In October, I read Hear the Crickets by BJ Sheldon. I won this book as part of a giveaway through Goodreads’ Book Nerd Paradise Author Interview. This book knocked my socks off as a pinnacle of YA fantasy and the Angel/Paranormal niche. Author BJ Sheldon has graciously offered to lend her time to an interview for the Author Spotlight blog.
BJ, thank you for the opportunity to interview you.
Tell us a little bit about Hear the Crickets.
Hear the Crickets is a story about an impossible girl named Skyy with an impossible life. She’s a suicidal immortal with wings, and from there it gets even more complicated. When a pair of siblings arrive on her doorstep with a story about her past, she is forced into facing her future which includes the Fallen Watchers from the Book of Enoch. Her best friend is a mortal named Sean, a man after my own heart. He’s a comic book store owner, nerd, and is full of secrets of his own. Life gets interesting when she’s forced to accept her fate and travels to the Badlands of South Dakota to enter into a war that’s been brewing for thousands of years.
You broach the topic of suicide in your book. Was it difficult to write about?
It was a bit difficult to write about. Both my husband and I have had to deal with the deaths of close friends by their own hand, and it certainly affected us both far more than we ever realized it would. But for the sake of digging deep into Skyy’s psyche, I thought it was important to delve into what makes people want to end their lives – to understand it’s just more than giving up or feeling depressed. I can tell you from experience that it can be a lack of self-esteem or simply living a life without purpose. There is no one exact reason that can push someone to the edge, and for the sake of being true to the character, I felt it was important to investigate that part of her.
How did you come up with the title?
Titles are always hard if you don’t have one selected from the get go. And while I could have gone with something that came right out and said something about Watchers, Angels, or wings, I waited for the story to tell me what the title should be, instead. The moment I wrote the first scene that involved hearing the crickets in the distance and how it made Skyy feel connected to the earth, I knew that I had my title.
Did you have to do a lot of research for the book?
In one word – absolutely. The story initially came to me one day while watching a show on the History Channel about the Book of Enoch. The seeds were planted, so I began to research everything I could about the Fallen Angels that God sent to be buried in a desert deep within the earth. It was a punishment for showing humanity the secrets of Heaven and for mating with mortal women, creating the giants called Nephillim. I searched in books and on the Internet and even talked to a professor of archeology at a local college to ensure I got that particular piece correct, as well. Sometimes I think I enjoy the research aspect of writing a book just as much as actually writing the book. Either way, it’s still one hundred times better than editing.
Who is your least favorite character in the book?
My least favorite? Raja, without a doubt. A Watcher with wings of fire, given to him as a punishment for following the Fallen Watchers and their leader. He’s despicable and dangerous in the aspect that he truly believes that what he’s doing is right. In the real world, it isn’t the people who know without a doubt that what they’re doing is evil or wrong that are the most dangerous to society. I believe it’s those people who truly and wholly believe they’re right in their convictions. Raja is one of those beings. He feels that humanity must be wiped out and will do anything to see it come to fruition.
What is their weapon of choice?
I don’t make mention of a specific weapon during his battle scenes, but I always envisioned Raja using a longsword like many of the other Watchers. Broadswords, a sabre, and even a Chakram make an appearance during the various battles that take place. But what Raja wants most is the Spear of Azazel, and is willing to do anything to get it.
Are there any books you have read that have changed you as a person or as a writer?
There are 2 separate books that affected me for 2 very different reasons. One is “To Kill a Mockingbird”. It is my favorite book of all time. It was honest, compelling, and the characters were believable. The moral of the story, especially for the day in which it was written, stayed with me for years, and it was the book that gave me my love for reading. The other book is “You Are a Badass” by Jen Sincero. For the most part, it has a lot of the same “self-help” material as every other self-help book out there. But Jen’s book is different in that her personal experiences and her take on what holds us back is fairly unique. It made me realize that my dreams and goals weren’t silly and that I needed to let go of other people’s preconceived notion of whom I should be and just… be.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I wrote my first actual novel back in 2009. It was called “Saga of the Sages”, and to be perfectly honest…it was horrible (and will never be published). I look back at it now, and while the story itself had potential, I tried to put too much into it and it became an amalgamation of bits of pieces of a story all thrown together. But in the end, that awful, horrible book lit a fire within me, and I fought to improve my writing and technique. I worked hard to develop characters more, build a believable world, and improve my basic writing skills. I spent every spare minute of every day writing, rewriting, and editing until I eventually ended up with my first published book, “Haunting”.
I looked at a lot of different options when first starting out as a writer. I think like most starry-eyed beginners, I had my eye on the big prize. A huge, 6-figure deal with a New York City publishing house was what I thought I needed to achieve to be successful. But over time, I realized that there were other options available to me. I thought about self-publishing, but my understanding of technology is rather poor and I was worried that I’d screw something up while trying to get it up on Amazon or other platforms. I also didn’t know anything about professional editing or cover design, so when I was offered a 3-book deal with a small indie press, it made sense to go that route for my first series. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about the indie world and have grown as a writer. As an indie, I believe I’ve learned a lot about the actual publishing side of things and what goes into each book before it’s published. It’s given me a greater appreciation for the entire process.
Any advice for other indie authors?
Network, network, network. Anything I’ve ever achieved in my indie career has come from those meaningful relationships that I’ve made over the years. Before delving into the industry, I was very much the quintessential introvert. It took a herculean effort to step outside of my comfort zone and talk to other authors either on social media or in person. But once I developed friendships, I was able to ask questions and ask for advice. As time passed, the more people I met (in person and online), the more people began to know who I was. Through those relationships, I landed 2 separate publishing deals and my future literary agent. But do not network just out of selfish gain. Go into those relationships for the right reasons: to support one another, learn from each other, and make real friendships. Ask the right questions, and when the time comes, do the same for someone else. The rest will fall into place over time.
What inspires you?
My husband and daughters. They inspire me every day to keep reaching for my goals and chasing down my dreams. If it wasn’t for them, I might have given up years ago. But because of their belief in me, I kept going. And now, things seem to be heading in a positive direction. There’s nothing more I want to do than show my daughters that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to with enough hard work and persistence.
What do you love most about writing?
I love everything about the paranormal and the supernatural. So, my favorite thing about writing is taking those things and creating something new and unique that people haven’t read before – taking something like ghosts and putting a new twist on why they exist, spinning the story of the Book of Enoch into something modern, or even a new take on parallel worlds. For me, I enjoy creating fantasy stories with characters they’ve never seen before with a storyline that a reader can get lost in. The creativity part of writing is what drives me, and in turn I hope it keeps my readers glued to the page all the way to the end.
What is the most challenging part of the process of writing or publishing?
Marketing. No matter what publisher you have, you are still expected to self-promote yourself and your books, and it isn’t always easy to locate your potential readers or fan base. There’s no magic formula for marketing a book. What works one week is passé the next, so it’s always a struggle to find that one thing that will get your books into the right readers’ hands.
Is there anything you want readers to know?
I now have a literary agent who not only specializes in getting books traditionally published but also has her hands in TV and movie rights which is something I’ve dreamed of for years. So, you never know…maybe one day you’ll see something I’ve written on a screen near you. I also hope to begin writing a few standalones after The Gibborim Series has been completed with the hopes of one day seeing one of them (or all) in a brick and mortar store.
What is on the horizon for The Gibborim Series?
The first draft of book 2 should be completed in the next few weeks and should hopefully be out around March 2017. Once I submit it to my publisher to begin edits, I will begin work on the final book in the series. Book 2 will grow a bit darker as Skyy discovers there’s more to her mysterious past than she realized. Watchers, demons, and mysterious strangers will all play a part in keeping humanity safe one more time.
Where can folks get the book Hear the Crickets: The Gibborim Series Book One?
You can get my book through any online platform where ebooks are available: Amazon, B&N, Google, Kobo, and iTunes. You can also purchase a paperback from Amazon. And if you love audio books, you can also find the audio version on the Audible app.
Where can folks connect with you?