Kick Ass Girls of YA ~ Jacklyn Madison


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I was invited by my friend, Libby Heily, and her publisher, Fire and Ice YA Books, to participate in their Kick Ass Girls of YA Blog Hop. For this Blog Hop, I was encouraged to discuss a YA character close to my heart, either already existing, or one I’ve created. Having already discussed my love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer in previous blog posts, I figured it was a good time to introduce my own character, Jacklyn Madison, the main character of the manuscript I’m querying to agents as we speak, The Order of the Key.

Why is Jacklyn a kick ass girl? Well, for one, she kicks ass. Literally. After accidentally unlocking her long dormant Aegis, Jacklyn discovers she is a Body Key with supernatural strength, speed, senses, and healing. The leaders of the Order of the Key capitalize on her abilities by teaching her how to fight the inter-dimensional monsters they are sworn to defeat. Jacklyn quickly takes to her new superhero lifestyle and becomes a valuable member of her new group. Not only that, but she makes the group her own, working to make it a better place for everyone involved.

Self-esteem? Jacklyn’s got it, despite having been a geek with a bully problem. She’s an athlete, and her mother works nonstop, so she’s largely responsible for her younger brother and sister. Who has time to worry about what the kids at school think? She’s got things to do. And it’s not a problem anyway, because Jacklyn isn’t just tough, she’s fast-witted and sharp-tongued and she doesn’t intend to suffer any of your crap.

OK Media Pitch 1With all of this, what really makes her strong is her compassion. Jacklyn is torn by the fact that she must kill to protect humanity from inter-dimensionals. Not only that, but she quickly realizes she might have to kill members of the Order to protect the people she loves. Her younger brother and sister are her world, and she would do anything to help them grow into productive members of society, let alone to protect them.

Jacklyn Madison is kick ass, but not perfect. She’s got a temper. She’s prideful. She struggles to trust. And she can sometimes hide behind a good quip.

That’s why I love her. She possesses what I look for in all of my kick ass heroines–strength, but also humanity.

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If you’d like to know more about me, Jacklyn Madison and The Order of the Key, follow my blog or sign up for my mailing list, here.

To visit all the other blogs in the blog hop today, click here for a complete list. And for the chance to win some great books from Fire and Ice YA, click here to enter their Rafflecopter.

The Elusive Nature of Inspiration

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“Where do you get your ideas?” is a question I often get when I’m discussing the nature of my latest story, usually with a person who does not write. Any writer knows that writers don’t know where their ideas come from. In his writing book/memoir “On Writing,” Stephen King said, “There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

It’s true. We have no idea. However, we often remember our line of thinking when we’ve come up with some of our ideas. So where have some of mine come from? How different are their origins? Do some story elements come from different places? Let’s talk.

I’ve had stories arise from concepts I wanted to explore. The Order of the Key was about me trying to create a strong female hero from a geek who has been raised loving superhero media. Lucy Dies in the End was really solely about that concept–I literally just thought about the title and how cool it would be if Lucy herself was the one to say it. I’ve always been drawn to Greek mythology and Aphrodite in particular, which led to Never Say Never. My interest in past lives played into my ideas for the mystery behind Living in the Past.

I’ve had stories arise from dreams. Often when I have these, they play out before me like movies. Legally Insane was about a dream I had about a hidden relationship in a workplace. The present day tale in Living in the Past comes from a very vivid dream I had about a woman strongly connecting with a man and coming home with him, only to stumble into a mystery involving his son.

I’ve had stories arise from mundane reality. Like the lead character in The Order of the Key and Legally Insane, I am a geek. Legally Insane is largely about work in a law firm, which happens to be my day job. The concept of Lucy as Lady Justice in Lucy Dies in the End came from staring at Lady Justice during various court case searches at my job. My parents’ divorce heavily inspires some of the debates on long term relationships in Never Say Never. Dating experiences of my friends helped inspire other portions. And the characters work in an ice cream shop. My first job was at a Carvel. Choosing to Stand Still was a sort of wish fulfillment, regarding a pair of best friends I knew that I thought belonged together–if you’ve read that one, writing it made me realized they were right never to pursue that route.

17760096_1325475264199099_8399109544035762431_nI’ve had stories arise from conversations. The backbone of Legally Insane involves the main character visualizing a character from her favorite television series prodding her to be strong in the face of a major life change. This came from a joke that was made when chatting with fandom friends about Jack O’Neill, a wise-cracking character from Stargate SG-1. My friend said, “I wish I could take him around in my pocket to smack some sense into me.” From there, the idea was born.

I’ve had stories arise from fears. Without spoilers, the fear of losing a child played into The Keys & Guardians series plan heavily. Things You Can Create arose from the fear of the kinds of torture I could carelessly visit upon my characters. It is, unsurprisingly, my first short story.

I’ve had stories that arise from past trauma. One Percent is an exploration of my descent into anxiety prior to spinal surgery. One Headlight was born of the death of a friend, one who died in a car accident on the way to college. Tunneling dealt with my experiences with dealing with alcoholics. The Peace of Completion and Release dealt with some wish fulfillment regarding the aftermath of my sexual assault. Blue Ice dealt with the issue of domestic violence, handled by a third party, looking in.

What does this tell you? Stories come from so many different places. Some of the things on this list were planned. Some were things that spilled out of me once I began to write. But all of it were things I drew upon to create stories that meant a lot to me.

What does this mean for you? It means inspiration can come from anything. It can be a mix of many things. So collect writing prompts. Collect interesting factoids. File away tidbits about the people you meet. But most of all, experience. Live your life with a keen, attentive eye and look at all you see around you. Every bit of your life experience, even the bad things can be weaved into the fabric of a story.

So how do you find the elusive creature known as inspiration? The answer is simple. Live.

On Setting and The Order of the Key

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When plotting out a book idea, setting becomes an essential tool. There are a couple of things you need to consider when you’re deciding where to set a novel. For one, you need a general space and time. For my novel, The Order of the Key, it’s present day New York. But just like a movie has various sets and location shoots that need to be considered in advance, setting goes much deeper than a time and general locale.

When I decided on a setting, I chose utility.

About 90% of The Order of the Key takes place at the Franklin Estate and its surrounding land somewhere near Buffalo, NY. The house, surrounded by acres of forest, is bound by wards so nothing can get in–or out. If that sounds claustrophobic, it’s supposed to. Jacklyn refers to the Estate and its surrounding forest as “Capture disguised as freedom.”

When Jacklyn and her siblings arrive there, they are in awe of the size and the beauty of the decor in a house that can board their entire family and then some. But, then, they believe they’re coming for temporary training. They don’t realize they’re moving there.

The Estate isn’t supposed to be a possession of The Order, but a possession that the extremely rich Franklins have allowed The Order to utilize. Therefore, it needed to fit Lavinia Franklin’s personality, and also be large enough to house the entire Order.

Jacklyn and Lavinia are mirror images of each other. Jacklyn has read one too many comic books and she is very much about the image of a hero–how she should behave based on what she knows. Lavinia doesn’t see herself as the villain, but she does see herself as power-driven. She understands that she’s the Amanda Woodward (for those younger readers, Melrose Place’s no-nonsense, antagonistic business woman who always gets what she wants) of the Estate and yes, that reference is a little out of date, but Lavinia is not a teenager. Lavinia maintains the Estate according to an image of Old World riches, because it helps perpetuate that image of her being a hard-working, elegant woman, able to make the tough choices. But what she really is, and her setting also dictates this, is that of a modern day robber baron.

The Estate needed to be opulent, it needed to be large, and the space around that was necessary mostly because it would ease the claustrophobic vibe of them being cooped up in a house and watched all the time. It was necessary that the feeling exist, especially in certain scenes, but an entire book like that would be tough to live with, so I granted them the surrounding outdoor area for more open space.

However, I am happy that future books get the gang out of the house a lot more. Not gonna tell you how though. Not yet, anyway.

Fancasting The Order of the Key

In August, I participated in an online event for Kyra Dune’s release of her latest YA Fantasy novel, Elfblood. As those events go, I played a game with attendees. For this specific game, I decided I would throw out some character description and let other people cast the characters for my upcoming novel, The Order of the Key. I promised to post the best results here, so here we are (Also, read to the end for a quick publishing update)!

Jacklyn Madison: Jacklyn is 18 years old with dark curly hair, hazel eyes, and an athletic build. She’s kind and loving, but she’s got a sarcastic streak, quite a bit of pride, and a big mouth that always seems to get her into trouble. She starts out a little naive but she becomes stronger the more she learns in her time at the Estate. She’s tough, a fighter, but gentle…even killing monsters leaves her feeling guilty.

The submissions for Jacklyn, some of them seemed far too innocent. Some of them seemed far too sexual. To me, the best entries skated the middle of the road between sweet and sexy. 

If you wanted known actresses, you could go with one of these two.

Belinda Clemons suggested Pretty Little Liars star, Lucy Hale. I could totally see this!

Belinda Clemons

Another good one? Lori White Lazzara suggested ex-Disney star and musician Demi Lovato.

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If we’re looking at a relative unknown, Lori White Lazzara came up with another option.

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I HAVE NO IDEA WHO SHE IS! Her picture is all over the place on hair styling websites and she’s gorgeous, but I don’t know who she is. So…if anyone does, let me know. 🙂

Kyp Franklin: Kyp was born a leader. He’s incredibly intelligent and driven, but he’s emotionally closed, somewhat hard to read. Known for his complex relationship with the truth, Kyp has a one-track mind. He has every intention of turning the current mission of The Order upside-down. Dark-haired, dark-eyed, brooding and attractive, Kyp would probably be the last person in the world to even consider his own appearance…unless he can use it to manipulate his way into a better position to meet his goals.

MANY gorgeous guys were submitted for Kyp, but all of them…while fun to look at…scanned a little too old for Kyp, and…I hesitate to say this, a little too beefcake.

Personally, I’ve never had a casting idea for Jacks. But I have had one for Kyp. Kevin Zegers of The Mortal Instruments would be my choice…although the eyes are wrong. The rest, however, are so perfect for Kyp, I almost made his eyes blue. No, not really.

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I’ve written about this before. I had no idea who this guy was when I dreamed Kyp up, but I saw him and was blown away by how close he was to my mental image of him.

Lavinia Franklin: Lavinia is refined and cold. She has a temper, but is far more the type to cut you with her words through gritted teeth, or wait until later, so she can destroy you when nobody is watching. Her brutal side is mostly hidden unless she feels she requires a show of strength. Devious and manipulative, Lavinia always has a plan. With long brown hair and a tall and slender figure, Liv is just as beautiful as she is deadly.

For this one, Angela Walker Cruz was the closest to my idea of Lavinia. Actress Jo Champa has the right look in many images of her.

Angela Walker Cruz

My own personal casting choice for Lavinia, would be Hemlock Grove‘s Famke Janssen.

Her entire face screams, “Don’t screw with me.”

There are plenty of other characters, but if I did all of them, it would take quite awhile. I think that once the book is released, I will revisit the idea again, and ask for some feedback from readers about who they would like to see.

For anybody wondering what’s up with the release, it has been delayed due to a few necessary edits and the fact that we are hard at work at an amazing cover that will do Jacklyn and her crew justice. Once things are set and the wheels are in motion, I will let you know all about it. Don’t forget about me. The Order of the Key is still well on the way. It will be in your hands soon, and now that I’ve found my forever publishing home, the next ones will be released much more smoothly.

Do you all have any casting possibilities for me? Please feel free to post them below!

Genre Choice

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Being asked by a friend who only reads true literary fiction what I am writing used to feel like a pop quiz I was sure to fail. “Hi, my name is Justine and my current works in progress contain a computer virus alien race, a divorcee with an imaginary friend, and superheroes who fight monsters that come through inter-dimensional rifts. Please do not throw tomatoes or insults at me.” I would say it with shyness, with shame, as though what I was writing was any less valid than your normal everyday literary work. There’s literary fiction and there’s commercial fiction, and my muse just happens to like superheroes who fight monsters that come through inter-dimensional rifts.  So sue me.

But the truth is, this is where the muse takes me. It takes me to weird stuff, and, in this case it takes me to fantasy. When I came up with the idea for The Order of the Key, it only made sense that the main character, Jacklyn, would be young. She couldn’t be too young, for reasons I can’t really express without spoiling the plot for Book 1, but she had to be in that stage where she was figuring out who she was as a person. Initially, because some of the themes could run a little dark, I attempted to write Jacklyn as an adult, but it didn’t track well. The voice Jacklyn had placed in my head was plucky, young, and irreverent.

There was also a very specific theme that I wanted to explore, and that was this idea of dreams vs. reality. Jacklyn has this love for comic books, superheroes, and all things geeky. So, at first, when she is pulled into this world where she is the superhero, it seems like a dream come true, even if the circumstances surrounding it aren’t the best. But, as she struggles with the responsibilities of actually living that dream (risking those around her, putting herself on the line, being forced to do things she wouldn’t otherwise enjoy doing), she grows to understand that there is a big difference between imagining a situation and enduring it. And I think this is a hard won lesson for many—this idea that we’re going to grow up to be something amazing, just to have that amazing thing turn out to be…not so amazing. And it was important to tell that story in a YA framework, because I feel like that is a lesson worth teaching to kids who are about to head into college and out into the real world—to feel free to dream, but to inject a little practicality into it. Dream big, but dream smart.

In the end, I didn’t so much choose my genre as my genre chose me. What genres do you guys write? Read? Tell me a little about why in the comments!

The 777 Challenge

Kristin D. Van Risseghem tagged me to share seven lines from the seventh page of a work in progress. Naturally, I chose The Order of the Key. 🙂

I may have gone a tad over 7 lines, just because I’m a sucker for a decent ending. Also, just so you know – they just fought some creatures. Happy reading!


“Any more?” Kyp’s breath rattled from his lungs.

I really hoped he wasn’t depending on me to give the final all clear. “I think we’re good.”

He groaned and let himself slide to the ground, using the wall for support. “Just a minute. We’ll rest for a minute, then I’ll take you back home before more come.”

“Uh-huh.” I plopped down beside him. The concrete was surprisingly cold. Now that nothing was trying to kill me, the adrenaline seemed to be wearing off, and my legs were starting to shake.

He winced. “Pretty sure I broke all of my ribs. Are you okay?”

I looked down at my legs. While they were blood covered, the wounds were mostly healed. “Huh. Must not have been as bad as I thought.”

Kyp shook his head. “Jaina didn’t tell you anything, did she?”


Now I’ll tag 7 other authors to play this game:

Ismael Manzano
Jaromy Henry
Gage Greenwood

Megan Manzano
Kayla Rivera
Sharon Platz
Louis Santiago

Inspiration

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Inspiration is such a strange and essential force for an author, and we need to pull it from wherever we can find it. For me, inspiration can be like a patchwork quilt, a line from a song, a character from a book, a writing style, and a plot idea can come together and be woven into an original idea.

For The Order of the Key, the first seed came from watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The series was the first time I’d ever seen a television show that crossed genres, styles, and attitudes. Buffy could be funny in one episode and tragic in the next. Sometimes it was horror, sometimes it was paranormal. Sometimes it was episodic, sometimes it was arc-based. I loved the way the series mixed it up, and I saw that as a powerful way to tell a story. Life can be all of those things, and it’s fun to shine a light on that. So when I dealt with the new characters I was forming in my head, I tried not to conform them to one specific style, and let them just be people – which led to my Contemporary Fantasy, which has elements of horror, elements of comedy, elements of romance.

Now, I had never read a book that behaved the way Buffy did as a television series. And I also had fears of giving my characters flaws. I was concerned about making them far too unlikeable. And then I read The Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong. Reading Kelley’s books gave me both the courage to build unique systems of supernatural characters and to build complex characters with gray areas. I thought I always needed the good guys to be stalwart and true or I’d risk their likeability. Ms. Armstrong soundly corrected me.

The members of the Order are all trained at an Estate that doubles as a school and a living space. If I said anything but X-Men inspired me, I’d be lying.

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins inspired me to explore the harsh realities of war. The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime inspired me to take chances with the voice of the narration. My lead character, Jacklyn, has a very unique point of view, and we get the story from her. It never had the same magic when I tried to tell it third person.

I’m sure there are other things that linked together to create the idea for The Order of the Key. I can think of many times where I’d hear a turn of phrase, the lyrics of a song, or met a person that made me want to write something down. As artists, we spend our entire life fed ideas and inspiration, we internalize that, and when we’re ready to create something ourselves, these ideas mix together to create something truly unique. I hope you enjoy my unique creation.

Where do you find inspiration?