Clara Kensie is the author of dark fiction for young adults. Her super-romantic psychic thriller RUN TO YOU is the first serialized series from Harlequin Teen. This two-book series is serialized into six parts. Visit her here.
NAW- Tell us about your book, Run To You. What is it about? How did you get the idea for it?
RUN TO YOU is a YA romantic thriller about a family on the run from a deadly past, and a first love that will transcend secrets, lies, and danger.
I’ve always enjoyed writing, but being an author was never something I set out to do as a career. I read a lot, though, and some characters I loved so much that I never wanted the book to end. But all books end, even if they are seven-book series like Harry Potter. A few years ago, I realized that the only way that I’d never have to say goodbye to a character would be to write a book myself. I could develop characters I love, and write and write and write their stories. I could then spend years with my characters, instead of just a few days. A perfect plan, right?
Inspired by the idea that I could spend years with beloved characters of my own, I sat at my computer and brainstormed a list of all of my favorite elements to include in the book. Here is a copy-and-paste of that actual list:
- Young adult
- Realistic heroine – not perfect, but relatable
- Devoted hero – mysterious and hot
- Sweet but strong romance
- Dark plot – Danger – Scary villain
- Psychic powers
- Big plot twists
I had a vague idea that it would be cool if the characters had secret identities. And that’s as far as it went. I was stuck.
A few weeks later on a cloudy November day, I was pulling out of a parking spot at the grocery store when I was hit with a “what if:” What if there was a teenage girl who was the only member of her family without a psychic power? And what if they moved around from place to place because they were being hunted by a killer—and that killer had psychic powers too? And what if that girl met a boy who was hiding some shocking secrets of his own…”
It went on from there. I went home and wrote the story, being sure to include my brainstormed list of favorite elements. The first draft took me only a few weeks to write, but it took me years to revise, which meant I’ve been able to spend years with the characters I love so much. I’m thrilled that others are reading RUN TO YOU now, and loving the characters as much as I do.
NAW-Tell us about the character of Tessa Carson. How did you develop the character?
Tessa is the only member of her family without a psychic ability. She’s small for her age, and she’s the only one who was hurt in the killer’s first attack. For these reasons, Tessa’s parents and siblings see her as weak and breakable. They over-protect her because they don’t believe she can protect herself. Tessa resents her family’s treatment, but being on the run for half her life, she’s learned that running and hiding is the only way to stay safe. But then she meets Tristan, who sees a strength in her that her family doesn’t. As their relationship grows stronger, so does Tessa, and she finally realizes the only way to save her family is to forget everything she’s learned from a lifetime of running away, and to run toward the trouble head-on.
I wanted Tessa to be relatable and real to my readers: she’s not perfect, she feels fear and vulnerability, and she makes mistakes, just as we all do. As Tessa grows stronger throughout the series, she’s still not perfect, she still makes mistakes, she still feels fear and vulnerability—she just doesn’t let it stop her anymore.
NAW- Even though it’s basically a romance novel, it has darker themes. Do you like reading such books yourself? Any favourite books in this genre?
It’s funny you say RUN TO YOU is basically a romance novel, because I see it more as a romantic thriller. I didn’t set out to write a romance novel. I set out to write a thriller. The romance element became more dominant with each draft, and now Tessa and Tristan’s romance is what readers love most about RUN TO YOU. Some readers have even declared Tristan to be their “Book Boyfriend.” But yes, the series does have darker themes. It is a thriller after all, and the family is being hunted by a killer hired by the government. The family relationships are complex and dysfunctional, and my characters, Tessa in particular, struggle to overcome trauma and fear. She experiences betrayal, guilt, and despair.
I write books with darker themes because I enjoy reading books with darker themes. Master of horror Stephen King is my favorite author of all time. I’m not a horror writer, but King’s CARRIE and FIRESTARTER were huge influences on RUN TO YOU. J.K. Rowling is another favorite author of mine. HARRY POTTER has many dark themes. Another of my favorite books with dark themes is Suzanne Collins’ THE HUNGER GAMES. You can’t get darker than that.
NAW- Tell us about your other works. How difficult (or easy) was it getting published?
RUN TO YOU was the first book I wrote. I’ve written others while seeking a literary agent and while RUN TO YOU was on submission, but they are still in the manuscript stage. All of them have darker themes, such as dysfunctional family relationships and triumph over tragedy. I hope they’ll be published one day.
Getting RUN TO YOU published was both easy and difficult. I found an agent very quickly, within a month of querying (my dream agent, the wonderful Laura Bradford). But after that initial success, it took awhile to find a publisher for it. My time on submission was very emotional. I cycled through hope and discouragement, joy and despair, on a daily basis.
NAW- Tell us about your publishing journey. How difficult (or easy) was it finding a publisher?
I’m honored and proud to say that Harlequin Teen is the publisher of RUN TO YOU. But it wasn’t easy! My agent submitted to them in March 2012, but it wasn’t until November that they responded with interest, and then it wasn’t until late February 2013 that they made an offer. It was exactly one year to the day from the initial submission to when my agent and I accepted their offer.
Harlequin Teen waited so long to express interest because they were starting a new digital-first division, and they thought my book would be perfect for it. RUN TO YOU and the sequel were the first manuscripts they acquired for the new division.
A few months after I signed with Harlequin Teen, they decided to make a major change to the RUN TO YOU series and do something new and different with it: they decided to publish the books as a serial. First popularized by 19th century literary greats such as Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy and Harriet Beecher Stowe, serials are making a big comeback in today’s digital world. RUN TO YOU is not only Harlequin Teen’s first serial, it is also one of the first YA serials on the market ever.
Today, RUN TO YOU is a two-book series, and each book is published in three parts. Book One is FIRST SIGHT, SECOND GLANCE, and THIRD CHARM. Book Two is FOURTH SHADOW, FIFTH TOUCH, and SIXTH SENSE.
NAW- Tell us about yourself. What do you do when you are not writing?
When I’m not writing, I’m a wife and mom. I spend most of my time in the car, chauffeuring the kids around. My husband and both of our kids are very athletic, so I also spend a lot of time on the sidelines of soccer and lacrosse fields, cheering them on.
NAW- Who are your favourite writers?
So many! I mentioned Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and Suzanne Collins above. Other favorite authors include April Henry, Gayle Foreman, Elizabeth Scott, Katie McGarry, Tabitha Suzuma, Lucy Christopher, Barry Lyga, Erica O’Rourke, Rainbow Rowell, Michelle Hodkin, Julie Kagawa, Liz Coley, David Levithan, John Greene… and those are just off the top of my head.
NAW- How do you write, planning the complete plot beforehand or do you let the book take its course? Take us through your writing process.
Before I write one word of my manuscript, I plot it out as thoroughly as I can. But no matter how thoroughly I’ve plotted, once I’m writing it, I’ll realize something doesn’t work and I’ll have to make a change. Or, something unexpected will work its way into the manuscript during each draft, surprising me. I usually love it, so I try to keep it.
I write my first drafts straight through as quickly as I can, without going back to edit. If I think of something I want to change, I make a note of it, then continue as if I’d already made the change. Then I print it out, make revision notes, re-plot (sometimes massively), and begin again on a fresh document. The subsequent drafts take me forever to write. I fiddle with my sentences and paragraphs a lot before I can move on to the next scene, and I usually go back a million times, tweaking things here and there.
NAW-What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading STOLEN by Lucy Christopher and I HUNT KILLERS by Barry Lyga. Both are excellent. I recently finished PRETTY GIRL 13 by Liz Coley and FORBIDDEN by Tabitha Suzuma. Both of those books were wonderful, too. I’ve been on a fantastic book streak lately.
NAW- What are your upcoming projects?
RUN TO YOU took over my life for a couple of years. Now I’m concentrating on my next manuscripts. The one I’m writing now is a dark, realistic contemporary YA that was first inspired by a kidnapping that happened in my town when I was in middle school and has haunted me ever since.