KC: Tokens and Omens, a young adult fantasy, is your debut novel. What attracted you to writing for young audiences and to the fantasy genre in particular?
JB: Fantasy has always been my favorite genre, and young adult has some of the best! I was thrilled when the idea for Tokens and Omens came to me. At the time I worked for an optional education program for at-risk 16-18 year-old students, so every day I was with teens who were questioning everything--who they were, what they believed, how they fit into the world around them. I hope that's reflected in my writing.
KC: Who are some of your own favorite authors in this genre?
JB: Kristin Cashore, Maggie Stiefvater, Laini Taylor, Leigh Bardugo, and for adults, Patricia McKillip.
KC: The book juxtaposes the stories of several different characters. As a writer, how do you go about plotting all those narrative threads? What are the main challenges in telling a story with multiple protagonists?
JB: I'm lucky in that I write intuitively, meaning I sit to write without knowing what's going to happen. I'm amazed how events tie together, even into the sequel. In revisions, I fine-tune the threads. The most difficult part for me was writing a male POV that was authentic. I have a male critique partner that helped keep it credible (thanks Chris!). And this past year, I worked with a group of high school boys who read the book as a class. They loved Zander and thought his character was a lot like them.
KC: As I understand it, this book is the first of a series. What are the biggest challenges for you as a writer of developing a story arc that spans multiple books?
JB: My biggest challenge was writing the ending for Curses and Warfare. I kept putting it off because I didn't want to write the "big battle". I finally realized it was more about how the characters reacted to danger and loss and less about the fighting (although that was needed). I have to admit that I cried a lot writing the end!
KC: Do you tend to write alone or work with a critique group, beta readers etc? Can you give us an idea of your writing process?
JB: Early in my writing attempts, I liked to have a first draft done before putting it through my online critique group. I'm more comfortable now in posting earlier. I recommend a good critique group for every writer--one that gives both positive feedback and constructive criticism. I belong to two groups with a mix of unpublished, published, and agented writers.
KC: Where did you get the idea for the actual tokens and omens in your book?
JB: During my research, I became fascinated by the idea of the seven deadly sins and the seven virtues. I cut it down to five to make it easier to use and then found a symbol to represent each one. During a time of magic, Fate hands out the tokens and omens to the teens based on their behavior. Later, during the quest, the omens become physical threats that the correct token can counteract. Without a token, some of the omens can be deadly. Some examples are the scorpion omen given for envy, that can be counteracted by a kindness token, the dove. Being greedy will result in a snake omen and can be beaten with a hawk token given for generosity. The most difficult omen to fight is the black panther. Zander and Alexa each earn one for cheating. The week of the book release, I have people in twenty-six states placing painted stones, representing the tokens and omens, in public places. Over 700 stones will have been placed in the wild by the time it's done. You can see examples on my website.
KC: Do you have any projects planned for after you finish with the world of Tokens and Omens? Can you give us a hint of what's to come either in these books, or what might be next for you?
JB: Tokens and Omens concludes in Curses and Warfare, but one of the characters needed a happily-ever-after, so I'm writing a third book set in that world. That character leaves Puck's Gulch and joins a traveling tribe of gypsies. He/she (not to give it away!) has to adjust to a completely new culture, is hunted by an evil fortune-teller, and falls in love.
Thanks for your time and thoughts, Jeri!