Judith usually starts with a plot—a "what if?" situation.
"For example, the what if for my steampunk series, Strangesways, went something like this," she explained. "What if a female ghosthunter who communes with the dead and lives in a steampunk / pseudo-Victorian version of New York City, has to prove her worth in order to work with a male-oriented secret society - and you know, save the world and stuff? From that point, depending on the genre I’m writing, the setting, time period, and the research I uncover, both the plot details and character quirks / motives will emerge. The time period, setting, and social / economic environment around your character will impact their choices, personality traits, challenges, and conflicts."
I asked her to tell us about her new release.
"Second Skin is the (surprise) second novel in the SKINNED series that follows Eryn McCain, a teenage shapeshifter trying to survive the small town of Redgrave where nothing and no one is as they seem. She fights monsters with a crew of hunters, outcasts from the same secret organization I mentioned in the Strangeways series, which is in fact a prequel series to SKINNED. The Hunter Council is corrupt, holds all the keys to unlocking the truth about what happened to Eryn’s missing / presumed dead parents and the series is building to an all out showdown."
I asked her, "What challenges do you think teens face today that you did not?"
"While the major items will be the same for each generation: family issues, boy/girl issues, self-acceptance/confidence, education, social/economic struggles…there are some big challenges for teens today.
"As I see it, the greatest of these is isolation due to technology.
"Kids may appear to be highly social these days, chatting online, texting, facebooking, and gaming. If they’re lucky, they might have an interest in being physical - a skill that will serve them well into their adulthood – perhaps they’re taking martial arts, dance, soccer, hockey, basketball, volleyball, etc.
"Yet if you hang out with a bunch of kids 'being social', there’s really very little interaction going on. Often I’ll see a bunch of kids sitting around watching one member of their group play a video game. For hours. There can be a whole table of kids sitting "together - texting. If they are talking, it’s snatches of conversation with very little eye contact. They are not a part of things…they are apart. Isolated even as they appear to be socially engaged.
"As an author, if I wrote that kind of behavior into every scene – I’d have one hell of a boring book. Characters have to ACT, to MOVE, to make choices, to explore, to make mistakes, to get outside, to go on long walks to nowhere, to get lost, to find new interests, to LOVE, to HATE, to FORGIVE…and so do 'real' kids.
"Isolation due to technology is truly the weirdest, most challenging issue of our time. It’s not limited to teens – I know adults who live this way, and I struggle with it myself – the need to always be plugged into something. But we didn’t grow up like this.
"They are. How will it impact the rest of their lives?
"Okay, end of rant," she said with a laugh.
Judith reads a lot of young adult fiction, both paranormal and contemporary. She gave us a quick peek at the nearest stack on her desk: Dust & Decay by Jonathan Maberry, Reckless by Cornelia Funke, Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor, and Abarat by Clive Barker.
"I’ve recently expanded into screenwriting, but even before I took that step I’d been reading film and TV scripts," she told me. "Scripts are fantastic for showing dialogue, plot and character development. I either read them online via sites like http://www.simplyscripts.com or I purchase scripts released in The Shooting Script series."
Judith started off writing lyrics, poetry, flash fiction, short stories--none of it geared toward young adults. However, when she started working in public and school libraries, she was amazed about how much young adult fiction there was available.
"Okay, I might have been envious…these were NOT the kinds of books we had when I was growing up," she admitted. "Don’t get me wrong, there were great titles out there when I was a teen – in the adult section. Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Ray Bradbury, Margaret Atwood…if you wanted a variety of science fiction and horror to bite into, you often had to 'read up'. But kids today – whole other ballgame. There are titles for every interest, every genre fan and modern classics. I began reading YA titles, devouring them, absorbing them and finally, writing them. My writing voice has a youthful snark to it, so thankfully it was a natural fit. I do still write for grown-ups, although that tends to be the target audience for my scripts and not my fiction efforts."
Her interests in reading haven't changed much over the years. When she was young, she read a lot of horror and science fiction, with Stephen King and Ray Bradbury being the top of her list.
"Their work still stands as outstanding fiction and examples of great storytelling," she told me.
Her bookshelves today are lined with current young adult sci-fi, horror, and paranormal titles.
"I adore stories that offer quirky / conflicted / underdog characters that I fall for and then puts them through hell…sometimes literally," she said with a wink. "The emotion, the fear, the conflict, the drama. It’s all there in the fiction of twenty years ago and it still drives the fiction I read - and what I aspire to write today."
When Judith is titling her books, she likes to find a hook—something that relates to the content, but will also grab a reader.
"The SKINNED series was easy…each title contains the word 'skin': Under My Skin, Second Skin, Skin of My Teeth," she told me. "Clichés are fun to use, as are cool lines or bits of dialogue from the stories themselves. I try to land a title as soon as possible as I am more invested in a project if it has a name. Same with the plants in my house. Before, in the dark period where I DIDN’T name them…there were many botanical deaths within these walls. However, as soon as I started naming the bits of greenery, I remembered to water them. I made sure they had enough sunlight. I cared. Once a project has a funky title I love, when a piece moves from that ghosthunter thing to Strangeways vs The Blood Brothers…it gets my attention."
Check out her video for Second Skin:
About the Author:
Working in a school library, Judith is surrounded by children's and young adult literature (there's no escape!). She fosters the joy of reading in students and staff at her school. She helps out with the school choir and drama club. If it has to do with words or music, Judith is around. A singer/songwriter for more than 10 years, Judith often writes songs about her characters--since they are beasties of the night, this makes for interesting listening.
Find her online at:
Monsters. Bloodsuckers. The evil. The damned. Eryn McCain knows they exist— she’s been hunting them since she was a child. At sixteen, she’s ready to take on all comers. Being a shapeshifter gives her an advantage when it comes to her unusual part-time job. The hours suck and the pay is, well, non-existent, but bonuses like inhuman strength and night vision make tracking scary beasties a dream come true. Especially in a town like Redgrave.
When an ancient demon targets Redgrave High, Eryn and her crew of hunters must face their innermost fears to prevent the Harvest Moon Dance from becoming one serious Monster Mash. Loyalties are tested and temptations abound. With questions ever brewing, can Eryn share a future with the brooding, noble, human Alec—the hunter after her heart? Or will she succumb to her enemy’s son, Wade, a seductive predator as bloodthirsty as she is?
What happens when you’re both the beauty and the beast?