|Courtesy of Melissa Harris Photography|
Wendy Higgins is the USA Today and NYT bestselling author of the Sweet Evil series from HarperTeen, the high fantasy duology The Great Hunt, and her independently published Irish fantasy, See Me. She is a former high school English teacher who now writes full time, and lives on the Eastern Shore of Virginia with her veterinarian husband, daughter, son, and doggie Rue.
Wendy earned a bachelor's in Creative Writing from George Mason University and a master's in Curriculum and Instruction from Radford University. She is represented by Jill Corcoran of the Jill Corcoran Literary Agency.
I wrote my first book when I was five, titled The Day the Whole Class got the Chickenpox and I even illustrated it myself with desks and stick-figure students. I made several copies and went door-to-door selling them to neighbors at $5 a pop. That's a high price, even by today's standards. Needless to say, when my mom found me rockin' twenty-five bucks, as proud as she may have been, she marched me back to the neighbors to return the money. I clearly remember my sense of happy accomplishment when one woman adamantly refused to take back the money. She said, "I want to be able to say I bought her very first book when she's a published author some day." Isn't it funny the things that stick with us through the years? I also recall a certain mean boy in my college writing classes who said every story I wrote was a cliché piece of crap. But let’s not dwell on him, because, truthfully, I kind of agreed with him. My stories were "Lifetime for Women-esque." I never thought of myself as intelligent enough or deep enough to write a book. It was the ultimate unattainable dream.
I dabbled in short stories and book ideas all throughout my school years, but stopped after college. I received a Bachelor's in Creative Writing from George Mason University, (even if it did take me seven years due to hairbrained ideas like "being a waitress for life" and "dropping out to become a flight attendant," which wasn't nearly as glamorous as you might think). Once I got my act together and met my hubby, I received my Masters in Education from Radford University and taught 9th and 12th grade English before settling down in Northern Virginia and becoming a "stay at home mom." I have a princess and a daredevil-the best of both worlds.
After three years of not teaching, I was missing those big lugs and drama queens. I felt disconnected from teens, an area where I'd been passionately drawn. But I also knew that staying home was what was best for my particular family. That's when the inspiration for my story hit me. "Hit" is probably too light a word. The idea for Sweet Evil bombarded me like a massive brain invasion. After not writing for eight years, I ended up writing the entire first draft, over 80,000 words, by hand, during the course of seven weeks. That time is still an elated blur in my memory. I don't know how anyone in my household had clean clothes or full bellies during September and October of 2009.
Then came the fun part...sending out queries to agents WAY before my manuscript was ready. Ugh. Cringe. Please learn from my mistake. Get a couple of trusted critique partners and take time to get your story solidly polished before querying. Nobody is going to want to represent you based on "promise." It's either good and ready or it's not. There's simply too much competition out there to rush it. Somewhere around the 30th rejection (50th? Who knows! I stopped counting and deleted/threw away every one of them) I got two helpful personal notes from agents telling me the same thing: too much telling and not enough showing in the first chapter. I was having a hard time introducing Anna and her abilities. I needed help. While browsing the internet for critique partners, I stumbled upon inkpop.com, the HarperCollins site devoted to teens and those who write for teens (YA).
I posted my story, and inkpoppers ranging anywhere from thirteen to forty-something read and commented, helping me to whip that bad chapter into shape. I think I took almost every suggestion that was given. Their feedback was beautifully brutal, exactly what I needed. By the time I finally thought it was ready, a woman named Carolee read my entire story and fell in love with it. She was represented by Neil Salkind, a literary agent who normally took only non-fiction, but she asked if she could introduce us. So I sent him an official query and he called me with an offer of representation that same week.
In the meantime, my story was doing surprisingly well on inkpop. While I was revising like crazy, it had moved up the ranks into the twenties. Each month the top five ranked projects are sent to the HarperCollins editors for review. I was so close at that point that I decided to gun for it. I spent the next month working hard, critiquing upwards of forty stories a week, earning myself return-reads (it's a "scratch each others' backs" kind of community). In May 2010 my story made the top five and I received an excellent review...but no offer for publication. Boo.
Five weeks after my review, I received an email from a woman named Alyson Day. The moment I opened it is etched into my memory, crystal clear. I read the message three times very slowly. My whole body was trembling and I could hardly breathe. She said, "I'm the editor at HarperCollins who had the pleasure of reading your story for Inkpop. I've thoroughly enjoyed the manuscript and would like to read the last four chapters - would you be able to email them to me?" That was “the” moment for me. That was it. Because no matter what happened after that, I felt like a "real" writer. I'd been validated by a professional. My dream was truly within reach. There were a LOT of happy tears. I was buzzing all day long, and I had to order pizza because my hands were shaking too hard to cook.
|Reading my HarperCollins Contract//Winter 2011|
About The Sweet Trilogy:
Sweet Evil is my literary baby. The original title was Angel Prophecy, and although I'll always be fond of that title, it simply wouldn't work after revisions were made, and neither would the second working title (Sin Legacy). For those who read it while it was on Inkpop.com, you will recognize many of the elements from Angel Prophecy throughout the Sweet trilogy.
How did I get the idea for Sweet Evil? Here's the long version...I like to joke that it began with two big G's: Google and God. I was feeling disheartened about not teaching anymore. Even though I loved staying home with my kids, I felt like I needed to be doing more. In August 2009, after crying all morning, I sat in front of the computer and Googled, "God, what do you want me to do with my life?" Yes, I really did that. To my surprise, up popped a writing by a pastor in Kansas talking about using our natural gifts to reach our life's potential. So I thought about my possible "gifts." Writing was the only thing that came to mind, but I'd never been published, so it was more like an abandoned hobby. I sent up a pleaful prayer, saying, "Okay, so, if I'm supposed to write, I'm game. But there's one problem. I have no story ideas..."
I'd just finished reading the hilarious Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, which has angel and demon main characters (Oh, those poor men will probably croak when they hear their dark humor somehow influenced my sappy romance - sorry guys!) I started thinking, "good" and "bad" - angel and demon. I remembered back to my teaching days when I taught John Milton's Paradise Lost. I'd always been intrigued by Lucifer's charisma and power over the fallen angels. And that's when a snowball of ideas began rolling, bombarding me with random snippets until I had to write it or be bowled over. It was the craziest, most intense thing that's ever happened to me, completely unexpected. By that evening I was scratching random thoughts onto the only paper I could find, computer sheets.
|Cover used on InkPop.com//Not Actual Cover|
I was a woman possessed and exhausted, writing during every spare second, hardly sleeping or eating, and thinking about the story during any moments when I wasn't able to write. My nine-month-old son was still waking in the night, teething. My husband, who'd always urged me to write, was speechless and probably scared senseless about the crazy woman disguised as his wife. In seven weeks I wrote the first draft by hand, 80k+ words. My friends call it the "writing diet" because I lost fifteen pounds during that time. Not to worry, I've gained most of it back, and nobody was starved during the making of this story. :)
I started by writing Kaidan's "sacrifice," not knowing the setting or time frame. That was the scene that made me fall completely in love with Anna and Kai, though I barely knew anything about them at that point. Next came the first kiss scene, followed by the lake party scene. Then the story was like a huge puzzle that I had to piece together. NOT the easiest way to write a story, but we can't choose how the ideas come to us. I did a lot of research for the cross-country trip and angel/demon lore, but ended up fabricating details to fit the story. I had to ask myself, "What effects would angel souls have on human bodies? What would they be able to do that humans can't?" etc.
The book has undergone major revisions over this two year period, and received many beta reads from trusted critique partners to get where it is. The first draft was absolutely awful. Cringe-worthy.
I'm so indebted to inkpop and inkpoppers for their help revising this story, especially the introduction chapters which plagued me (I'm terrible at writing story beginnings, and coming up with titles for that matter). Thank you guys! And thank you, HarperCollins. :)