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How I Got Through My Dark Night of the Soul: When Night Breaks, a guest post by Janella Angeles

In any story, something always has to go wrong.

In the mechanics of story structure as seen from Snyder’s Save the Cat method (I read Jessica Brody’s take on it for novel writing), the end of Act 2 brings an emotional beat known as the All is Lost point where what happens is exactly what it sounds like: the bad guys close in and all is lost for the hero, leading to the rock bottom of their tale. To add insult to injury, the next step is something called the Dark Night of the Soul—the rock bottom of the rock bottom. The part of the story where your character is truly at their lowest, and we as the reader don’t know if or how they can rally after such a devastating blow or loss. Can the hero rise and continue their story, or is this where it all ends?

Image from Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody

I never used to reference beat sheets or craft books before; the chaotic, pantsing writer in me never thought she needed them. But after obsessively studying story development and beat sheets for the past two years to fix a book I thought was beyond repair, it was inevitable I would start trying to make sense of my life in the terms of the hero’s journey.

Getting the deal and book buzz for Where Dreams Descend felt like the promising call to action to the first half of Act 2, in which the hero familiarizes themselves with the new world they’ve fallen in, encounter new characters, enjoy the fun and games portion, and add B plots to further texture their story. Despite the tests in between, all seems to be going as well as can be, until you hit the midpoint reversal—the point of the story where everything turns on its head, either for a false sense of the better or a downward spiral toward the worst.

If you see where I’m going, then it should come as no surprise that the period when I was writing When Night Breaks became my own personal Dark Night of the Soul. And it went on for a lot longer than I wished it to, for many reasons. And many rock bottoms.

Everyone always told me that the second book in your author career would be the hardest. Whether it’s the next in a series or a new standalone, there’s the pressure of contractual deadlines colliding with life hurdles, the newness of writing for readers now waiting with expectations, and that feeling of responsibility hanging over your head when an entire team of people depends on your words to move forward on the ever-moving gameboard of publishing and publicity schedules.

During normal times, Book 2 Syndrome hits hard. Add a worldwide pandemic, massive industry shifts, crumbling mental health, and escalating uncertainty to all structure and stability outside of writing—all of that can make Book 2 Syndrome feel more like a full-blown house fire in the middle of nowhere. Despite extra amounts of time and padding you may get to try putting the fire out, as a contracted author, you still have to work through it as though the fire isn’t happening.

Enter, the Dark Night of the Soul.

It helped to call it that, because with so much uncertainty surrounding me, at least I was familiar with storytelling terms and phrases. Even when I’d quite literally forgotten how to write a book, just from all the challenges thrown at me during my All is Lost section. In between debuting and promo and my mental health declining, I was still trying to piece together the broken drafts of When Night Breaks. I was exhausted, burnt out, and wildly unwell—all of which could be seen in my writing process and inability to finish.

And that was when the Dark Night of the Soul truly took form. Not for the loss of a normal debut experience or pandemic sales or dream marketing plans disappearing. My strong gut for storytelling and love of reading I could always lean on—that prompted my hero’s journey in the first place—was gone in the aftermath of a midpoint reversal that left me reeling.

I kept telling myself the Dark Night of the Soul, logistically, would be over in the near future. It’s the end of Act 2, and soon, I would find my way to rally and break into Act 3 where some triumphant comeback/lesson learned takes place. That’s how story works, right?

From Jessica Brody’s blog post “How To Write Your Novel Using the Save the Cat! Beat Sheet”

Imagine my horror when the Dark Night of the Soul went on for months. Over a year.

Sounds strange to call it a name, but it brought me a lot of comfort to look at life in terms of story that gave me some illusion of control where I felt all control was lost. But it took me an embarrassingly long time to remember that the most important thing about storytelling is not how well it adheres to structure or lines up with the predetermined beats. Those are elements that can make a story good.

For a story to be great, it all comes down to the hero. The story doesn’t push things forward, the hero does. The hero needs to act, to make the moves necessary for those dominoes to fall into place.

From Jessica Brody’s blog post “How To Write Your Novel Using the Save the Cat! Beat Sheet”

The idea of character agency is so absurdly simple, probably the first lesson we learn as writers, but those are often the realizations we lose sight of first. The ones staring at us right in the face.

So let’s look at character development of a hero’s journey now: at the core, the hero goes on said journey to achieve what they desperately want, not necessarily what they need. The first half of a story usually covers the hero hitting plot points and beats all to reach what they want, while sometimes falling farther from that need (or purposely denying it). However, while the dark shift of the midpoint reversal thrusts the hero into a storm of loss and hardship that challenges them, it’s also the point where character development shifts just as drastically. All of a sudden, the hero’s journey toward what they want is over, because now they have a sense of what they truly need and can no longer ignore it. A hard way of learning a lesson, but a lesson learned no less.

In no way do I fault myself or anyone for how long their own Dark Night of the Soul goes on. Given the circumstances, I’d say it’s pretty understandable to feel like we’re all drowning and overwhelmed, that deep down we’re waiting for some deus ex machina to come out of nowhere in the form of a good news email that will magically turn everything around.

But waiting for something to happen is the trait of a passive character. And for a hero’s journey to remain propulsive, the hero must act.

So when I felt ready to act, I reached out for help. I received a proper diagnosis and entered therapy. I became more unapologetically honest and transparent about my situation, not just with my publishing team and day job, but with my readers. I channeled my energy into reader engagement I found personally fulfilling and meaningful instead of what could sell the most books. And rather than trying to use When Night Breaks as an escape from my reality, I let my reality bleed into the pages and the hearts of my characters. 

My dedication in When Night Breaks

While things didn’t dramatically change overnight with these changes, I never expected them to. We’re still in the midst of the pandemic, When Night Breaks still released under the same shadow that fell over Where Dreams Descend, and the dreams I always held onto of being an author still hurts to think back on given the current reality that’s here to stay for a while. I’m not sure if I even want to keep writing and publishing books after finally starting to heal from it all.

But for the first time, I no longer feel stuck in the Dark Night of the Soul.

Right now, I’m finally the hero who wakes up to a new morning in the next chapter.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Mei Lin Barral

Janella Angeles is a Filipino-American writer and bestselling author of WHERE DREAMS DESCEND. Her writing journey began with many trips to the library and a whole lot of fanfiction. Since then, she’s never stopped looking for magic, and enjoys getting lost in any form of great storytelling.

Website – www.janellaangeles.com

Twitter – www.twitter.com/janella_angeles

IG – www.instagram.com/janella_angeles

TikTok – www.tiktok.com/@janella_angeles

About When Night Breaks

In Janella Angeles’s When Night Breaks, the dramatic last act of the Kingdom of Cards duology, the stage is set, the spectacle awaits… and the show must finally come to an end.

The competition has come to a disastrous end, and Daron Demarco’s fall from grace is front-page news. But little matters to him beyond Kallia, the contestant he fell for who is now missing and in the hands of a dangerous magician. Daron is willing to do whatever it takes to find her. Even if it means unearthing secrets that lead him on a treacherous journey, risking more than his life and with no promise of return.

After falling through the mirror, Kallia has never felt more lost, mourning everything she left behind and the boy she can’t seem to forget. Only Jack, the magician who has all the answers but can’t be trusted, remains at her side. Together, they must navigate a dazzling world where mirrors show memories and illusions shadow every corner, ruled by a powerful showman who’s been waiting for Kallia to finally cross his stage. But beneath the glamour of dueling headliners and never-ending revelry, a sinister force falls like night over everyone, with the dark promise of more—more power beyond Kallia’s wildest imagination, and at a devastating cost.

The truth will come out, a kingdom must fall, hearts will collide.

And the show must finally come to an end.

ISBN-13: 9781250204325
Publisher: St. Martin’s Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/05/2021
Series: Kingdom of Cards #2
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Opportunities Instead of Opponents: Exploring Competition in New Middle-Grade Series, a guest post by Mary Amato

We give our kids lots of opportunities to compete, whether it’s in sports, academics, or the arts. We teach them to train physically, to grind through the drills, to build up their strength, speed, stamina—whatever the performance requires. But how do we teach our kids to develop a healthy mindset toward competition?

One way is to make sure and share real-life stories of goodwill between athletes. Take this year when Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi decided, after tying, to share an Olympic gold in the men’s high jump at the Tokyo Games rather than settle the score with a jump off. Each agreed that their opponent deserved the medal as much as they did. “This is beyond sport,” Barshim said, according to Time Magazine. “This is the message we deliver to the young generation.”

Life Lessons From Sport and Beyond, the inspiring and information-packed podcast from British sports commentator Simon Mundie is full of such stories from world-class athletes, coaches, and psychologists and can be a great teaching tool. 

But what else can we—the teachers, coaches, media specialists, and parents—do on the ground, at school, or at home to help our children and teens when they come face to face with the negative aspects of competition? How do we help them deal with specific emotions that can arise during competitive experiences, emotions such as toxic jealousy, defeatism, or self-loathing? 

As a children’s and YA book writer, I am exploring this in my new middle-grade fiction series called Star Striker. In the first book, Game On!, the main character Albert is overwhelmed with jealousy during his first middle-school band concert when his rival on the soccer field, Trey Patterson, steps out to perform a special saxophone duet with Albert’s crush, a classmate named Jessica.

As Mr. Chaimbers introduced the name of the song, Albert continued to drill his glare at Trey’s back, his jealousy a hot magma bubbling throughout his body. A series of fantasies fired through his mind: Trey tripping, Trey blowing a hideously wrong note, the audience laughing, the audience booing, the audience throwing rotten tomatoes, Trey having a panic attack, a legion of vampire bats swooping down from the rafters and chasing him off the stage . . . Fail, Trey, Fail.

Yes, Albert’s jealousy is extreme, but some of level jealousy is a common response to competition—and it never feels good. It’s hard to get into the positive flow state that makes for a great performance or to enjoy performing when your mind is churning with negativity. And it’s hard to sustain a life-long love for your art or your sport if your experience is mired in emotional toxicity. 

In Game On!, Albert learns a three-step meditation from his extraordinary new coach Kayko, and this helps him on the field, at home, and on stage. Here is the nutshell:

  1. Accept without judgement what you are feeling.
  2. Send kind thoughts to yourself.
  3. Send kind thoughts to the person with whom you are in conflict (an opponent, a rival, etc.)

My boiled-down, three-step recipe is based on a combination of the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and its offshoot Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as well as metta meditation, which is a practice involving sending kind thoughts both inward and outward. 

So what might this process look like in action? As Albert’s rival and his crush begin their duet and jealousy rears its ugly head, Albert begins his three-step silent meditation. He first acknowledges his negative impulses and responds first by forgiving himself for having these thoughts. Then he focuses his attention on sending kind thoughts to his rival Trey instead of silently chanting for Trey to fail. May you play well, Trey, Albert chants. May you feel joy. And here’s what happens:

Something unexpected rose up from way underneath the hot magma: a tiny bubble of delight. He was shocked, but he actually felt better wishing Trey well than wishing disaster on him. He felt large instead of small. May you play well, Trey. May you feel joy . . .

It felt good. He imagined energy spilling out of him and traveling through invisible threads . . . to Trey and to Jessica. He imagined that they could feel his energy flowing into them and that it radiated out through their fingertips into their saxophones and out into the auditorium. He imagined it traveling to the ears of his nana, his mother, his sister. A smile spread across Albert’s face. This was good. This was right.

This meditation not only helps Albert to feel better, it helps him to perform better when it’s his turn to play, and it helps him to enjoy the entire experience. 

This three-step meditation might sound too saccharine or too simplistic to some. It is positive, radically so. And it is simple in theory. But in practice, it isn’t easy to acknowledge negative impulses, or to forgive ourselves for thinking negative thoughts, or to summon the good will to genuinely wish rivals well. All three of these steps require practice. Just as we teach our athletes, pianists, and dancers to practice their physical skills, and we could also teach them to practice these psychological skills. 

I didn’t set out to write the Star Striker series to teach this meditation. The series is not a self-help textbook. It’s an adventurous, sci-fi sports story. But authors find that our own experiences have a way of seeping into the work. I’m not an athlete, but I’ve felt anxiety about performing as a musician. And I’ve learned about athletic competition through my 26-year-old son Simon Amato’s experience as an athlete, trainer, and co-founder of the fitness company Life of Gains. I know that competition can be a driver of personal growth if it’s framed in a healthy way. 

Instead of responding to rivalry with the desire to tear down an opponent, we can respond with the desire to build up our own skills. “Training with or playing against athletes that are stronger can push you to work harder,” my son Simon says. “Opponents can be opportunities. I’m always grateful when I get to play a game against great athletes.” 

Over the years, I have received so many letters from young readers who have let me know that a character’s experience has moved them—even transformed them. With this new series, I am hoping that Albert’s willingness to look directly at his own challenges and respond with positivity will resonate with my readers and inspire them to do the same.

Meet the author

Mary Amato is the award-winning author of over twenty-five works of fiction for children and young adults. Her latest book Star Striker: Game On! is about a 13-year-old athlete who not only deals with ordinary middle-school challenges but is also recruited by an extraordinary team of aliens to play in a high-stakes interplanetary soccer tournament. www.maryamato.com

About Star Striker: Game On!

Join Albert and a group of ragtag aliens as they dribble, cross, and score across the galaxy in this soccer-themed story of unlikely friendships.

The day that aliens abducted 13-year-old Albert Kinney was the day he was hoping to make the school soccer team.But that’s the way life works sometimes, especially for Albert.

Astonishingly the Zeenods, don’t want to harm Albert, they want him to play soccer. And so, Albert jumps at the chance to join the Zeenods. Yet just as he is introduced to the specifics of their game and all their high-tech gear, he faces a series of direct threats to his life. Does someone have a mysterious vendetta against Albert? Or does their first opponent, the ruthless team from Planet Tev, want to guarantee that they win?

Action-packed, yet filled with humor and heart, Game On! is the first book in a series that features thrilling play-by-play soccer scenes and an intergalactic plot with far-reaching consequences for the Zeenods—and Earth.

ISBN-13: 9780823449118
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Series: Star Striker
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

The Building Blocks to Change, a guest post by Nancy Richardson Fischer

Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones whose parents told them that they could do anything, be anything, and accomplish anything. Perhaps, when you were a kid, you were picked first for every team in gym class, never went through an awkward stage, and sailed through high school, college, got your dream job, dream guy or gal or dog, and created a rose-colored universe, all without any hurdles or roadblocks. But I’m guessing that didn’t happen… because even if life seems easy for someone on the exterior, inside there are always challenges. And it’s those challenges, when shared that help shape self-perception and the views other people have of us.

I recall a gal in high school named Beth who was a cheerleader, great student, and very popular. I thought she had the world by the tail. But she was living with an alcoholic mother who was verbally and sometimes physically abusive. One night, I went to dinner at Beth’s house and her mom was so drunk she slurred, fell down, and made us a moldy frozen pizza for dinner, insisting we finish every bite. After that I saw Beth in a different light. She’d let me into her world and I realized she was thriving despite enormous challenges. She was a survivor.

Nancy in high school.

Here’s a different kind of example. Bill was in my freshman high school class and had epilepsy. Everyone knew and most of the kids didn’t tease him, but they did avoid a friendship. One day we were summoned into a general assembly and that boy stood on stage in front of 400 students and did a presentation about epilepsy, how it had affected his life, his fears, hopes, and what we could all do to help him. It was so incredibly brave. More than that, he opened a window to his interior world, allowed us to understand and sympathize… and that opened the door to friendships. After that day, Bill was a warrior to us and we did everything possible to help him navigate his condition.

People only care deeply about people they know. And part of being known is sharing experiences, successes, failures and fears. By sharing and allowing others to truly understand you, and to mirror what they see, versus what you believe, self-perception can also change for the better. 

Nancy and a very good dog.

This idea is what led me to write The Speed of Falling Objects, my new young adult novel (HarperCollins/Inkyard Press Oct. 1, 2019). The story revolves around a timid young woman named Danny who believes she’s defective, inferior and an embarrassment because of an accident when she was seven, and her parents’ subsequent divorce. When her estranged father, a famous TV survivalist, invites Danny to join him and his guest, a teen movie idol, for an episode of his show being filmed in the Amazon Rainforest, she jumps at the chance to renew their relationship. But their small plane crashes in the Amazon and all three must face deadly perils, dark secrets and discover hidden strengths to survive and find their way home. Danny’s perceptions of who she is and who she wants to become changes dramatically as she shares her fears, sees herself in others’ eyes, and embraces her unique abilities.

Authors write what they know. I have always believed that I’m inferior and defective. I’m not looking for sympathy! My path was winding and filled with obstacles, but today I have a great husband, dream job writing books and a life that exceeded my expectations. I just want to share that the things we believe, or were told about ourselves early in life may not be true, but we still carry them somewhere inside. And it’s the heavy baggage we can’t actually see that will, in reality, lead us to sink or swim unless we’re willing to unload it.

Here’s my story in a nutshell.  From a young age I was told I could accomplish some things, be some things, but not everything. My parents weren’t cruel, they were just a product of their own parents, came from small towns, and didn’t believe the entire world was there for the taking… just a little slice. So the message, for me, was that there were things beyond my grasp, impossible things. I took that to mean that I was inferior—incapable of achieving all my dreams. In addition, I’ve had some health issues over the years. My back is tricky… meaning I’ve had ruptured discs and a few surgeries. That led me to believe my body was defective.

Nancy catching air while kitesurfing.

So how did I become someone who lives to ski, kitesurf, and cycle? How did I become an author? How did I find the courage to put myself out there and write novels? Part of the reason is that I’m stubborn. I truly believe I’m defective and inferior to this day! But I refused to miss out on the life I want to live. So I shared my story, my fears, my dreams, with friends I trusted. And what I saw reflected in their eyes was someone who was braver and tougher than she believed… and had some writing talent. I took those building blocks and created a ladder that allowed me to climb past my perceptions and insecurities.

Nancy riding Mt. Ventoux.

It’s HARD to share your doubts, to open yourself up to people who might not always be kind. But no situation is a failure if you’re being authentic. By doing so you discover strengths you never knew you had, and also come to realize that your own struggles and story can actually help other people overcome their hurdles in life.

Here’s the takeaway: Don’t allow negative self-perceptions and vulnerabilities to prevent you from opening a door or window into your life.  One day you will realize that your early beliefs are just steps on a road that must be climbed in order to achieve your dreams. 

Meet Nancy Richardson Fischer

Photo credit: Kelley Dulcich

Nancy Richardson Fischer is the author of When Elephants Fly and The Speed of Falling Objects ((HarperCollins/Inkyard Press Oct. 1, 2019). She has authored multiple sport autobiographies and Star Wars books for LucasFilm.

Visit her website at www.nancyrichardsonfischer.com

Twitter: @nfischerauthor

Facebook: @nanfischerauthor

Instagram: @nanfischerauthor

Bookbub: @nancyrfischer

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/98412.Nancy_Richardson_Fischer

About The Speed of Falling Objects

From the author of When Elephants Fly comes an exceptional new novel about falling down, risking everything and embracing what makes us unique. Don’t miss this compulsively readable novel about the most unlikely of heroes.

Danger “Danny” Danielle Warren is no stranger to falling. After losing an eye in a childhood accident, she had to relearn her perception of movement and space. Now Danny keeps her head down, studies hard, and works to fulfill everyone else’s needs. She’s certain that her mom’s bitterness and her TV star father’s absence are her fault. If only she were more—more athletic, charismatic, attractive—life would be perfect.

When her dad calls with an offer to join him to film the next episode of his popular survivalist show, Danny jumps at the chance to prove she’s not the disappointment he left behind. Being on set with the hottest teen movie idol of the moment, Gus Price, should be the cherry on top. But when their small plane crashes in the Amazon, and a terrible secret is revealed, Danny must face the truth about the parent she worships and falling for Gus, and find her own inner strength and worth to light the way home.

ISBN-13: 9781335928245
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Publication date: 10/01/2019