Hello, YA Outside the Liners! I’m back after a brief hiatus from this blog to take care of some personal stuff that included my son getting married and taking another stab at cleaning my office. Total success on the son getting hitched thing, abysmal failure on the office cleaning front. Though, gotta admit pushing papers around and rearranging paperclips gave me plenty of time to procrastinate from tackling my contribution to this month’s YAOTL blog theme, A Book That Changed Your Mind.
That’s kind of a weighty topic, and one I had trouble narrowing down. I mean, I’ve read a lot of books in my life. Some books have been stuck inside the library in my brain for decades (like Persuasion, most anything by Dickens, and Catch-22), others were withdrawn from circulation as soon as they were read and forgotten (like uh… I can’t remember). The books I’ve read have helped me form a world view, imagine a better world, and showed me the cracks and ugly side of the world I know. I can safely say books have changed my mind every day.
But I couldn’t narrow it down to just one, so I put a different spin on the subject and decided to write not about a book that changed my mind, but how writing a book changed my mindset.
When I started writing seriously for publication, it took some time to figure out the “recipe” that became my author’s voice. The mixture was a total mess until I figured out the right ingredients: take a slab of plot, a dollop of mystery, a dose of romance, a pinch of action, a heap of snark; generously spice with cool characters of all flavors and mix the whole thing up. Mix again, three or four times until the batter is the right consistency, and voila, I had myself a book.
Or so I thought. Until I put together one particular novel, when I realized I had all the ingredients right, but was missing one crucial thing that would give it heart and extra zest—a message. Something that might possibly change minds.
Not that I set out to do that when I wrote my Young Adult Sci-Fi novel, THE NASCENT BLOOM. The story began as a dream about a school field trip gone awry. It grew into something more after I saw a politician in a debate blithely call for child labor laws to be obliterated so poor kids could work as janitors at their schools. You know, to learn “the value of work.” So, basically, push a broom, earning minimum wage (maybe?) in a place where they’re supposed to be learning the value of a whole lot of things.
It took me a while to calm down after I heard that, but when I did, I had my story—a world where there are only rich or poor, a strictly controlled society separated by race and class. You can imagine which side of the equation I chose to root for!
Here’s how it goes…
A group of privileged students from an elite school set out with their servants on a field trip to a nearby moon. They never arrive. Captured by space pirates, they’re sold into bondage on a faraway planet. I focus on Meili, a sensitive girl from the privileged class, and Kai, a firebrand full of bravado from the despised lower class. Both are determined to escape, both mistrust each other, but both realize the only way to achieve their goal is to team up.
As they meet up to plot an escape plan, they fall in love. A love that is completely illegal back home. Despite being a zillion miles away from their home planet, that’s still a huge mental roadblock to get around. It doesn’t get solved easily. I toss as many bumps into the path of true love as I do into their struggle to escape, and it’s only when they can each come to terms with breaking every law and taboo that’s been drummed into them since they were kids can they change their minds. Only then can they change. Only then do they accept their love for each other—and learn to trust one another.
Writing this book helped to change my mind too. I realized I could write a story with a message, a subtle one, mind you—I don’t like smacking the reader over the head with An Important Message any more than I enjoy being hit over the noggin with a tedious missive myself!
I guess I’ve had some success in what I’m doing. THE NASCENT BLOOM has been a finalist in a dozen writing contests, winning quite a few, and most recently has been named a finalist in the Young Adult category of the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart® Award.
I’m thrilled to be a finalist again, and initially hoped I’d win this competition, until I heard one of the other nominees is the phenomenal Christine Gunderson, one of YAOTL’s own (who also writes thought-provoking, challenging YA). Then I changed my mind!
Janet Raye Stevens writes short stories and novel-length mystery, YA, and romance. A 2019 Derringer Award nominee, three-time Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® Award finalist (winning in 2018) and Daphne du Maurier Award winner, Janet lives in Massachusetts, where she spends her days drinking copious amounts of tea (Earl Gray, hot) plotting revenge (best served cold), and creating fictional worlds populated with cool chicks and hot guys.