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Tamara Leigh Kelley is a published author and voracious reader of YA fiction. Her entry in the Defy the Dark Contest, “How Michael Tanner Became a Magician” expands on her novel, Guardian. Guardian tells the story of 14-year-old Blythe Armstrong who discovers she is a Guardian, a woman tasked with protecting the living from evil spirits.
You wrote a short story tie-in to your novel Guardian for the Defy the Dark contest. How did Defy the Dark help you in the writing process?
I had already written Guardian when I penned “How Michael Tanner Became a Magician” for the Defy the Dark contest. I had an interest in exploring one of the main characters in Guardian further, so it seemed natural for me to expand upon a pivotal event in this character’s life in this manner. Entering the Defy the Dark contest helped me in that it allowed me to organize and create my short story within a tightly-defined framework. And it introduced me to some amazing new writers!
What paranormal authors/books influenced your novel?
My influences for Guardian actually came from the old and new of the paranormal bookshelves, so to speak! I love Richard Peck’s Ghosts I Have Been, Veronica Roth’s Insurgent and Divergent (although these are more dystopian), and Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater. I also drew from the terrific dark atmosphere of Lauren Kate’s Fallen books, and the characterization of one of my all-time faves, The Hunger Games.
Which literary character are you most like and why?
I would have to say that I am probably most like Lyra Belacqua, the young heroine of the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. Lyra is inquisitive (as I am—sometimes to a fault!), tenacious, and never gives up when she wants to get something done. She also feels things very deeply, which is a trait that has served me well as an author. Getting to know and care about my characters as I write is very important to me. In addition, although I’m not saving the world like Lyra, I’d like to think I would try my best if the challenge ever presented itself!
Do you have a favorite word? A least favorite word?
I have lots of favorite words—I’m an author! But seriously, I have always loved the word “tranquility”—so beautiful, calming, and, well, tranquil. On the flip side of this is the word “chuckle.” I don’t know what it is about this word, but I always cringe when I read it somewhere!
What cliché would you most like to see erased from YA fiction?
I have to say, first off, that we all write clichés. The stubborn heroine, the tortured mentor, the mysterious guy that is perfect-in-every-way-but-one-and-that-one-is-a-dealbreaker cliché—they all exist and many amazing books include them. But the one that I really feel should be erased from YA fiction is the helpless heroine. As writers of YA fiction, we are not only telling entertaining stories—we are also creating worlds and archetypes that our readers, as young adults, can hopefully identify with. I have a nineteen-year-old daughter and I certainly would not have wanted her to grow up loving books which feature girls who cannot problem-solve on their own. Romance is fine (there’s plenty in Guardian and there will be even more in the sequel, Congregation, which I am writing now), but we need to place these young men and women on equal footing. I mean, even an angel or a vampire has something to learn from a young human woman! Bring on the strength of character when you write—the rest of the story will be that much better for it. I promise.
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