Meet Jordan Dane, author of In the Arms of Stone Angels, and a contributor to our upcoming House of Night anthology! Interested in reading an excerpt from her book? Just scroll to the bottom and click “browse” on the widget.
Jordan Dane launched her back-to-back debut suspense novels in 2008 after the three books sold in auction. Ripped from the headlines, Jordan’s gritty plots weave a tapestry of vivid settings, intrigue and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense pacing to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag–and named her debut book No One Heard Her Scream as Best Book of 2008. And In the Arms of Stone Angels (April 2011, Harlequin TEEN) will be the first of two young adult novels written by Jordan Dane. Jordan and her husband share their San Antonio residence with two cats and a rescue dog named Taco.
Q. Before writing your new book In the Arms of Stone Angels, you wrote fiction for adults. What was the appeal of writing a young adult novel?
A. Young adult books are some of my favorite reads. I especially love dark, edgy YA. The stories are very cross genre, which appeals to my preferences in storytelling. And the only limitation to YA lit is the author’s own imagination. YA books tend to be more about the emotion in the story, with introspection primarily in first person, which really gets a writer into the head of their character. And the plots are very character driven, coming-of-age journeys that can be cathartic for the author.
Q. Can you tell us a little about what happens in In the Arms of Stone Angels?
A. Brenna Nash is a dark and angry 16-year-old girl dealing with the aftermath of being the only witness at the death of another young girl two years earlier. She’d been the one who had turned in the killer. And the accused murderer was the only true friend she had, Isaac “White Bird” Henry, a half-breed outcast of the Euchee tribe not much older than she is. Now years later, Brenna is forced to return to the small town of Shawano, Oklahoma where her ordeal happened. And she finds White Bird didn’t go to juvie. He’s locked in a mental hospital, frozen in time at the worst moment of his life. And now, she’s the only one who can reach him, even if she has to expose a “gift” she’s kept hidden her whole life.
This is a first love story, a mother-daughter coming-of-age book, and a murder mystery with an underlying dark current of bigotry in a small town. I loved writing the many layers of this novel.
Q. The main characters of the book, Brenna and White Bird, come up against serious prejudice, even in their small town. If you could give them some advice on dealing with the cruelty of their peers, what would you tell them?
A. Being part Hispanic, I faced bigotry in many ways and wanted to tell a story with the harsh realities of this. And for me, it wasn’t until I faced it down in a school yard and fought back, defending a smaller Hispanic girl who was shy, that I realized you can’t sit on the fence and do nothing, even if the bigotry is not directed at you. Brenna was more of an angry soul when it came to fighting back, but White Bird took a gentler path. Both were effective in making changes, but first the change must come from inside you. It’s never easy dealing with bullies, but we all must find a way to get help. We can’t do it alone.
Q. Do you see any parts of yourself in Brenna?
A. The characters I create are deeply rooted in my life’s experiences–people I’ve met, things I’ve seen and heard, from imagery springing from song lyrics or favorite movies, etc. From the infinite number of possibilities floating around in my head, it’s my job to find the threads that lead me to the character. Once I wrapped my head around Brenna and who she was to me, then I listened real hard for her voice. (There’s always a party goin’ on in my head. I’m never truly alone.) Brenna is a loner and is content in her solitude. I can relate to that, although I never had her fashion sense. In that department, I’m trip-dip vanilla to her Rocky Road extravaganza with sprinkles and gummy bears. And Brenna knows she’s different and is content with that too, even if it makes her confrontational at times. She’s capable of red-faced fury as well as long hours of silence, comfortable to be alone. Unfortunately I can relate to this too.
Q. When you start writing a mystery like In the Arms of Stone Angels, do you know from the beginning how it’s going to be resolved?
A. Actually, I never do. I’m not a plotter so I start telling a story to see what the characters reveal to me. Many times I have several suspects and I firmly believe any of them could commit the crime in the book. That’s when it’s the best. I build a case against all of them, then I may flip a coin. Seriously.
Q. There’s some really interesting information about the Euchee tribe included in the book. Did you do a lot of research about the tribe before writing, and if so, was there anything cool or fascinating you discovered that didn’t make it into In the Arms of Stone Angels?
A. Unlike the Cherokee who are flourishing despite the tragedy in their history, not as much is known about the Euchee. I wrote what I could about the tribe to draw attention to them, but I was limited in my research, except for the help of Oklahoma librarian, Susan Johnson. But I will share a special story about Susan and another inspiration behind my book.
When we talked on the phone and I first shared my general ideas of the plot and the special boy who would be the center of it–White Bird. Susan listened to my thoughts on this character (who at that point did not have a name). And when I described him, she immediately said, “I know this boy.” My story has several underlying themes, but a few dominant ones involve the dark side of bigotry, being an outsider, and wanting to belong. So when I thought about the boy character in my book, I wanted him to be of mixed race where he straddles the line between cultures and doesn’t fit in anywhere. After Susan said, “I know this boy,” she told me about her friend, White Bird. Yes, there is a real White Bird. And similar to my fictional boy, he was in the foster care system and only recently was released.
Susan told me that the real White Bird is smart and as adaptable as a chameleon, looking for a place to fit in and belong. He is someone she admires and just plain likes. And although he is struggling to find an identity of his own as a young man, his Native American roots are very important to him. Although I might have wished that he had grown up with a more traditional family and had things easier, White Bird is the person he is because of everything that he has gone through, good and bad. He’s someone I have a lot of respect for. And I hope that the admiration and good wishes I have for his spirit show in my book.
Q. “The Magic of Being Cherokee,” your essay for the upcoming House of Night anthology, Nyx in the House of Night, explores Zoey’s Cherokee heritage. While you were writing, did you notice any striking commonalities or differences between the Cherokee and Euchee?
A. In general, I love the Native American mysticism, their spiritual beliefs, and their respect for nature. Both the Cherokee and the Euchee have survived insurmountable odds to still thrive as a people. The Trail of Tears and the attempt to wipe out Native American languages in white schools was something I found in common, unfortunately. The Euchee language is so rare and difficult to master. That’s why I wanted to shed light on this tribe. So little is known of them and I relied on a good librarian friend of mine, Susan Johnson, from Sapulpa, OK. She is in charge of the Native American cultural resources at her library and is part Native American herself. She had always liked my writing and contacted me to write a book set in Oklahoma about a culture dear to her heart. She helped me choose the Euchee. And I owe her a debt of gratitude for that and much more.
Q. What’s your favorite House of Night book and why?
A. I especially fell in love with the series with the first few books–Marked and Untamed–but each novel has ramped up the stakes for the series. P.C. and Kristin Cast do a great job of not only adding to the many rich emotional layers of their heroine, Zoey Redbird, but they intensify the series by making the plots more entrenched in the Cherokee myths and legends that spawned the series. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here. I think the Casts did a brilliant job of combining real Cherokee mythological lore and added a fun new twist to the Vampyre genre.
Q. What are you working on right now?
A. I just finished book #2 for Harlequin Teen–On A Dark Wing–which will be released in 2012. This is a stand-alone book about a 16-year-old girl who cheats Death and lives past her expiration date, but her lucky break comes at a heartbreaking price. She is stalked by Death’s Ravens. And when an innocent boy, someone she has a secret crush on, starts his climb to the summit of Alaska’s Denali, his life is on the line. The Angel of Death is with him because of her. And she finds out the hard way that Death never forgets.
Q. If you could recommend one book to us to read this year (besides your own, of course!) what would it be?
A. I have read many, many great YA books this year, but the one I always recommend (when I can give only one) is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It’s the story of a young German girl during the time of the Holocaust, narrated by Death. An amazing story that the New York Times endorsed as “life changing.” This book is on the top of my list for a reason.