(Not So) Bad Boys and Girls

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I recently tore through the entire Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater. This was serious binge reading of the ‘don’t come up for air before you’re done’ variety. I love (Love, LOVE) all of her characters from the first to be introduced, Blue, to latecomer Henry. But my hands down absolute fave has got to be Ronan Lynch.

What is it about those fictional (not so) bad boys and girls? I’m talking about those characters that are all rough and tough on the outside, with a center core of sweetness. The ones who give off all the appearance of a grumpy porcupine to their fellow characters while we sit on the sidelines silently screaming, “Just love them already!”

Take Han Solo. (Put your hands down, I’m not actually offering him!) When we first meet him in New Hope, he’s all, ‘Oh, I’m so bad, I’m the baddest badass smuggler around.’ But by the time the original trilogy is over, we all know him for what he really is: yes, grumpy and irritatingly stubborn. But, at the same time, loyal, caring, and 110% a secret Hufflepuff. (Shut up. You know Han would be a Hufflepuff. Just sayin’.)

The aforementioned Ronan Lynch is another one who’s crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. When we meet him in The Raven Boys, he’s all snark and swearwords, a shaved-head-and-tattooed bad boy supreme. When The Raven King rolls around, we know better. Sure, he’s still a street-racing punk with an attitude bigger than anyone I’ve seen in a while, but he has this amazing capacity for love and for goodness, and if by book four you haven’t fallen for this dreamer, then please, what is WRONG with you?

How about those (not so) bad girls? Like Kate Harker from Victoria Schwab’s Monsters of Verity duology. In This Savage Song, Kate’s all sharp edges and nails you wouldn’t trust anywhere near your eyes for fear she’d gouge them out. A gangster’s daughter on a mission to prove herself, Kate could just be one of those thoroughly bad to the bone girls that crop up every now and then in fiction. And nothing wrong with that, but. But. She isn’t. There’s sweetness, somewhere under all those rock-hard layers, and longing, and a desperate need to love and be loved. I can’t wait for the concluding book, Our Dark Duet, to come out in June.

And hey, let’s not forget Disney. The House of Mouse can (not so) bad with the best of them at times. One of my fave princess movies is Tangled, in part for the creative use of frying pans and for the World’s Best Horse. But a big part of the appeal is bad boy Flynn Rider, especially when we find out that under all that sass and ego, he’s actually the adorable and sappy Eugene.

Yup, show me a character who’s a prickly marshmallow, and I’ll show you me in a molten puddle of goo. Or, well, maybe not, because no one wants to see that. But I do tend to melt for the difficult ones, for the tough guys and girls with all the secret hidden vulnerabilities. They’re so hard to resist. Especially when they tip you a smuggler’s wink and whisper, “I know.”

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“Frying pans. Who knew, right?”

Release Day! Starr Fall by Kim Briggs

Today is Starr Fall‘s book birthday! Happy release day to Kim Briggs. Kim was one of the first SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) members I ever met, at my first ever writing conference. I was a bundle of nerves, and Kim was one of several writers who showed me that, hey! I could do this thing called ‘conference’ and have fun, too!

Starr Fall is Book One of Kim’s brand-new YA series. It just landed in my Kindle, so I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. But if it’s anything like Kim’s fast-paced and exciting NA thriller, And Then He, I know I’m in for an adrenaline-fuelled ride.

Check out the blurb…

On the run from the Organization, Starr never planned on falling in love.

Starr Bishop’s the complete package. A perfect smile, brains to match, and a winning attitude. Boys want to date her and girls want to be her. She’s the type of girl you want to hate, if only she wasn’t so damn likable. But don’t worry, she’s not interested in your boyfriend. Boys are one complication she can live without.

When the Organization decides she’s not only the model student but the ideal assassin, Starr’ll need a lot more than high test scores and extracurricular involvement to get herself out of that commitment.

Dark, moody, and dead sexy Christian Evergood is the last person she’d expect—or even want— to come to her rescue. From opposite ends of Webster High’s social hierarchy, their lives collide in one electrifying moment. Christian isn’t the Goth loner he pretends to be, he’s a part Cherokee, All-American boy who wants to be a hero, Starr’s hero. Christian makes Starr forget that the Organization is after her, but nothing will stop the Organization from collecting their top recruit.

By the way, the spot for junior class president just became available.

 

And if that isn’t enough to catch your eye, here’s an excerpt from the book:

“I didn’t tell you about my aunt,” he smiles.

“Is she a secret agent? Because that would really be convenient.”

“No, but almost as good, she’s a doctor. She works from time to time in hospitals, but her true passion is Doctors without Borders. She stayed home most of the summer and fall, but she’s not as happy in the states as she is in the field. A month ago, I finally convinced her I would be fine on my own.”

“So, let me guess. She’s on assignment?” I eye him warily.

“You got it. Darfur to be exact.”

“How long?” He turns to me. A crooked smile crosses his face. “Months and months.”

I almost get lost in his smile, but I catch myself. I can’t get distracted. “No.”

“No?” he says, “What do you mean ‘no’?

“I mean that you are not risking your life for me. Enough people are,” I gulp, “dead because of me. I will not put your life in harm’s way.”

“Too late,” he replies.

“No, it isn’t. Drop me off on the road, and I’ll figure this thing out.”

“No.”

“No? What do you mean no? Drop me off on the side of the road. I’ll be fine. I’ve survived this long, haven’t I?” I shout as I sit up in my seat. I tick off everything I’ve done over the past four days. “I escaped the test site, swam Lake Ontario, and have managed to hide out without getting caught. I am doing a damn good job of going underground.”

“No, you aren’t,” he says.

I could spit fireballs at him. “What do you care? I thought you were, and I quote, ‘done helping people.’”

He pulls over to the side of the road and puts the car in park. His expression gives no hint to his mood. “Because of this,” he says and locks his fingers in mine. Electrical currents surge through them. The wall I’ve kept up for days and days crashes down as I lose what control I had left. The thread is broken.

Starr Fall has received some pretty nice reviews already; scroll down to read a couple of them…

Giveaway!

I love giveaways… To celebrate Starr Fall’s Release, Kim has
swag to share!

One lucky winner will receive a bag of Starr Fall swag including bookmarks, all the fixings for s’mores (once you read the book, you’ll know why), and a $15 Amazon Gift Card.

So dive in, and enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway.

 

Reviews:

GERM MAGAZINE

Kim Briggs’ novel truly is a wonderful debut. From start to finish I was hooked, and all I could think about was what could possibly happen next. From believable characters to a brilliant new aspect of YA narrative, if you love action-packed thrillers, then this is the book for you! Now, to begin the wait until book 2 is out!

YA INSIDER

Abandon whatever you are doing and read this book! Imagine being an exemplary student there ever was. You have your life planned out to the minute. You take a placement test for what you assume is a summer internship, only to find out it’s a secret organization and they want you to be an assassin. If you can imagine this, you’ve just met Starr! Starr shows you how

much your life can change if just let go a bit! She would make a kick ass assassin… if only she wanted to be one! To help her escape from this is Christian. I need more Christian in my life!  Tall, dark, handsome and mysterious! While he seems like he’s uptight in the beginning, when he comes to the rescue of Starr you really get to see him. He’s sweet, sensitive, understanding, and above all an absolute gentleman.

It’s such a quick paced book. you could easily read five or six chapters without realizing how much time has passed! The ending left me wanting more! I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT! Book 2 of this series needs to come to come out tomorrow!

– See more at: https://www.yainsider.com/b/starr-fall#sthash.qpv4dLJy.dpuf

 

Starr Fall

Book One of the Starr Fall Series

(Inkspell Publishing, November 4, 2016)

By Kim Briggs

Kim once smashed into a tree while skiing. The accident led to a concussion, a cracked sternum, temporary notoriety as a sixth grader returned from the dead, and the realization that fictionalized accounts are way more interesting than just slipping on the ice.

An unhealthy obsession with conspiracy theories combined with a love of travel and happily ever afters led Kim to write her YA novel, Starr Fall, where a secret organization decides Starr Bishop would make the ideal assassin. While in hiding, Starr meets dark, moody, and dead sexy Christian Evergood. Cue the swoon worthy music. But it’s not all
happily ever afters for Kim, her NA novel, And Then He, explores the dark and scary corners of the human psyche. Following a night of innocent flirting with a handsome stranger, Tiffani finds herself in the midst of a nightmare she can’t escape. And Then He is available now through Amazon and other major book retailers.

Starr Fall will debut November 2016 with Inkspell Publishing. Starr Lost will
release in January 2017, followed by Starr Gone in June 2017.

 When she’s not doing something writerly, Kim can be found jumping into snow drifts with her three kids, husband, and dog. She’s careful to avoid trees.

  Twitter | Web | Facebook | Goodreads | INK Sisters Write 

Have Book, Will Read #13

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It’s the end of October and the Fall TV season is in full swing. But no matter how many episodes are piling up on the DVR, I’ll always find time for books in between Agents of SHIELD and Star Wars Rebels. And, hey! Today the first snowflakes fell in my corner of the world. Which means an extra excuse for snuggles and stories.

Recent Reads: Witches, fairies, goddesses…and the cool gleam of blaster fire in the dead of the night.

Liberator is the debut novel by co-author powerhouse duo Nick Bailey and Darren Bullock. This exciting and fast-paced tale is set in a future where humans and evolved-humans are spread across a galaxy dominated by big corporations with private armies.

A rescue story about a disbanded paramilitary team who get back together to save one of their own, Liberator is an adrenaline-fuelled ride of the ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ variety.

I’ve seen rave reviews for Susan Dennard’s Truthwitch all over the place, so when I spotted it at my local library at the front desk of the teen section, I grabbed it immediately.

The is the story of Safiya and Iseult, a Truthwitch and Threadwitch who, despite their wish to be left alone to just live their lives, get dragged into an impending war between neighboring empires for control of the region. This nicely-crafted YA fantasy has everything I could wish for: magic, adventure, intrigue, treachery, and a breathless and dashing escape.

Although historical romance isn’t something I normally gravitate towards, I couldn’t help being drawn in by the premise of Jodi McIsaac’s Bury the Living, with its blend of Celtic mythology, time travel, and adventure.

When former IRA member turned peace worker Nora O’Reilly starts having dreams of a mysterious stranger asking for help, it leads her to Brigid of Kildare, who sends Nora back eighty years to the height of Ireland’s civil war. The romance aspect is subdued enough that this novel should appeal to anyone who likes a dash of fantasy in their historical fiction.

I’d been looking forward to the release of Peadar Ó Guilín’s The Call, and devoured it in one afternoon as soon as it landed on my doorstep. It certainly lived up to all my expectations! This dark fantasy tells the story of Nessa, a teen living in a post-fairy-apocalyptic nightmare where the Sidhe wage war on the children of Ireland.

In Peadar’s dark world, Irish teens can be ‘Called’ at any moment and taken to the Grey Land to play games of torment and torture. Few survive, and those who do return alive are often changed in horrific ways. The Call treads a delicate line between fantasy and horror, without ever becoming too heavy despite the tension and terror. It’s an amazing book, and will definitely go down as one of my top reads in 2016. I liked it so much I badgered the author for an interview, which you can read over on SFF World.

Now Reading: Sequels, sequels, everywhere.

I’m almost done with Fran Wilde’s Cloudbound, the sequel to her awesome Updraft. I loved the first book, with its incredible above-the-clouds civilization and people soaring between living bone towers on artificial wings of silk. In the second book, Fran switches from Kirit’s point-of-view to Nat’s, giving the story a different slant and focus as it dives beneath the cloud layer that forms the boundaries of the first book.

One of this week’s new releases is Abendau’s Legacy, by Jo Zebedee. I shouldn’t even be touching this one, as I have a physical and virtual to-read pile that’s getting ridiculous. But I couldn’t help peeking inside, and the third and concluding title in the Inheritance Trilogy looks as though it will be as good as, or better, than volumes one and two. And that says a lot! You can see my review of the first book here.

To Read: Time to get my epic on.

I’ve been in the mood for some good old-fashioned epic fantasy for a while, so it’s a good thing I have two books all lined up and ready. The first one’s been sitting on my kindle, waiting for the right frame of mind. It’s Exile by Martin Owton, book 1 of the Nandor Tales. With book 2 on the horizon, I think it’s about time I finally dove into this beauty. The other book on is a relatively new release: The High King’s Vengeance, sequel to Steven Poore’s lovely The Heir to the North, which was one of my surprise faves last year.

I just looked out of my window and the snow is still falling steadily. But with so many great titles to look forward to, I say, “Bring it on.” I have blankets, I have tea, I have a warm dog at my feet. What else can a book lover want from life?

 

October Updates

 

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Dog bed under table for strategic canine foot-rubs

Hello October, you lovely thing. Plenty of the good and the busy going on over here in my autumn-colored neck of the woods.

My Heart Blade edits are pretty much done! I have the wonderful experts at Laurel City Sword looking over my fight scenes at the moment, but apart from that…the manuscript is ready to place in the copyeditor’s capable hands. Although in the past I’ve worked with plenty of fabulous (and patient) beta readers and critique partners, this was my first time working with a professional editor. It’s been a really interesting and positive experience, and I’m sure there’s a whole other blog post right there waiting to happen.

I have a cover! Well, almost. There are all sorts of things that still need to be done to it before it’s ready to share, like adding a title. But my publisher has let me peek and Merilliza Chan‘s artwork is lovely, with a dreamy vintage feel to it. Here’s a teaser:

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Rose petals! So pretty! Shh, secret…

So what happens next? I have a sequel to write. That means I need to do some serious outlining first, and also a post-edits update of all my story and character arcs for the next three Blade Hunt Chronicles books. No spoilers for book 2 before book 1 is even out, but I may or may not have a heist tale in the works. I’ve been dying to try my hand at fictional armed robbery, and Night Blade is the perfect place for it.

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Caution: fictional armed robbery may or may not include swords

I’m looking forward to a busy October, and that’s just the way I like it. Happy words to all you writers and readers out there!

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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Have Book, Will Read #12

August is at an end, bringing a promise of cooler days and autumn colors. I got through a surprising amount of books this month, considering I was working almost full-time on edits for my own novel. But escaping into someone else’s words at night can be a blessing when you need to get away from your own work for a while! Here are a few of my top picks…

Recent Reads: War – magical, civil, and interplanetary. And a dash of wandwork for good measure.

I caught up with the latest in the Pax Arcana series by Elliott James, In Shining Armor. In his fourth novel, tensions between the knights and their werewolf allies rise to boiling point when the Grandmaster’s granddaughter is kidnapped, and John Charming must find out who’s behind the whole mess before an all-out war breaks out.

I love Elliott’s characters; they always feel fresh and yet – at the same time – familiar, and starting a new Pax Arcana novel is a guarantee of a good time. If you’re an urban fantasy fan, I thoroughly recommend this series.

I’d been anxiously awaiting the release of This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, first in her brand new Monsters of Verity series. I liked the premise: a city overrun by monsters, and the story certainly didn’t disappoint. Her new world is bleak, but not horribly so, and her two protagonists are a delight.

This Savage Song tells the story of Kate, a human who wants to become as monstrous as her mobster father, and August, a monster who tries his hardest to be human and keep the darkness at bay. Set in civil-war-torn Verity, the tale has shades of Romeo and Juliet, but with Victoria’s unique spin.

Jo Zebedee’s Sunset Over Abendau had been sitting on my Kindle for a while, waiting for the right mood to strike. Jo’s work is always of the devour-in-one-sitting variety, and this one certainly lived up to her previous exciting reads.

This is the second installment of the Inheritance Trilogy, which follows the story of Kare Varnon and the battle to overthrow his mother, the tyrannical Empress. Sunset picks up ten years after the events in the first book, Abendau’s Heir and, different from the first, the entire story takes place over a brief, heart-thumping few days. A nice sequel, and I look forward to the last book, out later this year.

Of course, Summer 2016 wouldn’t have been complete without the latest Harry Potter installment, The Cursed Child. I know that the play by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany has been the subject of numerous heated internet debates, and that everyone is probably sick of hearing about it by now. But I found it an enjoyable read, and would love to see it brought to life by the actors. Scorpius Malfoy was a personal favorite among her new characters, and it was nice to get a glimpse of Slytherin as something other than Big, Bad, and Villainous.

Now Reading: To boldly go…down space wormholes and the paths of the dead.

I’m reading The Summoner, the first in Gail Z. Martin’s Chronicles of the Necromancer series. I’m really enjoying it so far, mainly because I like the main character, Tris, so much. The magic is really cool so far, and it’s refreshing to see a necromancer as the hero.

I’ve also started dipping into a brand new anthology from Woodbridge Press, Explorations: Through the Wormhole. This is a shared world collection, with all authors writing around a theme and setting. I’ve only read the first story so far, by Ralph Kern, and it sets the bar pretty high for the others, but I’m sure they’ll all live up to this great start.

To Read: Fae…In…Space! (okay, not really, but c’mon, Muppets references are always gold, right? Also, now I really want to read about space fairies.)

I have three books at the top of my to-read list. First is The Call, by Peadar Ó Guilín. This horror/fantasy YA intrigued me when I first heard about it a few months ago, and it just launched in the USA (UK launch is tomorrow). It has a sort of ‘Hunger Games in fairyland’ premise, and I can’t wait to dig in.

I also have a couple of military SF titles all lined up and waiting on my Kindle. First Comes Duty is book 2 in P.J. Strebor’s Hope Island Chronicles series – I’m looking forward to more of Nathan Telford’s saga. The other novel I have in my reading queue is Liberator, a brand new offering by Nick Bailey and Darren Bullock.

So, I think I have enough to keep me busy for most of September! How about you, read any good books lately?

 

 

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.