"Sienna Whitfield never dreamed that using her photography blog for a social experiment would cause so much trouble—or be so painful. She might have a broken rib and a broken camera, but at least her mom is finally letting her date Lee, the guy of her dreams. But Lee's future with basketball seems to be carrying him down a path that she can't follow.Basketball has always been #1 in Lee Franklin’s life. Now that he’s one of the top high school basketball recruits in the country, his dreams seem to be coming true. But his love for Sienna is changing the way he sees the future. As she follows her own dreams, he realizes he may lose her if he can’t find a way to keep her close—especially since she may be in trouble."
-from Focused, by Michelle Pennington
She begins on a mission to change people’s perception of some of the kids in her high school with her photography blog. She helps people to recognize the beauty and good qualities of some and the not so attractive qualities of some of the popular people. To say that she stirs up some trouble is an understatement. The great thing about the series is that over the course of the different books, we get to see different aspects of Sienna emerge as well--things she didn’t even know about herself. She also undergoes a change in how she views herself as she falls for Lee, a gorgeous, popular guy that she thinks is way out of her league. Focused takes this to another level as we get to hear the story from Lee’s point of view as well. We begin to see some of his struggles and passions in ways that aren’t as apparent in Candid. There is also a third book in the series called Sing To Me. It is a novella that runs parallel to the storyline of Focused. It tells the story of Rylie and Colby. While their book is more about music than photography, it too brings out that our perception of people can be really warped when we don’t take the time to get to know them.
Me: What was the hardest part about writing the second book?
Michelle: Surprisingly, to me at least, the hardest part was in focusing on the story (I know, the puns never end with the title of this book). I have so many other shiny new projects that I’ve been dying to get to that sometimes it took incredible will power to knuckle down and finish this one. I was excited about the story and I still loved the characters, but the heavy slogging of the writing process can quickly rub the luster off your enthusiasm. Then, on top of that struggle, my personal life took a lot of unforeseen curves. Our family suffered the loss of two very special people, both of my husband’s parents within the space of 8 months. Many of you will understand what that did to our family. At the same time, I also learned that I was expecting our 4th child. My pregnancy was a very difficult one, and the first year with a baby is not well suited for writing. In fact, as I tell you about this, I’m amazed that I got Focused written at all. But deep down, I believed in this story.
Me: When you began the writing process, did you already know you wanted to make it a series?
Michelle: Not at all. The idea for the first book, Candid, came to me in high school. As I developed the characters, I probably became a little too attached to them, but I didn’t even consider writing a second book about them until Candid was done and I realized that I wanted to know what happened next. In the world of fiction, series are really popular, so it seemed like it would be silly not to give it a go. I wrote Candid in 4 months. I had no idea that Focused was going to take over 2 years to complete.
Me: What questions would you ask yourself, as an author, when considering whether or not you should make your story a series?
Michelle: I’ve read a lot of excellent articles about this by some seasoned authors. I’ve also read many series. Taking all of that together with my own experience, I would say these are the most important things to consider:
Me: What is your favorite part about writing a series? Least favorite?
Michelle: I love hearing from people who loved the first book that are so excited to get more of the story. It really helped motivate me to hear from people who wanted more. My absolute favorite part of writing Focused was writing from Lee’s point of view. I loved getting to show how in love he was with Sienna. Paradoxically, I also hated feeling so much pressure to finish this book. Once I announced that I was going to write it, I felt trapped. All of my other stories are my personal adventures and I’m free to put them down and pick them up at will. With Focused, I lost that freedom.
Me: What advice would you give an author who is preparing the storyline for a series?
Michelle: If you are writing the kind of series that remains focused on the same characters, it’s really important to have a plotline for the entire series and not just for each book. You need to build the structure and foreshadowing into this overarching plot from the beginning. I was fortunate enough that I somehow laid a solid foundation for Focused while writing Candid, though I never expected to. I would never advocate leaving it up to chance.
Me: How do you feel about balancing an arching storyline and individual conflicts within each book?
Michelle: The series storyline has to be bigger than your characters. It has to be something that in the first book, there’s no way they can cope with. Then, through their struggles and growth in each book, they are able to meet the ultimate challenge. As an author, you have to make sure that the conflict in each book is taking them towards the big one, even if it isn’t obvious yet. The best way to do this is to know your character’s weaknesses and figure out what they need to go through to help them overcome them.
Me: Any recommendations on how to get the most bang for your time out of each installment?
Michelle: There’s an easy answer for this, though it’s not easy to do. Keep raising the stakes. If your character doesn’t have more to lose in each book, you’re going to lose your readers.
Me: How long is too long to wait for a sequel?
Michelle: I’ve heard of some authors who will write a whole series before releasing a single book. Then they’ll publish them all within a month or so of each other. The momentum they build by doing this is incredible—and momentum is what you need in a series. If you are a big name, you could probably publish a sequel a decade or more later, but for most of us, the sooner the better. In traditional publishing, getting a sequel out in a year to two years is the norm, but in the indie world, the turn-around can be much faster. I wish that I could have gotten Focused out much more quickly than I did, and if I were to write another series, I would try to release the next book within six months to a year.
Me: And, lastly, who is your favorite author and what would you ask them if you could spend an entire day chatting about writing?
Michelle: My favorite author will ever and always be Georgette Heyer. She introduced me to the bright, glittering universe of superb characterization, setting, and plotting. She was the master. I only hope that she’s still writing in the next life so that I can read more of her work someday. Trying to think about what I would ask her if I could spend a day talking with her has me feeling as tongue-tied as I’m afraid I would be if that really happened.
Why do I write?
Because I believe in the power of human nature. Because I believe in life, and friendship, and heroes, and beauty, and perseverance, and the never ending battle between good and evil. Because I believe that we are all connected to each other, and to the world around us. Because I believe in hope, and mercy, and faith, and sacrifice. Because I believe in knowledge, and goodness, and truth, and the wonder and awe of all those things we may never understand but can still feel. Because I believe in pain, and tragedy, and growth, and learning, and acceptance. Because I believe in science and spirit and miracles. Because I believe in broken hearts and chased dreams.
Because I believe in this world. Because I believe in the next.
Because I believe in you, and because I believe in me, and because I believe in us.
Because I believe in love.
Because I know. And because I see. And because I feel, I write.
I write because I want to help people know the world the way that I do.
To see. To feel. To love.
I want them to believe.
"Jon passed the entrance to the stairwell across from their hotel room door and stopped at the end of the hall, standing in front of the window with his arms crossed and a hand over his mouth. He could feel the heat already radiating from off the glass, despite the fact that it was still fairly early in the morning. Beneath the window, the crowd of protestors behind the fence seemed to have doubled in size since their arrival. They continued to hold up their signs, shouting their contempt at whomever and whatever would listen to them.
Though he could hear it only faintly from the second floor window, Jon could make out a distinctive rhythm to their angry cries. As if a collective spirit of contention had descended over everyone and pushed out whatever sense of reason these desperate and broken people still had left. How much had been taken from them, thought Jon, before they had given up all hope and resorted to shouting their woes beneath the beating rays of an east Texas sun.
The world was going mad around him. He wondered how long it would be before he went with it."
I am excited to announce that after 14 and a half years of contemplation, planning and research, and 2 and a half years of active writing, the first full-length draft of Book 1: When Darkness Builds is finally complete. Thanks to my incessant obsession with in-process editing (and my hatred of rough drafts) hopefully final edits will not take long. I have a few rewrites to complete that were planned later on in the writing process, as both the story and characters matured, and then the manuscript will be passed to a handful of pre-selected beta readers before going on to the editor. Here is the synopsis for Book 1:
"When Emma Grant was fourteen years old, she began to have the dreams."
In a world still trapped in the aftermath of a devastating world war, Emergency Manager and Crisis Psychologist Dr Emma Grant has been asked to speak at the first Constitutional Convention since the United States was founded. With the states coming together in a last-ditch effort to end a crippling energy crisis and the Constitution hanging by a thread, Emma must fight to keep the American government from falling apart. But when the convention takes a deadly turn, will Emma lose what may be her last chance to finally do something about the disturbing images plaguing her dreams?
Or will she discover this is only the beginning?
When Darkness Builds is the first installment in The Caldera Series. It's the story of Jon and Emma Grant, and the power they've been given together.
To save the children of men.
Look for lots of exciting promotions coming over the next year, including the launch of the new book cover and sample chapters for your reading enjoyment!
I'll be honest. Most of the time, I have no idea how to answer that.
Anyone who knows me well at all (which includes very few) knows that if I had my way I'd lock myself in a cabin in the woods, with a small freezer full of home-made eggrolls and single-serve raspberry cheesecake, and not come out again. I'd turn my back on the world, all the while depending on it for royalty checks just so I could continue my hermit lifestyle. I've always heard that the most popular authors, at least in sales, are always men. Honestly, it figures. Of course they're mostly men. Someone once wrote that if you want to be a successful writer you must think about writing from the minute you wake up to the minute you go to bed.
What (relatively responsible) wife and mother could possibly do that?!
I mean trust me, it's not like I don't want to. I assure you more often than not I really, REALLY want to. The world in my head is much more interesting and lives up to my own personal expectations far better than the one I wonder around in on a daily basis. But hiding in my head is not going to get the dishes done. It's not going to get the laundry folded. And it's definitely not going to teach my children the things they need to know to be successful, and relatively well-adjusted, adults. (No matter how tempting the thought of a live-in nanny and a full-time maid is.)
So I guess that's it, isn't it? There lies your answer. You keep going, despite wanting to run for the woods with you Mac in-tow, because you have to. Because you simply can't accept not doing it. Because you are a considerate, rational person. (Mostly.) I believe that self-discipline and determination comes from having such a deep appreciation of the consequences that you feel there is no other choice. Like the diabetic who keeps strictly to a specialized diet. It's no longer a matter of will-power. You know what will happen if you don't. So you simply do.
Now, that having been said, there is an upside to this whole "living in the world" thing.
Dwight V. Swain wrote that one of the mistakes that most authors make is the idea that they can simply disappear from the world and write. The problem with that is, then where are you supposed to get your material from?
"Write what you know. And what you don't know, learn."
An author has one simple, solitary job: Experience, then share it. So get out there and live. For some of us that may mean laundry and dishes. For others it means the night-shift at the local diner. Nevertheless, go out there and seize it. Because without that every day grind, without the things we all learn from our own very personal perspective, then you'd have nothing to share. The world would never be able to see itself the way you see it through that one median you have to share it with.