It has come to our attention that the usual interviews are just that–usual. We at PCS think that you readers deserve more! That’s why we now bring you Cheyanne Young and RJ Ross discussing their writing plans and novels over a cup of coffee (or several cups of coffee, if we’re honest).
RJ Ross: I’ve got the first question! I’ve always been curious about the Powered universe–all of the supers have the same type of abilities, right? Or are there variations even among the side characters?
Cheyanne Young: I went a little different with the Powered universe. My supers are a different race from humans, so yes they all have the same “power” abilities. The main difference in the super race and the human race is their second set of veins that contain the power. (Book 2 will elaborate on how this came to be.) However, in this world, the only supers who benefit from these abilities are the ones who sign up for Hero training and actually work hard to hone their natural-born skills. This takes years of dedicated work and top secret training strategies to bring out the power in someone. So an average super in my world will be slightly stronger and heal faster than normal humans, but they don’t have super speed, strength, intelligence or agility unless they’re a Hero. I like this because I think it’s cool to realize that you have unlimited potential if you just work hard enough for it. It’s a shout out to how dedicated my Heroes are and also a subliminal message to my young readers. Hopefully they’ll take on the idea that they can be whatever they want to be with enough hard work.
And yes, there are variations in power and I like seeing how my Heroes (and non-Heroes like Evan and his super smartness) discover and utilize these powers. Max is incredibly strong, Maci is the fastest Super on earth, Crimson has slight mind control abilities and Nyx does something special that I can’t say right now. The same goes for Nova… I hate being so secretive, but book 2 will be out soon!
Here’s my question for you: I absolutely love how your heroes and villains do a lot of their villainy and heroic events for the norms and can still be friends, or at least acquaintances with each other in their real life. It’s really a different take on heroes and villains and is more fun in my opinion. What made you want to set it up this way and what were your influences/inspiration?
RJ: Truth? I just always pictured it like a massive wrestling federation. I got into wrestling for just a little while back when I was in college–it was hysterical if you pictured them hanging out in the back, plotting their smack talk, and obviously I did. And when I let Max run off at the mouth in first book he said something extremely vital to this–when you go back far enough you find out that all of the capes are related in one way or another, either by blood or the relationships in the past. What else came into it was that supers are, by nature, a small group. It’s like that line from the Incredibles–if everyone is super, no one is, so you have to keep the group small. And if it’s such a small group, don’t you think they’ll want to know each other? Especially the teenagers.
The adults actually aren’t as close as the kids are in this universe, but they still know each other pretty well. When not in uniform they tend to get along for the most part–especially Panther and Banshee, who were nemesis for a while before she retired. They spent more time fighting each other than they did trying to get along with norms. If you really think about it like that, don’t you think supers (regardless of what side they’re on) have more in common with each other than they do with norms?
Of course there’s the true villain in the series, such as Star Born or Mimic, but these are characters that have a personal driving force behind them, a goal they are willing to put above all else–even if it means breaking the rules set out by all capes. In all actuality, the deeper I dig into even them, I find that their goals aren’t purely evil, either.
But on a personal basis–why I do it, I think, honestly, it’s because I’m writing with the knowledge that I’ve got kids as young as 11 reading the series. I want to show most of the characters as having a good side. I want to portray my characters as being human, with more than just an evil cackle and a cheesy catchphrase. Also, as a writer, I really want that lighthearted feel–it makes the fight scenes downright hysterical to write. I can get away with having Max carry his own mic and Trent making fun of his height, and throwing in those cheesy lines is even funnier, because they know they’re doing it. Star Spangled, for example, has an entire series of dramatic poses that she’s teaching the girls in Cape High. (Emily’s her best student.)
Now, my turn! Is it difficult to portray a character that thinks she’s good as having evil tendencies that the reader can see when you’re writing first person?
Cheyanne: I can’t believe I never made the wrestling connection before! I’m a big WWE fan and now that you’ve pointed out the similarities, it makes total sense. That’s awesome. I may or may not have a closet packed with John Cena and John Morrison T-shirts…
To answer your question: YES! Maci got a lot of grumbling criticism in the first book. People thought she was annoying and self-centered and rude and pushy. I kept wanting to reply to those criticisms with one word.. DUH! Maci has evil genetics and by all accounts should be a villain. She has naturally ingrained instincts to be bad and yet she fights to overcome them because of her desire to be a Hero and to help people.
I had to show her as flawed, and yes, even a bit annoying in Powered because without those faults, she wouldn’t be able to improve throughout the series and shape into a well-rounded Hero. As for writing it from the first person perspective, I tried to include subtle hints such as body language and sarcastic internal dialogue. Maci would clench her jaw or tighten her fists to show that she was angry and struggling to hold it back. She would also say or do something that seems rash and uncalled for, but I tried to explain herself by having her immediately regret it in her mind. That’s the thing with Maci, she’s always jumping into doing the first thing she thinks of and then realizing later on that it wasn’t always the best option. Villains act on gut instinct like this, whereas Heroes have the strength to think it out.
Writing Maci’s evil tendencies was hard and it’s still proving to be a challenge as I finish writing book 2 because a certain someone really pushes her buttons in this book. But I’m having fun showing how she’s growing and improving and learning to think like a Hero and not like a villain, despite what her genetics tell her to do.
My turn! How difficult is it to keep up with your large cast of characters and how do you organize story lines? As a reader, I’ve been able to remember who is who and how they’re related but I can imagine as the writer, it might get hard to keep everything in order, especially when the characters have real names and hero/villain names.
RJ: You won’t be that surprised to find out that I went through half a book calling one character another’s name, then, would you? No, seriously, it is a bit difficult juggling this many characters–and on top of that I got a comment about how “Well, we hardly saw Max and Adanna in this book,” and I just stared at it. Because, seriously, I’ve got a cast bigger than a football game going on, and books that are only 50k words long. Sometimes I only give certain characters a cameo, okay? Then again, BECAUSE of that comment I tossed in more Max and Adanna scenes in book 6.
As for keeping them all in order–well, I’ve got a really good memory for one, and for another, half the cast has been in the back of my mind for years. Another thing is, they’ve got distinctive roles. Max is the leader and a cheerful smart aleck, Adanna’s my hard worker, Zoe’s my typical teenage girl who just happens to be growing into a total badass, Sunny’s my sleepy joker, Trent’s my straight man, Emily’s my bubbly prankster, etc. Sure they’re much deeper than that, and I get to show that in each of their books, but it’s nice to have a certain character fit a certain spot in the story. I need a one-liner? Sunny provides it, or Max if there’s a hint of meanness to it, (or if it’s just downright mean but funny, Jack will jump on it). I want a completely off-the-wall non sequitur? Emily and/or Ditto have already done it. She loves being random.
As for organizing the plots, let me think… I go into a plot arc–like The Distort Arc or the Mimic Arc–with the idea of a villain I want to pull off. Distort came first in the first arc, I wanted a simplistic male that was basically an anti-Nico, but with that personality he wouldn’t have made a good villain, so I made him a lackey of a mad scientist. I gave her a hobby I had originally given to Nico (he used nanites to change genetics, but I wasn’t happy with it) and gave it to her–thus Jack got turned into a half baked super, because he was the main bad guy in book one. Basically I take one idea and let it branch out until I go, “Hey! I can wrap up the arc by doing THIS!” Basically… is making it up as I go along an acceptable answer? Cuz that’s all I got.
And your tag! I’ve read some of your reviews, and one of the comments I’ve seen one or two times is about how you haven’t shown any normal humans yet. (Not a crit on my half, I’ve only had a handful in all the books I’ve written,) but do you have plans on bringing in any? Or is the trilogy purely supers only?
Cheyanne: Book one was mostly Maci’s journey to becoming a hero but there will definitely be humans in book 2. In fact, I kill one and a half of them in the second chapter. mwuahaha. Then the silly humans find a way to get their entire race in serious danger of going extinct and Maci will help out with that. The rest of the trilogy and the spin-off books I have planned will all be about Maci’s Hero missions that are directly dealing with humans and other villains, so hopefully those reviewers will come back for book 2 and be pleased.
It’s interesting that you mention something from my reviews because I’ve never actually read them! I’m weird like that… some of my pen name’s books have over 100 reviews and I haven’t read a single one. I do check over my overall star ratings every so often to make sure my books aren’t perceived as complete crap but I’ve never been able to read them. Maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as I imagine, but I still don’t want to try.
What about you? Do you read reviews and if so, how do they influence your writing?
RJ: I do. Sometimes I really, really regret it, but I do. I try to take them with a grain of salt, but I find myself irritated with some of them for a day–rant out loud for a little bit, then figure out how to use the criticism that I (eventually) admit to (not all of it, of course, some is just ridiculous or goes against my personal stance on how I do things) and use it to improve my stories. Sometimes, though, it makes you feel like slamming your head against a wall and closing up shop. But then I get a really awesome review that makes me happy for the rest of the day.
I’ve found that with Cape High I’ve got some seriously into it fans out there–and not the people I started thinking I’d be writing for. There’s adult guys my age and older reading the books and obsessing over the little details that even I don’t think that much about. I’ve been asked more than once about Sunny’s sleeping habits and plant lights, for example. Because I’ve ran into a handful of fans like that I feel I need to open up my universe a little bit and let them have a bit of input. Whether I go with it or not, well, that’s another matter entirely. But I listen! And sometimes tease the ones I’ve been chatting with long enough. I’m terrible like that.
Now my question! How do you kill half a person? (I bet everyone reading this will be wondering that, so I’ve got to do it.)
Cheyanne: Aha! I will try to answer without giving away too many spoilers…You can kill half a person if only half of their DNA is human. wink wink, nudge nudge.
Now for a personal question. Is your real name RJ or is that your initials? If so, did choosing to use initials have anything to do with being a female writing for superheroes?
RJ: They’re my initials! And… hmmm… why DID I start using that? It was a long time ago when I put out my first story. I think I liked how it looked better than Rebecca Ross. I know of someone with the same name as I have in the same area, which leads me to think that there are several out there. All of us getting our records messed up because of the other. And it had nothing to do with Superheroes, simply because I was writing romance and YA books at the time.
One last question for you, since my answer for it is pretty obvious, but I’m curious about yours. We all know that Powered is a trilogy, but once you’ve complete it do you think you’ll do more superhero books?
Cheyanne: I’m very excited to keep writing in the superhero genre. I don’t like the huge gap between Powered 1 and 2, (2 will be released 8/1/14) but that was because I had decided to wrap up the three half-written YA manuscripts I had before I continued with writing a book from scratch. Now that they’re done, I’m focusing on the Powered Trilogy. My only problems now are that my future stories keep competing in my mind for which one gets written first. I have a few spin off books in the Powered universe about the side characters and then I’m going to write a superhero novella series that’s entirely different from Powered. It’ll still be YA-focused and it’ll revolve around a sort of extinction of superheroes and one kid determined to keep his powers.
I know you’ve said you’re not sure how long the Cape High series will be, so what are your plans for future books? Are you still writing in other genres?
RJ: I have a four book series that I wrote before I got into Cape High–in fact, CH was meant to be a toy to relax with, the Fae series was my obsession at the time. I still love it. Even though they’re technically fairies, there’s a lot of similarities to my CH series. There’s romance and action and powers over animals or plants or water. I spent years with this series and am still happy to read it. I got a pm on Facebook the other day where one reader (just one, it’s all I need, really) asked when Water Wielder was going to come out–book 3. So I dug it out of my files and am rereading it just for a final check before I get it out. I need to revise book 4, too, but as far as writing new stuff, well, not at the moment.
There’s so many ways I can go with CH that I don’t need to start up something new. If I feel like writing a romance, all I need to do is toss in a love interest, if I feel like writing a thriller, well, I toss in a new baddie! It really is such an open world for me–except it’s expected for the main to have burgeoning super powers. That doesn’t bother me at all–it’s one of the funnest parts about it.
But as for plans. I’m debating over a few books, I’ve got some characters either showing up in my blog or in the books before that I really want to bring into the world. My biggest debate is one I have to figure out soon–whether to do Sunny as a book or not. There’s others I could do–Vinny is my laid back second in command zoo boy that would make for a fun book, there’s a little Latina girl I’ve got developing in the back of my mind I want to write, and then there’s Keliah, who’s Falconess’s daughter and has shown up in The Black Cat Files on my blog. The main plot of the next arc is something I’m pretty much set on–a summer mentorship program. As for my baddie, well, that’s one you’ll have to wait and see!
R.J. Ross is the author of the Cape High series, a book series that focuses on teens learning how to use their powers, deal with their pasts, their relationships, and kick butt. She got her B.A. in English with an emphasis on writing from Rockhurst University. She enjoys writing, reading, and comedy. She’s also building a weapon of mass destruction in her basement and is looking for more toilet paper tubes. And plastic spoons. Yes. Please donate all plastic spoons to R.J. Ross. She wants to expand her mad scientist lab. It’s a very important cause.
Cheyanne is a native Texan with a fear of cold weather and a coffee addiction that probably needs an intervention. She loves books, sarcasm, nail polish and paid holidays. She lives near the beach with her family, one spoiled rotten puppy and a cat that is plotting to take over the world, one scratched up welcome mat at a time. By day, Cheyanne works in engineering. But at night Cheyanne can be found furiously typing on her computer, probably complaining on Twitter about how she should be writing. When she’s not honing her procrastination skills, she’s writing books for teenagers. Powered is the first superhero book she’s written, but it won’t be the last. Because Powered is a trilogy, duh.