In continuing with my interview series, below is an interview with S. L. Saboviec, author of Guarding Angel.
Growing up in small town Iowa, I tried to fit into the culture of the Bible Belt. I spent years convincing myself that born again Christianity was right, proper, and my only choice. Yet the philosophy never resonated with me.
Living in Toronto, I’m surrounded by a tapestry of cultures and religions. Never overt, just present and unrelenting: Something that cannot be ignored. People aren’t all the same color. People don’t fit into the boxes the media creates. People have varied beliefs.
My reading and writing interests reflect that diversity. I write about angels and demons because the supernatural fascinates me and I love a rip-roaring fight between the forces of good and evil. But these angels and demons have real struggles in a world that is built on more than just Judeo-Christian philosophy. My characters question everything–just as I do. My characters struggle with the greater meaning of life–just as I do. My books ask questions that are most dear to me: Why are we here and what does it all mean?
Give us the title and genre of your book and a short tagline.
Guarding Angel – Fantasy.
Guardian angel Enael is forced to confront her inability to protect her Wards when a demon interferes in their lives.
What kind of writing do you do?
When I first started writing when I was a kid, I wrote lots of short stories. Many of them were near copies of my favorite books or stories in Cricket magazine (loved it!). But we all have to start somewhere, right?
As I moved into junior high and high school, I got into fan fiction. I loved the X-Files—don’t get me started on Mulder and Scully. It was an evolution of sorts because I went from completely derivative to branching out into a universe someone else created while still coming up with unique ideas.
For several years in college, I exclusively wrote in an online journal. It was a great experience for many reasons. I would do a lot of stream of consciousness stuff to help me through that, ahem, painful time of growth, and I met a lot of other people that way. It was really a way to connect more than write, but I felt like I was practicing my writing skills for the future at a time when I couldn’t really focus on fiction writing.
Now I write novels. I’ve tried to write short stories again, but they feel like they’re missing something. I’m verbose, so I always think that what I have to say is too large to contain in a story of only a few thousand words. I can definitely see myself writing novellas or short stories in the universes that I create, once I get a few things out there. I’m trying to focus on my novels first and foremost right now, though.
How does Guarding Angel relate to your spiritual practice or other life path?
Guarding Angel is the culmination of a journey I’ve been on for awhile. I grew up in a strict Lutheran household and then considered myself born-again Christian for many years. I even spent three summers on mission trips overseas (Trinidad, Thailand, and Botswana).
However, I never felt like the philosophy fit what I really believed deep inside. Some bad and judgmental behavior on the part of the leaders on the mission trips made me begin to question what I’d been taught. I sought answers through prayer and reading, and after awhile, I found them. The answers that I found did not match what I’d been taught, so in my early twenties, I walked away from Christianity.
The book is an amalgamation of the beliefs of different religions set in a world where all religion and spirituality has a purpose without any one being correct. The heart of it is what I believe in, although I embellished many of the details for the sake of the novel. I don’t actually believe that the angelic hierarchy is exactly the way I wrote it, that a Muse’s wings are royal purple, or that a place called the Praetorium exists in Heaven. Although it’s interesting to imagine!
What were your goals and intentions in Guarding Angel, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
I had several goals. First I wanted to create a story about a guardian angel who was struggling with the morality of the choices her human Wards made. This I definitely achieved. I also wanted to raise the question of whether her morality was correct or if their morality was correct. I also believe that I achieved that, although Daniel turned out much more of an ass than I had originally written him. He was kind of boring at first—so I took him in a pretty strong direction.
I wanted to continue the theme of correct action based on perspective throughout the book. I think I also achieved that. It makes sense for Enael to do what she’s done, even though she struggles with it and gets no support.
In terms of world-building, I definitely created the universe the way I wanted it. All religion or spirituality has power, but none are correct or exclusive.
Are there misconceptions that people have about Guarding Angel? If so, explain.
A book should stand on its own merit, so if I have to explain something outside the book, I’m not doing my job as a writer. However, I will say that people too often assume that a writer believes in or condones the behavior of the characters in the book. That’s a ridiculous assumption.
Although I believe in the essence of spirituality of the book, I’m not so sure about everything. I’ve created a universe where humans choose the terrible things that happen to them, for their own spiritual growth. That means that murders, rapes, and suicides are something that you or I choose before we come to the physical plane. It’s a simple answer to the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Occam’s Razor is great, but I don’t know that spiritual truth can be simplified that easily.
I will say that question has made writing the second book challenging since I’m delving further into that same theme.
Who is your favorite character from Guarding Angel and why?
That’s easy. My favorite character is always the flawed but complicated one. In this case, as with many books, it’s the antagonist, Yasva. She’s seductive and mean and broken. She’s chosen a not-very-wise path, but she’s done so because she feels she has no other choice. She’s angry at the Seraphim for crimes they may or may not have committed. She’s also trying to hold herself together, so you have to wonder. Are her over-the-top schemes and game-playing compensation for her feelings of inadequacy or are they true to her true personality? Maybe it’s both.
My all-time favorite character of any book or film is Hannibal Lector. I don’t know what that says about me, so I’m not going to analyze that! I didn’t pattern Yasva after him, but I do strive to create his complexity and allure in my characters. Especially the villains.
How did you come up with the title of your book and series?
I’m terrible at coming up with titles. I originally called it “Enael’s Book.” I mean, horrible, right? When it went out to the first round of critique partners, one of the first readers was my dad. He came up with the title Fallen Redemption, and it fit. A year ago, when I was querying, I searched for the title in the marketplace and didn’t find it. However, when I was getting ready to self-publish, much to my horror, I discovered someone else had recently published a book with that title.
When I hired Jessica Swift of Swift Ink Editorial to do my developmental edits, she also agreed to help with the book blurb and titles. She researched keywords and came up with a number of them, but none of them really clicked with me. We spent a session on the phone and finally came up with Guarding Angel. It’s simple but descriptive, and the rest of the series fits into the pattern. (Reaping Angel, Warring Angel)
I just couldn’t let Fallen Redemption go, though, and I feel it’s a good descriptor for where I’m going overall. So that’s how it became the name of the series.
Tell us a little bit about your cover art. Who designed it? Why did you go with that particular image/artwork?
I’ve never been a visually artistic person, but I know enough to be dangerous. I can look at a cover and say, “Yes, this works,” or “No, that doesn’t,” but I can’t say why. When I looked through Regina Wamba’s portfolio, her tone and artistry fit the feel that I wanted.
When we started work on the cover, she sent me a questionnaire. I say “we started work” loosely—all I did was answer some simple questions about what my book was about, the main characters, and the mood. She came back with this amazing cover. I only had a few tweaks, and it was done.
Everyone tells me how much they love it, so I think I did a great job. A great job picking out an awesome cover designer, that is!
What inspires you?
Great stories inspire me. I recently finished The Siren by Tiffany Reisz, and it made me both want to write the hell out of my book and hang up my pen forever. It’s a complicated story about multi-layered characters with shocking revelations that in retrospect seem almost cliché—but she handled them so masterfully that I am in awe.
Another book, We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, inspired me through its character development, too. It put us in the mind of one of the least remembered victims of a school shooting—the shooter’s mother. I never would have considered what the situation would have been for her, yet the author created a living, breathing character.
Character-driven novels about flawed people. That’s what inspires me the most and what I aspire to write.
Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?
I’m a part-time writer, unfortunately. I’d love to be full-time, but it’s not economically feasible at this point. (Ah, the old refrain.)
Last year, I was mentally dedicated to writing and revising what I was working on. I have a 45 minute train ride to and from work every day, so I was able to sit down and focus for that 45 minutes almost five days a week. I’d also work hard on the weekends for a few solid hours each day. I probably didn’t give myself enough breaks—I’d get burnt out every once in awhile and need to take a week or two off. I should probably give myself at least Sunday … But I digress.
This year, though, it’s been even tougher. On Christmas Day, my husband and I got the best gift—a positive pregnancy test! I didn’t realize how dramatically things would change for me as the months progressed. I don’t know if it’s the hormones or the exhaustion or the random aches and pains, but I’ve been having trouble focusing. So I’ve been doing little things and trying not to beat myself up for not keeping the same pace as pre-pregnancy. On or around September 3, it will all be worth it. And maybe I’ll be able to get back to writing. Or maybe it’ll be even harder with a new little person around. We’ll see!
Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Summarize your writing process.
I wrote Guarding Angel without plotting. I found that I had to go back and clean up a lot of dead-end subplots and character issues. I wrote my second book, working title The Exorcist’s Assistant, by starting out pansting and switching over to plotting. After I got the plot down, I let the story continue to take me where it wanted.
Now that I’m working on the sequel to Guarding Angel, I’ve done plot and character sketches. The things that happen while writing still surprise me, but at least now I know what direction I’m heading. I defined all the major plot points—first chapter inciting incident, first act finale, midpoint, etc. Until I get that down, I flounder.
I’m sure I’ll continue to refine my process, but it will always be a mixture of the two. Logic for the big plot points and intuition for the smaller nuances that happen throughout the book.
What projects are you working on at the present or do you have planned for the future?
All of these books have working titles, except the sequel to Guarding Angel, which I chose with my developmental editor, Jessica Swift, when we picked out all the titles for the series.
Reaping Angel – Book #2 of 3 in the Fallen Redemption series. This is hard to describe without spoilering the end of the first book, so I’ll be vague. Enael must deal with the consequences of her decision near the end of the first book by paying penance to the Council of Seraphim. It’s fully plotted and approximately 1/3 written. I hope to get it to my first round of critique partners before our baby is born at the beginning of September.
Warring Angel – Book #3 of 3 in the Fallen Redemption series. A war erupts when Enael uncovers a deep-seated conspiracy dividing heaven’s reigning Council of Seraphim. I have the major plot points determined, but I won’t start on the detailed plot until the 2nd book is written.
The Exorcist’s Assistant – Dark Urban Fantasy. A woman harassed by a demon discovers its connection to her past life. Enlisting the aid of a doubting exorcist, she fights for her life—and the life of her wife and daughter. I’ve written this and revised it once. It’s currently out with critique partners, and I hope to get it revised a second time before the beginning of September. I haven’t decided if I’m going to query or self-publish it.
Titus versus Tamora – Science Fiction retelling of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. Titus and Tamora each lead a terraforming team at the edges of the galaxy. A feud from decades ago erupts between them against the backdrop of the vast and unforgiving wilderness of space. I’ve started plotting this one when I needed a break in the Fallen Redemption series. I don’t have a goal for it right now; I’m going to focus on the others first.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I only published my book a month ago, so that’s not been a lot of time for people to discover me. I’ve heard from a few readers told me they loved it. It’s the most gratifying thing for me, to know that people have read my book and loved it. The best comment was that the reader was “confused what to feel/think about a book” but that he thought it was an “amazing book.” The first part of the comment made me nervous, so I’m glad he followed it up with the ending part!
But the more I think about it, the more I like the comment. I wrote Guarding Angel both to inspire people and to make them uncomfortable. I am unapologetic about the world I created, the situations I placed my characters in, and the moral implications of everything that happened. I only hope that I did as well as I wanted.
What can readers who enjoy Guarding Angel do to help make it successful?
Write a review for Amazon and Goodreads! I think for self-published writers especially, that’s the number one thing. The second would be to tell your friends and family to go buy the book.
Think of me as your small-town shop owner. I’m here, but I only have a tiny little storefront, and I need to get the word of mouth out so traffic picks up.
How do you feel about eBooks vs. print books?
I grew up on print books, of course, and I feel like nothing can top a paperback in your hands. But that’s nostalgia, really. I almost exclusively read eBooks now because it’s more convenient. I have a friend that loans me print books, and I find them unwieldy compared to the eBook. Our kids are going to grow up on eBooks, so they’ll probably get the same nostalgia holding a tablet or eReader as I do with a print book. (At least, I hope they’ll enjoy reading as much as I do.)
I recently discovered that I could install and read Kindle books on my Android phone. I don’t know why it never occurred to me before to look up the app. I was just reading them on my tablet, which I had to lug with me. But now, I’ve gone nuts. I can read while standing in line somewhere rather than goofing off on Facebook or Twitter. (Sorry, FB and Twitter.)
How do you feel about alternative vs. conventional publishing?
I struggled with the idea of self-publishing originally. I honestly felt that to be a real writer, you needed to have an agent and a publisher to validate that you were good. But as I explored the options, I realized that’s not the case. People who approach self-publishing as an entrepreneur who is setting up a small business and selling a product can be successful. And self-publishing is no longer the option of the desperate and terrible writer.
I have a book review blog, and I welcome self-published authors’ work. However, being that I’ve been exposed to a lot of it, I have seen the lower quality work that is out in the marketplace. People come up with all sorts of excuses (“I don’t have money;” “I don’t have time;” “I’ll just throw this out there and someone will see my scintillating talent through my typos if they’re smart enough”), but I don’t agree with any of that. If I were a small business owner, I would do everything I could to invest the right amount of money and time into my beautiful creation to ensure it flourishes. I don’t understand people who do it differently.
So that’s what I’ve done with Guarding Angel. Three editors, a professional cover designer, a webpage designer, a photographer for my headshots, and more. Is it 100% perfect or as good as it would be if backed by a huge publisher? Maybe, maybe not. After all, writing is art, which is subjective. But I believe I’ve put as much heart and soul into it as I have without getting paralyzed by the “Is it good enough?” doubt and never releasing it into the world.
What do you think is the future of reading/writing?
The endless debate about traditional publishing versus self-publishing exhausts me, actually. I steer clear of the people who proclaim that print books are dying or that big publishers are dying. I’m sorry, but if Wal-Mart went bankrupt next week and closed its doors, another gigantic corporation would fill its spot within a year. It’s a basic consequence of capitalism.
Now, will the same Big 6 publishers exist 100 years from now? I would be inordinately surprised if they did. Some of them will be unable to adapt to changes in the marketplace, and they’ll die off. Again, basic capitalism. But big publishers of some sort will always exist, of that I’m sure. They might sell text floating on your Google glasses, but until we outlaw gigantic corporations, they’ll be around.
So what do I think the future holds? Writers gonna write. Readers gonna read. Both quality and shoddy work will get attention with enough marketing; both quality and shoddy work will get ignored if not in the right place in the right time. Reading and writing won’t die, and that’s really that’s important.
What makes your book stand out from the crowd?
Before I made the decision to self-publish, I queried agents and participated in contests. I got a small amount of interest and feedback, but the answer always was that angel books are a saturated marketplace, so I needed to make my query stand out more.
I found it difficult to make that happen. What makes Guarding Angel stand out isn’t the plot or characters, which is what book blurbs and query letters focus on. What makes it stand out is the world-building and the underlying moral questions that I raised. It’s not preachy (or, at least, if it was, I would have hoped that my developmental editor, Jessica Swift, would have beat me over the head about that), but the context and situations I placed Enael and her humans in were ambiguous.
As an example, Enael’s second human, Tabitha, has decided to make life very difficult for herself during her planning sessions before reincarnating. Bad things happen to her, some which she had chosen and some of which Enael’s demon nemesis orchestrates. In the end, it’s too much for Tabitha, and she succumbs to depression. The angels have to intervene to prevent damage to her soul. That entire section about Tabitha is emotional. Sometimes I have trouble rereading parts of it because it’s so brutal. And I never figured out a way to get its essence crammed into a two paragraph query letter—especially since it’s not the main plot.
What are some ways in which you promote your work? Do you find that these add to or detract from your writing time?
Before Guarding Angel released, I sent out requests for book bloggers to review my ARC. I’m now continuing to send out review requests, a few each week, because I know that reviews are most important for Amazon rankings. I’ve also been doing interviews and guest posts on different blogs, and I keep an active Twitter and Pinterest account. I don’t know how much either of those things helps, but it’s fun and keeps me connected to the community.
I have to say that sometimes I’m nostalgic for last year, when all I was doing was writing and not worrying about whether I’d been on Twitter enough or I’d met my quota of review requests for the week. The grass is always greener! I’m starting to adapt, and now that the release has happened, I’m settling into a routine. I need to add more writing time to my routine, definitely, though.
What do you like to read in your free time?
I’m a big fan of speculative fiction. I grew up reading science fiction and fantasy. I love a well-written world. Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood series was the most recent sci-fi that I was in awe of. She created an alien species that was foreign yet believable. I love when writers can do that. It’s also why Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card has been one of my favorites for years.
I also like to read erotic romance or dark contemporary books from time to time. I have some feminism-based issues with a lot of the romance trope, so I usually can’t stay in that genre for very long before getting discouraged. But some great books exist out there. I really liked Mina Vaughn’s How To Discipline Your Vampire and How To Reprimand Your Rock Star (I just finished the ARC from Netgalley; whoo hoo!). She’s a smart, sassy woman who writes smart, sassy books, so I’m excited to see more from her.
How can we contact you or find out more about your books?
I’m on Twitter the most. Not to sound like a snob, but I’m a bit choosy about who I follow. I have a big pet peeve about people who only retweet or only spam links to their books / products or only send out famous quotes. I like to talk about random stuff with strangers who then become Twitter friends, so if people who follow me are doing that, I follow them back.
I don’t have much of a presence on Google+ or Facebook yet. I don’t know about the future of businesses on Facebook, but it feels like they’re killing off the small ones. So I don’t know that I’ll ever devote much time to it. But I have a page now!