Summer 2017 Updates

Summer is here, bringing all the joys and challenges of kids on school vacation. It’s a lot harder to get writing-related things done when my not-so-little ones are around, but by mixing up the carrots (“we can go to the beach tomorrow if you let me work today”) and the sticks (“HALP! Leave me alone or I swear I’ll block your YouTube access”), I’m slowly getting to the end of my Night Blade revisions.

By next week, I’ll be ready to send my fight scenes to my sword instructor, Christopher Valli from Laurel City Sword. Chris revised all my sword and fight scenes for Heart Blade, and I’m hoping he’ll be pleased with the ones I’ve written for Night Blade. My climbing scenes also need a stern revision, since my only rock climbing experience was years ago, in my teens. I’m counting on my brother Simon, an enthusiastic climber, to look those over for me. The internet is a great resource for many things, but if you have access to someone who can revise sections that require a certain level of expertise, I thoroughly recommend it.

After incorporating any new suggestions from my experts, the next step will be a final reread of all the rewrites and edits I’ve made to Night Blade, before it goes back to my publisher for a last look. Once we’re all happy, the book will be ready for the copyeditor to get her teeth into.

Very soon, I’ll be able to share the gorgeous cover art for Night Blade. I’m lucky enough to have been given the chance to work with not just one, but two extremely talented cover artists. Merilliza Chan was in charge of the beautiful cover for Heart Blade. For Night Blade, my publisher changed direction slightly, and handed the cover over to Tom Edwards, who does some truly amazing SF/F book cover work. The result is very different from Heart Blade, but just as fabulous. I can’t wait to share it, and see what you all think.

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 7.39.33 PM  A teeny tiny teaser… Cover reveal coming soon!

And speaking of art, Corinna Marie, who did the adorable character art for Heart Blade, is working on a brand new set of character pictures for Night Blade. There are a couple of familiar names among them, and a couple of new names, too – I hope you’ll enjoy meeting them as much as I enjoyed writing them! And yes, I’ll definitely be doing some character art postcard giveaways closer to launch date.

Don’t forget to sign up for my monthly newsletter for exclusive mini interviews – in July, my guest is fantasy author Kerry Buchanan, talking about horses in fiction.

Happy summer to those in the Northern Hemisphere! Here’s to beachside reading, lazy days in the shade, and a chance to recharge those batteries.

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Character Intro: Meet Alex

Thank you for following my character intro week! Over the past few days I’ve introduced some of my characters from Heart Blade, Book 1 of the Blade Hunt Chronicles. The gorgeous art work is by Corinna Marie and used with permission.

Alexander of York

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Alex by Corinna Marie

Alexander of York, also known as Brother Alexander, is a monk and former knight of the Crusades. Yes, Alex has been around for a while. The young English nobleman became a vampire almost a thousand years ago while he fought for King Richard the Lionheart. His sword Redemption has been his constant companion over the centuries.

 

PAPERBACK PROMO:

At the moment only the e-book is up for pre-order. Once the paperbacks go up for sale (probably on or near release date, February 14th), I’ll be running a special giveaway. The first 30 people to order a paperback copy and email me proof of purchase will win a set of four postcards with Heart Blade character art by Corinna Marie. More on this soon!

Find Heart Blade on Amazon

Add to Goodreads

Character Intro: Meet Camille

It’s character intro week! Over the next few days I’ll be introducing some of my characters from Heart Blade, Book 1 of the Blade Hunt Chronicles. The gorgeous art work is by Corinna Marie and used with permission.

Camille Darkwing

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Camille by Corinna Marie

Camille Darkwing is a French Canadian half-demon. Gifted a full demon’s blood in 1932, the petite immortal teen is often underestimated, and that’s just the way she likes it. Most half-demons feed off darker emotions, such as anger, or fear. But Camille’s Immortal Hunger is a little…unusual. Fitting: after all, Camille has always preferred to do things her own way.

 

PAPERBACK PROMO:

At the moment only the e-book is up for pre-order. Once the paperbacks go up for sale (probably on or near release date, February 14th), I’ll be running a special giveaway. The first 30 people to order a paperback copy and email me proof of purchase will win a set of four postcards with Heart Blade character art by Corinna Marie. More on this later!

Find Heart Blade on Amazon

Add to Goodreads

Character Intro: Meet Ash

It’s character intro week! Over the next few days I’ll be introducing some of my characters from Heart Blade, Book 1 of the Blade Hunt Chronicles. The gorgeous art work is by Corinna Marie and used with permission.

James Asher Deacon

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Ash by Corinna Marie

James Asher Deacon, or Ash as he’s known to his family and friends, is a seventeen-year-old sentinel, a descendant of angels. His father leads the New England Chapter of sentinels, and fully expects Ash to take over when he grows up. Ash isn’t sure he wants to serve the archaic system of laws that turned a blind eye to his mother’s death, but what else is a Scion’s son supposed to do?

 

PAPERBACK PROMO:

At the moment only the e-book is up for pre-order. Once the paperbacks go up for sale (probably on or near release date, February 14th), I’ll be running a special giveaway. The first 30 people to order a paperback copy and email me proof of purchase will win a set of four postcards with Heart Blade character art by Corinna Marie. More on this later!

Find Heart Blade on Amazon

Add to Goodreads

Writing Girls

The second round of revisions for Heart Blade is safely back in the hands of my editor, and now I’m at that it’s-getting-closer stage that’s half panic and half extreme excitement. Some of the hardest work during the editing stage went into my female characters, especially my main protagonist Adeline ‘Del’ Raven. Originally I wanted to write one of those snarky, feisty girls that other authors do so well. But it turns out I don’t really do snark (seriously, I’m rubbish at it!), and halfway through my first ever draft Del changed into someone sweeter, fiercer, and more determined than I ever imagined she would be. During the revision process, I had to make sure Del was that person I knew she should be, rather than the one I had originally imagined.

Last month I wrote a blog piece on Writing Boys, with some of my favorite YA men in the fictional world. Since then, I’ve had my Heart Blade girls on my mind – Del, Rose, Camille, and Diana. So I thought it was about time for a follow-up with a few of my favorite young women in speculative fiction…

*Note: not all the books mentioned below are YA, but all the characters are in the young adult range of teens to early twenties and share that ‘coming of age’ vibe. Feel free to add your own faves in the comments!*

 

Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins) – When I first read this series, my immediate reaction was, ‘Where the hell was Katniss when I was growing up?’ Seriously. The books I read in the 80’s had no one like her, and I desperately wish I could time travel and hand twelve-year-old me this book. A talented archer and hunter, Katniss has a ferocity to her that’s both chilling and mesmerizing.

Nessa Doherty (The Call, Peadar Ó Guilín) – Nessa is smart, focused, and a quick thinker. She’s determined to survive in this post-fairy-apocalypse version of Ireland, despite the physical limitations of her polio-induced disability and the disdain of many of her classmates at the training academy she attends. The Call is a brand new release, and already Nessa has made it to my list of all-time favorite female characters.

Beth Bradley (The City’s Son, Tom Pollock) – Graffiti artist Beth is as dark and edgy as the urban fantasy trilogy she dwells in. In the Skyscraper Throne series, she meets London’s gritty magical underbelly head on with a smile and a challenge, and never, ever shies away from a fight. Bonus points for goddess powers!

Delilah Bard (A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab) – Oh, Lila… Another one who never backs away from danger, preferring instead to court it without shame. Thief, adventurer, pirate, magician… There is nothing that impulsive Lila won’t try her hand at if she gets the urge. No matter how perilous, or who gets swept up in her path.

Annabeth Chase (The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan) – Although only twelve in the beginning of the saga, Annabeth totally counts as she is now seventeen and preparing to head off to college. And how could I not include the daughter of Athena? One of the main characters in Rick’s Greek gods books (she even has a cameo in his new Norse gods series), Annabeth is cool logic under fire, and a master tactician who prefers to think her way out of trouble. But when the going gets tough, she’s not afraid to engage, getting up close and personal with her preferred weapon: a knife.

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Writing Boys

For the last month and a half I’ve been working on edits for my young adult novel, Heart Blade. A good part of the process included digging deeper into my characters. I spent a lot of time on my main male protagonist, seventeen-year-old Ash. James Asher Deacon is a complicated bundle of anger, fear, sorrow, sweetness, and sense of duty, and I hope that when Heart Blade comes out next year my readers will like him as much as I do.

I handed in the first big round of revisions to my editor yesterday, and since then I’ve been thinking about some of the fictional boys I’ve enjoyed reading about and what makes them appealing as characters. By ‘boys’, I mean that interval between late teens and early twenties; the ‘growing-up’ years, the defining years, the years when life is so full of urgent questions and – well – urgent everything. You find them all over YA, and a good bit of regular ‘adult’ SF/F too. They fuel fan art, and fanfics, and heated debates. They can be lovely, and frustrating, and stubborn, and inspiring. Here are a few of my favorites.

*Note: not all the books mentioned below are YA, but all the characters are in the YA range and share that ‘coming of age’ vibe. Feel free to add your own faves in the comments!*

 

Han Alister (The Demon King, Cinda Williams Chima) – Heartless streetlord, loyal friend, waif, leader, lover, healer, mage. The blond and blue-eyed hero of the Seven Realms series wears many different faces for many different people, and Chima does a spectacular job of showing him to us through different lenses as she builds on all these facets. Han is a compelling character who is not afraid to fight and suffer for what he believes in, and who will go to extraordinary lengths to defeat the villains and save the girl.

Darrow of Lykos (Red Rising, Pierce Brown) – What’s not to like about Darrow? Fiercely determined to do the right thing, free his people, and avenge the love of his life, the Helldiver of Lykos can be hard-hearted and unforgiving when necessary. But the talented military leader in Brown’s trilogy never loses the ability to love those who surround and follow him, and this faith in his friends is ultimately what saves him, time after time.

August Flynn (This Savage Song, Victoria Schwab) – August is sweetness personified. A beautifully gentle soul – who just happens to also be a monster who needs to kill in order to survive – he’s one of the prettiest characters I’ve seen in a long time. He’s brave, loving, and utterly committed to doing the right thing, even if everyone else is against it. He’s a bright candle flame in the dark world that Schwab has created in her new series, Monsters of Verity.

The Raven Boys (The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater) – I’m totally cheating here, but how am I supposed to choose just one? In the first book of the Raven Cycle series we’re introduced to the loyal and eccentric leader, Gansey; to Adam, handsome and broken; shy and mysterious Noah; and prickly Ronan, whose tough exterior hides a caring heart. The four ‘Raven Boys’ from Aglionby Academy come as a package deal, complementing each other and weaving their personal stories into one rich tapestry.

Jorg Ancrath (Prince of Thorns, Mark Lawrence) – Jorg is definitely the bad boy of this bunch. Cruel, ruthless, very often unfeeling, and damaged beyond belief, Jorg is also brilliant, determined, and an inspired leader to his equally damaged men. The dazzlingly dark hero of the Broken Empire trilogy may be one of those love-him-or-hate-him characters, but there’s no doubt he makes for an extremely exciting read.

Martris Drayke (The Summoner, Gail Z. Martin) – I’m only halfway through the first book in Martin’s Chronicles of the Necromancer series, and already Tris has made it onto my faves list. Tall, slender, and handsome, Tris is also sweet and loyal, always trying to protect his friends and loved ones from harm. When tragedy strikes, Tris is forced brutally into a coming-of-age journey that brings out his still-nascent summoning magic. But even with everything he loves ripped away from him, he still retains an essential niceness that’s very endearing.

Spotlight on Writing YA with Carrie Firestone and Cindy Rodriguez

Young adult fiction has grown immensely in popularity over the past few decades, with media adaptations that include blockbuster movies and popular TV shows. But what exactly is this phenomenon called YA? Often referred to as ‘coming-of-age’ novels, YA books span a vast range of fiction genres and tend to focus on storylines pertinent to the age group of their teenage main characters.

The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) of the American Library Association (ALA) defines a young adult as someone between the ages of 12 and 18. However, YA readers range from preteens to adults of all ages. Frequently fast-paced and urgent in tone, YA fiction brings the rollercoaster of teen emotions to bookshelves everywhere.

I’ve invited two talented authors to give us some insight on young adult fiction and help dig a little deeper into this fluid genre-crossing publishing segment with its age-bending appeal.

Cindy Rodriguez is the author of When Reason Breaks (Bloomsbury, 2015), a hauntingly beautiful contemporary YA that deals with the thorny topics of teen depression and suicide, guided by the poetry of Emily Dickinson. A Crystal Kite finalist, Cindy is an active blogger at Latinxs in Kid Lit, which aims to explore the world of books for children and teens by and about Latinxs. She is also a member of We Need Diverse Books.

Carrie Firestone is the author of The Loose Ends List (Little, Brown, out on June 7th 2016), a tale of endings and beginnings. Following Maddie and her family as they travel the world on a cruise ship and come to terms with her grandmother’s terminal illness, this contemporary YA novel is a story of snow globe scenes of love, life and death, and is full of both laugh-out-loud and weep-your-eyes-out moments.

Juliana: Welcome Carrie and Cindy. Tell me, why choose to write YA? What do you find intriguing about writing for teen readers?

Cindy: I write YA because it’s such an important time of transition marked with joy, pain, and discovery. As a teacher, I’m able to watch my students struggle with and enjoy these transformative years. As a writer, I like to explore and represent their experiences with authenticity and respect.

Carrie: I think I write YA because I have a nineteen year old trapped inside me. I write books that I would have enjoyed when I was a teen.

Juliana: Having a young protagonist is not a prerogative of YA. Fantasy as a genre, for instance, is full of teen characters in books written for adults. So what, in your opinion, makes a book ‘YA’? What are those special ingredients?

Carrie: It seems that certain themes run through contemporary YA books. Many young adults are trying to figure out who they are, who they want to hang out with, who they want to fall in love with, and what their purpose is on this planet. Those are universal questions that can be approached in so many ways in YA fiction.

Cindy: I agree with Carrie. Also, I think the answer lies in your question. Other books with young protagonists are written for adults. Young adult fiction is written for teens. Even though it’s read a lot by adults, younger readers are our target audience, so as writers we have to be sure to make them act, look, and sound like teens.

Juliana: I’ve heard YA referred to as ‘first kiss fiction’. What’s the role of romance in YA and why does it seem to be so prevalent?

Carrie: That question made me laugh because I’ve just poured over my own diaries and romance was pretty prevalent on those pages! It’s developmentally appropriate for teens to explore sex and sexuality and whatever that means for them. My books include first kisses (and MORE) because I see YA fiction as a safe place to learn about sex and sexuality.  

Cindy: Right. A lot of firsts happen in the teen years since it’s such a time of exploration and discovery, so it should be represented in YA fiction. And romance has lots of levels, so some YA has tamer experiences dealing with crushes and first kisses, while others go all the way…see what I did there…but seriously, readers have a variety of experiences, which are represented in YA. Readers have choices depending on where they are in their own development.  

Juliana: Why do you think YA fiction appeals to such a broad range of ages?

Carrie: We were all teens once. We all remember those intense emotional peaks and valleys. Sometimes, as adults, we become cynical or tired or bored. It’s fun to relive the teen years, or to live vicariously through characters who are very different than we were.

Cindy: Yes, sometimes YA lets us remember because we see our young selves in the characters. Other times, we see different experiences which lets us learn and empathize. I also think a trademark of most YA is a sense of hope. No matter how dark or difficult the protagonist’s experiences are, most YA includes elements of hope and optimism as the characters grow and change. This isn’t always true in adult books, which can be a downer if that’s all you read.

Juliana: What do you begin with when starting a new novel – a mood, a setting, a character? What inspires you, and how do you maintain that inspiration while writing?

Carrie: I begin with a random flash that snowballs into a story. The Loose Ends List began with a vivid image of a person sitting in a wheelchair on the deck of a ship. I’m inspired by the energy of people and places I’ve encountered over the years. That energy spills out onto the page in weird manifestations. If I’m stuck, I go out and walk around and try to take in the energy around me. I know I’m saying “energy” a lot, but it’s how I process creative ideas.

Cindy: I also “see” flashes of scenes in my head. When Reason Breaks started with an image of the teacher running through the woods. I knew someone was out there and that the teacher was racing to help her. That’s all I knew at the time, but that was the beginning of my process. I’m inspired by people and places, too. I soak up images, phrases, moments wherever I am and eventually use them in my writing. I have limited time to write, so I’m usually focused and inspired when I get the time. I’m motivated by the clock during school vacations!

Juliana: What are some of the common errors you tend to notice in YA novels, the biggest pitfalls to avoid in writing stories for teens?

Cindy: I’ll go back to what I said earlier: teens should sound, look, and act like teens. Many writers who write for younger readers for the first time can fall into sounding like an adult delivering “messages.” I did this, too, at first. When I mentally shifted from writing as an adult to writing for young people, my writing changed. 

Carrie: I’m very careful not to be critical of other people’s novels. What might seem like a pitfall to me, is very powerful to somebody else. I try to stay true to the story in my head and respect the stories of other authors.

Juliana: A last one, just for fun. If you could be any YA character for a day, who would you choose, and why?

Carrie: Hmmmm. I just read Summer of Sloane by Erin Schneider. I would be Sloane because OMG her love interest is very adorable. (I told you I was nineteen).

Cindy: I loved Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee and would be either Sammy or Andy for a day. Both are smart, bold girls of color fighting for survival and falling in love on the Oregon Trail.

Juliana: Thank you very much Cindy and Carrie for joining me. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to decide which YA character I’d like to be for a day! 

Check out Cindy Rodriguez’s website – www.cindylrodriguez.com – for further information on her work, as well as blog posts, interviews, and news. You can find Cindy on Twitter @RodriguezCindyL and Facebook.

For more on Carrie Firestone, visit www.carriefirestoneauthor.com and check out her blog for sweet haikus of ‘snow globe moments’. Carrie tweets as @CLLFirestone and you can find her on Facebook. 

The Loose Ends List by Carrie Firestone will be out soon, on June 7th 2016!

Spotlight is a monthly blog feature. Check out April’s Spotlight on SFF Forums with Brian Turner and Damaris Browne. Next up in June: Spotlight on Urban Fantasy.