The Author Visits Spotlights Joanne Kershaw
Calendar of Events
Monday, October 27: Interview with Joanne; Kick-off Giveaway
Tuesday, October 28: Excerpt from Foretold
Wednesday, October 29: Excerpt from Reflected
Thursday, October 30: Guest Post by Joanne
Friday, October 31: Review of Foretold
Saturday, November 1: Review of Reflected
Sunday, November 2: Announce Winner of Giveaway
Giveaway – The Vanguard Legacy
Write the story you need to tell, not the one you think your reader wants…
Writing a novel is like cooking for twenty. You might make a few mistakes along the way, probably without noticing them, but once the food s on the table it’s too late to recall it. It is important to plan meticulously, accept all the help you can get, and learn quickly from mistakes in order to ensure they never happen again.
That being said, it’s really useful to have a team of beta readers who will call you out on mistakes, contradictions and generally poor writing. They are invaluable. Often, they aren’t as close to the material as you, the author, which means that they can see the plot holes that you’ve fallen into. The downside is, of course, when they disagree with the direction you have taken the story in.
Don’t get me wrong, as the author you are best placed to decide what happens to the characters. (I know that a lot of authors out there are now quirking their eyebrow, because we all know that our characters do tend to have a life of their own, but let’s just pretend for the sake of this post that authors control their creations absolutely. Okay?) You have worked through the challenges and events that have forged your characters into the people they are and you know exactly how their stories should end.
But your beta readers disagree. They are hurt or angry or dejected or miserable or frustrated. They aren’t happy. And it’s your fault. It was my fault.
Part of me reconciled this with the realisation that I was seeking that reaction. But I hadn’t anticipated exactly how deep the feelings ran. So I did what any good author would do in this situation, I turned to authors.
Several weeks ago, in the throes of editing the third instalment of The Vanguard Legacy Series, I posted to The X’s Author facebook group. It’s a bustling place full of creative discussion, intense debate, and the occasional ironic grammar-themed cartoon. It’s also exclusive—no contract with Xchyler in any way? Not welcome. It’s a safe place for us all to turn and, as the authors I am lucky enough to be mixing with are based across the world, it is the best way to keep in touch with each other.
Incredibly, I was one of the first authors signed by Xchyler, and I have been fortunate enough to watch them grow from a group of less than a dozen into a formidable publishing house. There is barely a week goes by without a new author, editor or marketer brought into the fold. There are seventy six X Team members who use the page, and there are more who haven’t welcomed facebook into their world yet.
And so it seemed the best place to pose the question: My books are YA, my beta readers are telling me they hate the ending, do I compromise how I believe the story should end in order to give the readers the ‘Happy Ever After’ they think they want. My beta readers wanted the HEA but I was torn. I didn’t want to alienate my audience (after all, when I write different things I want them along for the journey) but I didn’t want to compromise the integrity of the story either.
“Well I’m still hearing from my beta reader that she hated how Tomorrow Wendell ended…but yeah I guess YA does change things. Still I don’t know if I could change the ending of a book (or series) to keep any one but me happy. You have a tough choice ahead of you.” Raven M Ridley, author of Tomorrow Wendell, was first to jump in. Whilst I fully understood his perspective, he also recognised the challenges with writing YA. Most YA fiction has a nice HEA, even if you don’t really want it. Exceptions would be The Hunger Games, where I certainly didn’t feel very satisfied with Katniss’ outcome, and with the Divergent series—although, I felt it was the right ending for the story.
Kristin Baker, whose novel Cobalt, is currently in development, chipped in.
“I’ve read enough YA books that don’t have that HEA – I haven’t finished the Divergence series yet but heard it’s not exactly a happy ending. The His Dark Materials series also left a bitter taste. I think we should listen to our trusted beta readers to an extent, but now we have the added plus of X editors who can tell us if our ending sucks or not.”
She is so right. The editing team at The X is incredible, and honest. I was still in drafting phase, though, and I didn’t want to give too much else away at this stage. It was gratifying to hear that she had read many non-HEA novels, and that the concept of the ending being less than positive didn’t put her off.
“I don’t have a problem with HEA since I write mostly horror and dark fantasy, but YA does play by different rules. Maybe you should try for a compromise, incorporating some of what the beta readers want into the ending.” Anita Stewart, who has short stories in both Mechanized Masterpieces and Legends and Lore. It was an idea I had begun to formulate myself, try to dilute the ending to give everyone what they thought they wanted. I took the plunge and began to rewrite the ending anyway, because I had to know if I could do it. Perhaps I was too focused on my own ideas that I didn’t let the characters explore their own ideas.
Jessica Shen, Senior Editor at The X, continued: “…an HEA ending doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be a good one. What’s more important is that there is some kind of a conclusion. So, that extent, write the ending that you think the book should have. I find that good YA endings have a combination of happy and sad–like Harry Potter, for example.” It was at this point that I had to admit to not having read Harry Potter. I know, I know! I will.
Dale Robert Pease, author of the popular Noah Zarc series, with a short story in Forged in Flame and the amazing designer of my book covers (and, indeed, pretty much all the other covers at The X), continued the discussion seriously—whilst several other authors berated the fact I haven’t read Harry Potter.
“I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand you HAVE to write what moves you… but if you aren’t writing anything that resonates with readers, then go for it, but don’t expect to make any money at it. On the other hand you can’t chase fads either. But let’s face it, if you want to make money at this thing called writing, you need to write something people will want to read. I have heard that the British are more inclined to like stories that may not have HEA endings, whereas Americans love their HEAs. If you look at most movies for an American audience you will see that reflected, because the movie studios want to make money, plain and simple.”
The cultural differences were another idea that I had begun to contemplate. My target audience is 14+ people—gender free—and that’s all over the world. Dale’s ideas were just another challenge to consider. There is absolutely no way to please everyone.
Editor-in-Chief, Penny Freeman, contributed as well. (Didn’t I say we were a supportive bunch. After all, Penny is incredibly busy, yet she makes time to give back to her authors!).
“I think it is possible to write the ending you want but leave the door open for the HEA. Leave somewhere for the rose-colored-glasses set to take the story after you’ve finished with it, but still be true to yourself. When you do this well, then you’ll actually speak stronger truths and thus resonate even more deeply with them because sometimes we have to make our HEAs out of the rubble of our shattered dreams.
Plugging your readers into that is a good thing.”
Jessica continued: “Ultimately, if you want to sell your book, you have to write something that an audience will want to read. But you’ve got a lot of play within those limits, and the limit definitely isn’t “HEA or bust!” Sometimes that type of ending works, but I find that they usually end up being too…pat, and almost patronizing to the reader, even if the reader is YA. Better to write something that fits, that provides a meaningful conclusion and is commensurate to the intensity of the rest of the story. You’ll never make everyone happy.”
Megan Wiseman, author of short stories in both Mechanized Masterpieces and Legends and Lore, contributed: “I’ve always felt that art should not be compromised. Which ending helps and which ending cuts into the soul of the work? There is the answer.” Megan’s words hit home. I knew what the story needed, the ending it required. I just had to convey it, despite the protests of my beta readers.
D W Wilkin, who features in Mechanized Masterpieces, added: “Sometimes good drama, good fiction does not end happily. Sometimes life is not happy.” Oh, so very true. But surely fiction is escapism in its purest form? Don’t readers read to escape the miseries of life? Yes, of course they do, but they also seek the truth of what they are reading, even in the wildest fantasy.
I realised I had done what she had suggested-or at least, I thought I had. Meanwhile, the verdict was in. I sent my beta readers the ending they wanted. And their opinions? They hated it. Which is just typical really.
So I get to keep the ending I wanted because they realized they didn’t want their happily ever after, after all!
Excerpt from Reflected
The opening of Reflected really packs a punch (if you’ll forgive the truly dreadful pun!). It was the only way to go without totally ruining Foretold for those who haven’t read it. And you should!
Aaron’s iron fist pounded against my rib cage. Tongues of pain flickered through my lungs and I clenched my jaw—I would not give in to the wail of pain that struggled to be heard. I jabbed hard, aiming for his left kidney whilst my dropped elbow shielded my enraged ribs. Aaron spun fast, striking out again before I could make contact. I dodged, turning lightly on my feet despite the tearing sensation in my abdomen.
As I whirled around him, I caught Aaron’s eyes. They were bright, alive—he revelled in the fight, the battle. I cocked my arm back. I needed to make him less happy.
My elbow connected with the base of his spine, and he doubled over, winded. I allowed myself a small, satisfied smile, but it lasted only a moment before he spun around, faster than I could respond, and thrust the heel of his hand into my rib cage. I collapsed to the ground, praying for an adrenaline surge to drown the searing heat that settled over my partially healed knife wound.
“You know, I can’t remember the last time I took you down,” he gloated, staring down at me. More than a little irritated by his smugness, I let frustration overwhelm my judgement. So, I cheated. I slipped into his mind and read his next move. Before he could lunge for me again, I rolled and twisted, sweeping his legs out from underneath him with my shins. He landed on his back—hard. I hastily struggled to my feet and stepped back, putting more distance between the pair of us.
“Was there ever a first time?” I asked, tenderly prodding my stomach and left side whilst maintaining my footwork. Aaron shook his head, smiling again as he flipped himself onto his feet. Considering his size, he moved quickly and there was no opportunity for me to find a defensive position before he was there, his fists and feet within easy striking distance. He swung from the left. I shifted my weight to my other foot, desperate to avoid the blow.
I was woefully slow.
His fist connected with the side of my head, and I stumbled. Black stars glittered in my peripheral vision; my stomach roiled as I struggled to find my balance. I tried to shake it off, to find a safe space, but Aaron grabbed me. Hands tight on my upper arms, he lifted me, and slammed me hard into the ground. The air in my lungs escaped with a groan.
Glancing up at Aaron, I saw concern wash over his features, his arrogance and teasing gone. He extended a hand to help me to my feet, and I sucked in a shallow breath. I reached again for the bandaged wound that crossed my stomach and left side. Gingerly peeling back my shirt for a quick examination, I shook my head. “Ugh. What a mess.”
“On the Spirits, Elora, why are you even here?” Aaron’s voice was calm, but his eyes conveyed a storm of emotions. “It’s too soon. Surely they could have given you more time to recover.”
“I didn’t want it,” I muttered, trying to resituate the reddened gauze and tape.
I looked up and caught his glare. I had to be here; I had to train. I couldn’t let up for a moment. Somewhere out in the world, my father and sister hunted me. Maybe even Zak—probably Zak.
Aaron nodded his understanding.
Frustrated, I dragged my hands over my face and rubbed my eyes. I had allowed him to distract me from my mission once before, given him my heart and my head. Never again would I allow anyone to fool me like that. I peered down as the tape lifted up once again, exposing the stitches, and I let out a resigned sigh.
“I suppose I’d better get a medical pass.”
“I’ll come with you,” Aaron said, hefting his gear and mine. I shook my head and grabbed my own bag.
“I’ll be fine,” I told him. “I don’t need a babysitter or a nursemaid. A few new stitches and I’ll be ready to go.” For a brief moment, Aaron looked like he might argue with me but then thought better of it.
“I’ll call by on my way back to my dorm room, just to say hi,” I reassured him. I looked into his eyes and was reminded of the boy I once knew, the boy who was now a man, standing in front of me. I squeezed his hand firmly—a silent gesture of thanks—and made my way to the door of the gymnasium. Vanguard Allen, who was leading tonight’s hand-to-hand combat, acknowledged me as I approached.
“Ma’am, I need a medical pass, please.” I gestured to the blood and went to move past her.
“Wait there, recruit. I just need to arrange an escort for you.”
I managed not to roll my eyes, or punch her, and drew a calming breath. “I’ll be okay, ma’am. No need to waste anyone else’s time.”
“I have my orders, recruit.”
The discussion was closed. Who had placed those orders? Vanguard Superior McCann? My mother, Nina? Perhaps Principal Hashkin? I didn’t see the point to it, really. After all, I had only left the compound, without much qualified back up, saved a village from destruction, and fought off the bad guys—who just happened to be my father and sister. So, it really made sense that I would need a bodyguard to cross the courtyard of our protected, heavily defended training camp.
“Ma’am? I can escort Recruit Walker, if you’d allow me?” Aaron stepped up behind me. Always my knight in shining armour, ready and willing to rescue me even when I didn’t need it. He must have watched the conversation, maybe even overheard it from his position at the back of the gym. Vanguard hearing—nothing was private.
“That will have to do, as it appears her condition is worsening,” answered Vanguard Allen, her eyes glancing over me worriedly. “Send word when you arrive safely. Dismissed.” She returned her attention to the rest of the recruits, and Aaron swung my bag and his up onto his shoulder. He slipped his other arm around my waist.
“You really do look dreadful,” he muttered in my ear. I bit back a tart reply and allowed him to guide me through the doorway. Whether it was from the training, the blood loss, or the fact that I had barely slept in the week since we had returned from Havenswell, I truly didn’t feel well at all.
Excerpt from Foretold
I’ve chosen a section with Elora and Matthew, because Matthew is so underrated as a character and I felt he needed to be in the spotlight for a change! Matthew is a Magicae, he is imbued with magical power which caused his eyes to be completely silver and his hair white. He is so understanding and compassionate, but he’s also torn between his duty to his race and his duty to Elora. This section happens in the middle of the book. Lots of secrets have begun to unravel around them and yet they still find time to talk about their love life!
It had been a long and strange day. Matthew and I strolled quietly around the courtyard. We nodded polite hellos to recruits and Magicae alike but tried very much to keep to ourselves tonight.
“This has been difficult, for both of us,” he said. “But I’m relieved you finally know everything that happened.”
“Me, too, though I wish you hadn’t had to carry that secret for so long. I should have spoken to my mother sooner and things might have been easier for all of us.”
Matthew laughed at that.
“And perhaps they would have been worse and taken longer. I’ve learnt in the last few days that things often happen for a reason.”
We walked in companionable silence for a while. He seemed lighter somehow, as though he was finally free to be himself. I watched as he began to play with a small ball of electric power. His magic.
It sparked and flashed at first, bouncing around wildly between his palms. About the size of a tennis ball, it held the round shape Matthew forced it into and left trails of silvery light in its wake. He saw me watching and smiled.
“Want to see what it can do?”
I nodded. Slowly he squeezed the ball into a cone shape. The power fought him for a moment and then obeyed; the cone shape grew a little larger, and then he muttered an incantation under his breath.
The cone rose slowly and hovered in front of him. Wings formed on the back; threads of power flashed through them like bolts of white lightening. Slowly, they began to move forwards and backwards, and the power angel floated backwards and forwards.
“Pretty,” I smiled, “But what use is it, in the real world?” Matthew laughed a deep, hearty laugh.
“Magic is power. I have to be able to bend and shape my power in whatever form is needed to do my job. That control starts small. Plus, it’s pretty, and Libby likes angels.”
I drew a breath, Libby. That was beginning to bother me. Their relationship seemed different, somehow, more than it should be.
“Do you like her?” I asked softly as the angel began to fade.
“It’s not like that.” I felt his defensiveness. Not wanting to upset him, I worded my response carefully.
“I’m not saying it’s like anything, I just asked if you liked her.”
“Yes, then, I like her. We have a connection, something very special. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes Magicae can find their Spiritus Vinculo, their Spirit Bond. It just means that the power Libby has and the power I have were always meant to be together.”
“Kind of like a soul mate?” I asked, intrigued.
“Not quite. That implies love forever, this is different. It’s about our magic.”
“But you don’t like her for her magic? Do you have feelings for her?”
Matthew nodded, but it was sad and hollow. I could feel the heartache coming from him, but it was underscored by something else, something strange.
“But you can’t be like that, with her?”
“It’s not supposed to be like this, really. We’re supposed to be best friends, like you and Aaron, but it’s more than that.”
“For both of you?”
“Isn’t she a little old for you?” I asked. It was the only question that had really burned to be out of me. Matthew turned and stared at me before he burst into laughter.
“What? What did I say?”
“Libby isn’t quite eighteen; not like she’s three hundred or anything. There’s only, like, nineteen months between us.”
“So, why is that so funny?”
“Because you basically said that she’s ancient!” I thought for a moment. It was really hard to age Magicae with their white hair and their silver eyes. Not like they greyed or anything.
“Okay, my mistake. But still, is this going to be a problem for you?”
“No. We’ve talked about it and we can make this work. We think that it’s because we’re both so new to controlling our magic, and to the whole Spiritus Vinculo thing. It’s almost unheard of to happen this early, and our emotions are all crazy, which isn’t helping.”
“A crush then, basically?”
I stood up and looked back at him. “I have to meet Zak, but, before I go, are you going to be okay? This link to my sister must be freaking you out.”
“Not really, because I have you here and I know that you’ll keep us all safe from her. I trust you, Elora. The light that my mother saw around you in the void? I didn’t realise until a few days ago, I couldn’t see it clearly, but I see that around you now. Just as she is infused with all of the power the dark can give her, you have the power of the light. I know you’ll be able to use it when the time comes.”
Matthew began to flicker then, and he smiled.
“New trick, might as well use it. Good night, Elora.” And with that, he became essence and flashed out of sight.
Interview with Joanne Kershaw
I am thrilled to present my interview with YA Author, Joanne Kershaw. Foretold and Reflected are part of the Vanguard Legacy.
Veena: Welcome Joanne! I am so happy to get some time with you especially with your very busy calendar.
Joanne: Thanks Veena! Glad to chat with you.
Veena: Shall we get started then?
Joanne: Yup – let’s do this!
Veena: So tell me, where did the concept for Foretold and Reflected come from?
Joanne: I think the idea was always there, in fragments and snippets of conversation, in my mind. A few years ago, the role I had at work changed and I had the six weeks summer holiday entirely free. So I though, why not try to write something. I didn’t set out for a book, that seemed too unlikely, I just kept writing. I wrote that first draft in six weeks. The book, known as Awakening then, was flawed and full of plot holes, but it was book length and people received it well. I wrote the sequel as a Christmas gift for one of my best friends (and my beta reader). She proceeded to spend all of Christmas day reading it with a red pen in hand—much to her husband’s frustration, I’m sure!
Veena: These books are part of a series – did you know the ending of the series before you even started or is it coming together organically?
Joanne: When they were first drafted, they were meandering tales which had no definite end. After editing Foretold with the incredible and supportive team at Xchyler, I finally understood how to structure a longer narrative to reach a definite end. As such, when writing the second book (we had to abandon the original draft completely and start fresh on that one) I was already plotting out the third and final instalment. At one point, I thought we might be heading into the territory of a fourth book, but actually plotting and writing the third book, I realised it was only a trilogy.
Veena: And so does that make you a plotter or a panster?
Joanne: So, as we’ve already seen, I was a pantser, but now definitely a plotter. That’s not to say I don’t drift away from the plot, or that my characters don’t have a mind of their own when it comes to decisions and actions (because they most certainly do!), but I have a fairly clear outline of where I’m heading with things when I write them.
Veena: What inspires you to write?
Joanne: I don’t know if they inspire me, but my children definitely make it worthwhile. They are all really proud of me, and I’ve shown them that you can achieve anything when you put your mind to it. Such a valuable lesson for children in the modern world who seem to think everything comes to them on a silver platter! The children I teach also motivate me, for the same reason I suppose. I do think that writing was something I was always meant to do. It just seems natural.
Veena: Do you have a writing ritual? How do you balance writing and the rest of your responsibilities?
Joanne: A ritual? Eat a lot! Seriously, when I sit down to write I have lots of very unhealthy snack choices around me and the music du jour! I love listening to music, and have something playing almost all of the time. In fact, as I write this I am downloading another album. I have music everywhere. Plus, having music playing eliminates some distractions. I need something else for my brain to focus on when I am writing. I usually write late at night, when all of the children are in bed, all of my books are marked and my planning is done. I don’t sleep a great deal, which helps!
Veena: If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing?
Joanne: What I am doing, teaching. I teach children aged nine to eleven. I love it, most of the time! There’s a lot of homework involved (as any teacher or relative of a teacher reading this will know) and that can drain time for writing. Everything in my life is about prioritizing—what is most urgent and what can wait a few days. I’m pretty good at meeting deadlines, predominantly because I hate being late for anything.
Veena: As an author, what advice do you have for aspiring writers? Any tips on what to do and what not to do?
Joanne: Write the story you need to tell, not the one you think your audience will want. My blog post later this week delves into this a little more.
Veena: How has your experience been working with an indie publishing house across the ocean?
Joanne: Awesome—though I have nothing to compare it to! Like any relationship, we have our ups and downs, because we’re all creative people and we want the best out of the story. Sometimes, as authors, we can have blinders on when it comes to our material, even though we clearly know less than the people publishing. In general, I find the whole process really satisfying and I can’t wait to get going on the third book with my editor (I hope she loves it!).
Veena: How long have you been writing? Has writing been a childhood dream?
Joanne: My first story was published in the local paper when I was eight. I wrote what felt like the longest story in the world at the time, but when published it was just a column! My grandmother framed it for me and I still have it on my wall. I wrote some truly awful poetry as a teenager, and a novella when I was eighteen. I showed it to my English A Level teacher, Mrs Buckingham, before I left school for university. She asked me to send her a signed copy when it was published! Trust me, it was awful and very depressing, but I wish I could find her now to give her copies of these books. She motivated me, I think, without me even realising it.
Fun Facts about Joanne
Favorite movie? Nope—can’t answer this one! It’s like asking me what my favourite music is! There are far too many to choose from. Philadelphia was the first film I went to see at the Cinema without my parents, and it stuck with me for a long time. I love the Twilight franchise, and I’m proud of it, as well as the Hunger Games and Divergent (which I watched seventeen times this summer). I love Die Hard, Evita, The X Files:Fight the Future . . . the list goes on!
Favorite meal? Anything I don’t have to cook, so I don’t get it very often! I do love a good Sunday dinner, with roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings and loads of gravy!
What’s on your nightstand? Haha! I have seventeen books in a big heap waiting for me to get to them! Plus my lamp, water, and the TV remote.
Must see city and why? Vancouver. Almost every television series or film I love is filmed or was filmed there. I want to tour the sites of the X Files shows, Stargate, and so on. My husband wants to go too, so I know we will eventually!
Favorite gadget? Probably my ipad, though it belongs to my employer technically.
What’s the #1 thing on your bucket list? I don’t have a bucket list, so I can’t really answer this question, beyond visiting Vancouver. I’d love to travel, because I always thought I would and then I settled down and had my family.
Most meaningful moment as a writer: Getting the acceptance email from The X! I was at work at the time, and I remember standing by the door of my classroom hoping one of the other staff would walk past so I could show them. I think I needed them to tell me it was real!
Favorite quote: “So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.” ― Roald Dahl, Matilda
Series: Vanguard Legacy
Author: Joanne Kershaw
Publisher: Xchyler Publishing
Release Date: February 1, 2012
Blurb: Vanguard Recruit Elora Walker doesn’t know who demands more of her: her mother, or herself. But more than she wants to make Nina proud of her, she wants to know the truths buried deep in their mutual past. Haunted by the memory of her long-dead father, tormented by a psychic link to a faceless stranger, Elora learns to rely upon her friends and her newfound warrior skills to protect not only the Ignari from Dark Seekers, but the world from an ancient family secret that can destroy it.
Series: Vanguard Legacy
Author: Joanne Kershaw
Publisher: Xchyler Publishing
Release Date: March 24, 2014
Blurb: An ugly family secret laid bare, a mortal wound inflicted by her twin sister, betrayed by the love of her life—her supposed “soul mate”. In the wake of the battle with her evil father and his Dark Seekers, Elora Walker fights to recover from them all. Together with her Vanguard, Magicae, and Vampire friends, Elora races to gather ingredients for the spell of spells, bury the curse, and defeat the prophecy which has tainted her life since birth. To save the world, can she deny the yearnings of her heart? Or, will she succumb to the temptation of love, and plunge them all into Eternal Darkness.
Joanne Kershaw lives in Wakefield, England, with her husband, four young children, and an uppity cat named Dipstick. As a teacher of five- to eleven-year-olds, she spends her days playing at being a grownup, then goes home to delve into Young Adult dark romance and being sixteen again.
Joanne lives and breathes books, whether reading, writing, or marking them. She wrote her first novel in six weeks. Encouraged to submit her work by a friend and fellow YA novel addict, Joanne now finds herself a signed author at Xchyler Publishing.