Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Defiance by A.G. Henley

The Hero’s Journey
Blog Post for the Xpresso Book Tours Blitz - The Defiance by A.G. Henley

For this blog post celebrating the release of The Defiance, my second novel in the Brilliant Darkness series, I thought it would be fun to take a meandering stroll back along my publishing path. As I look over the past two years since I published my debut novel, The Scourge, I realize my journey mirrors that of the traditional hero’s quest. Only with fewer swords, dragons, and wizards and stuff.

Here are the eight steps involved, as outlined by Phil Cousineau in his book, The Hero’s Journey. I’m probably going to skip a few steps, just so you know.

• The Call to Adventure
• The Road of Trials
• The Vision Quest
• The Meeting with the Goddess
• The Boon
• The Magic Flight
• The Return Threshold
• The Master of Two Worlds

My Call to Adventure began in 2008 while sitting in a hot tub. Yep, I was in a hot tub with six of my closest friends and a margarita in hand. (Seriously. This isn’t the inciting incident of an erotica novel or anything.) We went around the circle answering the question: if you could do anything when you grow up (I was the youngest of the group at age 35), what would it be? And I said I would write fiction for a living. My answer surprised everyone, including me. I loved to read; I’d never really written anything creatively before; I just thought I would like to write a novel “someday.” It occurred to me in that moment that someday might never get here if I didn’t towel off, sit my butt in a chair, and put my hands on a keyboard. So a few weeks later I did just that.

And my Road of Trials began. I spent about a year and a half writing Untimely, a YA paranormal romance about a girl who is given a photograph of herself kissing a boy she’s never met. Before long she’s mixed up with two time-traveling boys from the past: one who’s determined to seriously mess with the future, the other who has sworn to protect it.

Does that sound like something you might like to read? Yeah, well, you’re the only one. I queried a slew of agents and got one request for a partial, which led to a polite no-way-in-hell. Okay, I thought to myself, I’d certainly been warned repeatedly that rejection was part of the deal. I’ll just shelve it and write something new.

I began to brainstorm, and while traveling in Louisiana I had the idea to write the story of a blind girl who must face swarms of terrible, flesh-eating creatures in order to gather water for her people to survive. The girl is mysteriously protected by her Sightlessness, but she hasn’t been tested . . . until now. The Scourge was born over the next year and a half. I applied all the lessons I’d learned from writing Untimely and then failing to find an agent, and I confidently set out to approach agents again. I was so sure this time would be different.

And . . . nothin’. Zippo. Nada. Not even a request for a partial. I won’t lie, folks; I was crushed. I considered giving up on writing. It was a highly chlorinated, margarita-fueled pipe dream anyway, wasn’t it? That was the dark night of this hero’s soul.

But then I Met the Goddess. Her name was Amazon. Something had changed in the year and a half since I queried Untimely: the rise of self-publishing. I have to admit that I resisted the Goddess for a while. I already had a job as a practicing clinical psychologist, and I didn’t really want another job as an entrepreneurial author. But my husband kept urging me to figure it out. “Just try it,” he said. “What do you have to lose?” Well—sleep, hours and hours of free time, and fingernails being bitten down to the nubs, as it turns out. But that’s beside the point. I published The Scourge in January 2012 with no fanfare, no website, no Facebook page, and no Twitter account. No platform whatsoever. Predictably, I sold about three and a half copies to my long-suffering friends and family the first few weeks. Maybe about ten copies in the first month, which I was over-the-moon happy about.

But. By April 2012 when The Hunger Games film released, scores of readers were looking for other dystopian novels to read, and The Scourge was gathering steam. By July 2012 it was selling better than I could have imagined in my wildest hot tub dreams. I was astonished to find that in the span of about six months, I’d become a paid, published author. That was the beginning of The Boon.

I decided to query agents again, but only one this time—one of my dream agents. She said yes. (She might be the Goddess, come to think of it.) My agent began working on finding a traditional publisher for the series, and I continued to write The Defiance, which is the sequel to The Scourge, and The Keeper, a companion story set in the same universe. Meanwhile The Scourge was chosen as a finalist for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Award. Wow. Talk about a boon.

Still, it hasn’t all been elf-darts and princes since then. You might notice that I’m self-publishing The Defiance. We didn’t have luck finding a traditional publisher, thanks to the passing tides of dystopian novels and zombie-ish creatures. No matter. Self-publishing has quickly become an efficient way to find an amazing readership for a debut author. Now that I’ve published my second novel, I’m crossing The Return Threshold to tell you that it is possible to learn, even at my (ahem) advanced age, how to craft novels, self-publish and publicize them, and earn a decent living doing so.

My adventure isn’t complete just yet. I still have aspirations of becoming The Master of Two Worlds by finding a traditional publisher for my work-in-progress, a novel unrelated to the Brilliant Darkness series. It would also be nice to hit the NYT bestsellers list with any titles, right? But whether or not that happens, I’m grateful for every lesson I’ve learned—triumphant and painful—along my bumpy publishing journey. I’m humbled by the enthusiasm of my readers, the help I’ve received from other authors and publishing support professionals, and the solid support of my family and friends. I’m thrilled to be able to do what I love—write.

My publishing quest has been an adventure, to be sure. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see what will happen next.

Book & Author Details:

The Scourge by A.G. Henley
(Brilliant Darkness #1)
Publication date: January 31st 2012
Genres: Dystopia, Young Adult


Seventeen-year-old Groundling, Fennel, is Sightless. She's never been able to see her lush forest home, but she knows its secrets. She knows how the shadows shift when she passes under a canopy of trees. She knows how to hide in the cool, damp caves when the Scourge comes. She knows how devious and arrogant the Groundlings' tree-dwelling neighbors, the Lofties, can be.

And she's always known this day would come—the day she faces the Scourge alone.

The Sightless, like Fenn, are mysteriously protected from the Scourge, the gruesome creatures roaming the forests, reeking of festering flesh and consuming anything—and anyone—living. A Sightless Groundling must brave the Scourge and bring fresh water to the people of the forest. Today, that task becomes Fenn's.

Fenn will have a Lofty Keeper, Peree, as her companion. Everyone knows the Lofties wouldn’t hesitate to shoot an arrow through the back of an unsuspecting Groundling like Fenn, but Peree seems different. A boy with warm, rough hands who smells like summer, he is surprisingly kind and thoughtful. Although Fenn knows his people are treacherous, she finds herself wanting to trust him.

As their forest community teeters on the brink of war, Fenn and Peree must learn to work together to survive the Scourge and ensure their people’s survival. But when Fenn uncovers a secret that shatters her truths, she’s forced to decide who and what to protect—her people, her growing love for Peree, or the elusive dream of lasting peace in the forest.


Praise for The Scourge:
“Lovable and relatable heroine? Check.  Swoon-worthy, kick-butt hero?  Check.  Compelling romance that makes your heart melt and toes curl?  Check.  Captivating story and fascinating world? Check.  Eagerly anticipating the next book?  Check, check, check.”
-- Refracted Light Reviews, blog review


Only the odd snore rumbles from the other shelters as I crack the door open and slide out. The forest isn’t so quiet. Crickets hum hypnotically, leaves shift and sigh in the breeze, and frogs and bats keep the time with their cries. If the greenheart trees offer the forest its scent and flavor, then its animal inhabitants provide the tune.
I slink like prey from dark spot to dark spot, minding the sound of my steps. There’s probably a Groundling guard somewhere. The moon illuminates the path, so I walk under the shade of the tree branches. There’s a luster ahead.
For a long time I thought the water hole glowed. Calli finally told me the moon—which I’ve heard can be as slim as a curled-up leaf or as spherical as a stone—reflects in the water hole below. It seems unfair, somehow. The sighted see not only the fickle moon, they see two.
The water sweeps softly onto the shore, then recedes, dancing with itself, careless who hears it. I hold under the cover of the forest, soaking in the sounds and scents of the night.
After a few minutes, I hear more deliberate movements in the treetops: the low thump of quiet footsteps along the walkway overhead. They stop above my head. A soft birdcall greets me. I wave, letting them know it’s safe.
The rope ladder dives toward me, bumping against the tree trunk as it falls, and I steady it as Peree descends. My heart pulses in my chest as he draws near. I feel like I’ve stolen these moments with him, moments we’ll have to eventually give back. I don’t want to steal time with him. I want it to be ours to keep.

The Defiance by A.G. Henley 
(Brilliant Darkness #2) 
Publication date: July 29th 2013 
Genres: Dystopia, Young Adult


Read The Defiance (Brilliant Darkness, #2), the highly anticipated sequel to The Scourge (Brilliant Darkness, #1), a 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist!
Suspicion Trust. Fear Compassion. Hate Love.
It hasn’t been long since Fennel, a Sightless Groundling, and Peree, her Lofty Keeper, fell in love and learned the truth: the Scourge, and their world, are not what they seem.
Fenn and Peree are determined to guide their people to the protected village of Koolkuna, but first they must convince them that everything they believe is a lie. An impossible task, especially when someone seems hell-bent on trying anything—even animal sacrifice and arson—to destroy the couple’s new bond and crush the frail truce between the Groundlings and the Lofties. Not everyone wants to uproot their lives in the forest, and those who stay behind will be left terribly vulnerable.
Fenn and Peree’s resolve to be together, and the constant threat of the Scourge’s return, push both groups to the breaking point. Unable to tell friend from foe, Fenn must again decide how much she’s willing to sacrifice to ensure the future of the people of the forest.
Only this time, the price of peace may be too high to bear.


Praise for The Defiance:
"Fans of The Scourge, you will not be disappointed with this sequel. The Defiance was thrilling, romantic, and full of surprises. Loved this book!"
-- Imagine a World, blog review

"I had very high hopes for this follow-up novel, and Henley DEFINITELY delivers in her sophomore release!"
-- Booking It With Hayley G, blog review

"I absolutely LOVED The Defiance! No, I
more than loved it! It was breathtaking, intense, romantic,
suspenseful . . . the list could go on and on!"
-- ARC review


The morning passes quickly. There was more wood to move into the storeroom in the caves this morning, new stores of salt meat and dried beans to deliver, and our herbalist, Marjoram, told me she has some poultices and teas she wants me to bring in. Marj was underprepared for the accidents and illnesses resulting from such a long confinement last time. She won’t make the same mistake again.
There’s plenty of space in the storeroom—it was almost empty by the time we left the caves after the Reckoning. It’s an easy job to stow the supplies neatly along the natural stone shelves. My stomach rumbles, anticipating a midday meal, as I cross the cavern to the storeroom carrying the second-to-last load of wood. Even the lingering stench of crampberries doesn’t deter my appetite. 
 “Fennel.” The word whispers across the cave.
 I freeze. “Who’s there?”
 “Stay away from the Lofty. Groundlings and Lofties aren’t meant to be together. You’ve been warned.”
 I can’t tell anything about the speaker—man, woman, their age. But quiet as the person’s words are, it’s hard to miss the implied threat. I drop most of the wood, keeping one thick log as a potential weapon. The person is between the passage out and me.
 I hold the log firmly in front of me, trying to tame my wild breathing so I can hear. Fear strangles my thoughts. An indefinable amount of time passes. Finally wrestling the courage to move, I step forward, keeping the log at the ready.
 And I cough.
 The air is wrong, and not simply human-waste wrong. Something else. There’s light where there shouldn’t be, and . . . smoke. That’s what I’m tasting and smelling.
 There’s a fire in the passageway, and it’s blocking my way out. Terror doesn’t steal through me. It rips my head off.

Interview with A.G. Henley
Author of The Brilliant Darkness series
(The Scourge, #1)
(The Keeper: A Brilliant Darkness Story, #1.5)
(The Defiance, #2)

1) What is The Scourge about? Did you have any interesting moments while researching the book?

In The Scourge, Sightless Fennel must face terrifying, flesh-eating creatures called the Scourge, in order to gather water for her people, the Groundlings, as they hide from the creatures in caves near their forest homes. Fenn’s Sightlessness is supposed to mysteriously protect her, but she hasn’t been tested. Until now.

I did learn some interesting things while researching The Scourge. I can’t tell you the most interesting thing I learned, because it is a big spoiler. It had to do with how the Scourge became the way they are . . . But, I recently had the opportunity to do some hands-on research into archery (Peree, Fenn’s Lofty Keeper and the male protagonist of the series, is an archer.) My fingers are still red and a little sore from releasing the arrows!

2) As I read The Scourge, I thought it was refreshing for Fennel, the heroine, to have a physical disability. Where did the idea to make her Sightless come from?

I can’t remember exactly when the idea came to me, although it was before I started writing the manuscript. I thought it would be cool to feature a protagonist with a disability. I’d read widely in the YA genre and couldn’t think of many books that had a disabled main character. As for making her blind, I was influenced by Ivy in the film The Village. I love the way Ivy and her family and friends seem to accept her blindness as just a part of who she is. It is a challenge to be sure, but it doesn’t define her. The film often gets a bad rap, in my opinion. I loved it—especially the setting and atmosphere.

3) I know this may be a tough one, but which character is your favorite?

Oh, that’s not too hard. I love Fennel. She’s who I wish I could be: strong, brave, intelligent, responsible, concerned about others, family and community oriented, non-judgmental. And yet still fully human, I think, with as many insecurities and small concerns as any seventeen-year-old.

I also had a blast developing Moray’s character in The Defiance. He’s an antihero—deliciously self-centered and arrogant—while still adhering to his own code of ethics and values. They just aren’t the values most other people share (thankfully.)

4) The character names are unique and refreshing, how did you come up with them?

I wanted the character names to reflect something about the groups they came from. In my series, there are two main groups of people—the Groundlings, who live on the ground, and the Lofties, who live in the tops of the trees. They are locked in an uneasy, sometimes violent, symbiotic relationship. The male Groundlings have animal names (Bear, Eland), the female Groundlings have plant names (Aloe, Rose), the male Lofties have bird names (Peregrine, Petrel) . . . and then I ran out of steam for naming the female Lofties. I eventually decided they would be named for something in their environment (Moonbeam, Dusk). The Groundlings make fun of the female Lofty names, which was really me making fun of myself for not being able to think of anything better!

It occurred to me much later that by giving the characters these types of names, I also gave readers a sense of what the characters either look or act like. It’s a little heavy handed, but I think it’s also helpful when you write in first-person from the perspective of a blind main character who can’t describe the way other characters look.

5) If you were a character in the series, would you choose to live on the ground or high up in the trees?

I think I’d choose to live in the trees, where I could have a view and catch the breezes. But mostly I would want to have the choice, unlike the characters in my books.

6) The Defiance—the second installment in the Brilliant Darkness series—released on July 29th. Did you plan the novel before writing The Scourge, or did you wait to see how the first installment faired?

I published The Scourge last year without being at all sure I would write another book of any kind. It took me months to decide to write a sequel. I am a pantser (meaning I don’t outline or plot books before I write them) so I had only a vague idea of where I would take the plot of a sequel. I actually had a much better idea about what a third book would include. But usually when I let my mind wander the ideas start to flow, and that’s what happened with The Defiance.

7) Speaking of The Defiance, what can fans of The Scourge expect in this second installment?

Fennel and Peree are determined to be together in the protected village of Koolkuna, and Fenn feels strongly that it’s their responsibility to bring their people, the Groundlings and Lofties, back with them. When she receives a frightening message—a pair of dead, bloody animals gutted and nailed to the wall above her bed—she realizes that not everybody is willing to go along with her plan.

8) Tell me three things that you loved about writing The Scourge and The Defiance.

Allowing my imagination to run wild
Spending time with my book children, especially Fennel and Peree
Learning about the craft of writing fiction and the business of publishing

9) Post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction are popular sub-genres in the literature world right now. Why do you think people enjoy them so much?

I think it’s intriguing to read about and imagine how you would react if you were put in these kinds of dire situations. Would I make the same decisions the heroine does? Would I feel the same way she does? Or would I decide to do something wildly different? Reading gives us a safe (and fun) way to explore those decisions.

10) Finally, what’s on your summer reading list?

Ooh, good question. I agree with the scores of other people who have said writers should spend almost as much time reading as they do writing. I love reading, so it’s been a treat to turn a hobby into something I have to do for “work” ; )

I recently devoured the first two books and the novella in Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series. SO good. I also read and loved Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist Histories series. I have an affinity for historical fiction already, but write in the style of Jane Austen and throw in some magic, and I’m utterly hooked. Now I’m starting on indie author Chelsea Fine’s The Archers of Avalon series. Her books won a bunch of awards at the utopYA convention where I was a panelist in June. I try to read a mix of both traditionally published and indie-published authors. I also mix in a few classics. I re-read Oliver Twist and The Great Gatsby in the last few months.


A.G. Henley is the author of the BRILLIANT DARKNESS series. The first novel in the series, THE SCOURGE, was a finalist for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Award.

A.G. is also a clinical psychologist, which means people either tell her their life stories on airplanes, or avoid her at parties when they’ve had too much to drink. Neither of which she minds. When she’s not writing fiction or shrinking heads, she can be found herding her children and their scruffy dog, Guapo, to various activities while trying to remember whatever she’s inevitably forgotten to tell her husband. She lives in Denver, Colorado.

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