Noteworthy YA Series Come to an End This Season

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A series is a serious undertaking for any writer, and for these five YA authors, it’s time to say goodbye to the characters and worlds they’ve spent years inhabiting. We asked each of them about the inception of their series, the writing experience throughout, and what comes next.


Julie Murphy

Pumpkin (Balzer + Bray, May 25) is the companion to Dumplin’ and Puddin’ and the finale to the Clover City trilogy, in which a fat, openly gay boy in West Texas takes on drag and prom while finding his voice.

What was your original inspiration for the series?

The first concrete inspiration I can think of was a photo from a collection called In the American West by Richard Avedon. The photograph was of a woman with her niece, both of whom were plus sized. But I think, in a lot of ways, Dumplin’ was a story I had been carrying with me for a long time.

Did you plan multiple books in this world from the beginning?

When I started, I thought all contemporary romance-leaning novels were standalones. The only contemporary series I could think of was the Summer series by Jenny Han, so, while I was obsessed with a lot of the characters I had discovered while writing Dumplin’, it was hard for me to imagine a market for a series. I wasn’t sure if I would have the readership to sustain a series.

Did the reader response to the first book impact your writing or perspective as you went on to write subsequent books?

I can’t say no, that I totally lived in a bubble, but, at the same time, when I wrote Dumplin’, I knew my next book would definitely focus on Millie. I had made that decision in my head and my heart long before readers were ever part of the picture.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

In my heart of hearts, I’m definitely a pantser, but because of the way my career is structured I’ve really turned into quite a plotter. It’s really the only way I can turn in a book on time.

What was your process to ensure continuity of character details and plot threads across multiple books?

I wish I could say that I was as organized as someone like Cassie Clare, who has not only a series bible, but a person whose job it is to help her keep all of the threads straight. I rely a lot on my copyeditors from previous books, who have made guides with places and characters. I also like to listen to my own audiobooks! The narrators are fantastic; it’s a way that I can read my own work without it being quite so cringy.

Were there times you had to pivot to accommodate unexpected plot turns or character developments?

I think that Pumpkin is a good example of this happening. It was a story that I had for a long time, but I didn’t know if it was something I wanted to place in the Clover City world or if it was going to stand alone. Figuring out if there was a seamless way to incorporate Waylon into this world was a whole pivot of its own.

Worst moment?

I think every single book has that absolute worst moment where it feels impossible and unattainable. I feel really at home in the world of Clover City, so the actual process of drafting isn’t that difficult, but the [Dumplin’] movie coming out was difficult at times because it was hard to separate the two in my own head. I had to remind myself that I’m creating a universe in the books, and the movies are just a cherry on top.

Best moment?

I’d have to the same thing! The movie coming out was fantastic and helped bring a whole new life and readership to the book. The fact that I wrote something that not only led to me meeting Dolly Parton, but her creating a whole soundtrack for the movie inspired by the book is amazing. All that said, I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun writing a book than I did writing Pumpkin.

How do you feel as you close the chapter on these characters?

It’s hard to say goodbye. I’m ready to move on creatively, but I don’t know if it’s a door I can ever fully close. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Clover City. I’m sure most authors would say the last book in the series is a little bittersweet—that’s where I am right now.

What is your hope as this final book reaches readers?

I think that Waylon fits well into the series while also standing apart and bringing something totally different to the first two books. I hope that readers who have stayed with me from the beginning and are invested in this world and characters find this book to be a satisfying ending. I hope reading the series is a validating experience.

What’s next?

It’s a really big year in the world of Julie Murphy. I have my first adult book, If the Shoe Fits, out in August of this year, which is a “Cinderella” retelling. The second and final Faith book is out in November. All that while trying to keep the wheels spinning for next year’s releases!


Heidi Heilig

On This Unworthy Scaffold (Greenwillow, Apr.) is the finale to the Shadow Players trilogy, in which a shadow puppeteer who can see the souls of the recently departed finds herself at the center of a civil war.

What was your original inspiration for the series?

The original inspiration, aside from wanting to write a character with bipolar disorder, was a friend who was obsessed with a book on shadow puppetry. It reminded me of when I was a kid growing up in Hawaii, where we had a lot of access to Pan-Asian art forms, which people on the mainland don’t often have. The process of shadow puppetry moving from China to Southeast Asia then on to Paris, becoming part of the language of animation and early film, was fascinating.

How and when did the title for each book in the series develop?

The titles are taken from the opening speech of [Shakespeare’s] Henry V where the narrator invokes the muse of the audience’s imagination. That speech always reminded me of what it’s like to read; books are just pieces of paper, but readers have the muse in their heads that allows them to bring the words on the page to life. Shadow puppetry is like that, too; you have to imagine the shadows are real. I also felt the speech connects to mental illness and how your mind can make so much of how you feel.

Did the reader response to the first book impact your writing or perspective as you went on to write subsequent books?

I’m sure it must have, but I was more concerned with what was happening in the world. The writing of these books matched up with the most stressful political period of my lifetime, which definitely influenced me. But it’s professional reviews that I find helpful! Over at Tor, a reviewer named Alex really shaped my understanding of the book itself. Perhaps because of my theater background, it’s hard for me to understand my work until an audience responds to it. You think you know the laugh line and, if the audience laughs, you’re good. But, if you’re wrong, you’ve written a pause, and nothing happens. So professional reviews help me to know if I’ve gotten it right or need to change course.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m a plotser! I had an outline, which I had pitched the series on. I turned in the first book, which was fully written to spec, and then the election happened, and it didn’t make sense anymore. I had big ideas I still wanted to touch on, but it otherwise went off-script.

Was it difficult to move from writing a duology to a trilogy?

In a way, yes, but I think it was also a learning curve because The Girl from Everywhere was the first book I ever wrote. I had a general plan for it as a trilogy; when we decided to do a duology, it made more sense to mirror the books. But with a trilogy, there is a three-act structure and rising and falling action through the whole series with a reversal in the middle. Since the first book in this series was only my third novel, I think some of the difficulty was from learning how to write a book.

Worst moment?

I don’t know of any other fantasy books that feature a bipolar main character in quite this way, so I felt like I had to do it all. It was hard to balance being responsible, while not causing readers, particularly those who are bipolar, to be overwhelmed, but I also didn’t want to be unrealistic or portray the experience as easy. As I was closing out the series, I realized that there were so many parts of my own experience that I hadn’t or couldn’t include, since it just didn’t make sense for the story, but I just had to let it go. I had to accept that I can’t write or be everything for all people; you have to leave space for others to fill.

Best moment?

The best moments are when a reader reaches out and shares that they saw themselves in my characters and felt validated. Those are pure moments.

What is your hope as this final book reaches readers?

I hope it finds the people for whom it means something, those people who are always a little too much. Those are my people for this book.

What’s next?

I’m used to having to work on whatever is scheduled to be published next, but I’m going back to what I did five books ago and writing a book I don’t owe anyone. I didn’t sell on proposal this time because I wanted all the time in the world to make it into what I want it to be.


Suzanne Young

Girls with Rebel Souls (Simon & Schuster, Mar.), finale to The Girls trilogy, is set in a near future in which a group of friends attend an all-girl boarding school with a dark secret.

What was your original inspiration for the series?

All of my books are a combination of different stories that I’ve started, but didn’t finish or fully plot. I had this idea about a school for AI, then one day I was on Twitter and saw a story about a billboard that had gone up, that read: “Real men provide, real women appreciate.” That sparked some rage poetry from me, which I named Girls with Sharp Sticks. Then I thought, “What if that guy could have a school where he trained girls to appreciate men? What would that look like?”

How and when did the title for each book in the series develop?

I never thought that Girls with Sharp Sticks would become the final title, even though I wrote it with that title. When I pitched it, my editor liked it, which was exciting. The second book came easily because I knew I wanted the girls to explore what they could become, and they’d be navigating whether they would use violence to fight violence. Rebel Souls was the hardest because I wanted to show that the girls were choosing another path.

Did the reader response to the first book impact your writing or perspective as you went on to write subsequent books?

In this case, because I had to write quickly, I didn’t get a lot of time to see many of the responses. I was more affected by the editing process of the first book, I think. My original idea for the first book focused more on revenge, but we ended up going in a different direction, which impacted how I wrote the rest of the books. I wanted to make sure that, when the girls won, they won while keeping their souls intact.

Are you a plotter or pantser?

I’m definitely a pantser, with the exception of sequels because I have to go back and write down notes. Usually, by my third book, my editor will send me a series bible to help me keep track of hair color and things like that. When I’m writing, I like the surprise of finding out what’s going to happen. It keeps it interesting and helps speed up my plot a bit, so I get to the action instead of getting stuck in detail.

Were there times you had to pivot to accommodate unexpected plot turns or character developments?

Yes, especially with the first book, which was a lot bloodier in my original imagining. But, when I started thinking of it as a series, I realized I would have nowhere to go after that. Also, I think readers may have lost sympathy for the characters if they were all murderers by the end of book one!

Do you find that writing a series gets easier with each one you write?

It gets more difficult because my standards for myself are always increasing. The Program series was the biggest of all my books, so I have to try to top that! I’m also learning more as a writer, so there’s more things to be aware of or look out for, too.

Worst moment?

With the first book, when I was in revisions, I had unexpected surgery, then had a really hard time getting back into it after that. The book was so emotional, and it was hard to find that place again.

Best moment?

I loved writing the girls and their friendship! Even though they were going through so much in the story, the moments when I got to write them being friends and supporting each other made me feel so supported, too.

How do you feel as you close the chapter on these characters?

I miss them. I feel like I came home from summer camp and left all my friends behind! I’m glad I left them in a good place, taking care of themselves and leaving the rest of us to do the same.

What is your hope as this final book reaches readers?

The girls are fighting against a system and people that are stronger than them, but it’s coming together that brings them strength. I hope readers see that, if they team up and support each other, they can cause change and make things better.

What’s next?

I have a new YA book coming out! It’s a gender-swapped Lost Boys story about an idyllic small town overrun by murderous teen girl vampires.


Nicki Pau Preto

Wings of Shadow (S&S/McElderry, July 13) is the finale to Crown of Feathers trilogy, in which a girl disguised as a boy joins a secret group of warriors to ride phoenixes into battle.

What was your original inspiration for the series?

I had just been with an agent on another book that had failed to sell, and we had parted ways. It was a hard time, but also freeing, and I just wanted to write something that appealed to me in the same way Tamora Pierce’s books made me feel. I also wanted to write the “girl dressed as a boy” trope, since it’s one of my favorites, and I also had this idea about two sisters who wind up enemies. It was around the same time as peak Game of Thrones fever, so I remember being interested in dragons, but I knew there would be so many dragon books coming because of the show’s popularity. That’s when I thought of phoenixes.

How and when did the title for each book in the series develop?

The title was something that my new agent, Penny Moore, and I came up with. I finished the book and queried it and then, almost a year later we were ready to submit it. I originally had called it Savage Flame, which is a quote from the book. Penny rightly–and funnily–pointed out that the title had an erotica feel to it. We sat down and brainstormed. There were so many titles with buzzwords like Queen, King, Royal, Princess at the time, so Crown of Feathers was a riff on that which I hoped was a little more unique. The other two titles developed from there, keeping the same format.

Did the reader response to the first book impact your writing or perspective as you went on to write subsequent books?

I think it did to some degree, even though I tried not to let it. Luckily, by the time the first book came out, I was finishing the second book. With social media, people will message you while they’re reading, hurt or upset about something that happened in the book. You don’t want to spoil anything, but you also want to tell them to keep reading! Having that type of interaction has been interesting. Also, if a side character is popular in one book, I might subconsciously give them more screen time in a later book. I can think of one character who, in retrospect, might have been influenced this way.

Are you a plotter or pantser?

No matter how much I plot or how organized I think I am, things often go off the rails. I try not to be too rigid with drafting, but I think you have to have some type of outline if you’re writing multiple points of view. For me, it’s necessary structure-wise and is a relief to know ahead of time that I’ve done some thinking and things will connect a certain way.

Were there times you had to pivot to accommodate unexpected plot turns or character developments?

I remember being halfway through the revision process on Heart of Flames when my editor pointed out an issue in the pacing. I sat back and realized that I had to rewrite half the book. I had to introduce a whole new point of view character, which was really hard. I ended up using a character who was introduced in the first book and was very much a throwaway plot device, so I had to dig in and figure out who they were and what their story was. The book is much stronger for it and I don’t know how I would have solved those problems otherwise, but it was a lot of work.

What was your process to ensure continuity of character details and plot threads across multiple books?

I always saw myself as the sort of person who would have a series bible, but I do not. I wanted to create one, but, with the length and complexity of these books, I never found the time! I’m lucky enough that most of it stuck in my head and I could use the good ol’ Find function.

Has your process changed over the course of writing this series? Would you do anything different next time?

Yes and yes! I think my process is always changing a little; each book and its circumstance are a bit different. Sometimes what worked for me with one book won’t work anymore and I’ll be stuck, so I’ll try something new. In my next series, I am not writing multiple points of view; I’m taking a break from that!

Worst moment?

The hardest thing for me has been feeling like I’m failing when I can’t hit a deadline. I’ve never had problems getting an extension, but asking kills me inside. I had to ask for extensions for the third book, on which I did four big revisions with huge cuts and changes. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but I am so glad I took the extra time because it did come together, and the book is much better for it.

Best moment?

Getting my cover art was so exciting! All my covers are so stunning; I wouldn’t change a thing. You put all this work into the story, but the cover is out of your hands, so it was a relief to be on the same page as my publisher. Events and getting to speak to readers, even on social media, are also highlights.

How do you feel as you close the chapter on these characters?

It’s really emotional. I found myself lingering over passages when doing my pass pages; I hated thinking that I’d never get to write these characters again, but I mostly feel grateful and proud. There aren’t advance reader copies this time, so no one has read it yet, but I’m sure I’ll be reliving emotions when readers are finally responding to it.

What is your hope as this final book reaches readers?

Hopefully people feel like they’ve been on a journey with characters as they grow and change. I think the ending is, ultimately, hopeful, even though there is sadness and darkness. My favorite stories end in a way that I feel like, even if I’m not reading them anymore, they continue to exist.

What’s next?

I’m working on another YA fantasy series!


Swati Teerdhala

The Chariot at Dusk (Harper, June 29) is the finale to the Tiger at Midnight trilogy, in which a rebel girl is tasked with assassinating a ruthless general when an unexpected romance sets off a surprising chain of events.

What was your original inspiration for the series?

It always makes me sound kind of funny when I say it, but the voice of one of the main characters came to me when I was on vacation. While sightseeing, we went to an old fort. I had just finished a book, so my mind was active and creative, and I wondered who used to live in the fort and what their story was. I looked out one of the old windows, down at the ground, and wondered, “If I were a soldier, what would be the worst thing I could possibly see out this window?” I can’t tell you why, the first thing that occurred to me was a girl. The whole story spooled out from there, with Kunal, who is this noble, loyal, dutiful soldier, meeting Esha, who is secretly a legendary assassin, spy, and rebel. He doesn’t know that she will become his worst nightmare.

How and when did the title for each book in the series develop?

My original title was not The Tiger at Midnight. It was actually my fantastic agent, Kristin Nelson, who came up with the title, pulling it directly from something I’d written in the book. From there, once I had that structure, the other two titles came naturally. I wanted to evoke the feeling of time passing and change.

Did the reader response to the first book impact your writing or perspective as you went on to write subsequent books?

I love my readers; they are so fantastic, and they have great theories and ideas, but I knew what the big beats and overall arcs for each character were from the beginning. The real way [the fan response] has impacted me is to keep me going and to make me excited to get this conclusion in the hands of readers.

Are you a plotter or pantser?

I’m a total plotter. I don’t necessarily outline or plot every detail. There is some discovery in the writing process, but I have a good idea of where I want to go because I always think of where characters start and where they end up before I begin a story. That arc and change is really important to me and is something I really tried to emphasize in this trilogy. That’s what I love about stories: you see people grow and challenge each other. Writing fantasy adds another element on top of that: how do characters work and live and grow in a setting that’s so different from our world?

Were there times you had to pivot to accommodate unexpected plot turns or character developments?

Yes, totally! The biggest thing that comes to mind are characters that I wrote, but then in the second or third or sixth drafts, they came out of the woodwork and said, “Hello! Look at me!” Then I would end up giving them bigger roles because they were great, and I loved them. There are certain characters that readers see in book one that weren’t planned to have a big role, but they are so important by book three. That surprised me!

What was your process to ensure continuity of character details and plot threads across multiple books?

I try my best to keep a series bible, but there were times when I failed at that and my lovely editor would come in and double check details. But generally, I have my series bible with an outline of the world building, names of cities, and maps.

Has your process changed over the course of writing this series? Would you do anything different next time?

Going in, I didn’t know what it would be like to write three books set in one world. It was more fun than I had ever imagined to be able to explore these characters and this world deeply. In the future, I’d plot more. I think it’s nice to weave in Easter eggs for readers, so knowing certain things on a more detailed level would be helpful.

Worst moment?

I think there are many moments when you ask yourself, “Do you know what you’re doing?” I had never written a trilogy before, so a lot of it was wondering if I was doing things the right way. Then I realized there is no “right way.” I just needed to figure out what was keeping me excited and motivated, which I think is pretty normal to the creative process.

Best moment?

Seeing each and every book in my hands for the first time is the most wonderful feeling. And the fan response! Seeing fan art and people finding me on social media to exclaim about a cliffhanger or plot point has been amazing. I’m a writer who likes to write all the feelings and all the fights, so those are good moments.

How do you feel as you close the chapter on these characters?

Sad, but also proud. I feel that I gave them the ending they deserve. This story is very personal to me, as an #OwnVoices title inspired by Indian tales and Hindu mythology I grew up with. The bittersweet leans towards sweet because I know this story was important not only to me, but many other Indian Americans. I’m grateful I was able to tell this story in its entire breadth.

What is your hope as this final book reaches readers?

As a reader, I usually dread and love the last book because it’s the last bit of time you get to spend with the characters, who you’ve invested a lot of energy in. I hope readers step away from the last book unworried about the characters, feeling fulfilled.

What’s next?

I have some fun stuff going on, but I can’t talk about any of it. I’m excited though!

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