A New Book in the Venture Series, Available Now!


Well, last time I posted, I told you I was working on another book in the Venture series. And…one book turned into two! I’m happy to announce that Venture Undone (Book 4), is out now on Amazon, iTunes, nook, Google Play, and other major e-book retailers. Venture Unstoppable (Book 5) will be available by June 2nd.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of writing Venture Undone and Venture Unstoppable was exploring who Dasher Starson really is, from his point of view. On the one hand, for many readers, he’s one of the most likable characters. And on the other hand, there’s an uneasy sense that he has a lot of secrets. There’s uncertainty about where he’s coming from. In these two books, we get to know some of those secrets. Not only that, but we get into Dasher’s head and really feel where he’s been, who he is, and who he wants to be.

From Venture Undone:

“We can’t let Richland fall,” Dasher said.

“It will fall, if the Alliance insists on having their way,” Venture said. “They’ll have to alter the Code of Laws to do it.” The key Crested families denied that the Alliance even existed, let alone that they were part of it. They said it was just a myth from ancient history. But Dasher had told Venture it was very real, very much still alive, and with a new, frightening mission. “The Code of Laws is what makes Richland what it is. Whether this place still has the same name or not, if they do that, it won’t be Richland anymore.”

“Just a shadow of this great nation,” Dasher conceded.

“The people are strong. They won’t stand for that,” Venture said.

And they both knew what that meant—war. The people divided. Richland at war with itself.

About the Venture Books:

Venture Delving is a bonded servant, a member of the lowest class in the world. Already fatherless, when he loses his mother, he veers from energetic to out of control. But when Venture’s rage saves the life of Jade, his best friend and his master’s daughter, Venture finds himself in the last place he ever expected—a center renowned for training young boys to be professional fighters.

When Venture realizes he’s fallen in love with Jade, he knows that the only way he’ll ever have her, the only way he’ll ever be free to live the life he’s meant to live, is to defy convention, common sense, the trust of those he cares about most—and sometimes the law—and become the best fighter in the world, the Champion of All Richland. Venture must battle not only rival fighters, but the ghosts of his past and the members of a privileged warrior class who stand between him and his dream.

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More Venture Books on the Way!

I’m so excited to be diving back into writing the Venture series. Other obligations have kept me away from Venture, Jade, Dasher, Earnest, Chance, and so many other beloved characters for a while. I miss them, I miss their world, and I can’t wait to find out what happens to them next. I plan to have the fourth novel-length book in the series ready for readers in Spring 2015.

I asked my son what he’d like to see more of in future Venture books, and he said, “Just follow the story, Mom.” So, off I go to follow the story wherever it takes me.

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Interview on the YA Story Teller Blog!

If you’re a fan of my Venture series, have a look at some great questions about character names and Venture’s world in this new interview on the YA Story Teller blog!

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Creating Worlds, Choosing Words—Why My Characters Don’t “Box”

Recently a reader asked me why I didn’t call a roundhouse kick a roundhouse kick in the Venture series. The question sparked a great conversation about word choice and world-building.

In the Venture books, I wanted the feel of mixed martial arts in a world that might have existed in another time in history. It was so much fun to blend elements influenced by Eastern martial arts, such as buildings dedicated to practicing the fighting arts, with straw mats on the floor and peg boards on the wall—with a society that has a more western feel. Readers have told me the world of Richland reminds them of everything from the pre-Civil War U.S. (without the guns) to Feudal Japan.

As I built that world, word choices were a big—and sometimes difficult—part of my decision-making. I wanted those with no martial arts knowledge at all to be able to enjoy the story and understand what was going on. But I also wanted people with different combat sports backgrounds to be able to appreciate it, and I wanted the world of Richland to be its own.

When creating the world of Richland, I avoided terms that were too sport-specific or too characteristic of a particular culture. But I discovered that inventing new terminology doesn’t always work. There are some terms like backfist that just can’t be stated any better. So my fighters are still called fighters, but they train in fighting centers rather than gyms or dojos. They practice striking techniques, but never box. They do practice takedowns (a term used in modern wrestling) and throws (judo) but never the more specific double-leg or uchimata.

When I found myself searching too hard for a different term—one that would also be clear and concise—I just shrugged and went with it. If it’s a simple term that might have been made up by any culture, if makes sense, why not use it? With fight scenes in particular, I realized it wasn’t helpful to make up complicated terms that muddled the action and bogged down the pacing.

Here’s an example of this kind of scene, from Venture Untamed. Young Venture has just begun training to be a fighter at Beamer’s Center. But Border, a wealthy classmate, despises Venture for his bonded status and has plans to drive him out:

When the whistle blew, Venture tried everything he’d seen, everything he’d just learned. He put everything he had into the round, but his hands slipped off whatever he reached for, and all he could do was scramble like an overturned crab to push Border away and to keep off his back.

He pulled his arms in tight, on his knees, and tried to think of something he could do that Border wouldn’t have an answer for. Border’s hands dug mercilessly under his chin in search of an opening for a choke, and Venture fought them. Then—too late—he sensed himself tipping over. Venture hustled to get back up, but Border scooped one arm under the back of his neck, the other under one of Venture’s legs. He knelt at his side, leaning all his weight toward Venture’s head and chest.

Border had him pinned. With his cheek pressed against the side of Venture’s face, he exhaled a low laugh, which Venture felt and smelled more than heard. Sweat dripped from Border’s hair into Venture’s eyes, and when Venture moved, Border rammed his shoulder into his chin and smothered his face with his chest instead. Venture threw all his energy into trying to turn away before he remembered that Lance had said to turn the opposite way, toward his opponent.

Venture switched direction, but now the hold was so secure, no matter how he pushed against Border, he couldn’t escape. Border, blasted Border, was in total control. If he were allowed to punch right now, maybe he could fight his way out, but Beamer had been clear about the rules for this exercise—grappling only.

Border lifted his head and grinned his too-big grin. With a quick glance at Earnest, who had his back to them, he brought his fist back and slammed it into Venture’s ribs. Venture froze as the trauma to his newly healed injuries sent bolts of fresh pain shooting through his chest.

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The Inspiration for Mountain Center, and an Excerpt from Venture Unleashed

This weekend I’m headed to beautiful McCall, Idaho for the High Mountain Open Judo Tournament. Our good friends from the McCall Judo Club are the best hosts, and we love the road trip. I first visited McCall with my team a few years ago, but before I’d ever been there, before I’d met any of them, their judo team inspired part of Venture Unleashed.

As soon as I moved to the Northwest, I started hearing about a tough, tight-knit judo team from an isolated town nestled in the mountains of Idaho. I made up a fighting center in the Mountains of Richland, and wove them into the original version of Venture back in 2005. I’ve since come to know the real McCall judo team. They’re wonderfully talented and funny, and in many ways a better story than my fiction. But here’s the bit of story they inspired, from Venture Unleashed.

Venture spread his blankets over the gray-white canvas. He silently said his prayers, then lay down, arranged his bag for a pillow, and breathed deeply, contentedly. He could feel the heat of the flames on his heavy eyelids. Dasher and Earnest sprawled nearby with blankets around their shoulders, playing cards. It was their first evening at Mountain Center, clear off in the Northern Quarter. They’d had to board the horses and carriage in nearby Twin Pines and hike the last few miles to this austere log camp in the wooded, hard-to-reach foothills of the Great Mountains. The small dormitory was full, so the only place for them to sleep was on the mat by the training room hearth. Venture, who slept on the hearth at home when the nights were especially cold, found it familiar and comforting. Maybe here, he’d finally be able to sleep right.

Behind him, Earnest laughed.

“Give me those!” Dasher demanded. “I think you forgot to shuffle.”

Venture’s sleep had been fitful ever since he’d stopped taking the tonic for his pain. On top of that, his training during the weeks of waiting for his injuries to fully heal hadn’t come close to burning up enough of his energy. He’d spent their stay at Three Ponds confined to repeating techniques over and over again on Earnest, with more finesse than force, to the point of near perfection. When it came time for sparring, he couldn’t participate. He had to make do with practicing some more on Earnest. And Earnest had an annoying habit of deciding, much too soon for Venture’s liking, that his body had done enough work. While he gave his body the rest Earnest insisted on, his mind continued to work. He watched Dasher intently and tried to learn from what he did.

It had been a full six weeks after they left Champions before Earnest allowed him to do any sparring, and then it was only with lighter, weaker boys. A month of this had passed, and no amount of resentful scowls, none of his matside pleading that he wanted a challenge, that he needed more, had swayed Earnest. All his old troubles, all his new worries, swirled around him and within him. When he wasn’t allowed to really fight, Venture was denied the freedom, the release that always came when it all faded away on the mat. In the thick of the battle, he was a fighter, nothing more and nothing less.

Tomorrow that terrible restlessness, the fear of becoming what he’d once been—a boy on the verge of being overcome by his own troubles—would end. Tomorrow Earnest would let him unleash his full capabilities on the fighters of Mountain Center. They were a tough bunch of competitors, isolated, with nothing to do but practice. If he could show Earnest he was ready, not just to push his body all the way again, but to take on these fighters, maybe Earnest would help him write Justice and ask him to apply to the Fighting Commission for an exemption to the age limit of nineteen, so he could participate in absolute fighting tournaments with the men.

Tomorrow, too, he’d have the chance to show Dasher that he was worthy of all the time he’d taken to teach him. Knowing this, and feeling more comfortable than he had since he left home, Venture said his prayers, then fell asleep hard and fast. He dreamed of the willow tree, of Jade’s hand in his, of the lightness of her laughter, of the dark, sweet hope of her lips meeting his.

“Should we wake him up?” Dasher said to Earnest.

Venture lay still on the mat with his back to them, willing the sun not to rise.

“Give him a few more minutes. He’s finally sleeping well.”

Venture was about to answer that he was awake, and would get himself upright in a minute, when Dasher spoke again. “Something bothering your boy, Earnest?”

He could hear Earnest stuffing things into his bag as he replied, “He’s always been like that—restless.”

“What’s on his mind?”

As Dasher spoke, Venture felt the flap of the blanket he was folding.

“He’s had a lot happen to him, and I’m sure I don’t know the half of it. One of these days he’ll tell me, I think, but in the meantime, he does all right in spite of it.”

“Everybody has his secrets,” Dasher said. Then he turned away from Earnest and Venture barely made out his whisper, “I know I do.”

Venture was up and seated in the dining hall for breakfast in no time. He longed to get to the mat, but he knew he needed to fuel up for it, too. And the biscuits and eggs were hot and the company was good.

Forty or so of the Mountain Center residents sat together on benches at long, rough pine tables. Being so isolated, the whole group was much like a family. The head coach’s young sons trained here, and his wife and older daughters, along with two hired girls, kept the kitchen and the dormitory. The little ones squirmed in their seats and ducked under the tables to tie knots in the fighters’ boot strings and giggle at their mock outrage. Venture scooped up a little boy about the same age as his niece, Tory and threatened to toss him into the rafters. Would she even remember him by the time he got back?

A path was shoveled through the snow to the training room, and as they made their way, the Mountains fighters looked to the sky above the clearing in the pines and debated whether they were due a fresh batch. But Venture headed straight for the training hall door. The log structure, a single training room, was much longer than it was wide. Inside, the walls were dark and unplastered, the windows heavily shuttered against the cold. Venture wasted no time in removing his boots and stripping down to his workout clothes. But there was over an hour of instruction to suffer through while they waited for their breakfast to digest.

Finally, they warmed up in preparation for a sparring session. At last there was an opponent across from him, there was the nod of acknowledgment, there was the feel of his weight, his balance on the ball of his foot as he stood poised. There were the men who must wait to rotate in next round, backs to the wall, arms crossed, eyes on them, prepared to move out of their way in an instant; men took little note of walls or bystanders in the midst of sparring. There was the hollow sound of the whistle, shrill and inviting like the space left waiting in him all this time.

Venture made good use of his new technical skills, and went five rounds in a row, beating each challenger soundly. He looked to the others close to his age, questioned with his eyes, You, next round? No, they shook their heads. Their chests heaved and their eyes pleaded, No more.

“You want to go?” he said to one of the men.

But Earnest said, “Not yet. That’s enough for today.”

Venture frowned at him and went to the wall, drenched in sweat, his muscles alive with that tired but strong feeling they got from hard work, that different-from-anything-else hard work of fighting. He was tired and hungry and thirsty in the way that he missed, in the exhilarating way that he craved.

Dasher persuaded one of the best fighters to give him another round, and the two of them had the whole mat to themselves. The rest of the fighters were done, every one of them exhausted. Not Dasher. Never Dasher. Venture watched Dasher, feeling, after his own performance, almost worthy of the honor of being his tag-along.

Dasher set up his opponent and threw him, once, twice, three times, each time with exactly the same foot sweep. It was a new variation he was working on, and this was one of the ways Dasher practiced and improved his technique. He limited himself to just that one technique so that he could learn to execute it no matter what his opponent did to prevent it. It was also one of the ways Dasher, with his distinctive brand of confidence, flirted at the line between showing his stuff and showing off.

No one could resist watching Dasher Starson at work. Dash knew it, and loved it, and that was clear, though he didn’t glance at them, didn’t cry out triumphantly and draw attention to each successful throw. As his audience grew, as their attention increased, so did the passion with which Dasher fought. The calm, controlled joy was evident on his face and in the way he moved.

The round wore on, and his opponent grew tired, but Dasher’s exuberance expanded until it completely overwhelmed the other fighter. Dasher foot-swept him again, one last time, as the whistle blew. He stood patiently before the fallen man and waited for him to rise, his hands resting on his hips, his shoulders squared. He didn’t smile, but his dark eyes danced under his heavy brows. Venture shook his head and thought, Now that’s a great fighter. No, I’m not even close to worthy, not even to be his tag-along. Not yet.

Venture toweled off his sweaty head and pulled on a sweater. It was going to be a cold walk to lunch.

“Hey, Champ!” Dasher called out.

Venture hesitated, glancing around. Champ?

“Yes, you.” Dasher came up to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. “You looked great today.”

<<End of Excerpt>>

Find out more about Venture Unleashed, Book 2 of the Venture Series, here.

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Venture Writes His First Blog Post!

Recently I agreed to do a guest post on author Danyelle Leafty’s blog—as Venture Delving. Cool. But when Venture got wind of my plans, he stiffened up with resistance. He wasn’t certain what a blog was, but he was positive he wanted nothing to do with it.

“Come on,” I said. “People want to know more about you.”

Oops. That was the wrong way to persuade Venture Delving. I could see the eighteen-year-old Vent, from the end of Venture Unleashed, cross his arms and give me that look. The look that says, Are you crazy? You, of all people, ought to know that I have enough to worry about right now. And I couldn’t care less what people want to know.

I started to panic. If  Venture Delving decided to put up a fight, I didn’t stand a chance. But I couldn’t give up. I explained to him that he’d be talking to people from a different world. He was unmoved.  But then Venture’s thirteen-year-old self stepped forward, intrigued. He could say whatever he wanted? And no one could give him a thrashing for it? He shrugged as if it were no big deal, but there was a glint in his eye. Sure, he had a lot of things to say. He nudged his older self aside and started talking. And talking . . .

Come over and see what Venture has to say. He might even be provoked into answering some questions in the comments. But whatever you do, don’t laugh. He just found out his post is part of Danyelle’s “Character Hearts”—yes, hearts—theme, and he is in a foul mood.

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Fun Fact Friday—Straw Tatamis Hurt

In my Venture books, the fighters in Richland practice on canvas-covered straw mats. Though the canvas covering is something I added, the mats in my books are generally modeled after traditional Japanese tatamis, which are rectangular slabs of tightly woven straw.

When we were first starting a new judo dojo in 2001, we put the word out that we were looking for mats. A friend “generously” volunteered two stacks of tatamis that he’d meant to use someday, but were clogging up his parents’ garage. Why is generously in quotes? Because these were old-school straw tatamis. Before the Budokan in Seattle used them, they’d been used in the Kodokan, in Japan—in some other century.

Ooh! Historic mats! They weren’t completely archaic; at least they were covered with vinyl, in that traditional grayish green color that every judoka knows as “tatami green.” You could see the straw through the rips in that vinyl. Vinyl with mysterious dark stains imbedded in its texture. We had a good time speculating on whose blood it was and how it got there, while we scrubbed those mats with bleach.

Certain members of my team are especially skilled in the use of duct tape. They fixed up the unglued corners and the rips. The mats weren’t pretty, but they were functional. Or so we thought.

I knew I was in trouble when I demonstrated a simple judo breakfall for a couple of karate instructors who were interested in judo. Just a roll, without anyone throwing me. I noticed the mats were . . . firm.

Our fearless leader, Jason Harai, reminded me that the Budokan had used these mats for years. Decades, actually. Of course, the Budokan had a second-story wood floor, and we’d laid those mats out on concrete. For some reason, concrete just doesn’t give the way wood does. Go figure. And I’m sure it didn’t help that before that, we’d been working out on a spring-loaded gymnastics floor. Maybe I was spoiled.

Then came the demonstration of the actual throws. We’re talking nice, clean, throws, not slams. My skin stung and my bones rattled on impact, in spite of my partner’s carefulness. Talk about a whole new level of incentive not to get thrown in randori (sparring)! In randori, we resisted, and throws became more forceful, and often, due to the intensity of the battle or muscle fatigue or both—less careful.

I exchanged looks with my teammates. Looks that conveyed the imagined years of agony we’d spend working out together on those mats that seemed to smack us when we were down, rather than cushion our falls.

Before we could revolt, we were spared by unforeseen events. Within a few weeks, we ended up back on that glorious spring-loaded gymnastics floor, and the straw tatamis went into my garage. Eventually, we purchased modern foam tatamis.

I’ll never forget what it felt like to land on those straw mats. I’ve relived it many times as I wrote scenes in the Venture books. I cringe on behalf of my characters as their bodies slam down onto unsympathetic straw mats, often with the crushing force of another fighter coming down on top of them. Though their mats are laid out on wood floors, I keep in mind that they’re not landing on the modern miracle that is Dollamur foam mats.

A couple of years ago, we said our final good-byes to those straw tatamis. They may have been a pain to fall on, but they made a pretty impressive bonfire.

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