Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Monday, August 16, 2010

Demon Spawn Part 2

Last week I wrote about how I came up with the idea for Demon Spawn, my latest YA WIP (Young Adult Work in Progress for the acronym impaired). I won’t recap, since if you are reading this and haven’t read that, it’s easy enough to scroll down. The plan was to submit the finished product to my agent last week. Unfortunately life stepped in the way, and I was called on a week-long business trip to the east coast. That slowed me down a little. The good news is that I’m >< this close to being done. One more chapter and an epilogue. There were so many parts I was worried about, and every one of them has ended up even better than I hoped. That is definitely not always the case. In fact, many times I have to make significant changes to parts I planned well in advance because they just don’t fly.

So the current plan is to have everything submitted by Wednesday afternoon. Good news since I’ve got a fun but crazy weekend.

Thursday night, my sister and author, Deanne Blackhurst and I will be speaking to the Tooele, UT chapter of the League of Utah Writers. It’s at the Purple Cow. You can call the store for more information or directions. It’s free too! Free, I say!

Friday, I will be signing books in the BYU bookstore from 11-1.

Saturday, I will be at Writing for Charity in Sandy, Utah. It’s a great event. You get a free critique from a children’s book author, an author panel, genre Q&A, lunch with authors, auctions, raffles, and all kinds of other really cool stuff. Plus all the money goes to buy books for underprivileged Utah kids. See more about the event here.

I left off last week with having signed a contract with Michael Bourret of Dystel and Godrich. I to have such an amazing agent, but wondered if I should have finished the whole manuscript first. Normally the answer to that would be a resounding, “Yes!” Even with eight books under my belt, there were still agents who wouldn’t sign me until they saw the whole ms.

Michael assured me that I’d made the right move. He felt the story idea was very strong, but was concerned about how I would execute on it. Not the writing—he’d read enough of my stuff before to know I could write—but the plotting. He asked me to send him the entire book, outlined chapter by chapter. I’m actually not a big outliner, but I felt like I knew the story well enough to pull it off.

In my mind, I envisioned Demon Spawn as kind of a mix between Uglies and Hunger Games. I know neither of those takes place in Hell, or even has paranormal characters. But it wasn’t those things so much as the plots. DS was an action-oriented love story in my mind, that focused on issues like how we judge others and discrimination. The seraphs look down on the demons who look down on the damned humes, just the way pretties look down on uglies or the capital looks down on its colonies. Like Hunger Games, I envisioned much of the story to be focused on the traveling between Heaven and Hell. Instead of fighting which each other, the group must fight the dangers in the outer circles. That’s where much of the action took place. That’s where the love triangle really built up. And that’s what I was in a rush to get to.

This is where a wise agent comes in. His first advice was, slow down. Unlike Uglies or Hunger Games, this story takes place in a world the reader is unfamiliar with. Both of the previous two YA novels take place in a dystopian future, but their worlds are not so different from ours. But Hell. What is Hell like? What do the Demons think of it? What do they do? Where do they go? How does it look, smell, feel, taste? Michael convinced me that before we could enjoy a story about humans, demons, and angels escaping from Hell, the world of Hell had to be strongly established.

That meant taking the fifty pages I’d written and turning it into almost three times that many. We don’t actually even leave Hell until halfway through the book. At first I admit I didn’t like the idea. It seemed to slow things way too much down. But when I was forced to beef up the beginning, it magically did other things. It filled out the characters. It built up the suspense. It established the world. Basically it did everything you need to make a book not just a story, but an event. (I know that sounds like bragging, but when I compare what I have now to what I had then, it’s like going from a short story to a novel.)

The good news was that it made my novel MUCH better. The bad news was that I didn’t even have the outlined approved until nearly March. I’d taken on a new job. I’d written another novel (The Fourth Nephite, which is on store shelves—at least in Utah) and I’d finished a second one. (A Time to Die) In fact, by the time I got done going back and forth on the outline, I felt like I’d lost at least a little of my previous energy for the story. For about a month I told myself I needed to write, but all I could do was dabble.

I had to re-immerse myself in the story. One thing I’ve learned (for me at least) is that if you “tell” your story too much, writing it is not as fun. I felt like in going over and over the outline, I’d “told” my story a little too often. One thing that really helped me get my energy back was to get a couple of BETA readers who knew nothing about DS to read what I’d written so far. Hearing their excitement helped get the flame burning again. Once I got back into the story, it clipped right along.

I also allowed myself the freedom of letting the charters really pull things where they wanted. Cinder, who had basically been a sidekick at first, became a teenage demon spawn who is probably too smart and sexy for her own good. She understands guys and can get them to do whatever she wants. But inside there’s a lot of insecurity that comes out when things are on the line. It’s not until she nearly loses her life that she realizes how selfish she is. When she puts her brains, insight, and maybe still looks a little, toward something positive she surprises even herself. She still makes me laugh more than any other character in the book. But I really care about her now. I worry for her, and cheer when she succeeds.

So here we are. The book will be done tomorrow or Wednesday at the latest. It’s coming in at just over 100,000 words which means I need to trim a couple thousand. YA editors don’t like breaking 100,000k if your initials aren’t JKR or SM. That’s okay. Tightening isn’t too bad and it usually makes the story better anyway. I’ve gotten wonderful feedback from my BETA readers. I’ll send it to my agent this week, wait for changes, and hopefully start shopping it next month.
I’ll take a week or two off and then start working on the 3rd Farworld book and the second 4th Nephite book. I’d expected to have more time for 4th, but DB likes the early reviews on book one enough that they’d like to release book 2 in May, which means an end of November deadline. Yikes. Back to writing.


At 8/17/2010 1:13 AM, Blogger Debra Erfert said...

You are unbelievably busy. I got tired just reading about your schedule. I can understand how you had to take the time and build Hell from scratch, and since I know how well you can describe the unknown, I’m sure you did a real hot job.

Thanks for the glimpse into a life of a busy writer, and I’m sure it won’t be too many years before the initials JSS will be as recognizable as JKR and SM.

My word verification: missed. I sure hope that's not an omen for me.

At 8/17/2010 1:21 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Jeff, you are awesome. I am amazed at how much you accomplish, and can't wait to see you on the NYT bestseller list.

At 8/17/2010 4:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Next week would you be willing to consider commenting about a Wall Stree Journal article titled: Get ready for the bookstore massacre

Here is the link:

What do you think may be the consequences for the LDS retail business? Could this destroy Deseret Book and Seagull? Or at least do major harm to them? Or are they more immune to the problems that are coming the way of other book retailers?

At 8/17/2010 4:30 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Absolutely. In fact consider that my blog for next week. And just as a teaser, I think people who are forecasting the demise of all bookstores are the same people who said brick and mortar retail stores would be gone (right before the dotbomb bust)


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