Writing a novel is a personal journey of the mind like no other. Fall From Grace was a ten-year process that became the spine of my career and established my identity as a writer.
An Epic of Heavenly Proportions
Growing up, my taste in entertainment gravitated towards the fantastical. Star Wars was, and will always be, my pinnacle of cinematic escapism. I struggled with anxiety and retreated from my real-world issues into books, comics, video games, and movies. As I grew older, Braveheart also had a huge impact on me creatively by introducing the bloody, swords-and-sandals awesomeness of historical epics. I remember trying to recreate the battle scenes in custom levels of Warcraft II…feel free to ignore that nerdy confession. I began to devour films in that genre—the good, the bad, and the ugly. I couldn’t get enough. There was something raw yet honorable about close quarters combat as opposed to the modern use of firearms. These characters were fighting for something tooth and nail, and their ideals were intoxicating. Remember William Wallace screaming “FREEDOM” right before he was beheaded? Gnarly, baller-grade swagger.
Eventually, my passion for fantasy and epic warfare merged in Peter Jackson’s iconic Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s easy to forget that fantasy films on that scale simply didn’t exist before LoTR. The franchise’s worldwide success brought awareness and credibility to the entire genre. Following the theatrical release of The Fellowship of the Ring, I came across a book by Gustav Davidson called A Dictionary of Angels. I’m not religious, but I couldn’t deny the mysterious allure of angels and their mythology. In my mind, they weren’t bare-assed babies playing harps in the clouds––the angels were warriors.
The original badasses of Creation.
Flipping through Gustav’s A-Z compendium, I found a factoid about how one cardinal estimated the amount of angels that “fell” after the war in Heaven totaled well over one hundred million. One hundred million––world war on a scale I had never seen before. I needed to know more. But the war hadn’t been explored in any great detail in the Bible or other religious texts. I found an angel name here and there, little pieces, but nothing concrete. What would cause so many enlightened beings to doom their bodies and souls? Rebellion, civil war, Michael versus Satan––I had to tell this story. Their story.
A Tale of Two Brothers
Fall From Grace was a passion project, the first real one of my life. I researched, outlined, and crafted a world from the ground up. I knew that I had to make Heaven and the angels relatable. This wasn’t going to be some random universe removed from reality. The angels and their war were connected to humanity, so I approached the story as a part of our history. It was a daunting task, but the characters seemed to speak to me. I felt like I was observing and documenting their struggle, not creating it. I even began to brainstorm ideas for future novels and short stories. Fall From Grace was a franchise waiting to explode, a treasure trove of ideas. I felt like Gollum coveting the One Ring, overwhelmed by the power in my hands. I don’t think I knew at the time just how big a project it would become, and none of it would have been possible without the support of my future wife, Veronica.
I chose a dual perspective point of view for the narrative, each chapter showing Michael and Satan’s opposing perspectives on the first war in Creation. The backdrop was a bloody, bold, and uncompromising look at warfare corrupting the unity of a civilization, but it was really a story about family––two brothers on the opposite sides of a civil war. These two voices were battling in my head, each believing that they were the heroes of their own story. That’s what storytelling is all about, isn’t it? Even in Heaven, life can be a muddy, screwed up mess with no clear division between good and evil. Heroes can make dire mistakes. Villains can have moments of benevolence. My characters had become caught up in the same maelstrom of ambiguous morality that guided my pen.
Blood, Sweat, Tears and Words
Some days, I would end my writing sessions with a high from flawless execution. Other days, I would be unsettled knowing that the pages were sloppy. But perseverance is everything––just get it all down. After finishing a draft, I began the pain-staking, multi-layered process of editing and cut out over 100 pages. I literally went line by line checking grammar, spacing, dialogue, punctuation, and the flow of language. Then, I would print the pages and read them aloud, making the manuscript bleed with my dreaded red pen. I can’t tell you how many times I did this. It took weeks, sometimes months. Every time. But it was like chipping away at stone to create a beautiful statue. Each little change brought more polish until, one day, I had to step back and admire the final product.
Editing is a dangerous game. You have to listen to your gut––not your brain––to know when to stop.
After living with the novel for over a year, my managers at Heroes & Villains Entertainment sent the manuscript out to literary agents. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find anyone who shared my vision. I don’t know that I’ll ever understand why, but that’s how it goes. Support from my team and family helped me see the potential of a different path.
I would not let Fall From Grace die. I had confidence in my writing, in the novel’s marketability, and that there was a huge, worldwide audience for this story. I would just have to bring Heaven to Earth myself.
The Untreaded Waters of Self-publishing
There’s a revolution happening in the publishing world. Authors, new and established, are taking matters into their own hands. Many fantasy authors, in particular, have found great success through self-publication. The power is shifting from the publishers back to the creators, and with it, the responsibility of launching themselves as a brand. That’s awesome…and absolutely terrifying. Yet when success comes through self-publication, more than ever it gives that truly American, self-made sense of satisfaction. It had been a long road and, damnit, I wanted a piece of that success.
There was only one problem: I never had any social media presence and was content to be a creative recluse with my wife and dog. Mingling and networking, whether online or offline, was not my cup of tea. I preferred to let people know me through my writing while hiding behind a comforting shield of privacy. But to bring the name and works of J. Edward Ritchie to the masses, I had to dive into the shark-infested, caustic ocean that is the Internet. Twitter, Goodreads, Wattpad, setting up my website––I was drowning in it all. Thankfully, the online community of writers was very welcoming and helped rinse the foul taste of personal invasion from my mouth.
I chose to release Fall From Grace through Amazon in both traditional print and eBook formats. I still prefer to read physical copies of books, which seems a bit hypocritical considering that I would never pick up a newspaper. After years of work, I wanted something real to hold in my hands—not just digital. Having actual copies of my novel floating out there would offer a small slice of immortality, like a part of who I am could endure beyond my own lifetime. I’ll never make any grand changes to the world or have my name fill the pages of history, nor do I desire that fame, but a small contribution to pop culture is one of my humble aspirations.
Converting a novel from a manuscript to a ready-to-print document was tough. There were basic choices like book size and font, but a slew of other steps were very challenging. Justification and word hyphenation, fixing widows and orphans, linking proper headers and footers, separating sections––it all demands patience and exploration, and Microsoft Word is not always the easiest program to navigate. Luckily, Amazon’s Createspace community was there to answer my every question.
After receiving a stunning cover design, I ordered my review copy of Fall From Grace. As a kid, remember how you had to wait 4-6 weeks for some garbage toy from a cereal box mail-in promotion? Like when Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes was waiting for his propeller hat? This felt longer, even though it was only a few days. The Amazon stork was bringing my baby.
Fall From Grace arrived, and it was glorious. I gave it one final proof read, brought in a few trusted readers to do the same, and fixed any last-minute errors. Exhausted from the paperback process, I used a Createspace service to convert my file for the eBook format and preserve as much of the original formatting as possible. Thus, here we are…
Ten years in the making, the countdown has begun to the release of Fall From Grace…