Monday, July 9, 2012

Aerenden: The Child Returns by Kristen Taber: Interview & Excerpt

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.

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.

Does travel play in the writing of your books?

Absolutely! Travelling is always inspirational to me. On a trip to San Diego, I developed half the scenes for the book I wrote that year (Her Song, a contemporary romance currently unpublished). While at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, I developed a storyline for a suspense novel I hope to write in the next few years, and on a recent anniversary trip to Barcelona, Spain, I kept seeing scenes for Book 5 of the Ærenden Series (currently untitled). Whenever I have a severe writer’s block, I find even short, day trips to some place new will break it.

Do you have critique partners or beta readers?

I firmly believe beta readers are critical in the process of writing. While they shouldn’t be used as a substitute for a professional editor (and their good will should never be abused by providing them with a less than near-perfect draft for the beta read), beta readers are extremely important in ensuring a book is both reaching its target audience and absent of any plot holes or unintentional character flaws. A trusted and (sometimes brutally) honest beta reader can make the difference between a solid work of art and a ho-hum book people soon forget. 

What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing your books?

Writing is the easiest thing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not actually easy to invent plots, worlds and characters which are desirable for readers, but it is fun and the few weeks or months it takes to write a first draft are only a small part of the process of writing a book as a whole. After the first draft, it takes months upon months to go through the process of editing alone (often two or three times), then with an editor, then with beta readers before one last solo read. After that, working with a cover artist and formatting for print and e-books takes more time. Writing is not the glamorous, book a month from start-to-finish, life I thought it would be when I first began, but it’s far more rewarding than I ever realized it could be. I love every part of the process because I know my “baby” will be grown up when it’s finally ready to enter the world.

Plotter or Pantser? Why?

A bit of both. In order to write the five-part Ærenden series (my current project), I have to have an overall plot laid out or I’ll lose track of where I am or forget to close out story lines (I can’t stand when a series leaves dangling subplots). But plotting for me is nowhere near a detailed, 60-page outline for each manuscript. I have a whiteboard that takes up one wall of my small office where I bullet-point characters, plots, “rules” for the world, etc. and I keep a notebook of the more detailed story arcs, but any more than that and I find I restrict my creativity too much. In fact, I’ve invented most of the Ærenden world up to this point “on the fly”. I even intended the series as one book originally, but soon realized the characters had too much to share. As long as I’m following the overall arc (or I guess the characters are), I don’t mind letting the story lead me. Of course, I’m sure my writing process means more editing after draft one than someone who plots everything out first, but I find I create a richer story this way.

What was the scariest moment of your life?

At the end of 2010, a doctor diagnosed me with two brain aneurysms. While in surgery to coil them, I suffered a hemorrhage and almost died. Not quite a month later, another doctor diagnosed me with thyroid cancer. Initially, the specialists thought it was a fast-growing, rare kind, but I had to wait two more months before they could perform the surgery, since they couldn’t do anything so soon after the brain procedure. Every day of that time, we wondered how fast the cancer would spread and if the two months might cost me my life. From the moment I was first diagnosed with the aneurysms to the moment they removed the cancer (which fortunately turned out to be a less invasive type which they removed fully in surgery), I lived in fear. Although not quite facing the white lights of death in the way some people think of it, my mortality became more real than I ever wanted it to be. Now, looking back at it, I realize the gift in my terror. Soon after and because of that time, I made the decision to publish my work. It’s clichéd, but true: Life is too short to put off until the future what you want to do now.

What book are you reading now?

I just finished a beta read for another author. I’m also reading a non-fiction book on the prohibition, and I’m about to start Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A writer. Really. I remember telling my mom this when I was about five. It’s taken me a while to get back to that dream, but passions rarely die once they start feeding on your soul. They’re a bit like parasites, maybe, or those creatures from Aliens—only with less gore. I hope.

What are your favorite TV shows?

Currently, my favorite show is Fringe. Other regulars are Merlin (BBC), Burn Notice, CSI, Simpsons, and How I Met Your Mother. All time favorites I like to watch repeatedly (which are no longer on the air) are A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Black Adder, Mr. Bean, Jeeves & Wooster, and Monty Python. Oh, and Star Trek: TNG. Who can forget that!

Born in Bangor, Maine, author Kristen Taber spent her childhood at the feet of an Irish storytelling grandfather, learning to blend fact with fiction and imagination with reality. She lived within the realm of the tales that captivated her, breathing life into characters and crafting stories even before she could read.

Those stories have since turned into over a hundred poems, several short tales, and five manuscripts in both the Young Adult and Adult genres.  Currently, Ms. Taber is completing the five-part Ærenden series from her home office in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

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One Kindle Formatted copy of Aerenden: The Child Returns
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One Row at a Time said...

Great interview, Kristen! I love hearing more about the process behind Aerenden.

koddabear said...

Thanks for sharing Kristen. It was interesting.