#TuesdayTalk with Retribution series authors Natasha Deen, Judith Graves and Sigmund Brouwer. Burned, Exposed and Unleashed are part of a new YA high-interest trilogy that can be read in any order.
What are the challenges of writing for the high school or hi-lo audience?
Natasha: I find writing for any age group challenging. No matter the age or genre, authors always need to think about things like story content, vocabulary choices, and who is their story audience. But as challenging as writing can be, I was super excited to be part of the Retribution project. I mean, I got a chance to work with two amazing authors (Sigmund Brouwer and Judith Graves) and I loved the story idea: a group of teen rebels team up to bring down their bad guy—an upstanding adult who the community loves–but who the kids know is a villain. I grew up on the A-Team, Robin Hood, MacGyver, and Marvel comics, and the chance to take those elements (outlaws, good guys, heroes) and put it into a contemporary setting was such an exciting opportunity! Each novel has shared scenes—where readers get the action but from a different character’s point of view. It was very Matrix and I loved the opportunity to be part of the series! The other thing I loved about the series was that the books could be read in any order. Plus, when I was doing school visits or participating in conferences, I got a chance to run the story by kids and teens, get their input on what they thought worked or didn’t work for the story. All of it added up to a writing project that was an *insane* amount of fun!
Judith: When I was a kid, I convinced my parents I had the flu just so I could stay home and finish the novel I was reading, Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume. When I was done, I immediately re-read it, overwhelmed with how much I could relate to the characters – the uncertainty, self-doubt and anger, the troubled home life, the obstacles to be overcome, and the wonderful hint of romance. Now, many, many years later, I tap into those emotions and hope my stories offer entertainment, sure, but also a similar kind of solace to readers. That’s the perk of writing for young adults…the idea that your story can provide a much needed escape and hope for the future – to kids who may be pretending they’re just fine, but who are struggling to find their place.
Sigmund: My wife will readily admit that my mindset is not that of a man with any maturity, so writing for younger age groups comes naturally to me.
Was there a research component to your book?
Sigmund: I love the research part. I always stay alert for things that make me react emotionally, and then look for a way to put that into the story, with the hope that my readers will have the same reaction.
Judith: Raven, the main character in Exposed is an urban climber and car thief. Since I have zero skills in either of those areas, in fact, I consider using a higher incline setting on my treadmill to be a tough climb. I had to read up on free running, buildering, and parkour –practices that involve a mix of climbing urban structures without the aid of safety ropes, gymnastics, and martial arts training, as well as basic techniques used to break into vehicles, how chop shops function, and the recruitment of teens in car theft rings. Some of this research was awe-inspiring and other bits, disheartening.
Natasha: Oh, research, another reason to love being a writer! Yep, yep, there was lots of research involved. And lots of chocolate and tea, too (yet another reason to love being a writer!). When Sigmund, Judith and I talked about characters and lifestyles, right away, I knew my character, Jo, would be homeless. For my research, I spent time listening to the experiences of people who didn’t (always) have a roof over their head. I talked with social workers, drew from my own experiences of working with homeless folks, and I spent time watching how passersby interacted with street people. My big priority with Jo was that I wanted to make sure I was respectful of her reality and I treated her life with dignity and didn’t make her a stereotype. There was a lot I learned from listening to people’s experiences and in the book, Jo makes a comment, “If people’s indifference left me wounded, then their kindness was killing me. It was too random, too unpredictable. There was no protection against it…” That quote represented one of the big realities of living on the street—how alone and lonely it can feel, how wondering about other people’s agendas can make you mistrust simple acts of kindness, and it really hit home (no pun intended) about how hard life is when doorways are your shelter. It made me incredibly grateful, not just to have a house, but that I live in a country that has organizations that step in on behalf of vulnerable people and help to make sure they have food and shelter, as well as other resources they need. If you visit here you can see images of the area Jo calls home (East Hastings Street—you can see pictures of the street as well as the areas around it that are being gentrified).
What’s your favorite season and why?
Judith: Fall and/or winter. I have yet to write a story that takes place in the summer. This might be due to the fact that I live in Northern Alberta where we have cooler temperatures for most of the year. But I love the fall colours – golds and browns and rusts, and the winter’s cool blues, silvers, and greys. Everything is exposed in these months, trees lose their leaves and the landscape is stark. Makes for great spooky atmosphere for my paranormal tales, but also helps to clear away the clutter of life and help me dig deep to uncover the heart of my stories.
Natasha: Every season is my favourite! I love rainy days in spring and seeing the contrast between the dark grey sky and emerald green grass, or walking my dogs and smelling the crisp fall air. I love the hot summer days when you try to eat the ice-cream cone faster than the sun can melt it, and icy-cold winter nights with a cup of hot chocolate in one hand and a good book in the other—mmm, bring on the winter season!
What’s the least glamorous part about being a writer? And the most glamorous?
Sigmund: Least glamorous part: writing. Most glamorous: showing off the amazing cover that Orca created.
Natasha: Being a writer makes me feel like I’ve won the ultimate lottery! Every day I wake up and my entire job is to make up stories. Writing can be difficult because it’s words on paper…I don’t think we’ll ever see a reality show with writers as the focus because quite often, as a writer, you’re just sitting, staring at the computer screen. It’s not that you’re not working, you’re just thinking (and doing an impressive imitation of a statue). Somehow, I don’t think that would make for great reality TV. But when the writing gets difficult, I always think of my readers and that if I’m patient with the story (and myself), I have the chance to make something that will make their day a little brighter. And that makes for all the glamour I need.
Do you have any unique hobbies or pastimes? Tell us a bit about it.
Judith: I play bass and sing in a retro cover band. We play small venues, coffee houses and pubs, as well as hosting the local open mic night. We do a few originals, but mainly focus on hits from the 70s / 80s. We’ve been playing together for a long time, but have yet to pick a band name…we come up with at least ten different ones each time we practice or perform. Got one we should consider?
Natasha: Ha ha. We just rescued a husky-Australian sheepdog puppy and she’s joined our two cats (who still think they’re kittens) and one dog (who still thinks he’s a puppy), so sometimes I feel like sleep and sitting quietly are my unique hobbies and pastimes.
Is there an important issue or theme in your book that you are passionate about?
Sigmund: In Unleashed, I thought it was important to show that no matter how much wealth there is in a family, the most important thing are the relationships.
When you hit writer’s block, how do you push through it?
Natasha: For me, writer’s block happens for a variety of reasons but usually, it’s when I’m trying to write a first or second draft, and trying to write perfect from the get-go. If I stop and remind myself that the writing’s going to be rough before it’s polished, that usually helps. I also try and take lots of little mental breaks, and I find that really helps, too!
Sigmund: All I ask myself is how I can throw another problem in front of my character, and then make the character figure out a way around it.
What is it like to work collaboratively? What was the experience of writing as part of a series with linked stories?
Judith: As a musician and singer/songwriter, I’ve been in bands since high school, working with others to create music, lyrics, and develop our stage presence. I also write screenplays, which are often done by committee – a group of writers and story editors working together to generate the final script. Brainstorming with others, riffing off their ideas and adding your own spins – that is heady stuff. It’s a huge adrenalin rush to collaborate and I find you get double the work done in half the time. Or in the case of working with Natasha Deen and Sigmund Brouwer, on the Retribution Trilogy, triple the work. It was a thrill to have the opportunity to combine brainpower with these two powerhouse writers. We adapted to each other’s writing schedules and styles very quickly and were open to suggestions, often making changes on the fly because of some particularly awesome idea one of us threw into the mix. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Sigmund: Working collaboratively is great, because we fed off each others ideas. We had maximum creative freedom for our stories, and had the chance to incorporate elements of the other stories.
Natasha: I *loved* working with Sigmund and Judith (and not just cause a lot of our meetings involved pastry and tea!). Writing can be a lonely, solitary profession and it’s not a job that has a standardized path. One of the best things writers can do is to find other writers and learn from each other. And I certainly had that chance with my teammates. Both Sigmund and Judith are *amazing* writers and I was so glad to have the opportunity to see how they put their stories together, and how they processed the series. I had so much fun with them, talking about plot, characters, and plot twists, how we could surprise and delight our readers. It was a great, not just in the early stages but also as the stories progressed, I appreciated having them around.
For more information about the Retribution series, visit www.retributiontheseries.com.
About the Authors:
With close to three million books in print, Sigmund Brouwer writes for both children and adults but is happiest when he is bucking authority. In the last ten years, he has given writing workshops to students in schools from the Arctic Circle to inner-city Los Angeles. One of his latest novels, The Last Disciple, earned Sigmund an appearance on abc Television’s Good Morning America. Sigmund and his family live half of the year in Nashville, Tennessee, and the other half in Red Deer, Alberta. For more information, visit www.sigmundbrouwer.com.
Award-winning author Natasha Deen graduated from the University of Alberta with a BA in psychology. In addition to her work as a presenter and workshop facilitator with schools, she has written everything from creative nonfiction to ya and adult fiction. She was the inaugural 2013 Regional Writer in Residence for the Metro Edmonton Library Federation. Natasha lives in Edmonton, Alberta. For more information, visit www.natashadeen.com.
Award-winning writer and screenwriter Judith Graves loves tragic romance, werewolves, vampires, magic and all things a bit creepy. A firm believer that teen fiction can be action-packed, snarky and yet hit all the right emotional notes, Judith writes stories with attitude. She lives in northern Alberta and when she’s not writing, she works in a school library. For more information, visit www.judithgraves.com.