I recently had an opportunity to interview Jordan Dane about her writing career and her new Young Adult releases from Harlequin Teen, IN THE ARMS OF STONE ANGELS (Apr 2011) and ON A DARK WING (TBA 2012). The move to young adult novels is something new for Jordan who launched her back-to-back debut suspense novels in 2008 after the 3-books sold in auction. Ripped from the headlines, Jordan’s gritty plots weave a tapestry of vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense pacing to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag—naming her debut book NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM as one of the Best Books of 2008. When not writing, Jordan and her husband share their Texas residence with two cats and a rescue dog named Taco.
Jordan, fans know you well for your adult “Sweet Justice Series” for thriller readers. What inspired you to write young adult fiction with “In the Arms of Stone Angels?”
I read an article in the Wallstreet Journal about the trend toward edgy YA and the books really resonated with my crime fiction background and the darker subject matter. I immediately bought many of the books that they said were most popular for edgy gritty content and intriguing social issues for teens and I was blown away by the authors writing these types of books. These books are also cross genre and encompass many elements in one story, which is how I like to write too. The YA genre really appealed to me on many levels and I wanted the writing challenge. The only limitation for an author is their own imagination. Plus writing for this age group forced me to revisit my teen years and filter my life’s experiences (the good, the bad, and the ugly) into my writing. YA novels today can have real crossover appeal for adults. In the Arms of Stone Angels has a cold case murder mystery at the heart of the slightly paranormal suspense story, so I didn’t stray far from my crime fiction comfort zone. I also hoped my adult readers might discover this genre through my writing.
What happens in your novel “In the Arms of Stone Angels?”
Brenna Nash is a dark and angry 16-year old girl dealing with the aftermath of being the only witness at the death of another young girl two years earlier. She’d been the one who had turned in the killer. And the accused murderer was the only true friend she had, Isaac “White Bird” Henry, a half-breed outcast of the Euchee tribe not much older than she is. Now years later, Brenna is forced to return to the small town of Shawano, Oklahoma where her ordeal happened. And she finds White Bird didn’t go to juvie. He’s locked in a mental hospital, frozen in time at the worst moment of his life. And now, she’s the only one who can reach him, even if she has to expose a “gift” she’s kept hidden her whole life.
This is a first love story, a mother daughter coming of age book, and a murder mystery with an underlying dark current of bigotry in a small town. I loved writing the many layers of this novel.
The main characters of the book, Brenna and White Bird, come up against serious prejudice, even in their small town. And with many news stories focused on bullying, how did this inspire your book and what advice would you give to teens about bullying?
Being part Hispanic, I faced bigotry in many ways and wanted to tell a story with the harsh realities of this. And for me, it wasn’t until I faced it down in a school yard and fought back, defending a smaller Hispanic girl who was shy, that I realized you can’t sit on the fence and do nothing, even if the bigotry is not directed at you. Brenna is more of an angry soul when it comes to fighting back, but White Bird takes a gentler path. Both ways can be effective in making changes, but first the change must come from inside you. It’s never easy dealing with bullies, but we all must find a way to get help when we can’t do it alone.
Do you see yourself in Brenna?
The characters I create are deeply rooted in my life’s experiences—people I’ve met, things I’ve seen and heard, from imagery springing from song lyrics or favorite movies, etc. From the infinite number of possibilities floating around in my head, it’s my job to find the threads that lead me to the character. Once I wrapped my head around Brenna and who she was to me, then I listened real hard for her voice. (There’s always a party goin’ on in my head. I’m never truly alone.) Brenna is a loner and is content in her solitude. I can relate to that, although I never had her fashion sense. In that department, I’m trip dip vanilla to her Rocky Road extravaganza with sprinkles and gummy bears. And Brenna knows she’s different and is content with that too, even if it makes her confrontational at times. She’s capable of red-faced fury as well as long hours of silence, comfortable to be alone. Unfortunately I can relate to this too.
When you start writing a mystery like In the Arms of Stone Angels, do you know from the beginning how it’s going to play out?
Actually, I never do. I’m not a plotter so I start telling a story to see what the characters reveal to me. Many times I have several suspects and I firmly believe any of them could commit the crime in the book. That’s when it’s the best. I build a case against all of them, then I may flip a coin. Seriously.
There’s some really interesting information about the Euchee tribe included in the book. Did you do a lot of research about the tribe before writing?
Unlike the Cherokee who are flourishing despite the tragedy in their history, not as much is known about the Euchee. I wrote what I could about the tribe to draw attention to them, but I was limited in my research, except for the help of Oklahoma librarian, Susan Johnson. She is in charge of the Native American cultural resources at her library and is part Native American herself. But I will share a special story about Susan and another inspiration behind my book.
When we talked on the phone, I shared my general ideas of the plot and the special boy who would be the center of it—White Bird. Susan listened to my thoughts on this character (who at that point did not have a name). And when I described him, she immediately said, “I know this boy.” My story has several underlying themes, but a few dominant ones involve the dark side of bigotry, being an outsider, and wanting to belong. So when I thought about the boy character in my book, I wanted him to be of mixed race where he straddles the line between cultures and doesn’t fit in anywhere. After Susan said, “I know this boy,” she told me about her friend, White Bird. Yes, there is a real White Bird. And similar to my fictional boy, he was in the foster care system and only recently was released.
Susan told me that the real White Bird is smart and as adaptable as a chameleon, looking for a place to fit in and belong. He is someone she admires and just plain likes. And although he is struggling to find an identity of his own as a young man, his Native American roots are very important to him. Although I might have wished that he had grown up with a more traditional family and had things easier, White Bird is the person he is because of everything that he has gone through, good and bad. He’s someone I have a lot of respect for. And I hope that the admiration and good wishes I have for his spirit shows in my book.
Can you tell us what you feel is the single best part of your writing career?
I get an adrenaline rush through my veins when I’m writing. And my mind never stops, 24/7. I’ve never worked so hard in my life, but writing is pure joy for me and it’s the only thing I can control. Not many people can say they feel the kind of passion for their work that I do and I feel very blessed. I pinch myself every day and I have the bruises to prove it.
Do you foresee any changes in your career as the future of traditional publishing adjusts to the market?
I think we all have to be nimble and receptive to new concepts in storytelling. I actually see this as a time that has infinite possibility for authors. And I believe that there will always be storytelling in our culture. Since the first cave drawing, man has found a way to relive life’s experiences. Yes, there will be changes ahead for all of us, but at the crux of it all is the story, the teller of that story, and the imaginative reader who is game to take a journey that stretches his or her mind and experiences.
If you could recommend one YA book to read this year (besides your own, of course!) what would it be?
I have read many, many great YAs this year, but the one I always recommend (when I can give only one) is THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak. It’s the story of a young German girl during the time of the Holocaust, narrated by Death. An amazing story that the New York Times endorsed as “life changing.” This book is on the top of my list for a reason.
What’s next for you?
My next release is with Avon/HarperCollins. RECKONING FOR THE DEAD (Oct 2011) will be my next “Sweet Justice Series” book. This next adult thriller novel will be full of twists and surprises for the series. Readers who’ve been following these books and particularly enjoyed the last installment, The Echo of Violence, they won’t want to miss this next book. (That’s all I’m saying.)
I’ve also got my next YA coming out in 2012. ON A DARK WING is a standalone story set in Alaska. (I had lived there for 10 years and still love to write about that extraordinary locale.) The story is about a 16-year old girl who cheats Death and lives past her expiration date, but her lucky break comes at a heartbreaking price. She is stalked by Death’s Ravens. And when an innocent boy, someone she has a secret crush on, starts his climb to the summit of Alaska’s Denali, his life is on the line. The Angel of Death is with him because of her. And she finds out the hard way that Death never forgets.