Sunday, May 27, 2012

An Interview with Kristen Taber - YA Fantasy

 Kristen Taber
YA Fantasy Fiction

     Welcome readers! We're glad you were able to join us today and we think you'll be glad you did. A special treat awaits for those who love fantasy worlds! We’ve crossed into Ærenden. This war-torn land still has several peaceful locations that remain untouched by battle. Among them, a favorite hiding place of one of the characters, which he’s gracefully allowed us to use.
     We lounge on two flat rocks on the shore of a clear lake. Majestic mountains surround us, proud sentinels stretching tall into the mid-day sky. A few clouds dot the horizon. Among them, birds flit, enjoying the calming warmth of a graceful sun and the playful touch of a gentle breeze. It is here we can talk, enjoying the beauty of the ancient land.
     Find a spot on a warm rock and let's get started. For those wanting to be in the drawing to win a Kindle copy of the book, be sure to leave a comment when you're finished reading! 

Reader’s Haven: 
Kristen, this is a beautiful place, wow! Welcome to our Haven and thank you for allowing us to come here with you. Tell us a bit about yourself.

Kristen:  I’ve always held the philosophy that life is meant to be explored. As a result, I’ll try almost anything at least once (so long as it won’t kill me and it’s legal, of course). I’ve eaten grasshopper tacos (didn’t care for them) and curried lamb brains (better than you’d think), taken a trapeze class (and I’m terrified of heights!), backpacked through Europe (highly recommended), and achieved wine certification. Exploring keeps my life interesting, as well as my characters’ lives, since I sometimes give them my favorite memories.

Reader’s Haven:  Wow! That's a diverse background and one that allows you to add so much more to your characters. What made you want to become a writer?

Kristen: I don’t mean to give the “expected” answer, but I’m honestly a writer because I can’t not write. Even before I knew the alphabet, I created stories. I told them to my neighborhood playmates, made my dolls act them out, and kept boring days interesting by drawing pictures of people I created. Once I learned to write, the transition came naturally and I haven’t stopped since. It’s only recently, after encouragement from people who’ve read my books, that I decided to publish.

Reader’s Haven:  Please share a bit about your new release, Ærenden: The Child Returns, without giving away any spoilers.

Kristen:  Ærenden: The Child Returns is the first book in a five-part YA Fantasy series that follows the adventures of 17-year-old Meaghan, and her best friend and love interest, Nick. When monsters attack and kill Meaghan’s parents, she and Nick barely escape with their lives. On the run, Meaghan soon discovers everything she knew about her past was a lie designed by Nick and her parents to protect her. The truth catapults Meaghan into a new world she never imagined existed, filled with perils too impossible to believe. Ultimately, though, it’s not her past but her future she must learn to accept if she hopes to survive. 

About Book One:  
Red-eyed creatures have brutally murdered seventeen-year-old Meaghan’s parents. After nearly sharing their fate, she escapes with her best friend, Nick, who confesses the creatures, known as Mardróch, came from another world. And so did she.
Afraid to face her parents’ killers again, Meaghan follows Nick into the kingdom of Ærenden. Their journey leads them across war-torn lands and through hazardous wilderness. Vines have the ability to attack. Monkeys freeze their victims with a gaze. Men create bombs from thin air. Even Meaghan’s gift of empathy proves to be a dangerous power she cannot control.
But control becomes the least of her problems when the Mardróch begin targeting her. As she and Nick race for the safety of his village, she discovers he knows the reason they want her. And his secret may cost Meaghan her life.

Reader’s Haven:  How exciting and a different premise for story. Do you write under a pen name?

Kristen:  I do, although I didn’t choose it to hide my real name, but to honor my grandfather, who originally instilled in me the importance of storytelling.

Reader’s Haven:
What types of hero or heroine do you like best?

Kristen:  Real ones. I’m not a fan of people who are thrown into a dangerous situation and suddenly know how to fight when they’ve never picked up a sword before. I understand fiction bends the truth, but it still needs to be believable for me. Heroes and heroines should be people who step up to bad situations, despite their problems, despite sometimes not wanting to do what’s right—all while making human mistakes and adjusting to a steep learning curve. 

Reader’s Haven: Tell us about a typical day in your life as a writer.

Kristen:  Like most writers, I have a full-time job, so when I’m writing a novel, I get up early to work out, go to work, come home and write until midnight (or sometimes 2am if I’m on a roll), then get up and repeat the process the next day. On weekends, I write 10 to 12 hours a day, which helps me become engrossed in larger or more intense scenes. Fortunately, my husband has been wonderful in this process or I’d be eating frozen meals and living in a mess! I tend to forget the world exists during the time it takes me to write a first draft (typically 3 to 7 weeks). When I’m working on the publishing end of things, my evenings and weekend time switches to formatting, working with a graphic artist, and editing. No one ever said writing was glamorous.

Reader’s Haven: Do your books have a common theme or are they all different?

Kristen:  My books cover different genres and different topics, but I try to include one theme in all of them: None of us can do anything alone. No matter what troubles we face or successes we earn, the people we love (friends and family) are part of that process; they’re needed for support, feedback, and to give us a swift kick when necessary. We rely on each other and I try to portray the importance of those relationships in my books.

Reader’s Haven:  How long does it take you to write and then edit a story?

Kristen:  It takes about a year, start to finish, for each novel. This includes everything from outlining to approving the last proof. I’m sure the process would be shorter if I focused solely on one project (and didn’t work full-time), but I tend to do a mix of things at once. I wrote the first three novels in the Ærenden series over the course of seven months, then focused on editing/publishing the first (Ærenden: The Child Returns), switched to editing the first book in my contemporary romance series, and am now back to finishing the YA. I bounce around based on deadlines, interest, and energy levels. I also believe in setting a book aside for a while so I can catch more errors when I come back to it. Providing my readers with an excellent product is top priority for me.

Reader’s Haven:
  Do you have to be alone to write?

Kristen:  It depends. When I’m facing a block, I’ll go to a coffee or tea shop to work. The background noise helps put me in a “writer’s trance” and usually gets me back on track. When I’m already engrossed in my story, I need complete silence and a compact space or I get distracted. For those days, I have a desk setup at my house. My husband calls it the “Hobbit Hole” because it fits into a 3x4 area (maybe smaller).

Reader’s Haven:
  How do you go about naming characters?

Kristen:  Some character names come to me right away; others need research. Historically, I’ve used baby name sites, as well as foreign language dictionaries (such as Gaelic and Latin) to find names/words that reflect a character’s traits and personality. I pick a name from there or invent a variation of a name or word I like. The Mardróch, my monsters in the Ærenden series, took about a week to name and came from a mix of this process and a character from Swedish folklore.
Reader’s Haven: Is it easier to write about the characters if you find pictures of them before you write or do you write then find character pictures?

Kristen:  Characters usually come to me when I’m doing something unrelated to writing, like cleaning, working out, or sleeping. From that point, their faces are constantly in my head. I don’t draw them (they’d look like stick figures) or find pictures of them, but they’re still present for me when I write.

Reader’s Haven:
 How do you pick locations for your stories?

Kristen:  It depends on the story. For some books, visiting a place will trigger a scene. A trip to San Diego helped me detail a large part of one of my romance novels, for instance. But for my fantasy series, the kingdom of Ærenden is entirely my invention, so I have the pleasure of creating locations as I go (based on a map I’ve already structured). At times, these locations reflect real places, but more often than not, they exist first in my mind.

Excerpt of A Child Returns:

A little more than thirty minutes later, Nick opened his door to find Meaghan standing on his landing, holding a plate of muffins. Heat rose from the muffins in wisps, casting the smell of sweet strawberries and bitter rhubarb into the air. His stomach would have rumbled, if his anxiety at the sight of her had not silenced his hunger.
“I wasn’t expecting you,” he said.
“Don’t think I’m not still mad,” she told him. “But I thought we should talk. I brought breakfast.”
“I see.” Nick chuckled, feeling relieved. Meaghan might be mad still, but she had come, which meant her anger would dissolve in time. He stepped aside, letting her into the apartment, then tucked his hands into his pockets and waited.
After a moment, Meaghan cleared her throat. “Mom and I had a long discussion. It, um,” she dropped her eyes to the plate in her hands. “It seems I was being childish.”
“Maybe you were,” he said, and then held up a hand when her head snapped up, her heated gaze locking on him. “But you’re entitled. I’m not exactly the easiest person to be around.”
Meaghan sighed and set the muffins down on the coffee table. “That’s the thing. You’re not as difficult as you think, but you’re aloof. I don’t understand why.”
“You will when you see me next.”
“When will that be?”
“Soon,” he responded. She stiffened and he brought his hands to her shoulders. “I’d tell you if I knew, Meaghan, but I promise it won’t be long.”
“Meg,” she corrected, and he knew she had forgiven him. He drew her close, and then pressed his cheek to the top of her head when she relaxed in his arms. The next time they met, she would know his secret and their relationship would change, but for now, in this moment, the stillness of the friendship bonding them brought peace. 
He wanted to etch the feeling into his memory, but he did not get the chance. Meaghan tensed, and then jerked from his arms, her wide eyes seeking the house over his shoulder.
“There’s something wrong,” she whispered. She shivered and he gripped her shoulders once more. “There’s so much,” she gasped. Tears spilled down her cheeks. “Pain,” she continued, though Nick could tell she struggled to form her words. Her eyes refocused on him. “It feels so real.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Me neither.” She shook her head as if to clear it. “It hurts, but it’s foreign. It’s like a dream.”
Nick’s heart hammered when he realized what she meant. “No,” he murmured. “It can’t be.”
“Nick…” Meaghan began, but her voice faded as her eyes found the house again. Her face turned white. Her hands trembled, and Nick grasped them between his own. Closing his eyes, he bowed his head to focus.
“We have to help them,” she insisted. “We have to hurry.”
Her hands disappeared from his. He felt her brush past him and opened his eyes in time to loop an arm around her waist, preventing her from escaping the apartment. “Don’t,” he said. “We can’t go in there without knowing what we’re facing.”
“I have to.” She pushed against him, but he did not release his hold. She reacted to a drive she could not control and as much as he worried he might hurt her, he tightened his grip to protect her. “Something’s wrong,” she said. “Please, Nick. I can’t—”
“Be quiet,” he commanded, his sharp tone silencing her. He shut his eyes and focused again. When he found what he feared most, his eyes popped open in panic. “This isn’t happening. I would’ve sensed them before now.”
Rather than respond, he grabbed her hand and yanked her toward the door. He had no time to explain. He had to save her life, even if it meant bringing her straight into danger.
They fled from the apartment, down the stairs and across the yard. Meaghan was certain she would have collapsed if Nick had not been pulling her along behind him. She felt weak and useless, overwhelmed by pain she could not understand. She ached from it. She forced herself to breathe, to think, though her lungs followed the direction better than her brain. She registered the cold air, the grass as it passed under her feet, but she did not notice when Nick abruptly halted until she bumped into his back. Letting go of her hand, he bowed his head as he had in the apartment, then cracked open the back door to the house.
“Is it safe?” she asked.
“They aren’t in the kitchen,” he responded. “We have to take the chance.”
“What chance?” She grabbed his arm. “Nick—”
He finished opening the door and Meaghan’s grip weakened, the remainder of her words forgotten. The pristine kitchen her mother treasured looked to have exploded. Colorful mixing bowls and apothecary jars, once stacked on display, lay in shards on the counters, joined by dented pots and pans that used to hang from the ceiling. Drawers gaped open, yanked from their homes, and the refrigerator and cabinets stood empty, their contents strewn across the floor.
A scream came from the living room followed by a series of crashes. Pain surged through Meaghan and she froze, one foot over the threshold.
Nick turned to look at her. “There’s no time to stop,” he said, and then hardened his tone when she did not move. “Meg!”
She snapped her eyes to his and obeyed. Half-way through the kitchen, he slowed his pace as heavy footsteps thundered from above. He held his finger to his lips and she nodded. She followed him into the living room, freezing once more when she saw the horror that greeted them.
Furniture, upended and broken into pieces, shared the carpet with pages torn from their bindings, cast aside like large snowflakes. Deep grooves in the walls bled drywall and wood splinters. And every figurine her mother had collected had been shattered, turned into pale shards and dust. This was no longer her home, but a nightmare ripped from her worst dreams.
A groan came from the far side of the room and Meaghan turned her head toward it. A man sat on one side of the couch, his body slumped halfway toward the floor. His legs and arms hung at odd angles, and tears in his pants and shirt revealed deep gashes in his skin. Blood poured from a wound in his head, flowing over a face she refused to believe belonged to her father. It sank in places where his bones had collapsed, giving him a hollowed look. She felt sick. Covering her mouth, she sought her father’s eyes. They appeared empty, nearly black.
“This isn’t real,” she whispered. She squeezed her eyes shut. “It’s only a dream. I have to wake up.”
Another groan came from the couch, drawing her attention back to her father. He moved his lips and Nick ran to him, leaning close to hear. After a few seconds, Nick took something from her father’s pocket, then moved to the center of the floor. Lifting a loose floorboard, he pulled a backpack from beneath it.
Meaghan commanded her body to move, turning to her left to pick up the hallway phone. Before she could call for an ambulance, her attention fell on the stairs. Her mother lay stretched across the landing, her unseeing eyes staring toward the ceiling, her back and neck bent at odd angles. Meaghan choked on the scream trapped inside her throat.
“Meg,” Nick called to her from across the room. He kept his voice low. “We need to get your father out of here. You have to help me carry him.”
She tried to obey him, but her feet refused to budge. She dug her fingernails into her palms, gritting her teeth with the sharp pain, but she still could not believe any of this was real.
“You can’t,” her father’s voice croaked. “You have to leave me here. You have to protect Meg.”
“Now,” her father insisted. His head rose and Meaghan saw a flash of authority return to his eyes. Nick nodded and she stared at him in horror.
“I won’t leave him here,” she said.
“We have to. You’re in danger. Once you’re safe, I’ll return—”
“I won’t go,” she insisted. “I refuse to leave him in the house with whoever did this.”
“We don’t have—”
“No!” she yelled, and then slapped her hand over her mouth, too late to muffle the noise. The footsteps upstairs quickened.
“Meg,” her father spoke again and her eyes filled with tears. His voice was no more than a whisper. “Trust Nick. He’ll keep you safe.”
She nodded, and then shook as her father gathered his last breath. The footsteps reached the top of the stairs. Her father shuddered into stillness, but she had no time to mourn before Nick grabbed her hand and yanked her out the front door.
Cold air bit her face. Black clouds gathered overhead, shadowing the day in darkness. A gust of wind whipped leaves across the yard, building small funnel clouds, but she ignored them. She focused on the back of Nick’s head, then on her car when she realized they would need it to escape. They had nearly reached the driveway before she remembered she did not have her keys. She skidded to a stop. Turning back toward the house, she caught her breath when she saw their pursuers exiting the front door.
There were three of them, each taller than the last. Dark brown cloaks covered them from head to foot and they all carried heavy wood clubs stained with blood. They moved with an unnatural speed and disjointed grace, as if they floated instead of touching the ground. A putrid, rotting scent emanated from them in waves. It rolled Meaghan’s stomach, pitching her breakfast mid-way up her throat before she controlled the reaction. Nick grabbed her arm and pulled her toward her parents’ SUV.
“The keys,” she gasped, daring a glance behind her. The creatures grew closer. “We don’t—”
“I have them. James gave them to me. Get in the car.”
She heard a beep as Nick deactivated the alarm. She ran to the passenger side. Yanking open the door, she slid into the seat while he turned the key.
Releasing the parking brake, Nick threw the transmission into reverse, and then stomped on the gas pedal. The SUV squealed down the driveway seconds before their pursuers reached them. At the road, Nick yanked the wheel, spinning the car onto the blacktop so it pointed toward the highway, then shifted into drive, and gunned the engine once more.
A thud echoed through the vehicle as one of the creatures jumped onto the roof, gripping the edges of the car with long, skeletal fingers that gave the illusion of skin suctioned to bone. Meaghan screamed and tore her eyes from the creature.
“Hold on to something,” Nick told her. “I’m going to try to shake him.”
She grabbed the door handle with both hands and Nick accelerated again, swerving left and then right before taking a sharp corner at full speed. The creature still held. It inched across the car, moving down the windshield so Meaghan saw his face. The monster staring back at her appeared worse than any of the horrors she had seen in her nightmares. His eyes shone crimson red, pools of blood sunken into ashen skin. His mouth appeared to be no more than a black hole filled with fibrous webbing. A mass of disfigured scar tissue filled the space where his nose should have been. He lifted his fists, then brought them back down, pounding on the window in an attempt to break it.
“Put your seatbelt on,” Nick commanded. Heeding his warning, she clicked her belt into place and he slammed on the brakes. The monster flew from the SUV, landing on a car parked in the street. A burglar alarm blared an incessant, alternating pitch that drew neighbors into their yards.
Nick’s maneuver halted one pursuer, but the other two had not given up. From the side mirror, Meaghan could see them gaining speed. Nick jammed his foot onto the gas pedal again and headed north, as fast as the roads would allow.
Meaghan kept her eyes glued to the mirror, watching the creatures fade into specks of brown until Nick turned onto the highway. He seemed relieved, but she could not shake her fear.
“They’re gone for now,” Nick assured her after she had checked the mirror for the fifth time in the same number of seconds. “They’re powerful, but they’re not very bright.”
“They’re not very…” she echoed, her voice trailing off when she realized the underlying meaning of his words. She shook her head. “You can’t possibly know anything about those things. They aren’t real. They can’t be. None of this is real.”
Nick set his jaw, and for a brief second his eyes met hers before he turned them back to the road. “It’s real, Meg. I wish it wasn’t, but it is. The creatures are Mardróch. Now get some sleep. You’ve been up all night and we have a long drive ahead of us. We can talk when we get there.”
Sleep was the furthest thing from her mind. She wanted to scream, to run. She wanted to shake Nick and break him out of whatever spell held him firm and emotionless beside her. She wanted to wake, but the pain she had felt when she saw her mother on the stairs, heard her father take his last breath, still ripped through her and she knew this nightmare would never be over.
Only Nick could decipher what had happened, but his white knuckles on the steering wheel and hard gaze on the highway told her there would be no conversation. He remained focused on escape.
Meaghan opted to do the same. Closing her eyes, she let tears ease her into a dreamless abyss.

Reader’s Haven:  Anything else you want to say?

Kristen: I’d like to extend a huge thank you to An Avid Reader’s Haven for interviewing me and to the Reader’s Haven readers for taking the time to check out my interview and my new release, Ærenden: The Child Returns. It’s always a pleasure sharing quality time with fellow book enthusiasts!

Contest:  Up for grabs is a Kindle copy of the e-book to one lucky commenter! Be sure to leave your email in the the comment so we can reach you. Good luck!
Update: Ærenden: The Child Returns is free for Amazon Prime Members until midnight tonight, 5/30/12. 


  1. Looking forward to reading the novel, great interview!

  2. Hi Kristen! I'm so glad we befriended on Facebook and the opportunity to introduce you and your wonderful book to our Readers! ~Louise

  3. I am also glad to have met you! Thanks for interviewing me and introducing me to such a wonderful blog!