It is often difficult for adults to stay in touch with their siblings—especially if they live on opposite sides of the country. Jessica Powers, who lives in California, and her younger brother, Matthew Powers, who lives in Maine, have solved the problem of maintaining a close relationship, despite the miles between them: they are creating a book series for teens together. Akashic’s YA and middle-grade imprint, Black Sheep, will release in October the first novel in a planned series of four or five novels, Broken Circle by J.L. Powers and M.A. Powers.
The novel, a mix of contemporary characters and setting with a mythological world, explores the nature of death in various cultures. Protagonist Adam, who just wants to be a normal teenager, learns that he is destined to be a “soul guide,” someone who shepherds the souls of the newly dead to their final destination. When a cult promising immortality rises, not only are Adam and his family placed in danger, but the entire world might be destroyed.
The story was inspired both by Jessica and Matt’s experiences growing up in a religious family living in Texas, near the Mexican border. But even more than that, the siblings note, the tale emerged after Jessica’s brush with death more than a decade ago, when a truck hit her while she was running and crushed her tibia, resulting in her having 12 bolts inserted in her legs.
Speaking of that traumatic day 11 years ago, Jessica said that she has no memory of the accident. She still wonders “where did [she] go” in the hours between getting hit by the truck and waking up in the hospital. “I was right there all the time, I just don’t remember it,” she explained. “When I think about those hours, I still feel a weird sense that I was lost.” She admitted to even now fearing “the complete and utter loss of my consciousness,” as does the fictional Adam, who has to deal with death on a daily basis.
Johanna Ingalls, the editor at Akashic who is working with the siblings on the project, first heard about Broken Circle during an American Library Association conference, at which Cinco Puntos and Akashic, which are both distributed by Consortium, shared a booth. Ingalls and Jessica, who is an editor/publicist at Cinco Puntos, connected while staffing the booth. “Jessica and I got to talking and I mentioned that I’d been reading a lot of popular young adult fiction to try and educate myself,” Ingalls recalled. “She mentioned she was working on something with her brother that wasn’t quite right for Cinco Puntos’s list, but she hoped might fit with what Akashic was looking for [with its new Black Sheep imprint]. She was right. It had the right balance of humor and romance with a mix of supernatural.”
As for the logistics of two people writing one novel, Ingalls said, “Maybe it’s a special sibling thing, but the writing was seamless and I didn’t find anything different about editing this novel than I do others that have one author.” Ingalls noted that another YA series published under the Black Sheep imprint, Changers, is co-written by a husband-and-wife team, T Cooper and Allison Glock-Cooper.
Jessica wears many hats in the publishing industry. In addition to her job at Cinco Puntos, Jessica is the publisher at Catalyst Press, which is launching its debut list this fall, focusing on contemporary African literature. She is also the author of three YA novels—The Confessional (Knopf, 2007), This Thing Called the Future (Cinco Puntos, 2011), and Amina (Allen & Unwin, 2013)—as well as a picture book, Colors of the Wind (Purple House, 2014). And she has edited two anthologies for adult readers.
When asked how it was to work with her younger brother on Broken Circle, Jessica described the process in glowing terms. “It was such an intimate experience,” she said. “I can’t imagine writing a book in such a way with someone who is not my brother.” Rather than write alternating chapters, the two wrote and revised the book together. “I wrote original stuff, and Matt revised it,” Jessica explained. “Matt wrote original stuff and I revised it.” And when they Skyped each other, which was often, conversations would spin off into memories of their childhood together, in between discussions of literary technique and plot development.
Matt confirms Jessica’s positive take on the experience. “I am not the best writer, although I have great ideas,” he noted. “It’s definitely a mentor-mentee relationship. I’m like the mediocre architect who ends up working with an engineering genius. I’m a framer; she is the finishing carpenter.”
The two will launch the book together with a party on October 3 at the Briar Patch, a bookstore in Bangor, Me., before going their separate ways to promote the novel. They will meet up again on November 18 at Main Street Books, in St. Charles, Mo. for another joint appearance.