Kathleen Toomey Jabs Guest Post: How my journey to get published influenced the creation of Black Wings

Publisher: Fuze Publishing, LLC

Publish Date: December 15, 2011

Order From:  Amazon Paperback / Amazon Kindle / Barnes & Noble / Fuze Publishing

Synopsis: LT Bridget Donovan suspects the worst when her former Naval Academy roommate, Audrey Richards, perishes in a botched take-off from an aircraft carrier. The Navy says it's an accident, but facts don't add up. Could it be suicide, or murder? Donovan's unofficial investigation into what really happened, both during their past Academy days and in Richards' final hours, forces her to examine the concepts of honor, justice and the role of loyalty in pursuit of those ideals.

Kathleen Toomey Jabs' Bio: Kathleen Toomey Jabs is a 1988 graduate of the United States Naval Academy. She served on active duty for six years and is currently a Captain in the Navy Reserve. She holds an MA from the University of New Hampshire and an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. Her stories have been published in a number of literary journals and received several prizes, including selection in the National Public Radio Selected Shorts program. She lives with her husband and two children in Virginia.

Guest Post: How my journey to get published influenced the creation of Black Wings

Publication for Black Wings was definitely a journey! When I first came up with the character of Bridget Donovan ten years ago, I had some sense I was preparing for a long run, but I had no idea it would be an ultra-marathon.

In 2000, I enrolled in a creative writing class and began working on short stories. After a few lackluster submissions, my professor soon challenged me. “Why don’t you ever write about the military?” I had no quick, glib response. My military background/experience was something I tended to hide or downplay. My experiences in one of the early classes with women at the US Naval Academy and in the military, in general, were complicated. How was I going to dissect that or peel back the careful veneer of spit and polish without revealing something raw or embarrassing? Exposing some part of myself? Yet I couldn’t face the idea of another dispiriting workshop. I took the challenge.

For the next 18 months I wrote about women in the military, and as I did, I faced down old ghosts—the constant scrutiny, the sweat, the discomfort with self, body, choices, the loneliness and longing. I kept writing. I grew to love my heroines, these girl/women trying to navigate their way through the military training as they chased different dreams.

My first real character was Bridget Donovan, like me, a native Boston. Once I embraced Bridget I was able to complete the short story, “You Have to Stand for Something,” my first work set at the Naval Academy.  I had found the conflict – Bridget, separated from her family, dealing with the rigors of plebe summer and ultimately making the choice to stand by her classmate. Finally, after years of trying, I had a story ready to send out.

After Bridget’s story was published in a literary journal, an agent contacted me. He asked if I had a novel. While I’d been writing linked stories, a novel made more sense. The agent made no commitment, but I felt like I had an agent-in-waiting. It was the boost I needed to start writing a longer piece.

I’d always felt Bridget had more to her story, that my short story was, ultimately, too short. When I set the story at the Naval Academy, one character didn’t seem like enough. We lived so closely back then – a roommate just a few feet away, company mates up and down the hall. We were individuals, but we were also part of a pack, a tribe, of sorts. I needed the length of a novel to reflect that world.

Knowing I was going to write a novel didn’t make it any easier. It took me a long time to untangle the story. I wrote and rewrote the novel at least four times to get the sequencing and chronology right and to have the events organized into a coherent whole. I had so many things happening and I wanted Bridget’s roommate, Audrey, to have a voice in it. I had to find a way to get her point of view across. I finally figured a way to tell Audrey’s story partly through Bridget, partly from letters from Audrey to Bridget, and partly through a journal Audrey keeps during flight school.

I worked at these revisions steadily for about three years. Then I started the submission process. I sent it off to the agent who’d first read it and made some adjustments based on his guidance. We went back and forth and then he sent it out. It was quickly rejected—military fiction wasn’t selling, Audrey was hard to relate to, the story was missing something. Each reason seemed quirky and unhelpful. I tried other agents, contests. I’d get encouragement, analysis, silence, but no one was ready to take on new writer.

After a string of rejections, I put the novel in a drawer. I thought I had moved on.

One day on Facebook, I reconnected with Molly Tinsley, my former Naval Academy professor. She had just published a thriller, and I felt a stinging reminder of my own failure. As we were catching up, I mentioned my abandoned novel and she offered to read it. Weeks later she called to tell me she loved the characters and wanted to publish BLACK WINGS under the Fuze imprint. The stipulation was: more edits, a tightening of prose. I barely listened—all I heard was “love” and “publish.” I signed up for it all. I was working full-time so most of the editing and revising was left for weekends. It took me almost two years. The Fuze team was incredibly helpful throughout the process. BLACK WINGS was published in December 2011, almost ten years to the day I started.

The novel is now out of the drawer but the journey continues.


  1. Star, thanks for featuring Kathleen today :)

  2. Star, I second Nicole's comment. Thank you so much for hosting me and featuring Black Wings. Best regards, Kathleen

  3. I was sent BLACK WINGS to review and I absolutely loved it. Riveting story, excellent characters, great mystery to unravel all add up to an excellent 5 star book. Highly recommend this book. Once you start reading it, you won't want to put it down.


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