Today, author of Black Amaranth, Sasha Hibbs, shares her wisdom on becoming a YA fiction writer. Enjoy and be sure to keep reading for info about Sasha, her book, and an extended excerpt!
Becoming a YA fiction writer:
I love all types of fiction, but YA fiction is my first and true love. Becoming a YA fiction writer has been interesting. Throughout the writing of Black Amaranth, I quickly learned that it can be tricky not to travel back to the ‘90’s when I actually was a teenager. I have one character in particular that I wanted to be a huge music lover, and of course to reflect some of the greatest music of my youth. The problem: it’s 2013, not 1999. Would today’s YA audience even know who Nirvana was? The Smashing Pumpkins? The Cranberries? Having several teenage nieces and nephews, I put it to the test. It was a 50/50.
Another obstacle I had to overcome was clothing, cosmetics, fashion in general. At 32, I work in a professional setting where I’m surrounded by contemporary business looking folk. At home, my husband is a blacksmith/artist/musician sporting a beard so glamorous it landed him on the USA’s national beard team. I kid you not. And then there are my two beautiful daughters, ages 4 and 7. They are poster kids for Disney. Who was I to turn to for today’s YA fashion advice? My lovely crew of nieces and nephews yet again. My first approach was snooping through their closets. I found myself sifting through bizarre articles of clothing like I was a recently unthawed cave girl exploring other options besides loincloths and bony bras. When my nieces caught me, they wore matching looks of creeped out and it sounded something like this, “Aunt Sasha, what are you…doing?” My rapt reply was, “Listen girls, you know I’m writing a book. If you ever want to go on a beach trip again or get any Christmas presents from me, you’ll spill all the info I need. Deal?” That seemed to produce some quick results. After enduring Fashion 101 with a team of teenagers, I have to admit that I was creeped out. How had I never noticed the whole “Emo” thing? Or duct tape being used for anything other than window/car repair or kidnapping? When was red fingernail polish replaced with black? I had always associated black nails with some sort of necrosis or exotic fungus. Even the jewelry stumped me. When I was a YA there were only 2 kinds of jewelry: gold and more gold. I had so much to learn. It was painful.
And then the devices and technology of today! I remember when we installed our first cordless phone. It was insane to be able to walk out on the front porch holding a 5lbs contraption that actually facilitated communication. You weren’t cool if you didn’t have a cordless phone with an antenna that measured 12 inches long. Once, I asked my 17-year-old niece if she knew what a Walkman was. Remember how cool those things were? She thought it was something used to walk dogs. Again my age seemed to be slapping me in the face. While in college I noticed several kids (I was in my 20’s) wearing these small devices around their neck. I thought they were memory sticks for your computer, but later found out they were iPods. I came from a world of Walkman’s and cordless phones and somehow an entire decade slipped past me where iPhones, iPods, iPads and all other sorts of witchcraft had replaced the technology I grew up with. To sum things up, I, the adult, who knows everything, had to turn to kids half my age to learn a thing or two.
If you’re writing YA, remember NOT to date what you are writing. It’s harder than you think.
Black Amaranth by Sasha Hibbs
Eighteen-year-old Ally Watson arrives home from high school graduation, more than a little annoyed that her Uncle Argyle—Ally’s legal guardian and only surviving relative—didn’t even bother showing up. But instead of berating him for his forgetfulness, Ally finds him in a life-or-death battle with a monster. Argyle manages to kill the creature, and gives Ally a parcel containing a destiny she never knew existed.
Ally, along with her best friends Michael, Jessica, and David, hurry to Georgia to uncover the truth of Uncle Argyle’s secrets, and the meaning of the mysterious marks that Ally bears. Are the marks related to the blacksmith mythology of her ancestors? Who are these heavenly warriors who show up in the oddest of places? And will an ancient gypsy curse destroy the very things Ally fights to save?
Black Amaranth: a simple flower, a symbol with an ancient legacy, a conduit for prophecy…while faith and hope are essential to the journey, Ally soon discovers that love is the most powerful force of all.
By age 5, Sasha Hibbs’ favorite movie was Gone With the Wind. By age 12, she completed her 7th grade book report on the sequel, Scarlett. By 18, she met and married her very own Mr. Rhett Butler and as it turns out, she never had to worry about going back to Tara to win the love of her life back. Fortunately, he stuck with her.
With a love of all things paranormal, the ambiance of the South with its gigantic antebellum mansions and canopies of Spanish moss, and a love for her husband’s rich storytelling of blacksmiths and the mythology surrounding their origins, it wasn’t long until the world of her debut novel, Black Amaranth, was born.
When not working her day job as a nurse, you can find Sasha dreaming of her next beach trip, reading the latest YA novel, and drinking more white chocolate mocha than she should.
Sasha lives in mountainous West Virginia with her husband, Tim, and their two daughters, Aeliza and Ava. She is currently hard at work on book two in The Vulcan Legacies series.
“LOU’S HOUSE OF BLUES?” Dave read the large neon sign in disbelief. “You’re taking us to a…bar?”
“To the Gypsies, and the one I am seeking out in particular,” Parthenia looked straight ahead, “happens to spend most of her time in this bar.”
“Mom thinks we’re going to church camp.” Dave’s face spread into a big smile. “I wonder what she would say if she knew we were going to a bar.”
“We’re eighteen,” Jessica said, reminding him. “Just once, Dave, please be cool.” Jessica winced.
“Cheer up, Jessica.” Brandi patted her mockingly. “There’s a first time for everything.”
“Whatever. I’m sure this beats your lame keg party,” Jessica said.
Nothing surprised Ally anymore, not even the rough-cut lumber bar staring back at her. Motorcycles and beat up trucks lined the gravel parking lot. A wraparound porch with live oaks bordered the outside. Looking determined, Parthenia motioned for them to follow her up there. As Ally ascended onto the creaky porch, her eye caught a slumbering black dog. She sidestepped to miss treading on the dog. Instinctively, Ally bent down and brushed her hand along the thick black coat.
“Good Lord, Miss,” a voice said. Ally looked up into an old pair of friendly brown eyes. “You must be somebody special,” he said, swaying back and forth in a dilapidated rocking chair, the ripened wood groaning with each sway, paint chipping up the back spindles. “Miss Elma doesn’t like anybody,” he said. His deep Southern accent drew out each syllable slowly.
“Sorry,” Ally apologized.
“No need to be sorry, Miss.” Ally could see a warm smile through the grey stubble wrapped around his aged features. “That there dog showed up one day and she’s been laying here ever since like she’s been waiting on someone.” He turned his head out to the horizon, pulling out a battered harmonica and bringing it up to his lips, he paused and said, “You have a good day, Miss.”
Ally looked down at the dog. Lids slowly peeled back revealing deep-set hazel eyes. The dog stretched out her tired limbs, stood to her full height, and nudged Ally’s knees, placing her head under one of Ally’s open palms. Her long silky hair fell between Ally’s fingers.
“Looks like you’ve got a friend—a very large black German Shepherd friend,” Michael said, his eyes smiling.
“Ally,” Parthenia interrupted, “please tell her to sit. I’ve got a feeling this one’s going to follow you.” Parthenia met Brandi’s gaze, their intense eyes implying something they weren’t saying. “Eli, perhaps it would be best if Solomon and Jeb waited out here with Lucy.”
Eli turned, instructing them to wait and watch over his little sister.
“There are three Ravenscraft women: Denaulda, Griselda, and Irini.” Parthenia looked deeply into Ally’s eyes and then shot a look of caution to Michael and the twins. “Denaulda is the eldest sister, and by right, the acting leader of the Gypsies. She is the most powerful next to their holy woman, Belle Crow. Let me caution you now. Do not cross them. They prove to be useful and good allies, but can also prove to be fearful enemies if you’re not on the same side as them. Remember, the curse of the elder Gypsies coupled with Vulcan crossing them is what caused all of this to ensue in the first place. Their magic runs deep, it’s old, and just as the blaxxmiths have a particular affinity for a single element, Gypsies have a strong affinity for magic.”
“Ooo, this should be fun,” Brandi purred mischievously.
“Try to curb your enthusiasm, will you?” Parthenia glared back at Brandi.
“I’ll not say a word.” Brandi winked and said, “Promise.”
“Are they witches?” Jessica asked, a noticeable trace of anxiety in her voice.
“They’re worse than witches,” Eli barked out.
“What is your problem? Considering how you treated me last night, I doubt that your dislike is exclusive to Gypsies. I’m guessing that you hate everyone and everything.” Jessica’s face flushed with anger. Eli fumed, but said nothing.
“No, they are not witches,” Parthenia said, interrupting the awkward silence. “They are Gypsies, and if you want to get on their bad side quick, call one of them a witch.” She turned and looked down her nose at Dave.
“Gotcha,” Dave said, seeming to understand she worried most about what might come out of his mouth.
“Stay behind me and try not to stare at anyone,” Parthenia said.
“Stay, girl.” Ally pointed her finger down at the porch. Miss Elma was obedient, sliding her long muscled legs down, crossing them over top each other and resting her head on her large paws. “Good girl.”
Ally stepped in behind of Parthenia, leaving the rest to trail in after her. Ally looked around in awe. She had never been in a bar before, and wasn’t too disappointed by the one she was standing in now. Red booths lined the unevenly cut board and batten walls, and a few were occupied by men and women who stared directly at them. Round tables just big enough for two were scattered throughout, leading up to a large empty dance floor. Strings of colored bulbs hung down low from the walls, casting dim shadows that mixed in with smoky air. Bar stools surrounded the long slab bar, while behind it a large, intimidating man eyed them up as he casually wiped his hands off on a white towel.
“Hello, Lou,” Parthenia said. “Denaulda around?”
He jerked his head in the direction of the stage, Parthenia following the line of his gaze, sighed softly and said, “Great.”
“Remember me just saying that Gypsies were gifted with a particular talent? Strong magic?” Parthenia whispered close to Ally’s ear.
“Uh-huh,” Ally said, looking straight ahead to the empty stage.
“Well, you’re about to find out what Denaulda’s is,” Parthenia said, sitting on a barstool and turning to face the stage. “Might as well have a seat and try to stay there.”
Michael and Dave eased down into an empty booth, leaving the opposite side open for the girls. Eli and Brandi opted to sit with Parthenia on barstools.
At the corner of the wooden stage, men were pulling out and tuning guitars and harmonicas. As a slow sultry rhythm played out of their instruments, a petite, dark-haired woman emerged from behind beaded curtains onto the stage. She slinked her way up to the microphone stand like a snake closing in on its prey. She curled her slender fingers around the mic as she cocked her head to the side, looking at her audience with thoughtful, heavy-lidded eyes. Ally’s arms erupted in goose bumps, a surefire warning that something otherworldly was about to happen.
She began to sing, sound floating dreamingly out of her mouth, weaving in and around the crowd like an invisible serpent, creeping up around their heels, sliding up and into their souls.
Michael and Dave twisted around, their heads following the direction of the eerie tune as Jessica mechanically stood up from the bench.
“What are you doing?” Ally whispered between her teeth while tugging on Jessica’s sleeve.
“Just one…dance.” Jessica didn’t look down at Ally; she walked slowly onto the dance floor as though the melody willed her to do so. Problem was, Jessica was a wallflower, or at least when they went to the prom Ally couldn’t peel her away from the wall if her life depended on it.
Ally looked around wondering if Denaulda’s music was having the same effect on everyone else. Brandi smiled naughtily which told Ally there must have been some part of her that expected this. Beside her, Eli watched Jessica through burning eyes. A few patrons joined Jessica on the dance floor, swaying back and forth to the beat, their bodies sweeping in and out in circular motions.
From the wall, a steely gaze followed Jessica. A boy with a shock of blond hair materialized from the shadows and inched his way towards the dance floor. He didn’t look much older than they did but he carried himself like a prowling marauder. His arms encircled Jessica’s waist as he closed the distance between them. To Ally’s surprise, Jessica welcomed him.
Denaulda’s lips curled up into a wicked smile. The tune hung in the air, like a poisonous gas. Ally couldn’t ignore the soothing, rich words.
When we were young and full of life
you reached in deep, and pierced my heart with a knife.
The night cries out, sweet and high,
weeping for her children with a gentle sigh.
Young nights, young nights, where did you go?
I can smell the night air, and how the moonlight glowed.
Young nights, young nights, come back to the home we both know.
“Where’s Lucy?” Dave kept his eyes fixed on Denaulda. “I think I should…” Dave’s words drifted off into the chorus.
Jessica reached her hands up and tangled her fingers into the thick blond hair of the boy she’d glued herself to. They appeared to only have eyes for each other as though no one else existed in the room. Ally was ready to get up and separate the two when another wave of lyrics poured out from Denaulda, nailing Ally to her seat.
I have loved you tender and loved you long,
but you were caught in the crossfire, we got it all wrong.
Can we ever go back to the way it used to be?
Young nights under the Spanish moss, just you and me.
I can smell the night air, and how the moonlight glowed.
Young nights, young nights, come back to the home we both know.
Ally couldn’t budge. “Michael?” She looked up, knowing he would fix this, but when she met his eyes, her breath caught in the back of her throat. Heat spread up through her face as his blue eyes bored into hers. The Michael staring at her now wasn’t looking at her as friends look at one another, but as something much different: as a man who looks, really looks, at a woman. Without Denaulda’s enchanting music, Ally wondered if his penetrating gaze would have bothered her or not.
Eli crossed the floor in long strides, catching Ally’s attention. She sat there unable to move, nervous, knowing that the direction Eli was currently going in wasn’t a good one. Eli’d had a chip on his shoulder since they all met, but more so towards Jessica than the rest of them. Ally just didn’t know why, though.
“Enough.” Ally could barely hear what Eli was saying to Jessica over the music. Denaulda looked entertained by what was transpiring on the dance floor. Jessica paid no attention to him, moving in closer to her partner, so close you couldn’t wedge a piece of paper between them.
Eli’s lips twisted into a snarl as he grabbed Jessica’s wrist. The next few moments happened before Ally could fully register what she was seeing. The blond boy swung at Eli, whose hand cupped the boy’s fist, holding him there effortlessly. He jerked Jessica to the side, causing her to rock on her heels, attempting to balance herself. He flung the boy’s fist down in disgust. “You’re done here,” Eli said to the boy through clenched teeth.
“Oh, no we’re not,” Jessica said, seething and stepping away from Eli, going back into the arms of her dance partner.
Eli growled as he grabbed her arm. Jessica spun around and slapped Eli across the face, sending an echo throughout the bar.
“Do not ever touch me again!” Jessica’s face reddened, almost matching the color of her hair. “Do you understand me?”
Eli stood there blinking in disbelief, raising a hand up to where hers had just been.
“Okay, boys.” Denaulda motioned for the band behind her to stop. “I think it’s time for a break.”
As soon as Denaulda quit singing, her spell dissolved. All those affected shook their heads, clearing up the lingering fog, all except Eli. He stood still, tracing the outline of where Jessica’s fingers touched him.
“Um…” Jessica looked back and forth between Eli and the blond boy staring at her and said, “Hmm, this is awkward. Excuse me.” Jessica quickly brushed past them and darted back to sit down. “What was I doing?”
“Let’s just say that you gave Brandi a run for her money,” Ally said, sugar-coating the truth as Jessica slouched down further in the booth.
“Parthenia,” the words were rich, alluring, “what brings you to my neck of the woods?” Denaulda’s eyes slid past Parthenia and landed directly on Ally.
Denaulda tilted her head, studying Ally through suspicious eyes. “I read the stars last night. Do you know what they told me?” Her eyes, the color of ash, rounded as she studied Ally.
Ally couldn’t speak, her voice was jammed. Looking at this sorceress was unnerving. Ally just shook her head no.
“They told me Death would be coming to visit me today.”