This series began with an image. Rachel saw a young guy running from bad guys, nearly getting eaten by a vampire cactus, and then get rescued by a female sheriff with one half of her face turned to bone.
With enormous effort, Ross kept his eyes open and watched her drop his knife inside his pack. As she reached for him, her hair swung back, revealing her entire face. On one side, he saw a warm brown eye and smooth brown skin, the strong-boned face of a striking woman in her thirties. On the other side, her eye was lashless and yellow, the pupil slitted like a snake’s, and her skin seemed to have melted into her skull.
He sighed in relief. She was Changed. She might have some power she could use to protect herself, and him, too.
Rachel asked me if I wanted to collaborate on it with her.
How could I resist that?
We went on to what we didn’t want: grimdark; “The government bans X, and teenagers are Y”; love triangles; rape.
The world has scary elements, but a sense of community was important to us, as well as awesome bits. As for the Scary Big Government that makes no logical sense, we got rid of it entirely! Towns are separate entities, and though there is the Gold Point empire, it’s a combination of towns, all fairly isolated.
As for the love triangle, we did end up with one. But the romance does not take up anyone’s entire life, nor is there any betrayal.
We got the idea of setting it in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles after the power grids go down, and mutations proliferate. Technology has reverted back to Gold Rush levels—we came to describe the series as “Little House on the Prairie meets X-Men.”
Why did we go backward rather than forward for our setting? The real California of the Gold Rush was much more diverse than it’s usually portrayed. Our post-apocalyptic L.A. suggested to us the same sort of ethnic mixes of peoples and cultures that we find in L.A. today. Rachel’s initial image of Ross was of a young Hispanic guy. The female sheriff was Native American. We wanted a techy geek, but the opposite of the generic pencil-neck white guy. How about a small, cute Korean girl?
As for the alpha girl of the teens, she would be African American, a talented fighter—and she’d also be the teacher. Teenage teachers were very common in the old west. But not teachers who might have to lead kids to war . . .
Jennie watched motes of chalk dust swirl in rays of morning light over the pale wood of the new teacher’s desk, incongruous before the battered desks that had been old when the present students’ great-grandparents had been children.
If she didn’t have to teach, she’d be on a Ranger mission now, side by side with Indra.
Jennie stretched out her hand and pulled with her mind. The worn slate that used to be Mia’s spun through the air and smacked into her hand.
Her rival alpha was far more complicated than the typical Mean Girl. Smart, ambitious and determined Felicité Wolfe keeps plenty of secrets—the town’s and her own.
On her sixth birthday, Felicité had been allowed to play with a necklace of golden coins that her daddy had given her mother as a wedding gift. The sound of gold on gold made a lovely chime.
This was the sound that Felicité heard inside her head when she paid compliments. Each compliment was a coin of gold that would return as a vote when she was ready to run for mayor.
Those that took the most effort—that disguised how she truly felt—rang the sweetest.
From cultural diversity was an easy leap to the idea of a series that readers who weren't straight and white could read about people like them who were battling post-apocalyptic creatures rather than racism and homophobia.
LGBTQ characters are a particularly underrepresented category, especially compared to its representation in real life. Sexual orientation is complex. Teens are curious, experimenting, and both of us know teens who are far more accepting than the older generations realize. We wanted to reflect this, as well as the notion that sexual orientation is often more complicated than a simple label.
We wanted action, communication between generations, humor, and a sense of wonder. For a while we batted around various ideas about narrative voice, and finally settled on alternating multiple POVs. That seemed the best way to present a story about a community. We also loved getting into the heads of the five characters.
“It was an ‘aircraft carrier.’ Like a floating city. It came from a country called Japan, hundreds of years ago,” Yuki said. “We sailed in the deep ocean. Every day, we were somewhere different.” Yuki sketched kogatana in the air. “Kogatana. The first character is ‘small,’ and the second is ‘sword.’ Little sword: pocketknife.” His fingers reached up, drawing another pair of kanji: “Taka. That was my ship. It means ‘hawk.’”
Memories flooded his mind, washing away the desert, the bright-blue sky, and Ross’s curious face. He remembered the smell of deep-sea brine. He remembered riding dolphins and fishing with a spear gun. He remembered the lush greenery of the hydroponic tanks. He remembered the flavors of rice, of sweet red beans, of green tea. He remembered violins playing at twilight. He remembered stepping through the sacred gates to pray to the spirits of rice and wind and ocean. And he remembered his first mother.
He blinked, and the desert was back.
Yuki Nakamura, who was the prince of a floating city before he was shipwrecked on the shores of Las Anclas, has a very different POV from that of Mia Lee, the youngest town engineer in Las Anclas’s history.
She flung down her bow and yanked out her short sword. Ross was right. It had come to hand-to-hand. Exactly what she wasn’t good at! And thinking that she wasn’t good at something was a thought, which was what she wasn’t supposed to have. And thinking that thinking—
Something slammed into her, knocking her flat on her back. She stared up as a man loomed over her with a sword—
In book two, Hostage—where we spend time in Gold Point, the city ruled with an iron fist by King Voske, the villain of Stranger—we added a new POV character: Kerry, his daughter.
In it we have not one but two hostage situations, with all the danger, overt and implied threat, and moral dilemmas involved when enemies take prisoners into their lives.
Buy Hostage and here
Rachel Manija Brown
And here's a link to an important piece of backstory on how this series came into being. Kudos to Rachel and Sherwood for persisting and getting these books out there!