We spoke with six authors who are launching new children’s and YA series this year about crafting new worlds, the difference in the writing process compared to standalone projects, and what they hope to explore further into their series.

Kwame Alexander

How did you come to write this series? What did the idea stem from?

I spent about 10 years thinking about the book because usually I can’t start writing until I know the beginning, middle, and the end. I think through that process until I have a clear understanding and appreciation for that. 2012 was my first trip to Ghana/West Africa and while sitting under a coconut tree and talking to some of the kids in the village—and me wanting to talk about the weight of history, and them wanting to talk about Kanye West and music and food—I just started thinking to myself, “wait a minute.” As a Black American, you walk around with this sort of weight of being Black, and think that is the connection between you and Africa—between you and the motherland—but it doesn’t have to be. That burden was taken off when I found myself in Africa because people just want to talk about the daily woes and wonders of life. The toils and the triumphs. They just want to talk about “what good food did you have,” “what do you think about this song,” and “do you want a coconut?”

So, during this 10-year period, I found myself being able to appreciate the beauty and normalcy of kids whose eyes are full of hope and who are growing up in this place that we know of as Africa. I thought to myself how I could capture that in a book. Once I decided to write the book, after having made all those visits to Ghana and having all those experiences, I realized that the story I wanted to tell was going to be a lot lengthier than one book because there are many voices that needed to be given a platform.

What was the first element of the series that you began crafting and why was that your starting point?

For me, it’s always a character and some sort of sport. And it started with The Crossover, which wasn’t my idea, by the way—someone pitched me that: “You should write a book about a boy who plays basketball, and you should tell the story in verse.” And so after I wrote The Crossover, I wrote books about soccer and I wrote Becoming Muhammad Ali with Jim [Patterson] about boxing. So for me it’s always about the character. What’s their struggle in the sport that they’re playing and off the field, as it were?

Then you have to figure out what the metaphor is. Sports is gonna be my metaphor, so if I know the sport, then I can begin to develop the metaphor. That’s how I think as a poet.

What notable differences do you find in the creative and writing process when writing a series verses a standalone novel?

With a standalone novel, you tie it up. There may be some loose ends, but you have a beginning, middle, and end. A trilogy has a beginning, middle, and end in each book, but the ends are beginnings. The circle cannot be unbroken. You just gotta keep it going, and you have to figure out how to. It’s like writing a poem. Because I write novels in verse, each poem is a story in and of itself, but it still has to contribute to the story of the novel. So, I always feel like poets who write novels in verse have a much harder job, ’cause you have to write a poem and you gotta write a novel. You have to write a poem on each page, and it has to feel complete, and it has to feel like it’s incomplete enough for you to want to turn the page. That’s work! I feel like it’s the same thing with a trilogy. You want to complete it, but at the same time you want to leave just enough for the reader to crave and grow impatient waiting for that next book in the series. If you can figure that out, that’s great. And I feel like in The Door of No Return, I ended book one in a way that you have some closure, but not enough.

What can readers look forward to in the next part of your series?

I have been told countless times in my career, in particular by young girls, that you need to write a book with a female lead. I can say that book two will more than likely have a female lead and after you’ve read book one you will definitely know who it should be and who it possibly will be.

The Door of No Return by Kwame Alexander. Little, Brown, $17.99 Sept. 27 ISBN 978-0-316-44186-5

Roseanne A. Brown

How did you come to write this series? Where did the idea stem from?

Back in 2019, my agent emailed me that Stephanie Lurie, the editorial director at Rick Riordan Presents, was looking for new writers for the imprint and asked if I wanted to pitch something. I’d never written middle grade before, but I grew up with the Percy Jackson books, and so suffice to say I screamed a lot before jumping on the opportunity. I turned in the initial pitch for Serwa in August 2019, which was then reviewed by both Steph and Rick Riordan himself. Then I spent that fall working on a six-chapter proposal, which sold in November of that year.

Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting comes from my love of comic books, anime, and action movies. Though I have a reputation for more romance-heavy stories due to A Song of Wraiths and Ruin, some of my favorite pieces of media growing up were Percy Jackson, Power Rangers, Naruto, and Teen Titans. I wanted to write a book that captured that fast-paced, action-heavy Saturday morning cartoon feel, but with a Black girl who was our main kick-butt hero instead of the sassy sidekick or some other stereotype.

What was the first element of this series you began crafting and why was that your starting point?

The adze was my starting point because it is my extremely biased opinion that it’s one of the coolest monsters ever. Like how terrifying is the thought that your friends and family could be possessed right this moment by a bloodsucking firefly and you’d never know? Even though I’d grown up with Ghanaian folklore, I didn’t learn about the creatures until I was doing research for my debut novel A Song of Wraiths and Ruin. Though the adze didn’t make it into that duology, I kept them in the back of my mind knowing I would write about them one day. When it came time to pitch RRP, I knew I wanted the adze front and center.

You can’t have a vampire without a vampire hunter, which is where Serwa and her organization, the Abomofuo, came into the story. From there, every other worldbuilding detail grew around this idea of an ancient conflict between the Ghanaian hunters and the vampires no one knew about. It was very important to me that the Abomofuo have this global, almost Illuminati-like reach while also being a distinctly African society in its customs and norms, so I did a lot of research on real secret societies in our world. And then I set the whole book in central Maryland because I grew up there and can never pass up the opportunity to take loving digs at the state!

What notable differences do you find in the creative and writing process when writing a series vs. a standalone novel?

I think it’s the difference that many runners have preparing for a sprint vs. a marathon. I’ve only written one standalone so far—Shuri and T’Challa: Into the Heartlands, my graphic novel with Marvel and Scholastic—and with that book, I knew I had to pack a whole lot of punch in a very small space. That meant every single line, detail, and panel had to do 10 different things to get the full climactic effect I wanted by the end.

With series, on the other hand, you’re playing the long game. You can plant seeds and hints in book one that don’t need to come to fruition for several more books. It definitely takes a lot of planning and is more taxing on me creatively to weave something so intricate, but it’s an amazing feeling when you get that payoff you can only get from a story that’s had that extended room to blossom.

What can readers look forward to in the next part of your series?

Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting ends with a cliffhanger that many of my friends are very mad about! But without spoiling anything, I can say book two moves us from the suburbs of Maryland to the streets of Washington, D.C., and that this time the witches get to take center stage because they couldn’t let the vampires have all the fun! And as with all my books, readers can expect zany hijinks, epic magic, and enough jokes to put a Netflix comedy special to shame.

Serwa Boateng’s Guide to Vampire Hunting by Roseanne A. Brown. Disney/Rick Riordan Presents, $17.99 Sept. 6 ISBN 978-1-368-06636-5

Chloe Gong

How did you come to write this series? Where did the idea stem from?

Foul Lady Fortune had a bit of an unconventional start because the idea emerged while I was finishing the first draft for These Violent Delights, which was my debut. As These Violent Delights and [its sequel] Our Violent Ends took shape, my attention kept gravitating over to Rosalind [a secondary character in the These Violent Delights duology] and how things might have turned out differently for her if it weren’t for the circumstances. Of course, though, I couldn’t pivot properly since she was an antagonistic side character and that wasn’t really where the story was. Foul Lady Fortune, then, became her time to shine, and I’m so happy I get to do a spin-off because it’s a series opener that can be read separate from the duology that came first, but it also smoothly continues where we left off: Rosalind Lang in the ruins of her mistakes, trying to fix what she believes she’s broken.

What was the first element of this series you began crafting and why was that your starting point?

Premise always comes first for me to make sure everything else, such as the characters and setting, can stand up well. Before I write, I need a basic elevator pitch so that I’ve articulated to myself what I want to achieve in the book. Foul Lady Fortune’s pitch was: immortal girl wants to atone by saving her city from a conspiracy. Having that as a starting point means I can draw up the complete arc between “this is what the protagonist wants” and “is this achieved at the end of the series?” which I think is critical for keeping a reader interested! After that I can start building elements, such as giving the untrusting protagonist a devilish love interest, or researching true history so that my speculative elements interact with commentary in a meaningful way. But premise, to me, is like the spine that holds a book upright.

What can readers look forward to in the next part of your series?

Sequels are my favorite type of books to write because I love that the world and character dynamics have already been set up and you can hit the ground running from page one. The next installment of Foul Lady Fortune has more laughter and more angst at the same time, and it was a rollercoaster for me while writing so I hope it’s a rollercoaster for the readers too. Readers who are fans of These Violent Delights might also enjoy how the series start to intertwine…

Foul Lady Fortune by Chloe Gong. McElderry, $21.99 Sept. 27 ISBN 978-1-66590-558-9

Adalyn Grace

How did you come to write this series? Where did the idea stem from?

Belladonna is an accumulation of all the things I love in stories. It has romance, mystery, paranormal elements, and is set in a Victorian era-inspired world, which I’ve always been drawn to. The seeds of the idea first formed 10 years ago, during a performance of The Secret Garden musical, where all those surrounding a baby catch the plague and die in the opening scene. I was immediately intrigued, and yet as the show developed, I realized that it was ultimately rather sweet and didn’t lean into the more macabre elements, like spirits and hauntings, nearly as much as I would have personally loved. I found my mind wandering and beginning to piece together a new story—one about a girl who could defy death, that really leaned more into the paranormal.

This book had many different versions over the years. One was a middle grade! In another, Death was a very different character who was solely the antagonist. Then the pandemic hit and I wanted to escape into a new project to distract myself from everything happening. I started to focus on fleshing Belladonna out and filling it with everything that makes me happy—sweeping romances and masquerade balls. Worlds that are as unsettling and eerie as they are glittering and glamorous. I made Death a prominent character with romantic connection to the main character, and then I built Signa, a character who embodies a lot of the things I struggled with as a girl. She wants little more than to fit in with the masses and to be what people expect her to be as a woman during the 1800s. But the more she tries to follow the path that’s expected of her, the more she finds herself struggling to find the happiness she’s seeking. Belladonna feels like the most “me” out of any of my stories, and I’m so excited to get to finally share it with others.

What was the first element of this series you began crafting and why was that your starting point?

The first thing I knew about this story was its prologue, where we meet a baby who somehow manages to defy Death himself in this beautifully eerie backdrop. Throughout all the versions of this story, that scene has never changed. I always knew it was the opening, and from there I started asking myself who this baby would grow up to be. What kind of person is she? What does she want? Everything in the story is built around Signa, to further help tell her story.

What can readers look forward to in the next part of your series?

I’m currently hard at work on the sequel, Foxglove. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that there’s a new character you meet toward the end of Belladonna who is featured more heavily, and he’s been a ton of fun. Also, while this is still very much Signa’s story, it’s not only her story. There are lots of secrets, ballgowns, romance, and a new mystery begging to be solved!

Belladonna by Adalyn Grace. Little, Brown, $18.99 Aug. 30 ISBN 978-0-316-15823-7

Joan He

How did you come to write this series? Where did the idea stem from?

Like many kids of the Chinese diaspora, I was told stories from Romance of the Three Kingdoms growing up. Names such as Zhuge Liang and Liu Bei are basically synonymous with “clever and loyal” and “honorable righteousness,” respectively, within the culture. But it wasn’t until college that I really read and analyzed the text, and as I thought more deeply about the enduring legacy of its characters in contemporary Chinese society, I came up with a “what if” question that ultimately became my midpoint twist, from which my stories tend to spring.

What was the first element of this series you began crafting? Was it the characters, settings, worldbuilding, or something else? Why was that your starting point?

Because this is a reimagining of a classic work set in a real, historical era, I had some existing sense for the general world, even as I took my story to an alternate universe and fictional dynasty. So, after coming up the twist, I started constructing the characters. I knew that Zephyr, my gender-swapped take on Zhuge Liang, had to helm the story; so many of the plots in Three Kingdoms would not exist if not for Zhuge Liang’s genius. I then built out the rest of the cast by deciding which of the hundreds of source characters to include, combine, or cut, and finally by tweaking their personalities with Zephyr in mind. Since the story is told from her point of view, how she perceives the characters around her is not necessarily accurate to who they really are but colored by how much she respects them.

What notable differences do you find in the creative and writing process when writing a series vs. a standalone novel?

One notable difference for me, having published two standalones before this, was starting off book two realizing that readers already know the characters and general relationships. For a while it feels like writing fanfic, which is fun!

The less fun difference is the struggle of trying to seed as much foreshadowing as possible in book one for the not-yet-written events of book two. What made it worse for me is that I don’t really think of the two books of my duology as different books but rather as halves of one big epic story. When I first came up with the story idea many years ago and knew nothing about publishing and production, I thought it could be a giant, doorstopper tome. So it’s definitely anxiety-inducing to know that the first half of a story will be printed before you can finalize the second half, if you think of it from a standalone perspective.

What can readers look forward to in the next part of your series?

A lot more scheming, epic battles, and ruthlessness from Zephyr, a character who is neither a hero nor antihero, but someone forced to make hard choices in a war where even the winners are losers. Also, more development of her relationship with her number one rival, Crow. All I could think about while writing book one was how much I wanted to get to a pivotal moment involving the two of them in the sequel. They spend much more time together there—for better or for worse.

Strike the Zither by Joan He. Roaring Brook, $18.99 Oct. 25 ISBN 978-1-250-25858-8

Aiden Thomas

How did you come to write this series? Where did the idea stem from?

It really came from my love of series like Percy Jackson and the Olympians, which focus on different cultural mythologies in the modern world. I started thinking about what a Mexican version of that would look like—a full pantheon and creation myth inspired by modern Mexican American culture! There’s also a very Hunger Games-y element in the Trials themselves, which I had a lot of fun with. It’s got a mix of the modern and the ancient. I knew if I was going to write a secondary fantasy world, I wanted it to reflect who I am and where I come from, and the end result is this super queer, super Mexican fantasy world complete with cell phones and social media.

The Greek pantheon is probably the most well-known example, but there are certain archetypes and tropes you see throughout different cultural myths. Crash Course has a whole series for free on YouTube that I devoured while coming up with the world for The Sunbearer Trials. In Greek myth, you’ve got Kronos and Gaia at the start of the creation myth—and that pairing of a Sky Father/Earth Mother is really common, it turns out. My version of that is Sol, who is kind of like the Big God of this world above all the other gods, and they’re nonbinary. Their partner, Tierra, is the God of the Earth, and I took a lot of inspiration from the landscape of Mexico and South America rather than the kind of rolling hills and pastoral aesthetic of Greek myth. I had so much fun coming up with all these Mexican versions of the pantheon archetype, like Lumbre (fire) and Guerrero (war), and then the goddess of home and the hearth is Pan Dulce!

What was the first element of this series you began crafting and why was that your starting point?

Teo actually wasn’t even the protagonist when I came up with the idea for The Sunbearer Trials, he was the love interest! It was originally going to be a dual POV story following two of the other competitors. But as I started telling this story I realized Teo was really the one at the heart of it. He’s the one who can see the class system for what it is, and he’s the one who’s going to make change.

What notable differences do you find in the creative and writing process when writing a series vs. a standalone novel?

There are so many differences. It’s wild to plan all the way to the very end of a book I haven’t even written [yet] before I could start writing the first book. It’s also a huge challenge to plot out two books and keep all that information in my head. It’s way easier to do a standalone because I’m in the moment and don’t have to fact check and make sure I don’t forget to tie up any loose ends. More than once I’ve come up with an idea and thought, “I should change this in Sunbearer!,” only to remember I can’t because it’s already been printed and now exists in the world!

But then again, one thing that’s really cool about writing a series is that I get to see folks read The Sunbearer Trials and express their excitement, which characters they like best, and also fan theories. It makes working on the sequel a lot more exciting, and it’s nice having readers cheering me on as I go.

What can readers look forward to in the next part of your series?

I think there’s several things for readers to look forward to. The Sunbearer Trials established the norm for this world, and the sequel will show that world turned upside down. There’s a huge plot twist at the end of The Sunbearer Trials that propels us into the sequel, so there are a lot of secrets I’m going to try to hold onto until it comes out! But what I can tell you is we’ll be traveling to new cities and temples, there will be new characters and villains, and all the humor and romance you’d expect from my books.

The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas. Feiwel and Friends, $18.99 Sept. 6 ISBN 978-1-250-82213-0