Alyson Noel has hit her stride in both the YA and middle grade arenas. In the former, the six-book The Immortals series from St. Martin’s Griffin has more than eight million copies in print worldwide—3.5 million in the U.S. alone. The author’s first foray into middle grade fiction, the Riley Bloom paperback series (which stars the younger sister of The Immortals heroine, Ever) has more than 800,000 copies in print, and Square Fish will release the fourth installment, Whisper, on April 24 with a 200,000-copy print run. Noël further expands her reach into the YA market with Fated (St. Martin’s Griffin), the debut novel in her new series, The Soul Seekers, with a combined first printing of 250,000 hardcover and e-book copies. Set in New Mexico, the book draws from Native American mythology and introduces Daire, a teen who belongs to an ancestral line of shamans and can’t navigate the worlds between the living and the dead. Bookshelf caught up with Noël as she traveled to Chicago from her home in Orange County, Calif., to attend the RT Booklovers Convention, where she’ll take part in the second annual Teen Day.
What inspired The Soul Seekers’ Native American mythology premise?
I did a lot of hands-on research for the Immortals. I was hypnotized, took a psychic development course, and read a lot of books with metaphysical themes. In my reading, themes of shamanism kept appearing. I became fascinated with Native American mythology, but that didn’t really fit into the world of The Immortals. So I decided it was something I wanted to explore in this new series. But I do want to make it clear that, though I did take bits of that mythology, I tweaked it for my own purposes—in fact there are liberal doses of tweaking. I’m not an authority on Native American mythology by any means!
What additional research did you do for Fated?
I had so much fun researching this book. I took a three-day introduction to shamanism course, and went to New Mexico, which is actually one of my favorite places to visit. On my trip, I interviewed Native Americans about living on a reservation, talked to teens about what it’s like to grow up there, had a session with a shaman there, and of course read a lot of books. It’s been a fascinating series to write, and it has allowed me to build a supernatural world, which I really love to do—and to build a completely different world from the world of The Immortals.
Completely different in what way?
The two series’ settings are very different. The Immortals takes place in glitzy Orange County. The Soul Seekers is set in the fictional, rundown town of Enchantment, New Mexico. The characters live lives that are the opposite of what their town’s name implies.
So you’d say that this is a definite departure from The Immortals—or do the two series have common strains?
Can I say both? The Immortals and The Soul Seekers are the same—and different. I think people who enjoy the first series will like the metaphysical themes of The Soul Seekers, and will find a commonality. This new series has the same focus on relationships, romance, friends, and building bonds with family. Yet the mythology is entirely different, and there’s a very different feel and atmosphere. The Soul Seekers is slightly darker than The Immortals. In many ways this is new territory for me, and I’m really having fun with it.
How do the characters of Ever, the heroine of The Immortals, and Daire, heroine of The Soul Seekers, compare?
Ever is a naive, protected protagonist who has to learn to toughen up. Daire is a world-weary, cynical teen who has moved from movie set to movie set with her mother, a makeup artist, and has never had a stable life. On her 16th birthday, she undergoes terrifying hallucinations. Her mother is worried, and sends her to live with the grandmother she’s never met, who knows immediately that Daire has a calling as a Soul Seeker. She learns the meaning of home and for the first time builds friendships and allows herself to become vulnerable.
Your protagonists’ stories are inevitably told in their own voices. Why is that?
Writing in the first person feels more immediate, more intimate. It allows me to translate the characters’ experiences directly onto the page by giving me an all-access pass to their thoughts and feelings.
You have said that Radiance, the first Riley Bloom book, was the easiest book you’d ever written. Given that this was your debut middle grade novel, why is that?
At first I was terrified at the thought of writing a middle grade novel, since I’d only written YA. But I realized that it was not about writing middle grade, but about writing the character. And I love Riley’s character—I have a soft spot for her. Once I got into her head, it became really easy. In fact, all of the Riley Bloom books come easily to me.
How would you say that Fated ranks on the easy/hard scale?
I think the first book in every series is the most difficult to write. There is a huge excitement to it, but you’re still trying to figure out what you want to say and what the world is really about. The world building takes careful thought and consideration, so it always takes me a bit longer to write that first book. Once that world is set up and the characters’ roles are in place, I’m off and running.
Do you know how many Soul Seekers books you’ll write, or is the series open-ended?
Well, I’ve written the second book, Echo, and am working on the third, Mystic. I have the arc for four books in the series, and for me that’s where it ends. I always outline the story arc, but I also allow a lot of room along the way to be surprised by my characters and things that might crop up. I don’t like to pen myself in. As I wrote The Immortals, I realized that the story was bigger than I first thought, and it took me six books to get to the end.
You’ve obviously also written stand-alone novels, though more recently have focused on series. Do you find series writing more satisfying?
While my first seven novels were all stand-alones, I find that I’m really enjoying writing series, as it allows me to create a much bigger character arc than I can in 300 pages. It also lets me enjoy more time with the characters and really deepen their journey.
Though creating series must have its own challenges.
Yes. The main challenge I’ve found in writing a series is in making sure to keep the character traits and the rules of the world consistent. It’s easy to lose track of small details along the way, so I keep an ongoing “series bible” that I add to with each successive book.
Given the success of The Immortals and Riley Bloom, is it intimidating to launch this new series?
It is and it isn’t. On one hand, it’s nice to know that there is a built-in anticipation among my diehard readers, and those who have enjoyed my other series are apt to pick up The Soul Seekers. But every new book makes a writer anxious—every book is a new start. You can’t take anything for granted, though I think the excitement of creating something new and delving into new characters and their possibilities overshadows the anxiety.
What’s next on your agenda?
I’ll be touring after Fated comes out at the end of May, first domestically, and then internationally. I am going to Singapore, Australia, and Brazil. And I’m off to the Frankfurt Book Fair in October. Which means I’ll be doing a lot of writing on airplanes!
After I finish the third Soul Seekers book, I’ll move on to book four. And when that’s in the can, I’ll dive into the huge file I call my idea file and see what jumps out at me.
The Soul Seekers: Fated by Alyson Noël. St. Martin’s Griffin, $17.99 Apr. ISBN 978-0-3126-6485-5