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Young Adult

Guest Blogger: "Blightborn" Author Chuck Wendig

BlightbornChuck Wendig, author of Under the Empyrean Sky and its new follow-up, Blightborn, reflects on memorable worldbuilding in teen and YA literature.

Worldbuilding. Such a tricky thing. Epic fantasy worldbuilds with a heavy hand (How many times do I have to read about a half  dozen family crests or the mating rituals of the Bonebreak Goblin or which fork you’re supposed to use at what meal when dining at the table of a red-bellied Copper Dragon and all his cantankerous dragon pals?).

For me, the real power is when worldbuilding follows the story—when it starts slow, goes bigger as needed. When readers get just enough to move them to the next page, each small spoonful of the world act as a tantalizing mystery—a bite that keeps you eating instead of filling you up from the first word.

A book that does this particularly well? The first two books in John Hornor Jacobs’s Incarcerado trilogy. In the first book, The Twelve-Fingered Boy, we meet two boys sentenced to an Arkansas juvenile detention center who happen to have psychic powers. And at first, the world is small. It’s just them and the other boys and workers of the facility. That’s it. But slowly, the world shows its cracks, and you start to get the sense of a larger picture—factions and forces beyond them and beyond the walls. And by the time you get to the second book, The Shibboleth, the world grows much larger—but still not so much that you’re overwhelmed by it. The book still preserves mystery while parceling out all the crucial details of a secret world laid over our own. That’s when, for me, worldbuilding is successful—when it doesn’t overwhelm, when it works to show more than it tells, and when it serves the story instead of forcing the story to serve it.  

In book two of the Heartland Trilogy, Blightborn, my goal was twofold: first, to open up the world, and second, to dig deeper into the characters. So, in effect, that means readers get to go out into the world but also go within the characters—and so, we learn more about Gwennie and we get to spend a lot of time on one of the Empyrean flotillas. We visit a lot of new locations and chalk up a lot of unseen characters—some we’ve only heard about before but never glimpsed. That’s part of the fun of a second book: you get all this other stuff out of the way and more time for sweet, sweet worldbuilding.

Exclusive Excerpt: "As Red as Blood"

As red as bloodThe new teen mystery As Red as Blood by Salla Simukka is one of this month's Kindle First books. Prime members can download the book for free through July 31, 2014.

In the book, the first in the Snow White Trilogy, 17-year-old Lumikki Andersson finds herself caught in a dangerous web of events after discovering a stash of money and attempts to track down the origins.

Check out an exclusive excerpt from As Red as Blood (PDF).

A Q&A with Leigh Bardugo, Author of "Ruin and Rising"

Ruin-and-risingLeigh Bardugo's new book, Ruin and Rising, marks the end of The Grisha Trilogy. The author chats with editor Noa Wheeler about the perception of beauty.

Noa Wheeler: One of the things I love about working on books with you, Leigh, is your eye for detail, both emotional and physical. And I feel like that attention to physical detail really ties in to your previous profession as a makeup artist. Does that background affect the way you portray your characters?

Leigh Bardugo: I got into makeup and effects because I always loved costuming and the whole idea of transformation. So I do think that my background played a role in the way I see not just the character, but the scene, the setting, the world. I don’t think it’s just about the visual but about the tactile as well. How does velvet feel? What is the grain of the wood beneath your feet? What about the smell of boot polish or the flowers in a bride’s hair? I love all of those little details.

But really, I think the biggest impact came not just from working in Hollywood but from growing up there. I got a close-up view of what physical beauty (and I'm talking about a very specific type of beauty that conforms to a narrow standard) can and can’t do for you, and I’ve always understood it as a commodity. I think teenagers are keenly aware of that because beauty has even greater currency when you’re young, so I wanted to be honest about that in my work.

NW: Yes, I definitely agree that teenagers have a sharp eye for beauty as currency, both in our own world and in fiction. Do you think this changes the portrayal of beauty and artifice in teen books as opposed to adult books? Does it or should it affect what authors present in their books for each readership?

LB: No, I don’t really think there should be a difference. Men and women both contend with what culture throws at us. We get bombarded with really wretched and relentless messages about what is attractive and the way that impacts our worth. That doesn’t stop when you get out of adolescence.

NW: In your opinion, what book (for teens or adults) best addresses this issue?

LB: I think Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell does this wonderfully sneaky, powerful thing: it shows us how Eleanor views herself (and the brutal way she assesses herself—her accute self-consciousness will be familiar to a lot of readers). Then Rowell gives us Park’s perspective, and we see how very wrong Eleanor is about the way he views her. The desire he feels is so direct and authentic, so tightly tied to the very physicality causing Eleanor pain. That shift in perspective is more powerful than a hundred “love yourself” lectures could ever be.

NW: I really did feel the difference in that book between Eleanor literally looking down at herself, and having this weird perspective on her own body (which we all do), and Park looking at her with an element of remove—he sees her as a whole, in many ways, and it’s always difficult to see ourselves that way.

LB: I love that Park is attracted to her body and all of her lovely parts. It’s not just about inner beauty, but about physical desire as well and I think that’s important. We’re too frequently taught that our “imperfections” are something to be looked past or overcome, rather than that we can be desirable body and soul.

Maureen McGowan: Tackling the Trilogy

GloryMaureen McGowan closes out The Dust Chronicles with Glory. The author shares her thoughts on the final installment and trends in trilogies.

In the realm of fiction, a trilogy is a set of three books. Unless you’re Douglas Adams—in which case it’s five

Looking at the best seller lists for young adult fiction from the past decade, it almost seems as though writing trilogies was mandatory. I have my own theories—in fact, a trilogy of theories—to explain this trend.

Theory 1: Readers enjoy trilogies. Once readers fall for a set of characters and a world, they want more, more, more.

Theory 2: Many of the stories that YA authors want to tell don’t fit inside a single ninety-thousand word novel. The stories are too big.

Theory 3: And… this one is less generous. Some authors drag out a plot—which could easily be covered in one book—over three books.

When I was first noodling with the idea that became the Dust Chronicles (Deviants, Compliance, and Glory) I quickly realized that either I had to rein in my story ideas—about Glory, a girl with a deadly secret and the post-apocalyptic world she lived in—or write her story as a trilogy. The story was too big.

Now, I’m not one for reining things in, but I’d never tackled a trilogy before so I spent a lot of time considering what makes good ones work. While I didn’t discover a formula or a single answer, the goals I set for myself were:

  1. Create a compelling story thread that spans all three books.
  2. Each book should be its own satisfying read and none should end mid-scene or with a major cliffhanger.
  3. Book 2 of the trilogy should not be slow or a filler book. Au contraire, it should be the meat of the story.
  4. Each book should be different and not repeat the same structure or plot points.
  5. The main character should transform over the course of each book. That is, if she faced the challenges from book 3 in books 1 or 2, she would fail.

While it will be hard to leave behind the world and characters I created for the Dust Chronicles, I hope I achieved my goals. I can’t wait to share new worlds and characters with readers.

Guest Blogger: "Slap Your Sides" Author M. E. Kerr

Slap your sidesAward-winning author M. E. Kerr discusses writing her novel Slap Your Sides, set during World War II. Much of Kerr’s inspiration came from her personal experiences growing up in Auburn, New York. For more historical fiction from Kerr, check out Your Eyes in Stars, set during the Depression, and Linger, which takes place during the Gulf War crisis.

I always wanted to be a writer. My older brother, Al, said that was why I liked the oddballs in town. There were plenty of them, starting with the prisoners. They were on all the trains going to and from our little town in upstate New York. On their way there, they were manacled to other men, and leaving Auburn, they wore new suits and often carried birdcages, even bowls of fish, their company during the years they were sentenced to prison.

We were a prison city, and Ezra Spring was one of the local kids who played chess with the prisoners, Sunday afternoons. Ezra was named after the founder of Cornell University, who was a Quaker, as all of the Spring family were. Ezra was what you’d call “devout.” Al said that Ezra and his girlfriend called each other “thee.” “Thee have a good night,” he’d once heard Ezra say to her. It was called the “plain language.”

I never thought much about Ezra until the war. Then Ezra became a conscientious objector, or, as kids in Auburn said, a “conchie.” The Spring family was always cleaning yellow paint off the windows of their small grocery store. They were always rubbing away curses against Ezra, the same ones yelled at him in school.

Al was a naval pilot, heading back to base one night after a short leave. My younger brother, mom and dad, and I were at the train station where half a dozen guys like Al, in uniform, were going back to war.

“Well, look who’s here,” Al said loudly, “our local slacker.”

In those days, that was about the worst thing you could call anyone. It announced that you were against the war.

Ezra Spring, of course, was not in uniform. He was carrying a small suitcase, a big fellow towering over his father but staying very close to him, as though Mr. Spring could protect him.

Dad said, “Why didn’t Ezra just become a 1A0? He could join up but he’d never see combat.”

Al said, “Then he couldn’t flaunt the fact he’s against the war! He’s going to CPS camp with the other cowards!”

“Hush, Al,” said my mother. “He doesn’t look like he’s enjoying himself.”

Continue reading "Guest Blogger: "Slap Your Sides" Author M. E. Kerr" »

Exclusive Excerpt: "The Shadows"

The shadowsMegan Chance introduces The Shadows and provides an exclusive first look at her Victorian fantasy romance.

Imagine that one day a legend comes to life before your eyes.

In Victorian New York City, Grace Knox is overwhelmed by her family’s problems and old myths are far from her mind. But when the Irish Fianna—a mythical band of warriors—suddenly appear, Grace is reluctantly dragged into their orbit. The legend says that the Fianna, Ireland’s original superheroes, lie in an enchanted sleep, waiting to be called back in Ireland’s time of need. So who called them and why? Why are they in New York instead of Ireland? And as for the myth about a Druid priestess who must sacrifice her life to end a legendary curse—what has Grace to do with any of it?

I’ve always loved history and fantasy and romance, and I used them all create the world of Grace Knox, a normal girl who finds herself at the center of an ancient prophecy that could cost her everything; the Fianna warrior Diarmid, who is torn between love and duty; and Patrick Devlin, Grace’s childhood friend, who offers Grace his heart and his hand, and who has a dangerous role of his own to play.

I hope you enjoy this excerpt from The Shadows.

Read an exclusive excerpt of the The Shadows (PDF)

Katie McGarry's Top 5 Beach Reads

McgarryThe Take Me On author shares which books she's taking to the beach this summer.

What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick is the perfect beach read as it takes place in the summer at the beach. The story follows seventeen-year-old Gwen Castle. She’s a working-class girl determined to escape her small island town, but when rich kid (and smoking hot) Cass Somers, her biggest mistake ever, shows up to work on the island for the summer, her entire life changes. There’s a scene that involves mapping, and it will just make you melt.

Do you want a hot read on a hot day? Read White Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. Armentrout. Layla wants to be a normal teenage girl; trouble is, she is anything but—she’s half demon, half gargoyle. She risks the wrath of a boy she's loved forever by joining forces with a sexy demon who claims to know her secrets.

The Lonesome Young by Lucy Connors is one of those books that sweeps you up and causes you to forget the world around you. That’s what I love in a beach read. The Hatfields and the McCoys had nothing on The Lonesome Young’s Rhodales and Whitfields—they have been fighting for decades. But what happens when the next generation falls in love? Teens Mickey and Victoria do fall, and they try to see if their love and passion outlast the hate between their families.

Three by Kristen Simmons is the third and final book in the Article 5 series. I love sitting on the beach and reading the conclusion of a series I adore. In Three, Ember and Chase seek refuge with the mysterious resistance organization, Three, which may give Ember not only a safe place to hide but a chance to fight back.

Running on Empty by Colette Ballard is a suspenseful, edge-of-your-seat and swoon-worthy read. Seventeen-year-old River Daniels kills her controlling boyfriend in self-defense. Then, with the help of her closest friends, she eludes police until she can find evidence to clear her name. One of the people helping her? Justice, the hot cowboy who has stood by her for years and who has loved her for as long as he can remember.

Steven James: Blame It On My Uncle

BlurBest-selling author Steven James introduces Blur, the first book in a new thrilling YA trilogy.

I’ve always liked to read stories that get my pulse racing. White-knuckle suspense. Mind-bending mysteries. New twists on old tales.

It’s probably my uncle’s fault.

All those campfire tales he told us.

We kept asking him for scarier and scarier stories, and he delivered. Then when I became a camp counselor myself, I passed on those same stories. However, toward the end of the summer I used up all my uncle’s stories and I had to start making up my own.

So that’s pretty much what initiated my career as a storyteller and novelist—keeping my campers awake a little too late into the night.

Although I’ve written nine thrillers for adults, I’ve never been able to put aside my memories of being a teen enjoying a great mystery or suspense story.

One day I asked myself what it would be like to be sixteen and start losing touch with reality—and have to solve a crime at the same time. That question gave birth to the first book in my new series of suspense novels for teens, Blur.

In this installment, high-school football star Daniel Byers starts having disturbing visions relating to the suspicious death of a girl at his school. He and his friends question whether he’s mentally ill or gifted with a psychic ability that could help lead them to solve the mystery. The story has the kinds of twists and turns that I always liked when I was a teenager.

I remember as a young teen being on a fantasy kick for a while and reading and rereading Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain and Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet. Eventually, I migrated to horror and flew through the chilling short stories of Stephen King and Poe, and then the mysteries in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. I couldn’t get enough of them.

This summer I’m looking forward to checking out the first books of a few new young adult series: The Madman’s Daughter by Megan Shepherd (for that new take on an old tale), and Legend by Marie Lu (for that suspense that has always drawn me in). I can’t wait to see where they take me.

Reading, storytelling, and summer have always gone together for me. Stories are my lifeblood. And this summer I plan to really live.

Blur doesn't release until May 27, but you can read it first here. Use your Amazon.com account to sign into Kindle Whispercast to receive your copy. Request here through 5/26/14. To ensure delivery, check the Kindle Library or archives on your device to locate the book.

A Conversation with Anna Banks & Emmy Laybourne

Of neptuneAnna Banks and Emmy Laybourne reflect on the characters in Of Neptune and Monument 14: Savage Drift, the respective conclusions to their teen trilogies.

Emmy: I’m terrifically excited to be here with my dear friend and fellow author, Anna Banks, the New York Times–best-selling author (She loves it when I call her that.)

Anna: No, I don’t. I love it when you call me Peaches.

Emmy: Peaches and I met in 2012. Macmillan started a new campaign: Fierce Reads. They picked four debut young adult authors and sent us out on a two-week tour together. Each of us a total newbie and all strangers to each other.

Anna: Cut to three years later and we’re the best of friends.

Emmy: Very good friends.

Anna: Pretty sure I said the best of friends.

Emmy: Sorry. Yes, dear. The best of friends.

Anna: Anyhoo, Emmy and I are going to ask each other a question about heroes and heroines in fiction today, and I get to go first. So Emmy, in Monument 14, the main character Dean is decidedly average—that is, until the apocalypse hits. Is it difficult to write a hero, put him through so much, and then allow him to make unheroic decisions?

Emmy: Yes, Monument 14 tells the story of fourteen kids who get trapped in a superstore while civilization collapses outside the gates. And I wanted the situation and the responses of the kids to feel utterly grounded and realistic. That means Dean, the 16-year-old narrator, had to make decisions informed by his instincts. Not the lofty, selfless acts of a hero, but the hard-scrapping, survival tactics of a kid in a jam.

In the end, I was aiming for the most truthful responses possible from all the characters. That leaves them looking heroic at times, selfish at times . . . just like all of us, they are brave and cowardly, and lost, then found. I tried to make them real.

My turn to ask a question. Let’s take a look at Emma, the central character of your Syrena Legacy series. One of the things I love about the trilogy is that Emma starts out as a regular high school girl, but is transformed, both physically and spiritually, by her experiences with the Syrena. What do you think is the most courageous moment in the series for her?

Anna: Well, Emma has several moments, I think. She did uppercut a shark at one point, so she’s a tad feisty. But there IS one moment that really stands out to me as being truly courageous. It happens in Of Triton, where Emma is faced with the decision to either keep her identity a secret, or risk her life by revealing who—and what—she really is in order to save her loved ones. She definitely makes a gutsy move here. Also, more sharks are involved, in a surprising way.

In Of Neptune, I think her true courage shines through when she sets out to determine who she really is, and how she really wants to live her life. In fact, I think that for all of us, it takes courage to be ourselves and to truly accept who we really are, no matter how the world views us.

Emmy: That, my best friend, is very well said.

E. Lockhart on the Books Behind "We Were Liars"

We were liarMy publisher won’t let me talk too much about the plot of We Were Liars, or even what it’s about. But I did read a lot of pretty wide-ranging books as I was writing the novel, so I’m telling you about those. I hope you’ll read them. They are amazing and inspiring.

Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson is a great amnesia thriller. There is amnesia in We Were Liars (though it is not quite a thriller), and memory loss poses a lot of tricky problems for a writer, in terms of how to deliver flashbacks, what to conceal, and how to make it all believable. Watson’s book was a sure-handed guide, and it kept me up all night.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë isn’t the great love story everyone imagines it is. Really, it’s the story of an obsessive connection fueled and then wrecked by race and class prejudice. I thought about this book a lot when I was writing.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie is the perfect novel of a sort that I adore—murder in a country house done one better with a murder on a private island. We Were Liars isn’t a murder mystery at all, but it is set on a private island, and I wanted to create that sense of people isolated from the rest of society, and an inkling of menace.

King Lear by William Shakespeare is the story of a mentally unstable king and his relationships with the three daughters who are competing to inherit his kingdom. My story likewise involves a patriarch and three daughters—though I’m more concerned with the grandchildren in such a family than I am with the daughters themselves. I also loved A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley, which is a very emotional reimagining of the same premise.

On a linked note, in writing We Were Liars I was interested in books about families that create their own mythologies, as the Sinclair family most certainly does. Two of my favorites are Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving and Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. I also read The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington and Bridsehead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, both of which were very useful in deepening my thinking.