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Young Adult

Q&A: Josephine Angelini, Author of "Trial by Fire"

Trial by fireWorlds collide and witchcraft abounds in Trial by Fire, Josephine Angelini's new release about a teen transported to a parallel universe. The author discusses the first book in the Worldwalker Trilogy.

What was your inspiration for the Worldwalker Trilogy? I’m a bad sleeper and a remarkably stubborn person. I go through regular bouts of insomnia and refuse to take any kind of sleep medication. So I spend a lot of time staring at the ceiling at night. Weird things pop into your head at 3:00 in the morning. One notion that kept plaguing me a few years back was the thought that if I ever met another version of myself from a parallel universe we’d probably be enemies. I have no idea how that idea got in there, but once it was there I had to build a world around it so it would leave me alone.   

Which character do you most identify with in Trial by Fire? Right now, after finishing the second book, it’s Lillian. Funny thing about writing series instead of stand-alone books is that your sympathies often wander from one character to another. 

What made you decide to make Lily and Lillian witches? I’m from Massachusetts and I grew up with the lore of the Salem Witch Trials all around me. My parent’s house is right across the street from the town forest, and in the center of that forest is a cliff with caves in it. Those caves sheltered people accused of witchcraft in Salem who were fleeing persecution. My sisters told me many died—froze to death—in those caves. Try sleeping with that right across the street from your bedroom window. Maybe that’s where my insomnia comes from, come to think of it. I’ve been thinking about witchcraft my whole life, and I knew that some day I would write about it.

Where do you do your best writing? What is your dream “room of your own”? I have the most boring writing space imaginable, and this is on purpose. Every now and again I’ll trek out to a coffee shop to work, or if I’m traveling I have no problem working on planes, trains, hotel lobbies, or wherever. But day-to-day I work on a tiny bare desk that faces a blank wall. I have two choices—write or go crazy. Usually I write. Usually.

Character Study: "Ghosting" Author Edith Pattou

GhostingEdith Pattou introduces the characters in her new book, Ghosting, and discusses how their true personalities unfold following a prank gone horribly wrong.

When I got the idea for Ghosting, I decided right away that I wanted to tell the story of this very bad thing that happened at the end of summer to eight teenagers from their points of view. I could almost hear each voice as it took shape on the page.

On the surface, each of the characters seems like a type—the lacrosse jock, the merit scholar nerd, the school beauty, the disaffected outsider—but it was important to me that I capture the real person and not just the label. Several of the characters—Chloe, Maxie, even Emma—refer to the way you are pigeon-holed in a particular role in high school. But the truth is that everyone has layers—everyone has a very specific story, family, truth, and I wanted to reveal that for each of the characters.

Brendan, who I would probably consider the least sympathetic character in the book, seems on the surface to be a typical arrogant preppie bro, but as his story unfolds, we see that he is also the victim of a bullying, abusive father, which gives us a different perspective on him. And Chloe, whose identity has mainly been formed by how pretty she is with little confidence in her intelligence, reveals herself to be surprisingly funny—as well as brave.

The “cue ball” of the story (to use Chloe’s metaphor of a billiards game) is Walter, and I deliberately kept him a somewhat shadowy figure. In fact, we first see him as a shadow in an upstairs window. But even he, who does so much damage to so many lives, has a backstory that makes him—if not likable as a character—then at least someone worth having sympathy, even understanding, for.

Using the different shapes of free-verse helped me reveal the characters. Felix—the Joey Pigza-loving pothead with ADHD—speaks in a run-on, stream-of-consciousness style, while Maxie, the most artistic of the group, uses an unpredictable, creative form of word stacking.

I hope how each of these teens lives through and survives the fallout of that night imparts a message of healing. The world may be unsafe and unfair and pitted with unbearable losses but it is also possible to carve out a new path in life, one that is filled with good times with friends and family, and hopefully lots of guacamole.

Sarah J. Maas: Musical Musings

Heir of glassSarah J. Maas, author of the Throne of Glass series, finds inspiration in everything from movie scores to heavy metal. Here she shares the songs that inspired Heir of Fire, the latest book in the fantasy saga.

Music plays a huge role in creating my novels. I keep extensive playlists for every book, and almost every scene, plotline, and character is inspired by music. Movie scores and classical music are usually my go-to sources, but I’ve found inspiration in everything from heavy metal to country to rap.

When it came time to daydream about and then write Heir of Fire, the third book in my Throne of Glass series, the music I listened to formed the backbone (and heart) of the story. By the time I finished drafting the book, my playlist for it was the longest of any I’d ever created, clocking in at over 800 songs, divided internally into three separate playlists, one for each of the three narratives: Celaena, Dorian/Chaol, and Manon Blackbeak (a brand-new character to the series). I usually dislike traditional outlining methods, but these playlists wound up helping me keep track of the plots, emotional arcs, and general tone and feel of the story. Here are some of the songs that shaped and sculpted Heir of Fire:

“Waking Up” from the Oblivion soundtrack by M83: This is the first song on my Heir of Fire playlist—and the song that inspired not just Celaena’s opening scene but also her emotional state when the book begins. There’s something about its relentless beat, the darkness and light, that captured her rage, self-loathing, and brokenness, and also allowed me to slip easily into her head. I can’t read her opening chapter without hearing this music.

“The First Ambush and Remembering the Wilderness” from the Patriot soundtrack by John Williams: I wrote a good chunk of Crown of Midnight to the Patriot soundtrack, so it was no surprise that the first song on the playlist for Chaol Westfall’s narrative is from it (especially since that first scene is a dream/flashback to Crown of Midnight). The music is haunting, dark, slightly terrifying—it both set the tone for Chaol and Dorian’s narrative in Heir of Fire and also clicked with how I imagined Chaol’s feelings regarding the truth about Celaena’s past (and what he envisions for her future).

“Welcome to Fright Night” from the Fright Night soundtrack by Ramin Djawadi: The entire Fright Night soundtrack (and film) actually helped to inspire a new character in the series—Manon Blackbeak, an immortal (and very wicked) witch. We got a glimpse into the world of the witches of Erilea in Crown of Midnight, and Manon’s plotline picks up where that one left off. This piece inspired her opening scene—especially the predatory/stalking pace.

There are a few other new characters introduced in Heir of Fire, and perhaps my favorite of them is Prince Rowan Whitethorn, the Fae warrior tasked with training Celaena. “Hearts Like Ours” by the Naked and Famous was a song that didn’t inspire any specific scene in Heir of Fire, but rather reminded me of their relationship (the lyrics are eerily accurate).

Commenting on the hundreds of other songs on the playlist would 1) take forever and 2) be pretty spoilery, but I’ll hopefully get to share them once readers have had a chance to read Heir of Fire for themselves. I’m currently working on the fourth book in the series, whose playlist is already over 600 songs long and counting. And in the meantime, I’ll be keeping my ears open for new music to inspire me.

Guest Post: "Jackaby" Author William Ritter

JackabyWilliam Ritter takes readers for a ride through nineteenth-century New England in his upcoming debut novel, Jackaby. The author discusses his world-building approach for the YA supernatural mystery.

You’re not writing a book, you’re writing a bus pass. It doesn’t matter if you’re taking readers a hundred years into the future or to your own backyard—they still need to get there, and you’re the one behind the wheel. So, button up that starchy polyester uniform and start thinking about three things: rules, routes, and riders.

Rules: As the driver, it’s your job to post the rules at the front of the bus. Figure it all out, from hard science to social graces. Don’t worry, you’re only making these rules so that you can break them.

It’s these exceptions that make the story fun, but if you fail to establish guidelines first, then your “loose cannon” cop or rebellious heroine will fall flat. You can’t be extraordinary if there is no ordinary.

Jackaby is a supernatural mystery set in 1892. To build my world, I had to re-create a believable nineteenth-century New England, and then seat my own paranormal reality within it. This required big things, like setting the rules of magic, and little things, like repairing cobblestones and following women’s fashion. Getting the big things wrong might have made the world feel fake, but I found that getting the little things right was what made the world feel real.

Routes: People will like or dislike your book just the same whether you’re going to Nantucket or Narnia, so in the words of a man named Book, “How you get there is the worthier part” (Firefly).

If you can stay consistent but unobtrusive and balance the logical and illogical, then you’re in for a smooth ride and happy passengers. Make maps, family trees, and character bios that no one will ever see—but remember that readers don’t need to know everything. If you drone on about how the atmosphere of your alien world is 75 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen on page one, then your passengers will leap from the moving bus by page two. Be subtle, slipping in details when relevant.

While you’re at it, be logical. Think about how the dark overlord’s monolith would affect banal things like traffic. Don’t be too logical, though, because reality doesn’t work like that. If things are too perfect and orderly, they will feel just as wrong as if they made no sense at all.

Beyond including little details like gaslights and carriages, one of the things I pushed myself to think about was how my city had evolved on top of itself over many years. As a result, the streets don’t follow a perfect grid, but wind around in a confusing web. This adds realism to the setting, and it also accents my narrator’s struggle to get her bearings in a new town and a new life.

Riders: Finally, remember that every passenger is unique. Some savor the complex inner workings of elven councils. Others won’t even bother finishing the first chapter if there isn’t an action beat on every page.

You can’t make extra stops. Everyone gets the same book. The best that you can do is offer them the trip that you would want to take.

Read It First: "Gates of Thread and Stone"

Gates of thread and stoneDebut author Lori M. Lee talks about Gates of Thread and Stone and how books like The Hobbit inspired her to become a writer. Gates of Thread and Stone doesn't release until August 5, but you can read it first here. Learn how below.

Describe your new book, Gates of Thread and Stone, in just two sentences. Gates of Thread and Stone is about a girl who can manipulate the threads of time. When her brother goes missing, she risks getting caught up in a revolution in order to save him.

What book or books inspired you to become a writer? The Hobbit was my introduction to epic fantasy, and I’ve since loved everything about Middle Earth. Other fantasy influences that I fell in love early with are The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Phantom Tollbooth.

Who are some of your favorite writers from the past or present? J.R.R. Tolkien, of course. But I also have a mad author crush on Neil Gaiman, R.L. Stine (who inspired me to write terrible horror novels in my youth), Holly Black, Margaret Atwood, Leigh Bardugo, and Lois Lowry.

What new novels are you looking forward to this Fall? So many! Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker, which sounds creepily fantastic. The Young Elites by Marie Lu, because I loved her Legend series. Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis. And Silvern by Christina Farley, because I loved Gilded.

What can we expect from Book 2 in the Gates of Thread and Stone series? Kai will learn more about the world beyond Ninurta and discover the true extent of her abilities.

Is there a question that you haven’t been asked that you have been dying to answer? You can probably guess the question by my answer: Yes, I am totally cool with fan fiction and fan art.

Gates of Thread and Stone doesn't release until August 5, but you can read it first here. You must have a Kindle or Kindle for Android/iOS app registered to your account to receive the ebook. Offer expires 8/1/14 at 11:59pm.

Sign into Whispercast using your account. Once delivered, the ebook will be found on your Kindle device, Kindle for Android/iOS app, or your account on in Manage Your Content, under Documents. Delivery of the ebook may take up to 24 hours after signing into Whispercast.


Guest Blogger: Alexandra Adornetto, Author of "Ghost House"

Ghost-hosueAlexandra Adornetto, author of the Halo Trilogy and upcoming release Ghost House, looks ahead to Fall and rounds up the books she's most excited to read.

I don’t always have the time to keep up with new releases but here are some of my must-reads for this Fall:

Rooms by Lauren Oliver I’m always attracted to stories about the supernatural and was intrigued reading the synopsis for this book. I’m already familiar with Lauren Oliver’s best-selling YA books, but Rooms is her first adult title. It’s about a house whose ghosts haunt the new family that arrives. As someone who has just written about ghosts, I’m interested to see how another author handles the spirit and human world intersecting. And what will be the result of these two worlds colliding? Can’t wait to find out.

Let’s Get Lost by Adi Alsaid I recently met Adi at a Book Expo America book signing in New York. There was so much excitement about his debut novel, Let’s Get Lost, that it immediately went on my “To Read” list. I love the idea of a road trip where a girl (Leila) heading to Alaska meets up with four other teens, all with issues of their own to resolve. Road trips always provide opportunities for growth and adventure so I’m looking forward to finding out what these characters discover from their journey.

The Jewel by Amy Ewing The cover has to be one of the most breathtaking I’ve seen. The plot is reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, which is one of my favorites. Violet has been raised to be a surrogate for royalty but when she gets to Jewel, she finds life there not quite what she expected. With elements like royal scandal, deception, and illicit love this has to be a dramatic read.

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham I found the TV show Girls very funny and have a lot of admiration for Lena Dunham and for what she’s achieved. To get your own show sold as writer/actor is no mean feat! I’m looking forward to reading her memoir made up of short stories that are bound to have hilarious moments. But I’m also interested to find what experiences shaped her as a person.  

One Kick by Chelsea Cain It’s hard to ignore a book with such an original title, especially when you know that Kick is the name of the heroine. She’s 21, a former kidnapping victim who becomes an expert in self-defense as part of her recovery. Then Kick finds her purpose in life—to help find missing children. She sounds like a strong character, to have overcome the trauma she’s experienced. Despite what might be at times grim subject matter, this sounds like a fast-paced thriller with some surprising twists.

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.