Wendy Higgins is the USA Today and NYT bestselling author of the Sweet Evil series from HarperTeen, the high fantasy duology The Great Hunt, her independently published Irish fantasy, See Me, and her adult indie Unknown trilogy. Her first contemporary YA, Kiss Collector, is coming from HarperTeen December 18, 2018! 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 tiny doggies Rue and Nessie.
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.
HOW I GOT STARTED
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 for $5. 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 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. I never thought of myself as intelligent enough or deep enough to write a book. It was the ultimate unattainable dream. I wrote for fun. I wrote for myself and my friends.
I dabbled in short stories and book ideas all throughout my school years, but stopped after college when I became a teacher and decided it was time to be “serious.” 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, but I do have some amazing memories from that time of freedom). After a horrible apartment fire, I quit being a flight attendant, enrolled in college again, and met my hubby. I went on to receive a Masters in Education from Radford University and taught 9th and 12th grade English before becoming a “stay at home mom.” I thought I’d go back to teaching, but the idea of bringing home hours’ worth of essays while caring for young children freaked me out.
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. I was obsessed.
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 revise and polish before querying. Nobody is going to want to represent you based on a promising premise. 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 (60th? 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 Publisher’s 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.
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 were 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 on the website, critiquing upwards of forty stories a week, earning myself return-reads (it was a “scratch each others’ backs” kind of community). In May 2010 my story made the top five. To protect my story, I did not post the last four chapters, but I put a note at the end saying I’d be happy to send the last four chapters if the editor was interested. I received an excellent review from a HarperCollins editor…but no further interest. I was bummed, but I didn’t give up.
Soon after, I was hit with inspiration again. My book was a standalone titled Angel Prophesy, and I began to realize I’d barely scratched the surface with the characters and their world. I began to break the story apart with the idea to extend it into a trilogy. I decided to just relax and have fun with it.
Five weeks after the professional review, I was shocked to receive 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. The email 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.
Six months later I had a contract from HarperCollins and I was tossed afloat onto the sea of publishing (which was a scary place to be as an unannounced inkpop author). But that’s a story of its own for a different time…
Fast forward two years to the publication of Sweet Evil. It didn’t sprint from the gates. It didn’t even gallop. It meandered, at best. But those who read it and enjoyed it were pretty hardcore, and started spreading the word. The next two books in the series very nearly did not get published. Interest from a television producer gave the publisher the push they needed to make an offer. Sadly the television interest fell through, but the trilogy would be complete, so I was happy.
It was during that waiting period when I didn’t know if the rest of the series would get published that I came up with the idea for See Me, an Irish standalone fantasy. The publisher wasn’t interested, which I could understand since it was, well, different. It was such fun to write, though, and so many of my friends loved it that I decided to self-publish. I’m glad I did, because that little story has quite a loyal following. It did well enough on Amazon and B&N, hitting #1 in all of its categories, that I was offered an audio deal–woot!
Back to the Sweet series: book 2, Sweet Peril, did slightly better than the first. And then…well, I’m not sure exactly what happened. There wasn’t a ton of promo going on, so I can only guess it was word of mouth from readers. There was a sudden explosion of interest between books two and three. When the third book hit shelves in April 2014, Sweet Reckoning made the USA Today and New York Times YA series bestseller list. I had never even dared to let myself dream that was possible. I can’t tell you what a humbling experience it was. Beyond, beyond.
That accomplishment paved the way for a forth book in the series, Sweet Temptation, the story from Kaidan’s point of view, and a high fantasy duology called The Great Hunt and The Great Pursuit. The Great Hunt hit the New York Times ebook bestseller list.
From there, I decided to spread my wings and venture into the adult romance world with my independently published apocalyptic scifi trilogy of Unknown, Unrest, Undone, which was a ton of fun.
As for what’s next, my first contemporary YA romance will hit shelves on December 18, 2018 called Kiss Collector. Super excited!! I’m not certain what might come in the months before that. As of January 2018, I’m just hanging out, focusing on my family, and waiting for another idea to hit. As one does. In the meantime, I thank you for taking time to read my ramblings, and I wish you the best.
BEHIND THE SWEET TRILOGY:
Sweet Evil is my literary baby. The most common question I get from readers is “How did you come up with the idea?”
Here’s the long version…I joke that it began with the two 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 Twilight and 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 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.
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 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. I wasn’t an avid YA reader at that time, so I thought I was being really unique…turns out there were many angel/demon stories and other similar paranormals being written at the same time as mine, but any similarities are coincidence. I didn’t dive into YA books until after I’d finished. I just wanted to write something that could get me working with teens again.
The book underwent major revisions over the two year period prior to publication, and received many beta reads from trusted critique partners to get where it is. The first draft was absolutely awful. Cringe-worthy. I’m super lucky that HarperCollins saw its potential.
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. 🙂