explain the time travel, or how two narks inhabit one body. These things are actually not that complicated, so I cut some of the explanation and simplified how I have the characters talk about them. I also cut back a bit of the history section in The Six.
#4 - Cutting down on self-indulgent writing
Because "Cedar Cove" is based on a real place, and Darcy's experiences at the camp and her interactions with her friends are heavily influenced by my own friendships and interactions at the real camp, I tended to slide into self-indulgent storytelling when I wrote The Gateway Chronicles. This works in the places where it lends that inner consistency of reality that the reader craves from any story, but where I wax on with descriptions of rocks and trees and paths and the lodge and the campgrounds and, and, and... It gets to be a bit much. The story shouldn't read like a personal camp memoir, so anything that doesn't actively build setting, develop characters, or move the plot forward got cut in these edits. (*I received some very impassioned pleas via e-mail from some of my lovely newsletter subscribers asking me NOT to cut too much from my camp descriptions, as this is part of the appeal of the series, and I want to assure everyone that I really, truly, have only cut those portions that went above and beyond. If it was EXTRA, it went. I don't think even my most avid readers will even notice what is missing here, unless they do a page-by-page comparison of the old and new manuscripts!)
#5 - Smoothing time transitions
This was something that was passed on to me as feedback from some newsletter subscribers, and it really only has applied so far to my edits on The Six. Some of the time jumps in the book are a little jarring, most particularly the one near the end (which I don't want to spoil). In response to the feedback, I took some care in going back over my transitions and attempting, at least, to smooth them over. I can't/couldn't add more scenes to expand the timeline of the story so there aren't those time jumps (I really can't have the books turn into 500-page tomes!), but I hope the small additions and changes I've made will have everything read a little smoother.
#6 - Expanded a few scenes to enrich relationships
Hopefully this editing note will be exciting for everyone! No, I didn't just make cuts in these edits, and YES, there will be new material to read! In particular, I've expanded a few scenes here and there in order to enrich relationships. The ones I've focused on are Tellius and Darcy, and Darcy and Yahto Veli (but I've made a few other tweaks here and there). I haven't added whole scenes (again, length restrictions), but I have added dialogue and some exposition. Tellius, in particular, doesn't get a lot of time and space in books 1 and 2, but after I got into the second half of the series, back when I was first writing it, and I saw how his character had developed, I always wished I had given him a little more in the first books. So now I have! Not massive additions, but hopefully enough to be excited about.
#7 - Brought the story into 2018
Since I'm rebooting and re-releasing, I thought, "Why not reboot this as a 2018 story?" I'm hoping many new readers will pick it up for the first time, and I thought they might be confused if, for example, the teens in the story didn't have smartphones. A few vernacular, thought, and fashion tweaks here and there in addition to things like giving them smartphones. Updating the dates for when Eleanor Stevenson went missing from Cedar Cove. These are small, but important details.
SO, again, these are the basic things I've been working on, and (honestly), I'm a little exhausted just reading back through all this! Phew. The Six has been the hardest, as it was my first book and needed the most work (and I'm very thankful for the volunteer efforts of a couple friends who have lent their eyes and expertise to it in the past month and a half, too!). The Oracle has been easier, and as I'm just starting my edit on The White Thread, I'm finding I really did improve incrementally with every book I wrote and every year I worked with my excellent editorial team. I'm confident I can get these books all finished to my standards and re-released this summer, and I hope you consider purchasing a new set and sharing them with your friends!
Please let me know if you have any questions at all about what I am doing or have done with The Gateway Chronicles, or the editing process in general. And if you really want to keep up with my re-release news as it's happening, be sure to subscribe. Thanks for reading!
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