August saw the debut of Alan Gratz’s young adult thriller CODE OF HONOR. The author of a number of historical adventure novels for young readers, Alan answered a few questions for The Big Thrill about the challenges and opportunities in writing a ripped-from-the-headlines contemporary thriller for teens.
What is CODE OF HONOR about?
Persian-American high school senior Kamran Smith is on top of the world until his brother, Darius, a U.S. Army Ranger, goes on TV claiming credit for an attack on a U.S. embassy. Now everybody thinks Darius is a terrorist, and that Kamran must be one too. When the Department of Homeland Security brings Kamran and his family in for questioning, he begins to see his brother in a whole new light. But Kamran is still unconvinced the brother he grew up idolizing could be a terrorist. With the help of a sympathetic CIA operative, Kamran goes on the run from the government to prove his brother’s innocence. But where do his brother’s loyalties really lie? That’s a question only Darius can answer—if Kamran can find him before everyone else does.
Where did the idea for CODE OF HONOR come from?
It began with the idea of writing something like Showtime’s Homeland for young adults. A realistic, contemporary thriller with spies, terrorists, secret loyalties, heartbreaking betrayals, and real stakes—all starring a seventeen-year-old protagonist. But any time you write a book with high stakes involving a young main character, you have to answer one big question: why is the kid solving this problem, and not the adults in his life? Why not his parents, or the police, or the CIA? So to be able to write a “YA Homeland,” I had to have a compelling reason for Kamran to not just be involved, but to be the only person who could save the day.
My idea was to have Kamran’s older brother, Darius, sending secret coded messages in his terrorist videos—coded messages based on the make-believe adventures he and Kamran used to have in the backyard as children. So now Kamran is involved whether he wants to be or not. Kamran is literally the only other person on the planet who could ever translate Darius’s codes. As CIA agent Mickey Hagan tells him, “That’s the best kind of code. Unbreakable.” It also makes Kamran indispensible to the story, seventeen years old or not.
Sure, Arielle won’t deny that she has a vivid, even wild, imagination. Sure, it sometimes runs away with her. And yes, it’s true that she never recovered from the drowning death of her older brother, Justin, ten years ago, when Arielle was a little child. She almost hopes that ghosts are real, so that she might see Justin again.
But ever since the misty morning when Arielle stumbles on the macabre sight of the body of her sister Casey’s best friend, Perdita, being lifted from a nearby pond, ghostly images begin to appear to Arielle. Can they be Perdita, reaching out as speculation about her death ramps up from suicide to foul play?
Perdita’s younger brother, Tex, is back from private school, and Arielle can’t get him off her mind, although he’s a beautiful boy with scary secrets. Worse yet, there’s no one to tell: big sister Casey’s off to college, and Arielle discovers her own sister’s cache of secret writings, along with a bizarre note from Perdita. What’s real? What’s fantasy?
In a compelling tale that hurtles toward a stunning conclusion, the imprint of grief and the boundaries of human imagination are stretched to their limits.
Adam Armstrong is a brilliant, wheelchair-bound seventeen-year-old dying of muscular dystrophy. While playing one of his virtual-reality games he encounters Sigma, an artificial intelligence program created by Adam’s computer-genius father. Sigma has gone rogue, threatening to kill Adam and then the rest of humanity, and the only way to stop it is to use the technology Adam’s dad developed to digitally preserve the mind of his dying son.
Along with a select group of other terminally ill teens, Adam becomes one of the Six who have forfeited their failing bodies to inhabit weaponized U.S. Army robots. But with time running short, the Six must learn to manipulate their new mechanical forms and work together to train for epic combat…before Sigma exterminates the human race.
“I loved The Six by Mark Alpert. This is serious YA sci-fi, full of big ideas, big questions, real science, and things that will make you think and wonder and lie awake late at night. And it’s all wrapped up in a wonderfully exciting action story chock full of characters you’ll love. You’ll want to believe the Sigma threat is far off in the future, but it’s probably not as far off as you think. These revolutionary capabilities are likely within the lifespan of readers, so this is not far-off spaceship sci-fi, this is OMG-this-is-actually-happening sci-fi. And props to Mark Alpert for including a population of kids that has very little visibility — the handicapped, the terminal, the ultimate outsiders. A very nice piece of work.” ~Michael Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Gone
Between her largely dysfunctional family of two and the friends she doesn’t feel particularly close to, Violet thinks he’s the least of her problems. What she fails to understand is that the guy is no prankster and soon people turn up dead or missing. Because of her.
Things change when Violet’s best friend disappears and realization sinks in that the stalker means business. Denial put aside, Violet has no other option but to accept the help of police Sergeant Willard Kelley and his rather sweet protégé, to come to terms with the seriousness of the situation.
Yet nothing could’ve prepared her for her close up with the psycho.
Who will survive in this tale of obsession and misplaced devotion?
As most of our readers know, the young adult category for fiction is booming, and the thriller genre is no exception to the trend. Centered on teen protagonists, the popularity of blockbusters like Twilight and The Hunger Games has enabled such books to expand far beyond the original target audience and create fresh, exciting possibilities for authors to explore ,and readers to enjoy.
In CODE HUMAN, author N.J. Paige offers readers a glimpse into a future red in tooth and claw, where oppression reigns, yet resistance will never be considered futile by those willing to fight. The Big Thrill recently caught up with Paige to talk with her about her most recent work.
Congratulations on your latest novel and thank you for taking the time to join us. Tell us about CODE HUMAN. What aspect of this book do you think readers of The Big Thrill will find most appealing?
First of all, thanks for having me. To answer your question, I think the interesting characters such as the Shillers, the Purestkind, Rubrics, and the Besmirchians may appeal to readers because of their unique physical characteristics. Also, the main character, Fenesia, although she loses her innocence when she makes her first kill, she questions the morality of it. And she questions the morality of Purest’s treatment of the Underkind, which includes the Shillers, Besmirchians, Rubric, as well as disgraced Purestkind, such as Fenesia.
Both your novels involve teenage protagonists. What is it about the young adult market that interests you? And what do you find the most challenging about writing youthful characters?
It may be because I have two teenage children—a son and daughter. Watching them grow has been interesting and wonderful―the changes they go through, not to mention the many challenges.
Many of us who love reading thrillers started reading them in our teen years if not sooner. Jeffrey Westhoff was one of those readers and with the publication of THE BOY WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, has written a book he would have wanted to read back then.
So what started a newspaper feature writer on the path to write a young adult novel? It began with a misheard question.
While working on an article about young adult spy novels (Alex Rider, Young James Bond, and several others), Westhoff attended a book signing by an author friend, Laura Caldwell. “Looking for sources, I asked Laura if she knew anyone writing a young adult spy novel. She misheard my question and responded with enthusiasm, ‘You’re writing a young adult spy novel?’ I said no I wasn’t, and she said, ‘You should!’ Then I said, ‘You’re right, I should!’”
Westhoff acted on the idea right away. As he was driving home he remembered the man he saw in Lucerne while on a trip to Europe as a teenager. He was absolutely certain the man was a spy. Westhoff posed a question to himself: “What if I came across that man dying in an alley five minutes later, mortally wounded by an enemy agent?” The book spun off from that question.
In brief, while on a school trip to Europe, Milwaukee teenager Brian Parker hopes for a taste of the glamor and excitement of his favorite spy novels. What he didn’t realize was that he would get more then he bargained for. Stumbling across a dying spy catapults Brian into a desperate chase across the continent. He faces a deadly path but reading all those spy novels has taught him a few tricks; and it just might save his life.
By Barry Lancet
Donna Galanti has led an interesting life to date, and an interesting life can lead to interesting stories. By the time she was nine, she’d lived in nine separate places. And she kept moving. She’s lived in England, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and once went to school in an English castle not unlike Hogwart’s, the fictional centerpiece of the Harry Potter series.
The first book to leave her breathless was C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. She went on to devour all his other books, along with those of Roald Dahl. She wrote her first play, a mystery, at the ripe old age of seven. Decades later she wrote a pair of paranormal suspense novels, A Human Element and A Hidden Element, two-thirds of her Element Trilogy.
And now, taking a breather from the adult world, Galanti has penned a Middle Grade (MG) novel, JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD, returning to the books of her youth.
Galanti took some time out to talk about her latest book with The Big Thrill.
In JOSHUA AND THE LIGHTNING ROAD, you’ve created another world that exists alongside ours. The story takes a dramatic turn when first Joshua’s friend Finn, then Joshua himself, are whisked away to this second world during an unusual lightning storm. Tell us about this place where kidnapped kids are kept in a pit until they are sold as slave labor and the guards carry “snake spears.”
The medieval world of Nostos (meaning “homecoming” in Greek) consists of twelve realms that steal mortal children from Earth via the Lightning Road and uses them for resources. Between the realms are lawless lands where outcasts roam, and if you’re a slave child lucky enough to escape your workhouse—and the clutches of the Child Collector—you’d better watch out for The Edge, where you could fall into the Great Beyond and never return.
Humans are thought of as uncivilized, ignorant beings, and therefore expendable. A myth exists of a way to change the hierarchy of power and end mortal slavery. Through the generations, some have tried and been cut down by those who want power for themselves—but someone may be coming, whose voice will not be silenced…
Ella and Maddy Lawton are identical twins. Ella has spent her high school years living in popular Maddy’s shadows, but she has never been envious of Maddy. In fact, she’s chosen the quiet, safe confines of her sketchbook over the constant battle for attention that has defined Maddy’s world.
When—after a heated argument—Maddy and Ella get into a tragic accident that leaves her sister dead, Ella wakes up in the hospital surrounded by loved ones who believe she is Maddy. Feeling responsible for Maddy’s death and everyone’s grief, Ella makes a split-second decision to pretend to be Maddy. Soon, Ella realizes that Maddy’s life was full of secrets. Caught in a web of lies, Ella is faced with two options—confess her deception or live her sister’s life.
Welcome Trisha, it’s good to talk to you again.
Brian: Just reading the synopsis, it strikes me that this is a story that my youngest daughter (and interview partner) Ellie, would go wild for. Do you run your story ideas by your own children before you write them?
I do not. In fact, I rarely discuss my books with anyone, with the exception of my agent and editor, until they are complete. I am a bit superstitious that way. I do have a group of teen readers that I hand my finished drafts off to before I send them in, but no…my kids pretty much know very little about my books until they are done and shipped off.
By E. M. Powell
I’m going to start by making a confession. When I got the e-mail asking if I’d be interested in covering Nicole Maggi’s new release, THE FORGETTING, my initial reaction was, “Well, it’s probably not for me.” You see, THE FORGETTING is a Young Adult (YA) thriller and the last time I could be described as a YA was in another century. But then I read the description, and saw that it’s about a teenager who wakes up after a heart transplant—and finds that she’s inherited the memories of her donor. I’ll admit: I’m a sucker for medical thrillers. I was in. Nicole very kindly provided me with a copy of the book, and with a bit of time to spare, I thought I’d get started on a few chapters. I emerged hours later with my afternoon’s other tasks still to do. It is a gripping, original read, and there was so much I wanted to ask Nicole.
Nicole is originally from upstate New York and has worked as an actor. But sunny Los Angeles is where she’s made her home with her husband and daughter, and two oddball cats. Nicole is also the author of The Twin Willows Trilogy.
It’s an intriguing hook to have your heroine, Georgie Kendrick, as the teenage recipient of a transplanted heart. So much of her experience reads as genuine. Have you had experience of this in your life? What research did you do around this topic?
I have not had an organ transplant myself, so I wanted to be sure that I was accurate with the research. I reached out to a couple of transplant recipients but wasn’t able to connect with any, so I relied on information from some other sources. I talked to my own cardiologist and I connected with LifeSource, which is an organization that helps educate the public about organ donation and offers support to donors and recipients and their families. I read a lot about real-life recipients who have gone on to do some incredible things, which I managed to work into the book. And I talked to my dad, who had quadruple bypass surgery over a decade ago, about the physical effects and recovery from open-heart surgery.
When their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, Dee, her boyfriend Luke, and Luke’s brother, Mike, seek help in the nearby town of Purity Springs. But as they walk the vacant streets, the teens make some disturbing discoveries. The seemingly deserted homes each contain a sinister book with violent instructions on disciplining children. The graveyard is full of unmarked crosses. Worst of all, there’s no way to contact the outside world.
When Purity Springs’ inhabitants suddenly appear, the trio find themselves at the mercy of Elijah Hawkins, the town’s charismatic leader who has his own plans for the three of them. Their only hope for survival is Elijah’s enigmatic son, Joseph. And his game may be just as deadly as his father’s . . .
Welcome Trish and Lindsay, and thanks for spending some time with us.
Brian: CREED sounds like a very grisly story. Did you pull any punches because of the intended young adult readership?
Lindsay: Absolutely not. While I think an awareness of the target audience you’re writing for is important, we don’t like holding back for the sake of being safe. There’s a line between content that is valuable and content that is gratuitous, and we truly believe we’ve stayed on the right side of that line with CREED.
Ellie: What kind of ambitions do you have for your career?
Trish: To give the hundreds of characters circling my mind a fictional world to call their own. To get better with each chapter, with each manuscript I write. To find the courage to dig deeper and write harder than I ever dreamed possible. Essentially, I want to continue to grow as an author.
Lindsay: I love writing, so my ambitions are pretty simple: to keep doing it. Ten years from now if I’m still fortunate enough to be writing YA lit, I’ll be one grateful author.
AMAZON BURNING, my new eco-thriller, is, above all a fun read. But hopefully it’s more than mindless fun. Emma and Jimmy, the main characters, are caught up in an important fight to protect the rainforests of Brazil. And that’s something we should all care about.
The character of Souza in AMAZON BURNING is, unfortunately, a pretty good representation of some of the Mafioso-type ranchers and farmers in the region. They want to make a quick buck by clearing vast areas of jungle to plant crops or graze their cattle. Sadly, we’ve all seen so many of those photographs depicting the Amazon going up in smoke that I think we’ve become immune to them.
What those pictures don’t show is the human cost of all that destruction. Deforestation is not the only problem. The whole eco-system of the Brazilian rainforest is under attack. In scenes that are also true to life, Jimmy and Emma try to root out a wildlife smuggling ring. Criminals make billions of dollars each year from the illegal capture and sale of wild animals. Some of the creatures become exotic pets. Many others are just turned into potions and powders, because there are people around the world who really think that these animals can give them magic powers.
Jake Lukin has an incredible power he’s been hiding his whole life…but one (big) mess-up later, and the U.S. government knows all about it. Suddenly he’s juggling high school, tennis tryouts, flirting with Rachel Watkins, and work as a government asset, complete with twenty-four-hour bodyguards. When his family is threatened, Jake has to make a terrible choice.
TUNNEL VISION is a young adult thriller with psychic spies, graveyard chases, Call of Duty, Buffy and Veronica Mars references, and a stubborn little sister you’ll wish you had, even if you are an eighteen year-old boy.
The book already is receiving rave reviews, and the author graciously agreed to answer a few questions.
Welcome Susan, and thanks for spending some time with us.
Thanks so much! I’m so excited to be involved with The Big Thrill.
Brian: I’ve raised three teenagers, my interview partner Ellie is the youngest, and I’ve seen how hectic a modern teenager’s life can be. How much of a challenge was it for you to take an already hectic teenage schedule and cram in the potential complications of life as a psychic and secret government work?
Poor Jake. I never let him have a restful moment. I did try to make sure that his full life before this happened was reflected: he’s focused on trying to get into Stanford, playing on the tennis team, helping with his sister, and trying to balance friends and a love life before the government even enters into it. If he was the sort of person to have a to-do list, it’d be crazy full.
Ellie: What ambitions do you have for your career as a writer?
My ultimate goal is to be able to balance two threads, writing books for teens and for the middle-grade audience, and to keep publishing in both!
Brian: TUNNEL VISION is your first published work. How long have you written with an eye for publication?
I’ve been dabbling in writing for about fourteen years. I completed my first novel and began querying agents in 2006. I’m now working on my eighth manuscript. So…a long time.
A rural Missouri girl, Kate Brauning fell in love with writing at a young age. She was that child who practically lived in the library, discovering all its treasures. Now, she resides in Iowa with her husband and a Siberian husky, and works in publishing. She loves to connect with readers. If you see her and say hi, she might invite you for a coffee—if you want to talk about books.
Her debut novel HOW WE FALL is a young adult tale about two cousins with a secret relationship, a missing best friend, and strange girl with secrets. Will this strange girl be a harbinger of doom? Will they find their friend? THE BIG THRILL sat down with Brauning to find out more.
When did you start writing?
Oh, I was pretty young. I wrote my first “story” at ten or so, I think. I’ve always had fun writing stories, and I wrote a novel all through high school. I loved it, but it just never occurred to me that I could write for a career. I kept on loving it, though. In college I decided that I loved it too much to not try.
Did you ever want to be anything besides write?
I decided early on that I wanted to be an author, so no, not really. Along the road to becoming an author, I’ve discovered I love the publishing world and I love editing, so if I couldn’t write anymore, I’d continue to work with publishing houses as an editor.
By Brian Knight and Ellie Knight
Jonathan Stiles is a fourteen-year-old atheist who is coping with his first day of ninth grade at the fervently religious St. Soren’s Academy when his idolized older brother Ryan is found dead at the bottom of a ravine behind the school. As his world crumbles, Jonathan meets an eccentric stranger who bears an uncanny resemblance to Jesus Christ (except for his white linen leisure suit and sparkling gold chains). Jesus Jackson, as he calls himself, offers to provide faith to Jonathan. He also suggests that Ryan’s death may not have been an accident after all.
Jonathan teams up with Henry, his new best friend at St. Soren’s, to investigate. The two boys find footprints leading to the ravine that match Ryan’s sneakers. They are assisted by Ryan’s grieving girlfriend, Tristan, who also thinks the accident theory is bunk. The police, however, will not listen. But Jonathan knows something the police do not know: Shortly before his death, Ryan was doing cocaine with fellow footballer and number one suspect Alistair not far from the ravine where his body was found.
An inspired Jonathan battles sanctimonious school psychologists, overzealous administrators, and a cavalry of Christian classmates on his quest to discover the truth about Ryan’s death—and about God, high school, and the meaning of life, while he’s at it. But he keeps getting distracted by Cassie—Alistair’s quirky younger sister—who holds the keys to the answers Jonathan is searching for, but who also makes him wonder if he should be searching for them at all.
Welcome James, and thanks for stopping by to chat with us.
Brian: Faith seems to be an important theme, or at least ingredient, in JESUS JACKSON. Putting an atheist teen in an environment where faith is the rule promises to produce a lot of tension. May I ask where you stand on the subject of faith?
Well that is an awesome and difficult question. Ultimately, I think faith is a wonderful thing, as long as it isn’t blind faith. Personally, I like to detach the word faith from its strict religious connotations, and generally define it as “trust in something that you cannot know for certain.” Now for me, while I don’t happen to have faith in any particular god or religion, I do try to have faith in lots of other things that I cannot know for certain. I have faith in the love of my wife and the support of my family. I have faith in my own intuitive sense of ethics and morality. I have faith that my hard work will pay off and that as long as I make the best decisions I can every day, my life will ultimately work out pretty well. That’s the kind of faith that I try to explore in JESUS JACKSON.
By Brian Knight and Ellie Knight
Emmy Rushford convinces her sixth-grade classmates to help her provide food for two hungry children. The project quickly turns perilous when the needy children, and their mother, vanish. As Emmy tries to find out what happened to them, she must deal with a car crash, a belligerent neighbor, a cat thrown into a Dumpster, and the necessity of keeping her actions secret from her parents in order to protect her mother’s job.
Peg Kehret’s new novel, DANGEROUS DECEPTION, is now available from Dutton, and Peg was kind enough to let me and the best young reader I know—my sixteen year-old daughter, Ellie—talk to her about it.
Hi Peg. Thanks for the opportunity to visit with you.
Hi, Brian and Ellie. Thanks for asking me. I always like a chance to talk about my books.
Brian: Your new release, DANGEROUS DECEPTION, seems to be a blend of drama and comedy, a serious premise spiced with unexpected and outlandish twists and turns. Is it as funny as the synopsis leads me to believe?
Although there’s some funny dialogue in the classroom scenes, DANGEROUS DECEPTION is definitely a suspense story, not a comedy.
Ellie: Is Dramady (Drama / Comedy) your favorite genre?
My favorite genre is memoir, both to read and to write. I’ve published three: SMALL STEPS: THE YEAR I GOT POLIO is the true story of when I was paralyzed from the neck down when I was twelve. FIVE PAGES A DAY: A WRITER’S JOURNEY tells how I became a professional writer, including the many rejections and the 50-words-or-less about Kraft Macaroni and Cheese that won me a new car. My most recent memoir (Dutton 2012) is ANIMALS WELCOME: A LIFE OF READING, WRITING AND RESCUE.
Janice Gable Bashman has become a force to be reckoned with. When I met her ten years ago she was a student in the writing classes I was teaching at the Writers Room in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Janice always had more energy, focus, and enthusiasm about writing than any ten other people. And, damn…she could write, too. (Not always a given among those folks who have a desire to publish).
She’s come a long, long way since then, dividing her writing output between nonfiction and fiction. She’s written for the NOVEL & SHORT STORY WRITER’S MARKET, THE WRITER, WRITER’S DIGEST, WILD RIVER REVIEW, and is co-author of the Bram Stoker Award® nominated book, WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE (co-written with me for Citadel Press 2010). Janice is the editor of THE BIG THRILL, and is a popular speaker and workshop leader at writers’ and genre conferences including ThrillerFest, Backspace, Pennwriters, The Write Stuff, Stoker weekend, and others. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Mystery Writers of America, Horror Writers Association, and the International Thriller Writers, where she serves on the board of directors as Vice President, Technology. She is a member of the Liars Club and is a coordinator for the Writers Coffeehouse (more on those later in the interview).
And now she’s a novelist, with a superb first Young Adult thriller that has some serious teeth.
What’s the lowdown on PREDATOR? Without giving away any spoilers, tell us about the book.
Sixteen-year-old Bree Sunderland must inject herself with an untested version of her father’s gene therapy to become a werewolf in order to stop a corrupt group of mercenaries from creating a team of unstoppable lycanthrope soldiers.
When Bree went with her scientist father to Ireland, she thought it would be a vacation to study bog bodies. She never expected to fall in love with a mysterious young Irishman and certainly never expected to become the kind of monster her father said only existed in nightmares. Dr. Sunderland discovers that lycanthropy was not a supernatural curse but rather a genetic mutation. When they return home, her dad continues his research, but the military wants to turn that research into a bio weapons program and rogue soldiers want to steal the research to turn themselves into unstoppable killing machines.
Bree’s boyfriend Liam surprises her with a visit to the United States, but there are darker surprises in store for both of them. As evil forces hunt those she loves, Bree must become an even more dangerous hunter to save them all.
PREDATOR gives the werewolf legend a couple of new spins by introducing the Benandanti (an actual folkloric belief that certain families of Italy and Livonia were werewolves who fought against evil), as well as a modern scientific approach to mutation and the science of transgenics
By Brian Knight and Ellie Knight
When Thea discovers a new role-playing game online, she breaks her parents’ rules to play. In the world of the game, Thea falls for an older boy named Kit whose smarts and savvy can’t defeat his near-suicidal despair. Soon he’s texting her, asking her to meet him, and talking in vague ways about how they can be together forever. As much as she suspects that this is wrong, Thea is powerless to resist Kit’s allure, and hurtles toward the very fate her parents feared most. Ripped from a real-life story of Internet stalking, WHO R U REALLY? will excite you and scare you, as Thea’s life spins out of control.
Margo Kelly’s debut novel WHO R U REALLY? is now available from Merit Press, and Margo was kind enough to let my daughter, Ellie, and I gang up on her to talk about it.
Hi Margo. Thanks for agreeing to talk with my daughter, Ellie, and I.
Brian: As a public speaker, you’re already something of a professional communicator, but there is a difference between the spoken word and the written one. Was the transition from orator to author a challenging one for you?
In some ways, yes, because much of my public speaking has been on non-fiction topics such as business, sales, and recruiting. Now I’m writing fiction for the young adult audience. These are two completely separate worlds. However, any great public speaker includes stories, personal details, and a bit of hyperbole to keep the interest of the listeners. So that art of engaging the audience has definitely helped me translate stories to paper.
Ellie: Did writing WHO R U REALLY? bring back the trauma of your daughter’s experience?
The process of writing the story was very therapeutic for both me and my daughter. As she recovered from the ordeal, we would play the “what if” game. What if she’d done this instead of that? What if the predator had done that instead of this? The tough part for both of us was when we received the advance reading copies from the publisher. That was when we both realized the story was actually going out into the world for everyone to read. I have to admit there was a flash of panic for me. It was an extreme moment of vulnerability—feeling naked. Not only would people be judging the story for its merit, but also people would be judging my parenting choices and my daughter’s naivety. We wish we could explain a couple of things to every reader: 1) This happened to my daughter six years ago when she was eleven going on twelve. 2) This book is mostly a work of fiction. While many of the scenes happened in real life, there are also many that are a product of our “what if” game all those years ago.
By Barry Lyga
“Watch out for the Ewoks,” my brother told me.
Let me explain.
The time: A couple of years ago. The topic: The third and final book in my thriller series I Hunt Killers, titled BLOOD OF MY BLOOD. The book hits shelves on September 9, but at the time of the conversation with my brother, I had just begun writing it.
“Watch out for the Ewoks.”
The I Hunt Killers series takes place very much on earth, in the present day, with nary a lightsaber, hyperdrive, Jedi, or Bantha in sight. It tells the story of Jasper “Jazz” Dent, the son of Billy Dent, the world’s most notorious serial killer, and his quest to figure out if he’s been damned by nature and by nurture to follow in his father’s footsteps. It’s gruesome, intense, and very, very down to earth.
So why was my brother exhorting me to beware the fuzzy alien critters from Return of the Jedi?
It’s my own damn fault. You see, when I wrote the second book in the series, GAME, I ended it on not one, not two, but three cliffhangers, leaving all three of the major characters in serious life-or-death jeopardy: Jazz shot and left to die in a New York City storage unit. His best friend Howie bleeding out on the floor of Jazz’s own home. And Jazz’s girlfriend, Connie, worst of all, in the clutches of Billy himself.
My editor was leery of GAME’s cliffhangers. She was worried readers would be upset and, sure enough, when the book hit, my email inbox and Twitter timeline clogged with readers ranting, imploring, and wheedling. It was just the passionate reaction I was looking for: If readers don’t feel invested in your characters and in your story, all the cliffhangers in the world won’t get a reaction out of them.
“How could you do this to me?” they screamed at me.
By Ian Walkley
Following the success of BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA, author April Genevieve Tucholke has penned the concluding episode of the YA gothic thriller romance between “semi-orphan” Violet, and the morally ambiguous River Redding, in BETWEEN THE SPARK AND THE BURN (from Penguin/Putnam).
With its shades of Stephen King and Daphne du Maurier, Tucholke’s writing has been described by Kirkus Reviews in these terms: “The faded opulence of the setting is an ideal backdrop for this lushly atmospheric gothic thriller, which, happily, comes with a satisfying conclusion. Darkly romantic and evocative.”
This story follows the search for River Redding and his brother Brodie, who disappeared after bringing chaos to the small seaside town of Echo last summer. When a late-night radio show whispers of eerie events in a distant mountain village, Violet seizes on it—this could be River or Brodie. She and the other Redding brother, Neely, hunt for River in frenzied mountain towns, cursed islands, and an empty, snow-muffled hotel. They discover a girl who’s seen the devil, a sea captain’s daughter, and a sweet, red-haired forest boy who meets death halfway. All the while, Violet’s feelings for Neely grow sharper, the stakes higher, and the truth harder to pin down. If only Violet knew that while she’s been hunting the Redding boys someone’s been hunting her.
April Tucholke has lived in many places, including Scotland, and currently lives in Oregon at the edge of a forest, in a house with an attic, wine cellar, and “secret passageway,” where she can hear coyotes howl at night while she’s writing. She loves classic horror movies and coffee.
Allen Zadoff’s new young adult novel I AM THE MISSION is a finalist in the Young Adult category for this year’s Thriller Awards. It is the second book in his acclaimed series about a teenaged assassin.
Zadoff wrote four stand-alone books, a memoir, and three novels before his smash series about a clandestine organization that recruits kids to commit crimes normally associated with organizations like the CIA or the KGB. The Unknown Assassin (or Boy Nobody) persona is perfect for a hit man (or, in this case, a hit boy): No name. No past. No remorse. Just a youthful killing machine who can blend in with others his age, ingratiate himself, and then take out the targets selected for him by characters called “Mother” and “Father”—no his real parents.
Zadoff, a Boston native (and, later, resident of upstate New York, Manhattan, Los Angeles and Tokyo) is a graduate of Cornell University, the Harvard University Institute for Advanced Theatre Training, and Warner Brothers Writers Workshop. He shared these insights into his series and his life with THE BIG THRILL.
What, exactly, triggered the idea for the teenaged assassin of I AM THE MISSION who floats about on assignment anonymously? Did it come to you in a dream? What?
The Unknown Assassin came to me, not in a dream, but on a whisper of inspiration. Often ideas come to me in the form of character, and in this case the character was a sixteen-year-old boy. He told me he had no name, that he traveled from place to place, assuming a new identity on every mission, and his job was to befriend the children of high-value targets so he could get close to and assassinate their parents. I was shocked. When a character with such an intriguing story begins talking to a writer, the writer is wise to listen.
By Stacy Mantle
When your life centers around words, there are few things you can do other than teach and write. Author Kym Brunner has managed to integrate both careers into a very busy life with the release of WANTED: DEAD OR IN LOVE, the first of two young adult books.
WANTED is about a teen girl who, after cutting herself on a spent bullet extracted from Bonnie Parker’s dead body, becomes obsessed with the legend of Bonnie and Clyde. When the notorious outlaw begins communicating with her through thought, she realizes she’s in over her head.
We caught up with Brunner to discuss how she manages to consolidate historical fact with modern characters to create a wonderfully entertaining story.
Most of your books are set in or around Chicago. What is it that fascinates you most about the region?
What doesn’t fascinate me about the region would be an easier question, because I LOVE my hometown! I grew up in Chicago and lived there until my mid-twenties, moved to the suburbs after I got married, but I still visit the city frequently. The downtown region is gorgeous; the people that live in the Midwest are friendly and thus, love to talk (which is a fabulous benefit to observant writers like us). Besides, the weather is great three months a year. (Okay, so that part’s not so great—but it certainly gives us something to talk about.)
By Lee Lindauer
I had the pleasure to serve on a panel last summer at ThrillerFest VIII with John Dixon and from that I got a sense of his talent. Now I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to interview him about his YA thriller, PHOENIX ISLAND, and I came back with a rare insight into his writing and his devotion to the genre.
Tell us a little bit about PHOENIX ISLAND.
PHOENIX ISLAND is being called “a thriller for all ages” and is the inspiration for the upcoming CBS TV series INTELLIGENCE.
When sixteen-year-old boxing champ Carl Freeman’s defense of a helpless stranger lands him in real trouble—a two-year sentence at an isolated boot camp for orphans—he’s determined to tough it out, earn a clean record, and get on with his life.
Then kids start to die.
Realizing PHOENIX ISLAND is actually a Spartan-style mercenary organization turning “throwaway kids” into bloodthirsty super soldiers, Carl risks everything to save his friends and stop a madman bent on global destruction.
You taught middle school English. PHOENIX ISLAND is a YA novel. What is it about teenagers that inspired you to work with that genre?
Kids are cool. They’re discerning and demanding but open minded and really appreciative and enthusiastic if they like what you do. I like the challenge of writing for them. They demand strong characters, fast pacing, and compelling stories that make them feel. Specifically, I wanted to appeal to both females and males. While I’m overjoyed to see an increasing number of strong female characters in teen fiction, most strong male characters are in middle grade and adult fiction. I wanted to provide young readers with a male character who was tough, ethical, and serious.
KIRKUS REVIEWS said of FAKE ID, Lamar Giles’s debut Young Adult thriller: “Fast action, judicious plot twists and sufficiently evil teens and adults should keep thrill-seeking readers awake long into the night.”
Published in January 2014 by Harper Collins, FAKE ID focuses on a teenager, Nick Pearson, who gets caught up in the death of a friend and in the federal government’s witness protection program. The book so impressed its publisher that it bought a second YA thriller, ENDANGERED, on the basis of a summary and a couple of chapters.
Giles, who holds down a full-time job, lives in Chesapeake, Virginia, with his wife. He recently answered some questions for THE BIG THRILL:
What is the genesis of FAKE ID?
It started when I read a mystery/thriller by Steven Barnes titled CASANEGRA. I loved it and started brainstorming some ideas that would fit the genre. At the same time, I’d stumbled across a nonfiction book called WITSEC: INSIDE THE FEDERAL WITNESS PROTECTION PROGRAM by Gerald Shur, the man who founded the program. Mr. Shur tells a number of tales about the very first witnesses to join his program. The stories that stood out to me were the ones about criminals who couldn’t follow the rules, thus blowing their cover and forcing the program to relocate them again. A seed of an idea sprouted, but I still didn’t have what would eventually become FAKE ID. Not Yet.
By Jeremy Burns
Lissa Price burst onto the scene in 2012 with her debut YA thriller, STARTERS, an international bestseller published in thirty countries that garnered several awards and spots on a slew of “Best of 2012” lists. How does a powerful new name in fiction follow up a debut of that magnitude? With ENDERS, the sequel to STARTERS, which hits shelves next month. Amidst the maelstrom of preparing for one of the most anticipated YA releases of the year, Lissa sat down with THE BIG THRILL to take readers behind the scenes of her world and her upcoming book.
Tell us about your new thriller, ENDERS.
ENDERS is the sequel to STARTERS, a YA thriller set in a future L.A. where desperate teens rent out their bodies to seniors, so they can be young again temporarily. But one senior plans to do more than party; she plans to murder someone.
In ENDERS, Callie has shut down Prime Destinations but the Old Man can still access her chip and control her. In fact, all the ex-body donors are in danger of being turned into human bombs. So Callie is about to give herself up to the Old Man when she’s kidnapped by a guy who claims to be the only person who can help her defeat the Old Man.
But can she trust him in this world where no one is who they seem?
Since age ten, sixteen year-old Mia has rebelled against the iron fist of a fundamentalist preacher who lured her mother away to join a fanatical family of followers. At “Edenton,” portrayed to be a Garden of Eden deep in a South American jungle, everyone follows the deranged reverend’s strict and arbitrary rules. Mia dreams of slipping away from the armed guards who keep followers in and the curious out. When rebellious newbie, Gabriel, arrives, Mia sees her chance to escape and to free her family. But scandalous secrets the two discover beyond the compound’s façade are more shocking than anything they imagined. While Gabriel has his own terrible secrets, he and Mia bond, more than friend and freedom fighters. But there’s no time to think about love as they race against time to stop the preacher’s paranoid plan to free his flock—but not himself—from this corrupt world. Can two teens crush a diabolical mastermind? And who will die in the fight to save the ones they love from a madman whose only concern is his own agenda?
Debut novelist Elisa Nader added, “ESCAPE FROM EDEN is about a teenager coming into her own, and questioning what she’s been told. She finds courage she didn’t know she had, escapes a cult—and discovers horrific secrets along the way.”
By Stacy Mantle
Co-Authoring: A KILLER’S INSTINCT with Dawn Dalton & Judith Graves
When you’re collaborating on a novel about the paranormal, you have to retain an open-minded approach both to writing and to the world – something that authors Dawn Dalton and Judith Graves do well together. KILLER’S INSTINCT is their first co-authored monster-hunting tale that appeals to both teens and adults.
In KILLER’S INSTINCT, young Hope is shocked to learn that her dead mother’s corpse is wreaking havoc amongst the living, so Hope does the only thing she knows to do – enroll in a militaristic “monster-hunting” school to learn how to lay her mother’s soul to rest.
We had the opportunity to interview Dawn Dalton, one-half of the Dalton-Graves team that created this fast-paced, young-adult thriller.
Why did you decide to co-author the novel?
I met Judith at a young writer’s retreat put on by my former employer. She was giving a presentation to young writers about how to write FICTION TO DIE FOR. To quote a cliché, she had me at hello. I immediately connected with her writing style, her enthusiasm, her work ethic, and her personality. We became critique partners, and shortly after, began brainstorming ideas for projects together. It got to a point where we didn’t ask, “Hey, want to write this together?” It was an assumption.
By John Raab
Fans of Jordan Dane have been eagerly awaiting the release of CRYSTAL FIRE, the latest book in her “The Hunted” series. CRYSTAL FIRE is a young adult novel, but it’s also a book adults will enjoy. Jordan had a lot to live up to after the successful release of the first book in the series, INDIGO AWAKENING, and she did not disappoint. Here’s a summary:
A storm is brewing on the streets of LA, one that has intensified since a tragic and deadly confrontation claimed an innocent life.
While Gabriel Stewart trains his army of teen psychics to stop Alexander Reese—the obsessed leader of the Believers—the fanatical church becomes more bent on the annihilation of all Indigo and Crystal children. They’re silencing the voices of the telepathic hive, one soul at a time, with frightening experiments cruelly executed on vulnerable minds.
When the Believers torture a mysterious homeless boy, Oliver Blue, they brainwash him into betraying his own. The boy becomes a deadly pawn to take Gabriel down. As the fires of chaos burn around him, Gabe is running out of time. He’ll need to confront his past—and the man who made him—before the hope of peace for the future is silenced forever.
Jordan graciously agreed to talk to THE BIG THRILL about her new book:
By Ethan Cross
WOULD YOU PUT YOUR LIFE ON THE LINE TO BE NORMAL?
Diagnosed with a rare and untreatable heart condition, Scarlet has come to terms with the fact that she’s going to die. Literally of a broken heart. It could be tomorrow, or it could be next year. But the clock is ticking…
All Scarlet asks is for a chance to attend high school—even if just for a week—a chance to be just like everyone else. But Scarlet can feel her heart beating out of control with each slammed locker and vicious taunt. Is this normal? Really? Yet there’s more going on than she knows. And finding out the truth might just kill Scarlet before her heart does…
Tell us about BROKEN.
BROKEN is my very first YA thriller and features a heroine who knows everything about dying but nothing about living.
Scarlet has spent her entire life shuttled from doctor to doctor and hospital to hospital only to be diagnosed with a lethal cardiac disease, leaving her literally dying of a broken heart.
Because of her sheltered upbringing, Scarlet is very naïve and all she wants is to live like a normal teenager, so she convinces her parents to allow her to attend high school for a week…a week that gives Scarlet her first ever friends, first kiss (maybe the worst first kiss in recorded history, but she’ll take what she can get!), and a new outlook on her life, her disease, and her family as she unearths secrets she never suspected existed.
By Thomas Pluck
What if Secretariat was cloned? A young man rents out small boats on Sarasota Bay, but his easy-going life ends when he accepts a colt from his dying father. He enters the underbelly horseracing with crooked trainers, loan sharks, and a wealthy sheik. But his biggest problem might be the illegal colt.
That’s the premise of SECRETARIAT REBORN by Susan Klaus, which questions our loyalties to family, our duty to the rules, and our responsibility to achieve greatness.
Susan, tell us a bit about your background and how it inspired the book.
I’ve always been an animal fanatic, showing cats, grooming dogs, and working for a veterinarian for a decade, but for the last 13 years, I’ve bred and raced Thoroughbreds. Every horse breeder looks at their newborn colts and prays one will be another Secretariat, so the inspiration for the book was a no-brainer. If you’re going through the expense to clone an animal, why not clone the greatest horse of all time?
With the help of first daughter Amy, Linc has to uncover Culper Ring spy history dating back to the Revolutionary War and George Washington, to recover a coat with mysterious powers. Before it’s too late…