Saturday, November 3, 2012

Shymers by Jen Naumann: Interview & Excerpt



In a distant future, Olive Mensing is raised in the solitude of the forest by her parents, away from Society. For a time she is happy and content, trusting in everything her parents tell her, and thinking she has the rest of her life ahead of her. But not long after her father’s mysterious death, Olive and her mother are torn from their home and thrown into the very place Olive was raised to fear. There she will discover the brutal truths her parents had tried to keep from her - a Society divided by two classes (Shymers and Futures) based on how many days people have to live, and a government that locks people away for rebellious behaviors.

Although everything seems backwards and hopeless in this new world, Olive makes a few new friends and develops her first crush on a handsome boy. But even then, things aren’t as easy as they should be. She finds herself caught up in a whirlwind of hatred, sadness and lies that spins out of control, forcing her to choose between what her heart wants and what she knows is right.


I glance down the brightly lit hallway and take small, cautious strides so as not to stand out any more. The weight of a thousand stares already burns holes into the back of my head. Upon first arriving, I had tried smiling or giving a greeting to those who passed me by, but they had either laughed or stared back at me blankly. So I decided to keep to myself. Frigid air blasts down on me each time I pass under little metal slots in the ceiling, and an overwhelming smell of something vile fills my nostrils, making me want to hold my nose.
Before sending me into the school office this morning, the soldiers handed me an electronic gadget without any direction of what I am to do with it. The square is unlike anything you would find in the forest, smooth and light. Clutching it in my hand now, the metal feels cool against my skin.
Flurries of whispers float around me, just loud enough so I can catch some of the words being said, none of which are kind and none of which I can truly understand. I continue to walk straight ahead, avoiding eye contact and only looking to the classroom doors for the number 230, where I was told my first lesson will be.
I know of schools like this where boys and girls of all ages attend different lessons in the same building, separated into groups based on their maturity level. My parents went to one when they were young. Once it had even been a dream of mine to go to one. Now that I feel the unwelcome stares and hear their hurtful words, I wish I was anywhere but here. I didn’t expect there would be so many people. I didn’t expect to be treated like an outsider.
Although I haven’t been here long, I think I may finally understand why my parents tried to keep me away from this cruel reality, these judging eyes and whispers. Everyone here is a stranger. How can they dislike me when they don’t even know me? Something about this place feels jaded and twisted, more like one of the scary stories my father used to tell.
All at once, a hand tugs at the back of my shirt. I turn on my heels with my arm out, expecting some kind of physical strike or insult to be thrown in my face. Instead, I am greeted with a pair of warm brown eyes.
“You must be the new Shymer everyone is talking about,” a girl in a plain gray frock says to me. Auburn hair hangs in waves around her smooth, light-brown face, and two little wisps at her temple are held back with a bright pink ribbon. Her flawless cheekbones are high, and her big eyes look back at me from underneath dark eyebrows. A sliver of white teeth is visible behind her heart-shaped lips as she smiles up at me. From her small size I would guess her to be fourteen, possibly fifteen. She is striking, but not in a way that makes you gasp at first sight.
Lowering my arm, I open my mouth to answer before shutting it again. The truth is, I don’t really know what I am. Not in this world, anyway. I don’t even know what a Shymer is. Do I ask this girl what she is talking about? My stomach drops with the uncertainty.
“It’s okay,” she says with a shrug. “I’m one, too. Most of the kids here are Futures, but there are other Shymers. I’ll introduce you to them.”
My eyes sweep the hallway to find a group of older girls gathered next to door number 230—exactly where I need to be. I had been so consumed with the whispers and stares that I had walked right past it. Collectively, the girls are gorgeous, a sea of flowing blond hair and bright blue eyes surrounded by some kind of heavy coloring on their eyelids. Each of them wears a colorful top that dips low at the neckline, revealing a hint of their well-tanned chests, paired with a vibrant skirt that falls just short of their knees. They stare back at me with cruel eyes, their lips tightly curled into mocking smirks.
“I take it Shymers aren’t welcome here?” I say to the girl.
Her eyes open even wider. “You mean you really don’t know? Haven’t you ever been in Society before?”
“Not since I was little,” I mumble in response.
I catch her gaze first questioning my hair, then my choice of clothing. I am dressed in the pink top my mother gave me for my sixteenth birthday and a pair of faded denim shorts. Just before entering the hallway, I had gathered my wild blond hair into a cluster behind my head to stay cool. Do I look unusual to her? Is that why everyone is watching me and whispering behind my back?
“I’m Bree,” she tells me brightly.
“I’m Olive,” I answer.
“Where is your first class?”
I tip my head to where the blondes stand. “There.”
Bree looks back to where the girls still whisper furiously. She laughs in her high voice and places her slender fingers on my arm. “Me, too. C’mon, I’ll walk you in. You’ll get used to it. Whatever you do, just don’t talk to them unless they ask you something.”
I frown at her. “Why?”
She shakes her head, a small grin playing on her lips. “You’ll just have to trust me. I will try to explain everything later.” 


If you could exchange lives with any of your characters for a day which character would you choose and why?


NONE! All three of my books have sad stories and my heroines are each running from something scary. However, I would love to be the objection of affection of any of the guys in my books - especially Finn in The Day Zombies Ruined My Perfectly Boring Life. He’s sweet in a goofy kind of way, and the least complicated of my male leads. Yet I wouldn’t really want to be running from zombies like Emma has to, so I guess I will stick with my original answer. 


Tell us about your next release. 

Recently I started on my first middle school-aged book for my 10-year-old son. It’s a boys’ adventure in which a group of friends win backstage passes to see their favorite band, only to discover the band members aren’t what they seem. I’m a ginormous fan of Goonies and Super 8, so this has been a tremendous amount of fun. The sequel to my second novel The Day Zombies Ruined My Perfectly Boring Life is also in the works. I have so many ideas coming to me at any given time that it’s hard to choose just one to work on.


What are your favorite TV shows? 


These days I’m into some pretty twisted shows like Walking Dead, Dexter, Vampire Diaries, Homeland and American Horror Story. I also get into Glee, Nurse Jackie and Saturday Night Live, maybe subconsciously to keep my humor bone in check.


What do you do to unwind and relax?


I seriously have forgotten how to do this. Even when I have “time off” I’m busy doing something. If I relax and try to read a book, I fall asleep. These days I can only read when I’m driving the tractor (they have auto-steer now!) or on the elliptical machine. I go to a lot of rock concerts, but that isn’t really relaxing, is it? Our yearly tropical vacations in February are probably the only time I truly relax (even then I fall asleep on the beach). I blame this digital world we’re living it - it has done nothing to curb my ADD.


Are the names of the characters in your novels important? How and why? 


Quite often I will use the names of people who mean something special to me. Shymers is dedicated to my older sister and I used her first and middle name mixed together for the name of a character who performs a medical procedure (my sister’s a doctor). The name “Olive” in Shymers is meant to be a play on the idea of her character being an “olive branch” in the story. Sometimes I like to use names for an inside joke, like the hairless guard named “Joshua” - we have a cousin and a good friend both with that name who are hairless and quite comical. I know neither of them will probably read the book, but I hope their wives do and catch on to the friendly jab. The characters never have the same personality as their namesakes, though. 


Tell us about your current release. 


Shymers came to me after a conversation with a friend about life. She asked, “Wouldn’t you like to know how long you have to live?” The question stuck with me and in the end I decided that no, I would most certainly not want to know. At the time I was also dealing with a close family member being diagnosed with cancer, and I got on this “live like it’s your last day” kick. I even got a tattoo on my arm reminding me to “hold on tight” to my dreams and the people I love. Readers will probably be surprised by the world I have created in Shymers where everyone is told exactly when they will die. It’s not all fun and games and no one is allowed to live freely.


Do you have critique partners or beta readers?


I have always hired editors and used friends as beta readers, but I recently started also using writer friends on Twitter as critique partners. I can’t imagine there is any other profession in which your competitors are so friendly and excited to help each other. I have felt a real connection with some of the authors, and hope to get the chance to one day meet them in real life!


Who should play you in a film of your life? 


Emma Stone. We look absolutely nothing alike, but I adore her and she may be able to nail my strange humor. Who am I kidding - I only picked her because then maybe that way I’d have a chance at getting to meet her in person. A girl can dream.

Growing up in the 80's, Jen morphed into a huge sci-fi nerd with her obsession of E.T., Star Wars, Goonies and any other unusual or paranormal movie. She is married to a farmer in southern Minnesota and tries to follow the madness of her four active children. When not writing, she is designing book covers, doing photography for big events, at rock concerts, chilling with friends, or doing anything that makes her laugh.

Jen's first two YA books, What I've Done and The Day Zombies Ruined My Perfectly Boring Life, are available in digital formats and paperback on,, and

Jen Naumann
Author of YA fiction

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