Katie McGarry is known for her edgy teen romantic dramas, which feature characters making hard choices or going through rough times. In Nowhere but Here, she kicks off the Thunder Road series, which delves into the high-octane world of a motorcycle club.

What can you tell us about Nowhere but Here?

Nowhere but Here is my newest YA novel. It involves teens raised in a motorcycle club. I did quite a bit of research going into this, especially since I wanted to write about legitimate motorcycle clubs. The characters, Oz and Emily, mean a lot to me. Emily’s lived with her mom and adoptive father all her life, but she ends up spending the summer with her biological father, who’s part of the Reign of Terror motorcycle club. Oz wants desperately to be part of the club. They’re basically his family. He’s 18, and he’s going through that period where he’s trying to figure out what he wants for his life versus what he thinks others want for his life.

What inspired you to work with this particular theme?

When I was younger, I grew up in a neighborhood where there were motorcycle clubs present. My father actually worked part-time at a liquor store up the street from where we lived, and sometimes my mom would send me up there with him, and I used to see these guys. They would come in with their motorcycles, they were fantastic. I grew up with a positive perception of what motorcycle clubs are. Obviously you see in the news about outlaw gangs, but there are far more people in the motorcycle community who are just legit people who belong to clubs, brought together by their love of motorcycles and a sense of brotherhood.

What sort of research did you do?

For this one, I got hands-on. I contacted a local motorcycle club and explained who I was, and what I was doing, and asked permission to interview them. Several weeks later, the president of the club offered for me to come and hang out with them. They let me become a fly on the wall. Every time I went in, I had a prospect assigned to me to make sure I felt comfortable. I got to meet all these guys, and their wives and kids, and I could see how they’re a family. I was blown away by that. On Fridays, they had potluck dinner, though after 8:00 PM, the families would clear out. It’s an amazing world, and I tried to take all of it, good and bad, and show it in the book.

Were there any surprises while you were researching? Anything you learned which you weren’t expecting?

The sense of brotherhood. I had an idea going in, that these people would be close, but I had no idea just how family-oriented they were. People would take me aside and tell me stories about how the club helped them out during difficult times, how the club was there for them. It was awe-inspiring. Who doesn’t search their entire lives to find friends and family like that?

You include a playlist with your story. How important is music to you and your writing?

I am very influenced by music. Usually I already have a pretty good idea what I’m going to be writing about. Even before I start researching, there’s a general idea. The music can help me understand how a scene is going to build, how it’ll sound. There can be lyrics from a song that just hit me and I can build an entire scene around that. Sometimes it relates to character traits. I always put the playlist in the back as an acknowledgment of how the songs helped me with the story.

Your books tend to have an edge to them.

I’m a love story kind of girl, but I enjoy tackling stereotypes and perceptions. I grew up in a rougher area, and I love showing that all around, we’re all people struggling with the same things. I’m writing about stuff I’ve experienced, or that people I know have experienced. I hear from my readers, and they’re so grateful that I’m writing such raw stories, because they’re possibly experiencing a lot of the same things my characters are. To see someone go through those struggles, and see that there’s hope on the other side, even if it’s a fictional character, it’s empowering.

If you were part of a motorcycle club, what do you think your name would be?

In motorcycle clubs, you don’t get to choose your name, it’s chosen for you. There’s often a joke associated with it. My name would probably be The Writer Girl. That was how I was referred to the most. I’m in this club, there’s bras hanging on the walls, you have these big guys and their huge motorcycles, and here I am sitting at the bar, taking notes and chatting. I’d hear “Who’s that?” “That’s just the writer girl.”

Nowhere but Here by Katie McGarry. Harlequin Teen, $17.99 June 978-0-373-21142-5