15-year old Nya's narrative voice is clear, strong-willed and fiercely independent as she confronts impossible moral choices in this thrilling, complex adventure for 9-12 year olds, published by Balzer and Bray.
The story so far...
Book One: The Shifter
A dangerous secret. A deadly skill.
Nya is an orphan struggling for survival in a city crippled by war. She is also a Taker—with her touch, she can heal injuries, pulling pain from another person into her own body. But unlike her sister, Tali, and the other Takers who become Healers, Nya's skill is flawed: she can't push that pain into pynvium, the enchanted metal used to store it. All she can do is shift it into another person, a dangerous skill that she must keep hidden. If discovered, she could be used as a human weapon.
But one day Nya pushes her luck too far and exposes her secret to a pain merchant eager to use her shifting ability for his own sinister purposes. She refuses—until Tali and other League Healers start disappearing mysteriously. Now Nya must decide: How far will she go to get Tali back alive?
Book Two: Blue Fire
Nya has become part fugitive, part hero, and is barely staying ahead of the Duke of Baseer’s trackers. Wanted for a crime she didn’t mean to commit, she risks capture to protect every Taker she can find, determined to prevent the Duke from using them in his fiendish experiments. But resolve isn’t enough to protect any of them, and Nya soon realizes that the only way to keep them all out of the Duke’s clutches is to flee Geveg. Unfortunately, the Duke’s best tracker has other ideas.
Nya finds herself trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be, forced to trust the last people she ever thought she could. More is at stake than just the people of Geveg, and the closer she gets to uncovering the Duke’s plan, the more she discovers how critical she is to his victory. To save Geveg, she just might have to save Baseer—if she doesn’t destroy it first.
And now, on to the interview...
Enchanted Inkpot: Where did the idea for The Healing Wars come from?
Janice Hardy: The very first glimmer was a ten-page outline I wrote about ten years ago. I had an idea about a boy who accidentally healed people when he touched them. An evil group called the pain merchants wanted to use him as a weapon. It was a hideous story and I stuck it in a drawer and forgot about it. Years later, I pulled it out again after a conference inspired me to look for old ideas. The story was still bad but the idea of shifting pain stuck with me. I started thinking about how that would work and the rest developed from there.
EI: What drew you to write fantasy?
JH: I think it’s the freedom of creating a world and seeing how my characters react to it. With a fantasy element, I can push emotions to further extremes than I can in the real world. I also like having control over my world and not be bogged down by reality. It’s much easier to make everything up.
EI: Which came first—the conflict, the antagonist, or Nya, your protagonist?
JH: Conflict first. I knew I wanted to have a girl who could shift pain, but no more than that. It wasn’t until I started world building and understood how pain worked in that culture and the problems it could cause that Nya came together as a character. I had to create a conflicted world before I could put her into it. Once I did that, I figured out who might benefit from this world and how that would be bad for Nya. A lot of it developed together. I’d learn more about Nya, which would deepen the conflict, and that would flesh out the antagonist, which in turn made Nya more three dimensional.
EI: What were you like as a young girl, and what was your favorite childhood reading? (could be included in question #4)
JH: I was a tomboy. I was always out and about exploring, getting into stuff. When I wasn’t doing that I was reading, writing, or drawing. I was a huge fan of Walter Farley, Nancy Drew, Lois Duncan, Paula Danziger, Ellen Conford, Judy Blume. The Secret Garden is one of my all time favorites, Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time series was another.
EI: How do you think fantasy literature has changed since that time?
JH: I don’t remember a lot of fantasy from when I was a kid (though I’m sure folks will point out tons of stuff and I’ll kick myself for forgetting). There was Narnia, the Rats of NIMH, some fantasy/horror titles from the “Twilight” series (not the Meyer one), Lois Duncan wrote what might be the first YA paranormal titles, but I can’t really think of any beyond that. Obviously, it’s changed a great deal since then.
I think the MG/YA market in general has changed, and readers today have a huge variety of books to choose from. More authors are writing for a younger audience, the books have become more sophisticated. A lot of fantasy has allowed teens to explore difficult themes in a safe environment. It’s like a filter, where you can read about issues on a more conceptual level. If those same issues were handled in a real world setting, they might be too disturbing. For example, look at Nya. She’s forced to hurt people, yet it’s all done through magic so it isn’t so frightening. But if she was doing that in a small US town, it would be horrible.
EI: I know you love to play video games‑how does your enthusiasm for gaming affect your writing?
JH: I think it helps a lot with my plotting and world building. In a game, you constantly have to think on your feet and figure things out, look ahead and see how what’s around you that can aid you in whatever puzzle you have to solve. You do the same thing in writing.
EI: And has your writing affected your choice of gaming role or even of the kind of games you prefer to play?
JH: The books I read are definitely similar to the games I play. I like fantasy adventures no matter what medium they’re in. As a writer, I get to play all the roles in my story, but as a gamer, I have one. Although that might be why I like to try difference character classes or types and don’t always stick to one. I want to see the world from all the various perspectives.
EI: You are one of the few writers in fantasy that acknowledges a character's need for food to sustain themselves. Is your formal training in art and design at the root of your detailed world-building?
JH: Am I really? That’s funny. It just seemed like a logical problem to give a girl living on the street. Interesting question, does my art training affect my world building. I bet it does, since I write the way I design. Block out the basic form, the start coloring things in, shade, add details, etc. It’s all done in layers. I build my worlds the same way. I create a foundation and add layers of complexity.
Good design elements capture the eye and then lead that person through the design to what the designer wants them to see, in the order they want them to see it in. It’s the same way in a story. You hook the reader and lead them where you want them to go. Show them what they need to see for that scene to have the most impact. Too many details confuse the reader and they don’t know what’s important or where to “look.” So you want to focus on what will have the most impact and get the most information to the reader in the least amount of time, while guiding them through the story.
EI: Do you plan a lot in advance, or let the characters show you where they want to go?
JH: I like to plan just enough to have a solid framework of plot to work in, like my major turning points and set pieces, then point the characters in that direction and let them go. How they get there is up to them. My plots change all the time, but my story rarely does. The character's goal stays true, but it might take a few attempts to figure out the best way for them to get it.
EI: Which characters were the easiest to write, and why?
JH: Nya was easy to write since she’s my narrator. She had such a strong voice from the first line, and her “jump in first, ask questions later” personality meant I just had to react and write what she’d do. I could look at the scene and do whatever seemed logical to Nya. Of course, that meant sometimes things went off track and I had to revise, but overall it worked out well. Aylin was another easy one to write, because she’s like Nya’s common sense. If I felt Nya would do X, but saw Y problems, Aylin was the one who’d bring up those problems.
EI: Why did this story become a series rather than a stand alone novel?
JH: About halfway through The Shifter I saw the bigger issues in the world. Nya’s problem was only a small part of a much larger conflict. The original ending was not what you see in the published book. It’s pretty close, but the wrap up was different since that was “the end” and I didn’t expect it to go beyond that. I had ideas of course, and a synopsis of the other two books, but it wasn’t until my agent pitched it as a series and my editor bought it as a series that it really became a series. There was another editor who was interested in it, but she only wanted the first book. Had I gone with her, there probably wouldn’t have been a trilogy.
EI: Does developing a series present different challenges to writing a stand alone novel? How do you, for instance, give each book a strong ending whilst also creating a desire to read the next book in the series?
JH: Definitely different challenges. In a stand alone, you pull out all the stops and throw everything you have at the story. In a series, you’re always fighting the urge to hold stuff back for later books. But you really can’t because you owe the reader that same “everything goes” story for every book.
Making each book its own story was rough, especially since the story builds on itself. What happens in The Shifter directly affects the story in Blue Fire, but Blue Fire needed its own plot that a new reader could enjoy even if they hadn’t read The Shifter. I tried to approach Blue Fire as if the previous book was the character’s backstory. Nya had that history, but now she had to have a goal and problem and conflict that would be this story.
I approached it like steps. It took three major steps to get Nya from her life in book one to the end of book three. Each book covers one of those major steps. It’s a much deeper story if you read them all in sequence, but hopefully a new reader can pick up Blue Fire and not feel lost.
More about Janice:
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER, and BLUE FIRE from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel.
Blue Fire blog tour details: @ The Other Side of the Story