by Lynn Vroman
published by Untold Press
A Young Adult Fantasy Novel
For seventeen-year-old Lena, living in the trailer park with the rest of town’s throwaways isn’t exactly paradise. Dealing with a drunken father who can't keep his fists to himself doesn’t help matters either. The only good thing in her life, other than track, is the mysterious man who visits her dreams, promising to find her. When a chair burns her arms, Lena chalks it up to stress-induced crazy. Yet as bizarre incidents escalate, even being crazy can’t explain it all away… until one day dream guy does find her. Tarek lost Lena seventeen years ago after she was accused of treason and marked Tainted. He finally discovers her reborn on Earth into a life of suffering as punishment for her crime. However, someone else has already found her… and wants her dead. Willing to sacrifice everything, he fights to keep her safe so she can live the only life she’s ever known—even if that life doesn’t include him.
Nothing annoyed me more than crappy best friends. The type who did stupid stuff, like grab my shoulder and scream right in my ear, "Help me, Barbara!"
I jumped and a cloud of popcorn exploded above us. The kernels remaining in the tub I threw in Zander's face.
We sat in the back row, Night of the Living Dead on the screen. No emergency exit signs interrupted the darkness, adding a little more to the scare department. But Zander killed the mood as soon as the graveyard scene popped up.
"You promised to watch, now watch." I chucked the popcorn tub at him when he wouldn't stop laughing.
"Fine, but my hands are stayin' in my pockets this time." He rubbed the tiny crescent-shaped marks on his left hand. "I have no idea why you watch these things. You can't sit through one without a week of nightmares."
"Not true. The Ring was just extra freaky."
"Ah, and so were The Shining and Paranormal Activity..." His southern accent rolled off his tongue like sap from a maple tree. "I think you like bein' afraid all the time."
I hated it when he was right. "Shut up."
Fear triggered the fight-or-flight mechanism in our brains. The signal that proved we still wanted to live. That was my theory, anyway.
Maybe I was a masochist, but I did like experiencing the fear. It ensured the numbness hadn't completely taken over. Numb could be good. A takeover, though…not so good. Zander shoved that logic in my face and smeared my nose in it every time I decided to make sure fight or flight still worked.
"All right, but when you're lyin' in that floating bed tonight, don't expect dream guy to save you."
"Don't worry." I slumped in my chair, focusing on the screen. During a weak moment, and after a couple stolen beers from Dad's case, I told Zander about Him–my dream guy with gray eyes and dimples. He acted odd afterward, especially when I admitted what Him always promised: I'll find you.
Yeah, Him was what I called my imaginary guy. No one ever accused me of being creative. Point was, for the last month Zander decided to make a joke of it. I'd never told anybody about my dreams, and I guess I should've kept it that way.
Hey, self, remind me again why Zander held the bestie slot? Oh, right. He was the only one who applied for the position.
The next hour we watched in silence. I'd seen this movie at least ten times already, and so his concern of me mauling him never happened.
About the time Barbara annoyed everyone in the house with her relentless Where's Johnny question, Zander's constant slurping and ice-crunching crawled under my skin. "It's empty."
He took one last noisy sip and stood, blocking my view. "I'm gonna get a refill. You want one?"
"No. Christ!" I bent and twisted to see around him while he countered every move with a grin. I didn't want to admit it, but that grin always caused my brain to cloud. Hell, having him within a ten-foot radius caused a huge case of head fuzz. But to be clear, I wasn't the only mountain dweller who found that smile, or that accent, hot.
"Suit yourself. Be back in a sec." He gathered up some empty wrappers and went out the door, creating a quick flash of light in the room.
Once he left, it didn't take long for the dark to fold me into its arms as the moans on the screen grew louder. When a particularly menacing zombie ate Barbara, I let out a tiny yelp–even though I knew it was going to happen. My face heated, and I looked around, happy no one witnessed.
I'll go with coward for $500, Alex.
Sinking deeper into my seat, I watched the whole house get taken over by zombies, my heart pounding and the hairs on my arms standing at attention. Two minutes alone and I was already freaked out.
I gripped the armrests, stealing a glance at the exit. My nails dug into the plastic. Leaving was the obvious remedy, but my legs refused to walk toward the door.
A zombie eating black and white brains filled the screen.
I was out of there whether my legs were ready or not. Yes! Fight or flight still in perfect working order.
Zander was right. I had issues.
I planted my feet on the cement floor and tensed to run. As I hopped up, my arms refused to come with me. I made the mistake of looking down.
The armrests curled around my hands, the plastic ends separating into thin, spider-like fingers. I screamed, trying to yank my hands away, but the armrests became stronger, forming rows of fingers that encased the whole length of my arms, burning them. Tears flooded my vision, the pain branding my skin.
Panic turned into terror when the theater filled with whispers that brushed through my hair like wind and hit me in the face like an open palm. The whispering slipped into my throat when I opened my mouth, gagging me while it pushed me back into the seat. I struggled as the chair sucked me in and gasped for enough air to yell, the sound coming out as a grunt.
My head stayed glued against the seat, my scalp searing as I tried to yank it free. Then the movie stopped playing. Total darkness swallowed me, the blackness stealing the last drops of my courage. No matter how hard I tugged, my arms refused to pull free. I strained to turn my head toward the exit, but it stayed nailed to the chair. All I could do was look forward and try to relax my arms to stop the burning.
The whispers grew quieter, and the hold it had on my head weakened when I stopped moving. I cleared my throat. "Zander!"
My arms loosened a fraction.
"You always smell like apples and flowers." She inhaled deeper, making it hard for him to breath.
"It's our orchard." The strain of control made his voice a whisper, and against his better judgment, he bent to kiss the top of her head, allowing his lips to linger in the softness of her hair.
"Our orchard? Is that where we're going?" She craned her neck, and green eyes shot him straight in the heart.
Mouth dry, he said, "Somewhere better."
"What about you? You immortal or something?"
His eyes hardened, the smile turning a little dangerous. "No, I'm just really good at staying alive."
Born in Pennsylvania, Lynn spent most of her childhood, especially during math class, daydreaming. The main result that came from honing her imagination skills was brilliantly failing algebra. Today, she still spends an obscene amount of time in her head, only now she writes down all the cool stuff.
With a degree in English Literature, Lynn used college as an excuse to read for four years straight. She lives in the Pocono Mountains with her husband, raising the four most incredible human beings on the planet. She writes young adult novels, both fantasy and contemporary.
McNicol: Hi, Lynn. It’s so great to have you here. What inspired you to become a young adult writer? What is your favorite genre to write?
Vroman: I think the main inspiration for writing young adult literature has to be my daughters and watching them grow into amazing young women. So much is going on internally and externally in that time between teen years and early twenties. Exploring those emotions and life-altering changes fascinates me.
As for which genre is my favorite, I write both fantasy and contemporary, and I love each genre for different reasons. Fantasy is great because I get to build some fantastical worlds, as well as create and fall in love with new characters who are challenged to traverse those places. With contemporary, for me, it’s all about the characters and getting as deep inside their heads as I can.
McNicol: Name three fun facts about your book or main character that we would not know by reading the back cover blurb.
Vroman: One of Lena’s closest friends is her school’s lunch lady, Wilma.
Wilma is a bit of a badass.
Lena is probably the only person left in America who sleeps on a waterbed.
McNicol: Sum up the book and/or main conflict using a song title.
Vroman: Without even thinking about it: Shatter Me by Lindsey Sterling, featuring Lzzy Hale
McNicol: What kind of research did you do when writing your current book?
Vroman: For Tainted Energy, I researched the ideas of pantheism and reincarnation, as these are the main concepts of the book, which is an energy in everything that is constantly reborn.
McNicol: How did you build such a strong platform on social media? Did you have any help or guidance?
Vroman: I’m still working on the platform, actually. J And yes, I had quite a bit of guidance from my publishing house and other writer friends. Before I received my contract for Tainted Energy, I had almost zero social media presence. It takes a lot of time and effort, and for introverts like me, some forced self-motivation to keep my sites current. One thing I found, though, is how awesome it is to connect with readers and fellow writers. What a great community to belong to!
McNicol: According to your book blurb, your main character is seventeen-year-old Lena. What is she like? Is she considered to be a strong female lead?
Vroman: Lena is absolutely a strong lead. She’s a bit rough around the edges, as anyone would be who has to deal with poverty and abuse, but she never gives up. She is also not one of those girls who really care about looks, boys, or things like school dances, as she’s focused on the future while fighting to get both her and her mother through the present. But through it all, she has a strong sense of self and knows who she is—even when she finds out she’s lived before and that past life comes back to haunt her.
McNicol: What made you classify your book within the given genre?
Vroman: This was actually difficult for me when I started querying. Tainted Energy didn’t seem to fit paranormal romance or urban fantasy. So, after some thought and looking at other comparative titles, I decided since this book deals with multiple worlds even though it is set in contemporary times, fantasy was the best genre in which to classify it.
McNicol: What is your writing process? Are you a plotter of a panster?
Vroman: Mostly I’m a punster, but I do have a vague outline I sketch out in the beginning. Also, while drafting, if an idea hits, I write it down in a document I leave open for notes. When it comes time for revision, I add in those ideas.
McNicol: What are your go-to “book swag” and promotional materials?
Vroman: Since this my debut, the idea of swag was both fun and daunting. I wanted to have things that closely relate to the book, so I had candles made and lip balm with scents that are important to Lena. But I do love bookmarks! So, I guess I could say my go-to promotional materials are those things that are both useful and have a connection to the book’s characters.
McNicol: How did you decide on your latest title?
Vroman: The book is about Lena’s past life barging in on her present life. Tainted is what they called traitors in the world Lena lived in before while Energy, essentially, is another name for soul.
McNicol: Give us a synopsis of one of the favorite settings you have created.
Vroman: One of my favorite settings is a world called Arcus, where every color and animal is exaggerated. I think when Lena is pulled into there the first time and realizes the planet isn’t as round as she assumed is one of my favorite scenes. It’s at this point, in a world that is as beautiful as it is deadly, when Lena realizes she can’t rationalize every crazy thing that’s happened to her and must focus on surviving.
McNicol: What is your best advice for aspiring writers?
Vroman: READ! You can’t write if you don’t read. Also, writing is like exercise, if you don’t work at it, the words won’t come out. What you write never has to be perfect, but you can’t revise something that you haven’t finished. The real writing is in the revision. Find a critique group around you or online, too. Critique groups are so crucial when learning the craft.
McNicol: What is your marketing strategy for this upcoming book?
Vroman: First, the social media platform had to be built. From there, I interact with readers and other writers, post giveaways, participate in author takeovers, and share teasers from the book. I’m also participating in blog tours and book blitzes. Since this is my first book, I’m really learning as I go, but also plan to organize a local and regional marketing plan in the near future that will hopefully include book signings and conferences.
McNicol: What is your “secret recipe” for a good book?
Vroman: It’s all about the character. World building and plot come second. If a reader can’t connect or relate to the characters, then they won’t care at all about how cool the world is or how smart the plot.
McNicol: What is your motto?
Vroman: Hmm, I guess it would be this quote from Stephen King’s, On Writing:
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” After I read his book, I stopped making excuses for why I couldn’t write or finish a novel. So, really, the motto boils down to no more excuses.
McNicol: What should readers expect to happen in the sequel for your current book? Where is the storyline headed? (Without giving away too much information.)
Vroman: The second book, Lost Energy, will be out in 2015. Readers should expect to find the story expanding beyond Lena’s life. She’s going to be thrown into situations in different worlds with awesome new characters. In the first book, she’s discovering all these wonderful, terrifying things about how the universe is really constructed while figuring out how to survive it. In the second, she’s going to have to transition from being a survivor to a fighter, as she gets rid of one enemy only to find plenty more in line waiting to take away everything—and everyone—who means something to her.
McNicol: Do you write better in sound or silence?
Vroman: Complete silence. I get way too distracted, unfortunately. It’s bad enough I have the internet.
McNicol: Fun exercise: turn this sentence into a small paragraph: Hannah turned around…
Vroman: Six sets of empty eyes stared back at her. Here we go again. She pulled her gun from its holster and clicked off the safety. “So, who wants to play first?”
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