It’s going to be an exciting week as we present an in-depth look at the paranormal series Bonds of Blood & Spirit and its creators authors Wendi Kelly and Deborah Dorchak. I reviewed the first book of the saga, Loyalties, here last week. I fell hard for the world of wolf shifter Regina Capalini and the fascinating men in her life. Today is the first part of an in-depth interview with the authors. Part II is coming tomorrow along with a review of the second book, Uncivil Wars. Later in the week, we’ll look at the remaining books in the series.
But first, if you happen to be in the Las Vegas area this coming Saturday June 20th, you can meet Wendi and Deb in person…and even get them to sign your own copy of these fantastic books. The ladies are going to be at the Henderson Barnes & Noble at 567 N. Stephanie (just south of the intersection of Stephanie and Sunset) from 1pm to 3 pm. Click HERE for directions/map.
You write as a team, yet live nearly 2000 miles apart. Can you talk a little about how that works on a day-to-day basis? Do things run relatively smoothly or do you have an arbitrator/referee on call?
Wendi: Deb and I are connected at the hip, via google chat, google drive and our iPhones. And, should we step farther away than what instant contact can provide, there is always the slow version of conversation—email. We are live-time talking to each other almost all day, or at least have the ability to do so. When we are writing, we have a chat window open, and are talking to each other there, plus are both writing in an open Google Drive document, both often in the same sentence, changing each other’s words, finishing each other’s thoughts, cleaning up messy punctuation for the other if one is on a roll. We literally live in each other’s heads. Like our characters, distance means nothing to us.
Deb: It’s surprising how smoothly things run. Open communication is the real key to it all. People often ask us if we ever disagree on anything and what do we do about it when that happens. The answer is yes, we frequently do disagree on things. It’s natural. Not everyone is going to have the same opinion as you, so it’s expected. What do we do about it? We say what’s on our minds and talk it out. We listen without judgment to the other’s reasons and thoughts, then decide on the best course of action. Ego has very little space in a partnership/collaboration like this. You have to understand you can’t always get your way, or stomp your feet and run off with your toys when something isn’t going your way. The bottom line is, everything we do has to be for the benefit of either the business or the story. If an idea isn’t furthering either of those, into the can it goes.
Bonds of Blood & Spirit is a four-book mega saga—with a four-book series two in progress. How did this series develop? When you started Loyalties, did you envision a series of such length and complexity?
Wendi: I saw the overall story arc in my mind from the beginning and Deb shared the vision. It’s pretty fair to say I’m the visionary of the team, (Deb calls me the Director.) and though we knew we were writing a series from the beginning, I had no idea the arc was big enough for four six-hundred page books. Since the entire story whooshed through my head in about six seconds, it didn’t seem reasonable that it should take up that much space on the page! However, the characters had ideas of their own. So though, the main story, the main purpose of the story and reason for it being written never changed, those dang characters took us on a few uncharted adventures. So, that roller-coaster adventure was just as much a ride for us as it was the readers.
Deb: We knew right from the start this story was epic. It started shortly after Wendi and I began the business five years ago. I first met Wendi when I designed her first self-hosted website. Later on, I invited her to join a creative writing group board. I already had characters I had been playing for five or six years already. The new ones she created for herself meshed with mine. After we became business partners, the creative writing fell by the wayside, but we both missed writing for fun and our characters. They had a story to tell, and we decided to tell it. Cole, Harry, Regina and Diego were the originals, the ones we started with. Though we knew the story was big, we didn’t realize how big until the first Saga was complete. The overall arc took on a life of it’s own, with far more depth than we had anticipated. Sure, on the surface it’s entertainment at it’s best with lots of eye-candy, but there’s a deeper story beneath the glitter (metaphorical glitter, that is, our vampires don’t sparkle).
Some nuts and bolts—how do you keep track of your large cast and all their activities? Is it hard to maintain continuity from book to book?
Wendi: Google Drive and Pinterest are our friends. Many of the original characters have lengthy biographies. Selene and Regina’s biographies are over fifty pages long, going through their entire life, names, dates, what happened to them pre-story. They are so real to me, I know them better than members of my family. Each of our characters has an avatar that we both agree on so we know we are seeing these characters in the same exact way. That avatar is pinned to a pinterest board. Pre-pinterest, we had photos in a file. We have a google doc that has a floor plan of the Valley house and grounds, what the rooms, furniture and small details look like so that from halfway across the country we know we are describing items down to the last detail.
Deb: That’s the million dollar question, innit? “Large cast” is an understatement. We have a mob. We try to keep it small, but it’s pointless. I’ll create a filler character, or a baddie slated to die and before you know it, we’ve named them, given them a background, and the next thing you know, the baddie is a real person with real motivations and seeking redemption. Kind of like bringing a stray puppy or kitten home. Once you’ve gazed into its eyes and named it, you’re a goner.
Continuity consists of tons of notes (yes, we’re constantly asking “Um…what were the color of his eyes?” or “Does her name have one ‘L’ or two?”), and diligent fact checking during the rewrite process.
Your books are character-driven paranormal adventures. I call them “meaty” sagas. How do you manage such beautifully developed characters and also sustain a high level of suspense? Wait…and then maintain this balance across book after book?
Wendi: The balance across the book goes back to the long term vision of the series story arc. We know the big picture story. And we know where the tempo and pacing needs to speed up, slow down, take a curve, or catch it’s breath. We look at the series as a journey on a roller coaster. Book one is the anticipatory climb, with a few dips and turns, that unexpected curve, then a slight moment to catch your breath and just before it ends, the climb begins again. Book two is quicker-paced, with shorter ups and downs, more curves, more breathless moments, emotional stomach twisters. By book three, there is that slowing down again, that last climb, the dark moments, everything is doomed, there’s that sharp turn…and no more,…you’ve arrived at book four. Time for that climb to the highest top of the roller coaster and then down you go, racing to the bottom of the ride. That pattern of balance and suspense is planned into our arc, and our very real, very “live to us” characters are caught on the ride.
Deb: A little something called “rewrites”. The first pass is spewing out the story, exploring where the characters go, and in general, piling on the gobs of clay over the wire frame. On the second, third, fourth passes, we look at what needs adding, what needs chopping and whittling away as much of the fluff as possible to get down to the core of the story. THEN, yet another pass—“weaving in”, as Wendi likes to say—the pacing, the suspense, the foreshadowing. Sometimes it doesn’t take much, maybe a word or a sentence here and there.
One thing we have learned since the first series is, it’s much better to write the whole series at once rather than release each book as it’s finished. This way we can go back and iron out wrinkles as new direction or ideas come into play.
By the time all of this is done, we’ve been into one another’s words so much the overall effect is a seamless story on all levels.
You two are not only partners in fiction, you also run a business together. Can you tell us a little about Blue Sun Studio? How do you divide up tasks? Is it hard to balance your various business activities and your shared creative work?
Wendi: It’s funny, when people ask that question, I have to stop and think, “How do we divide it up??” But the answer is pretty simple. We stick to our genus work. As it turns out, except for an uncanny ability to live in each other’s heads as writers, Deb and I are pretty much opposites in everything else. She speaks Techie Talk like a Spock clone. I don’t speak it at all. It all sounds like gibberish to me. Details, websites, admin things that require more that ten seconds of patience….All Deb. Marketing, sales, transformation, mindsets, strategies, long-term planning…I end up on that side of the fence. The rest, we juggle in the middle. We are both artists, that’s our common language, and shared creative work. When we are working together on a project, it is what we are both bringing to it. Sharing our creativity together is the most fun.
Deb: Blue Sun Studio is our design/coaching company. Right from the start, Wendi and I had a TON of skills and talents, that when pooled together, make for an extremely self-sufficient business unlike any other design company out there. We offer our clients a wide range of services, everything from designing websites and books, to coaching/mentoring on life, design and writing.
Striking our balance isn’t hard, not when you’ve got a good teammate who has a mind for staying on task. For the most part, when a project absolutely has to get done, we know exactly what we need to do it to get it out on or before the deadline.
We treat our own creative work no differently. From the start, Wendi and I have had “Fiction Friday”. This has been our exclusive writing day every week for the last five years. Our clients know (because it’s included in our project contracts) that Friday we’re “out of the office”. Sure, we’ll monitor emails and be there if an emergency pops up (like…oh…I dunno….you got hacked? You blew up your site? Or you suddenly noticed four rather odd horsemen riding across the horizon?).
Then there are those times when the best laid plans go out the window, Wendi’s Purple Pony comes galloping into town and no one sees us for weeks (other than our clients).