The More You Read: Lou Hoffmann on writing YA, reading when you’re young, and a giveaway

Hi, I’m Lou Hoffmann, and I’m really glad to be here on Drops of Ink—thank you, Anne Barwell for having me. I’m excited because Anne has asked me to be a guest here every month, which means I’ll have a lot to talk about over time, but I’d like to start by telling you what I’m currently writing and maybe a little about why.

Young Adult fiction is my forte, and right now I’m focusing on a series that has elements of both sci-fi and fantasy. The series title is Sun Child Chronicles, and the first book, Key of Behliseth was published in 2015 by Harmony Ink.

Rather than reinvent the wheel to tell you about it, here’s the blurb:Key of Behliseth

On his way to meet a fate he’d rather avoid, homeless gay teen Lucky steps through a wizard’s door and is caught up in a whirlwind quest and an ancient war. He tries to convince himself that his involvement with sword fights, magic, and interworld travel is a fluke, and that ice-breathing dragons and fire-breathing eagles don’t really exist. But with each passing hour, he remembers more about who he is and where he’s from, and with help, he begins to claim his power.

Lucky might someday rule a nation, but before he can do that, he must remember his true name, accept his destiny, and master his extraordinary abilities. Only then can he help to banish the evil that has invaded earth and find his way home—through a gateway to another world.

I admit, it’s a bit of a crazy plot, which makes it fun, but also might make a person wonder how it came to me. The truth is, I was thinking about quantum and particle physics. About what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance,” about string theory with its possible numerous dimensions and world’s splitting off in time, and about the idea that either time is not constant, or we are not constant within it, or both. And then, I admit, I’m always thinking sword-wielding warrior-protectors, and old wizard curmudgeons.

And why write for young people? I guess partly because most of the young people I know also like warrior-protectors and old wizard curmudgeons.  But mostly because when I was young, a love of books is what saw me through some very difficult times. Fiction was one of my very truest teachers, when it came to learning how to live in the world, what it means to be a human among millions of humans all the same yet vastly different. The love of reading gave me an academic edge, and that was responsible for my ability to pick myself up out of a very low place—low economically, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. “Saved my life,” is the shorthand version of all that, and it is certainly true.

I write for young people because I want young people to read. I write GLBT-Q characters in my fiction because I want every girl or boy to find themselves in the pages—the person they are; the hero, brother, sister, girlfriend, boyfriend, best friend, citizen, human they are learning to be.

Here’s what Theresa Breslin (a Scottish author of YA fiction) said, making the point much more succinctly than I.

In addition to exploring imaginative worlds, I believe that young people should have access to reading material that validates their life, that gives them a sense of identity – to be able to read texts that chimes with their own world, corrals thoughts, and connects with the emotional conflicts of growing up.

Recently a 13 year old boy reviewed my book on litpick, a website for young readers. I am of excited that he gave the book a five-star rating and called it a “buffet of words… such a fun book to read,” and said “I loved every word of this work of art.” Yes, of course, as does every author I like to see praise of my book, but what I love most about this is that the existence of the review means this young boy is a reader and a thinker. The process of making the review involved him having to analyze and define what he liked (and didn’t like) between the book’s covers.

That, dear blog reader, is the very best kind of learning, and my book got to play a little part in it. Awesome.

I will say that although I write for the young audience, I truly think young people from about 12 to 99 or so will find something to love in the book, and that makes me happy, too.

Let me sum up with this quote from a very wise doctor most of us have, at one time or another, learned something from.

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.

Here’s are a couple of brief excerpts. First, let me introduce Lucky, whom we find attempting to steel his nerve and step into a wizard’s house. It’s the day after his fifteenth birthday, and Thurlock, the wizard, has just invited him in for iced tea.

~~~~~~~~~~

[Lucky] stepped closer, but stopped. Sunlight angled under the porch roof and brushed past his arm, illuminating the door—which, he saw now, stood open about six inches. Carved into the oak panel, a crowned horseman thrust a sword into an exploding sky. His fingers close but never quite touching the wood, Lucky traced the detail on the sword’s hilt. He could have done it with his eyes closed.

Every day, he ran his fingers over this same strange symbol, a disc surrounded by twelve sharp rays to represent the sun. It was rendered in relief on some strange coins and etched into the hilt of a solid amber knife—things he kept hidden in the cardboard box of treasures where he also kept the key that had been stolen. Lucky had supposed the heavy coins might be valuable. When he’d found himself alone and broke, he’d squandered hours at Valley City Library searching reference books, checking Amazon and eBay, and following mazes of links, Googling every coin collector on the web. He’d found not so much as a single picture of a coin like the ones he had, no alphabet to match the runic lettering, and nothing on the twelve-rayed sun.

But in front of him, on the door of Thurlock’s house, that symbol shone, drawing Lucky’s gaze upward along the thrusting sword to the six-foot lintel. Pungent cedar, fresh cut. Droplets of sap wept from the runes inscribed across it.

This isn’t right, he thought. It’s too… new. The rest of the house is practically falling down. Far from normal. Far from safe.

If I step through this door, I’ll never come back….

Uh-huh. Get real, Lucky.

He shook his head and his battered skull hurt, but he almost welcomed the pain. At least it felt normal, like the sweat trickling down the back of his knee and the blue-backed fly hurling itself against the windowpane. Everything else had gone strange and silent. No traffic, no birds, no children playing in the distance.

As if the world is waiting….

Right. Ridiculous.

Gravel crunched on the pavement down the block, loud in the silent afternoon, calling for Lucky’s attention. The white Crown Victoria with its blind blue windows crept up the road, and the sight struck Lucky like an ice bullet, dead center in his chest.

He turned to face the doorway—a portal, he remembered, that had somehow reshaped itself to let Thurlock pass. No way could he ever step through any door that might do such a thing. Yet he balled his fists and straightened his shoulders. Fighting what felt like triple the usual gravity, he lifted his right foot and watched it travel across the threshold. He let it fall on the other side like an anchor, and then he followed it into Thurlock’s house.

~~~~~~~~~~

And now, very briefly, meet Thurlock and the ever-faithful warrior, Han ‘Shieth.

~~~~~~~~~~

Han bounded up the steps and burst through the side door, making an uncharacteristic amount of noise. Three paces took him through the big farm-style kitchen and around the corner to the stairway, where he began to ascend the steps three at a time. He stopped at the door to the room where Lucky had slept and listened, hoping his instincts were wrong.

Without knocking, he opened the door. He took one look and shouted, “Thurlock!”
“I’m right here,” Thurlock said, and indeed he stood behind Han, no more than a foot away, shaking his head in disbelief.

“How could he have done it, sir? Your wards… my talent… and I’ve been watching his window since before dawn. How did he get past it all?”

The wizard snorted, and then he said, “Behl’s sweet whiskers, man. It’s obvious, isn’t it?”
Han chewed his lip, but he didn’t speak, and Thurlock supplied the answer himself.

“Magic, Han Shieth. The boy’s got magic—rivers of it. Deep enough to drown him in a sea of trouble, and he hasn’t even begun to learn to swim.”

~~~~~~~~~~

That’s it for this month, but I hope you’ll join me in conversation about books and writing and young people, and perhaps especially books and writing for young people (of any age) over the months to come. Please feel free to comment on my posts—I’m putting names of commenter’s in the hat for a drawing, and I’ll pull one for a prize every three months. I’ll announce the first winner (who will get an e-book copy of Key of Behliseth) in my August post. Thank you for reading my post. See you next time!

Lou Hoffmann, a mother and grandmother now, has carried on her love affair with books for more than half a century, yet she hasn’t even made a dent in the list of books she’d love to read—at least partly because the list keeps growing. She reads factual things—books about physics and history and fractal chaos, but when she wants truth, she looks for it in quality fiction. She loves all sorts of wonderful things: music and silence, laughter and tears, youth and age, sunshine and storms, forests and fields, flora and fauna, rivers and seas. Even good movies and popcorn! Those things help her breathe, and everyone she knows helps her write. (Special mention goes to (1) George the Lady Cat and (2) readers.) Proud to be a bisexual, biracial woman, Lou considers every person a treasure not to be taken for granted. In her life, she’s seen the world’s willingness to embrace differences change, change back, and change again in dozens of ways, but she has great hope for the world the youth of today will create. She writes for readers who find themselves anywhere on the spectrums of age and gender, aiming to create characters that live not only in their stories, but always in your imagination and your heart.

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