Thursday, August 11, 2016

NA August Interview: Debra Jess

Today, in celebration of NA August, I’m thrilled to have an interview with NA author Debra Jess.  I read BLOOD SURFER, the first novel in her Thunder City series, a few months ago and simply loved it. It’s an award winning and unique NA novel with tons of action and romance. But enough from me, I’ll let her tell you all about it.

Welcome, Deb. Could you tell us a bit about BLOOD SURFER and what you think puts it in the NA category?

I’d love to, Pat and I’m so glad you enjoyed reading it. BLOOD SURFER is a classic star-crossed lovers tale told in a superhero universe.

My hero is Scott Grey, a police officer who’s supposed to arrest “alternative humans” who defy the “alt-ban” in the city of Star Haven. Hannah, an Alt on the run, saves Scott’s life after he’s mortally wounded. She bloodsurfs through his body and heals him from the inside out. Now Scott feels obligated to save her life by getting her across Mystic Bay to Thunder City where Alts are welcomed. In doing so, Scott makes powerful enemies who will stop at nothing to get their hands on Hannah.
What makes this book New Adult is the age range of the characters and the issues they need to deal with. Hannah has just turned 18, but never had a normal childhood because of her powers. Scott is only 22, but has a very complex family with a dark past. He also never had a normal childhood. These two characters stand on opposite sides of the law and yet they discover they have so much in common: they both have to throw away their old lives and start over from scratch.  

Why did you choose to write an NA book? What is it about the age range that appealed to you?

The irony is I didn’t choose to make the book New Adult. When I first started writing it, I figured it would be Young Adult because Hannah was only 17 and Scott was 18. A friend of mine who beta-read the story said the plot sounded more New Adult, than YA.

I had never heard of New Adult, so I started asking around. A very well-known, highly-respected editor told me New Adult (at that time) was little more than a marketing tool used by editors to sell books to chain bookstores. Later, another editor who had requested the manuscript asked me to age up Hannah & Scott to fit their New Adult imprint. I said yes, of course, and turned in the new manuscript four months later.

That editor ultimately passed, but she was right: my story was much stronger because I could put my hero and heroine into situations as younger adults that I would never put them in as younger teenagers.

Do you think NA books require certain elements—such as sex? Do you think there are stereotypes that are not necessarily true for all NA books?

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: all romance novels need a certain level of sexual tension — even the sweet or inspirational romances. It’s the sexual tension that makes a romance novel a romance novel. If you’re writing a New Adult romance, the level of heat is still up to the writer. Don’t force physical intimacy onto your characters if it doesn’t move the story forward. As a reader, nothing annoys me more than sex without a purpose.
I have to warn parents who hear the word “superhero” and want to buy my book for their twelve-year-olds. I tell them - absolutely not! 15 is my personal cut-off age. Younger than that and my books are not appropriate because there is an explicit (albeit very odd) love scene (there are superpowers involved) and violence.

I don’t worry too much about stereotypes because a stereotype is just one nasty comment away from a trope. All genres have their tropes, but one reader’s trope is another reader’s stereotype. You can’t please everyone.

Do you think there is enough diversity in the genre, particularly compared to other age groups?

I straddle two genres: SFF and Romance. I’ve seen authors and editors in both genres doing everything possible to bring diversity to storytelling. Publishers are slowly publishing more stories by and about minorities. I helped proofread Lightspeed Magazine’s “Women Destroy Science Fiction” and “Women Destroy Fantasy” special issues. RWA has its own chapter for writers of LGBTQ books.
When I first started writing (over ten years ago), I didn’t give much thought to diversity. Now, I’m trying to bring diversity to my world-building. Thunder City is populated by more than white, middle-class superheroes. Two of my Thunder City short stories have main characters who are not white males (VALLEY OF THE BLIND and SLOW BURN), but I can’t help but notice that the third short story with a blond young woman on the cover is the one that sells the most (STILL LIFE). 
Diverse stories need diverse readers, so what we should be asking is how do we market diverse stories to all readers so everyone can appreciate them?

What can we do to encourage the growth of NA SFF?

Diversity helps because we need to appeal to a larger audience. Writing stories that resonate with high school readers will also help. Readers read up in age, so high school crowd will read about college-age characters. I know I did when I was in high school.

College-age issues are not all that different from high school. The difference is in how older characters handle responsibility. At 18, Hannah’s on the cusp of figuring out how to disagree with people as an adult, not a teenager. At 22, Scott is learning to rebuild his relationship with his family as an adult who isn’t beholden to them for financial or emotional support.

Tell us about your latest/upcoming books!

Scott has three older brothers. The oldest is Nikolaos Blackwood and I just released his story, A SECRET ROSE. Nik, who readers of BLOOD SURFER will remember as Ghost, is the golden boy of Thunder City.  This is his love story (though not New Adult - Nik is 28).

I’m also knee-deep in writing BLOOD HUNTER, the direct sequel to BLOOD SURFER. It picks up where BLOOD SURFER left off because Hannah and Scott can’t seem to stay out of trouble for more than ten minutes. BLOOD HUNTER will be available next spring.


A Connecticut Yankee transplanted to Central Florida, Debra Jess writes science fiction, romance, urban fantasy, and superheroes. She began writing in 2006, combining her love of fairy tales and Star Wars to craft original stories of ordinary people in extraordinary adventures and fantastical creatures in out-of-this world escapades. Her first published novel, Blood Surfer, has won the Golden Pen Award and finaled in the Prism AwardBooksellers Best Award,  and the Maggie Award contests.

Debra is a graduate of Viable Paradise and is a member of Codex. She’s also a member of the Romance Writers of America and RWA’s  Fantasy, Futuristic, & Paranormal chapter and the First Coast Romance Writers.

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Their destiny is written in blood.

Welcome to Star Haven, where the police arrest and imprison alternative humans, if not execute them outright. When outlaw Hannah Quinn saves Officer Scott Grey’s life by bloodsurfing through his broken body, he winds up on the wrong side of the kill line.

Hannah blew any chance she had of escaping Star Haven when she chose to save Scott’s life. Scott has a reputation for killing Alts instead of arresting them. Now that she’s triggered his dormant Alt ability, he’s forced to go on the run with her until she can break his despised Alt power.

Suspicion dies hard after a lifetime of conditioning. Despite the threat to their lives, Hannah finds herself falling for the one man she can’t trust—and Scott falls for the woman who destroyed his life.

With love and mistrust at war in a city where betrayal can earn your freedom, will Hannah and Scott’s tenuous bond be enough to save them?


Secrets, like roses, have thorns.

Nikolaos Blackwood swore he would bring to justice the drug dealer known as Dodger. As Ghost, one of Thunder City’s alternative human defenders, it was Nik’s responsibility to keep his high school classmates safe. That included notorious bad girl Daniella Rose. Ten years later, he needs to locate Daniella to deliver an urgent request from her estranged family.

Dr. Daniella Rose finally believes she can lead a normal, happy life and focus on her relationship with Nik Blackwood — the one man she’s always wanted but could never have. Now that she’s back in Thunder City, she’ll do anything to keep him —  except reveal her hidden Alt ability to shapeshift into Dodger, a secret identity she killed before graduation.

When a drug lord from Dani’s past threatens Nik’s life, Dani knows she’ll have to resurrect Dodger to rescue her man, even if exposing her secret could cost her Nik’s love —  and her life.

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