I first came to know Baltimore Russell when he and his husband, John Dylan DeLaTorre, created the web media series People You Know. Since that show ended, I have kept up with Baltimore and when I found out he and his sister, Jennifer Pallanich, were writing their debut fiction book together, I knew I just had to get the inside scoop!
Luckily, Jennifer and Baltimore answered my call and I got all the details on their premiere novel, Awakening (Children of the Solstice Book 1), a fictional story where disasters ring the planet as the earth cries out for heroes to save it. At the same time, an ancient order conspires to fulfill a centuries-old prophecy. Their plan: unleash a deadly tsunami that would destroy North American and European coastlines. Then, at the height of summer, a blinding white light races across the globe, granting a select few incredible gifts. An enigmatic ex-Green Beret trains these powerful misfits in a desperate bid to stop the man-made and natural catastrophes. But can these Children of the Solstice work well enough together and master their new powers in time to halt the prophecy and save humanity from cataclysmic devastation?
Awakening (Children of the Solstice Book 1) will be released on October 18. You can order it via Amazon.com!
1. Your debut novel, Awakening (Children of the Solstice Book 1) will be released on October 18. Awakening (Children of the Solstice Book 1) is a fictional story. The plot seems like it's ripped from the uncertain times we live in now combined with a Star Wars like divide between the ancient order and Children. How did you come up with this story?
Jennifer Pallanich: In 2006, we had an idea. We were in a busted seat in the back row of a rickety old bus riding from Arusha, Tanzania, back to Nairobi, Kenya. Two days before, we’d summited Mount Kilimanjaro, where the air was quite thin at the top, 5895 meters (19,341 feet). Clearly, all the oxygen available once we got back to Arusha, which has an elevation of 1400 meters (4600 feet), went to our heads because we decided we needed a new, big, hairy challenge. We decided to co-author a book. No, let’s make it a trilogy. A superhero trilogy. During that whole ride, we did the initial brainstorm, coming up with plot lines and characters. That day on the bus, as we jounced over pothole after pothole after pothole, we could already picture the cover of book one. Well, we didn’t know the title, for sure, but we could see this part clearly: by Baltimore Russell and Jennifer Pallanich.
Baltimore Russell: We both loved the idea of writing a Good versus Evil story, and we wanted to put our spin on it. We have witnessed so many extreme weather events, and we used that as a springboard into our plot. We quickly came up with the bones of the book, the how, the why, the who. The brainstorming allowed us to really go big with whatever ideas came to us, but of course we had to scale back some as we worked through them.
Baltimore Russell: I actually love collaborating with others. I grew up in an ensemble-style theatre program and enjoy working with others to create something more than what just one single mind can do. I did this on the new media series, People you Know, with my husband and the result was far greater than had I tried to do it on my own. Now, writing this book with my sister has really been a positive and rewarding experience. We have such different strengths and can complement where the other may not be as skilled. We also made a deal that any criticism we gave would be directed to the work and not each other, and that it should always be given in a spirit that would make the book stronger and better.
Jennifer Pallanich: We did something smart from the get-go and drew up an agreement that outlined who was responsible for what, who had final say on which topics, and so forth. For instance, I’m a journalist and so dealing with the words and editors fell to me. I got final say on that front. I’m also a not-so-closet hippy, which means that I want everyone to just get along, which is great in real life, but means a basically conflict-free book. Which would be boring. So my actor brother, who has an innate flair for the dramatic, gets final say on the story line. Part of the agreement was that we could argue our side once, but then a decision would be made and we’d move on. Because we’re good friends, we always treated the other with respect, but that’s not to say there weren’t some frustrations. Those, however, usually came down to technology issues and snafus.
3. Was the writing of the story pretty much evenly divided between the both of you or were one of you more the idea person and the other put the ideas into the story? What about the illustrations? Did you both have visions for them or did you just put your trust in artist Alex Sanchez after telling him your thoughts?
Jennifer Pallanich: The nice thing about collaborating is that we can draw on the other’s strengths, and we did that all the way through the process, from brainstorming to the writing and editing to the marketing. That said, we both put in the time behind the keyboard, writing away.
Baltimore Russell: When we first started brainstorming the book I was adamant about having some sort of illustrations and character sketches to enhance the chapters and also provide us with cover art and a pin up of the characters. So I spent an entire Saturday of New York City ComicCon 2015 searching for an artist to work with us who could fit the bill. We narrowed down our choices and when I spoke with Alex at his booth, I just felt a connection to him and his art style. We came to quick agreement, gave him the vital information and he got to work on all sketches. Most of the artwork came back without us having to make any changes, but for the ones we did need changes made to, it was an easy process. Alex is super talented and he really made the artwork shine. We look forward to working with him again on the next book!
Jennifer Pallanich: We had multiple false starts dating back to the months right after we climbed Kili, but in late 2014 we got serious about bringing our story to life. We signed up for a crazy little thing called NaNoWriMo. That’s National Novel Writing Month to you non-writers out there. In short, it’s a month-long commitment that requires you to write 50,000 words over the course of 30 days, or an average 1,666 words of your book per day in an effort to get your first draft out of your head. Together, we got the first draft of all three novels written between November 2014 and mid-January 2015. We typed our little hearts out, each of us averaging closer to 2,100 words per day during the 70 or so days we spent writing.
Baltimore Russell: I think the best part of the process was when it was really flowing. I would be able to spend a few hours writing and feel very good about what was coming out. And allowing all sorts of happy accidents to happen. Without sounding dorky, letting the characters tell the story and come alive. The hard parts were cutting characters and making substantial plot and character changes. But it was all for the betterment of the story, even if some beloved characters didn't make it past draft four.
5. How do you feel the moment you finish your first draft? Then you send it off for editing/proofing. What is like when you get that feedback? How do you react to it? How do you adjust your expectations to see what the editor is talking about? How do you decide what edits you agree with and which ones you're like, "No thank you, we are keeping it as we wrote it."?
Baltimore Russell: We had a few great moments where we had finished a draft and felt really good about the work, even though we knew that we had some problem areas. Coming from an acting background I understood where our critique editor (also an actor/director) was coming from. Yes, it was sometimes blunt, but I would rather have had a slightly harsher critique when we can still do something about it than once the book is published. So, for me, I really valued the feedback. If we couldn’t justify our reasoning to the editor or to each other, then I'd happily take any suggestions that strengthen the book.
Jennifer Pallanich: The critique was pretty rough for me. I was a bit unprepared for the bluntness about the problems in our draft. There were some big issues we expected would raise flags, but he found quite a few others that we didn’t anticipate. Which is good - it’s what we paid him for - but that doesn’t make it any easier to hear. In the end, we took most of his recommendations and the book is worlds better for it.
Baltimore Russell: I'm proud that we actually finished it, and for all the dedication we poured into it. I value the time we got to "work" with each other. As for what I think we learned to incorporate into the next book, I would say a more thoughtful approach to the character arcs and outline from the outset. Nailing those down early on really helps you just write.
Jennifer Pallanich: I’m so proud of how much we’ve learned and grown as writers. Draft six is far and away better than draft one, let me tell you. I don’t see any way that book two will require fewer drafts, but I believe each of those drafts will start off stronger than their book one counterparts.
7. What were the top three moments where you both just looked at each other and either you instantly clicked on an idea or just turned and started laughing at each other over an idea? What were the top three moments where you wanted to scratch each others eyes out over a difference of opinions?
Baltimore Russell: I think the whole genesis of the idea is a top moment. Things just started clicking. We started talking over characters and plot points and reasons why these disasters would happen. It was really an exciting and fun moment. On a bus. In Africa.
Jennifer Pallanich: I never wanted to scratch his eyes out over a difference of opinions, but I will confess to being a bit aggravated every time he said, "I think we need to add another chapter." A book that at the end of draft one was 58 chapters long grew into 75 chapters by the time draft six went to the formatter. It became something of a joke. We did have some differences over one of the original subplots, but based on our critique we wound up scrapping it. We also had a discussion or three about the background of one of our characters. It confused our critique editor and a few of the beta readers, so we ultimately dropped that thread as well.
8. In Awakening (Children of the Solstice Book 1), the ancient order aims to unleash a deadly tsunami hoping to destroy North American and European coastlines. If you knew a tsunami was coming and only had moments left to live, how would you spend those final moments? What would you be most grateful for? What would you wish you had done differently?
Baltimore Russell: I would hope that my final moments would be shared with loved ones in either case. I would be grateful for the experiences and traveling I've been fortunate to have and for the family that has accepted me and supported me and my husband. Don't think I'd have any regrets.
Jennifer Pallanich: Moments only? I’d be thinking of my loved ones, no doubt. I’d be grateful that I’ve lived my life as fully as I can, and I’d wish I’d chosen a different coastline.
9. Then a blinding white light races across the globe, granting a select few incredible gifts. What are some incredible gifts you both have received over the years?
Baltimore Russell: Love. Family. Friends. YouTube videos of people being scared.
Jennifer Pallanich: The gifts of family, friends, scuba and travel.
10. Awakening (Children of the Solstice Book 1) is dedicated to "The woman who taught us to read, the man who gave us roots and wings, and the authors who transported us into other worlds." What was the first book this woman taught each of you to read? How did the man provide you with roots and wings? Who are some of your favorite authors that inspired you to want to be an author?
Baltimore Russell: I feel like the first book Mother taught me to read would probably be either The Little Engine That Could or Pokey Puppy. Dad has always said it was his job to make sure that we knew we always had a place with him but that he wanted us to achieve our dreams. He spent a lot of time with me running lines, watching me in plays and always telling me that I can do better and to keep going. As for authors, there are a lot of them, but I would mention David Hare, Chris Claremont, Mike Carey, Peter David, Majorie Liu, J.K. Rowling, Brandon Sanderson, and Stephen King.
Jennifer Pallanich: D always gave us a solid home and foundation while encouraging us to forge our own paths and live our own lives. I can’t remember the first book M taught me to read, but I was especially pleased with a set of children’s abridged versions of books I received in first or second grade for Christmas. My favorites were 20,000 Leagues beneath the Sea and Robinson Crusoe, and I still love both stories. But it was – and I can’t decide if I’m embarrassed to admit this or not – when I was reading my way through the Bobbsey Twins series that I first got out a pencil and paper and tried to write a book of my own. So, what, second grade? Third, maybe? But now, there are so many authors whose work I admire, whether for storytelling or world-building or beautiful prose, that it is hard to name just a few. Here are some faves, in no particular order: John Irving, Margaret Atwood, Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Twain, Jules Verne, J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Buckley, Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Brandon Sanderson. I love that the magic they weave into their stories not only enthralls and entertains me but also inspires me.
Baltimore Russell is an actor, producer, and writer. He and his husband created the People You Know new media series, which aired on HereTV. Almost from the time he learned to work a pencil, he could often be found creating his own stories. He lives in New York City with his husband, John Dylan DeLaTorre.
More on Jennifer:
Native Texan Jennifer Pallanich is a trade journalist who has bylined over half a million words about the oil and gas industry. She has published the nonfiction book Flacks & Hacks: Trade Secrets Journalists Want PR Pros to Know and loves to read good versus evil stories. An avid scuba diver, traveler, reader, and writer, she lives with a lab mix named Houdini and a cat named Possum.