Christine Lynn Herman has always loved young adult literature, particularly in the categories of fantasy and speculative fiction. "When I was a teenager, I was completely enamored with Holly Black, Sarah Rees Brennan, and Diana Wynne Jones," Herman says. "I was also a huge fan of Seraphina by Rachel Hartman and Marie Lu's Legend series, to name just a few!"
Herman's first YA novel, The Devouring Gray, takes off from these models. The story follows 17-year-old Violet Saunders, who moves with her mother to the small town of Four Paths, N.Y. Her new home, Violet learns, holds a sinister secret in the form of "the Gray," an alternate dimension where a ruthless monster is held captive. She also learns that she is a descendant of the town's founders, a family with magical powers.
In addition to her favorite formative books, Herman took inspiration for this story from her time at the University of Rochester in Upstate New York. "Each time I return there for a visit, I find myself feeling as if I've taken a little vacation to Four Paths," Herman says. She wrote The Devouring Gray during a period of personal struggle, which she feels is also reflected in the book. "I know that my journey of grief and recovery is woven through the character arcs and the worldbuilding," she says.
While the novel has an evocative sense of place, her work is primarily character driven, Herman says. "Typically, my characters are the first part of a story idea to arrive, and I build my setting and plot around their unique journeys and viewpoints." During Herman's creative process, her characters, like real individuals undergoing life-altering experiences, change and grow significantly. "But my story," Herman says, "always ends up evolving to fit their needs rather than the other way around."
For her teenage characters living in Four Paths, the supernatural is a part of daily life. "I thought a lot about what it would be like to have magic actually existing in a small town," Herman says, "how it would interfere with the everyday in some ways, but how in other ways, my teenagers would still be concerned with the same problems that many teenagers in the United States worry about." Even in Four Paths, magic doesn't do your homework for you.
Although Herman's characters experience supernatural terrors that teens will (hopefully) not have confronted themselves, many readers will relate to the characters' feelings of powerlessness and fear. Herman believes that scary stories can be healthy and healing, which is in part why they endure and remain popular with YA and adult readers. "It's good for us all to confront what we're afraid of and why it frightens us," she says. "That makes us stronger and more thoughtful human beings."