Welcome to Debut of the Week, our series celebrating some of the most exciting new voices in YA. This week we welcome Katharyn Blair, author of The Beckoning Shadow.
In this dark alt-contemporary world fantasy, runaway Vesper’s ability to transform anyone’s darkest fears into frightening reality is both gift and burden, an addictive power with dangerous consequences. Then she finds herself battling it out in the Tournament of the Unraveling, a brutal contest that gives her a shot at the one prize she wants most: a chance to change the past.
Here’s Blair on inspiration, the books that made her, and what’s next for her.
Tell us a bit about The Beckoning Shadow.
KB: A girl with dangerous magical powers joins an underground tournament where the winner can rewrite a tragedy in their past.
What was the spark that became this book?
A couple years ago, I left my job as a social media coordinator to focus on writing. I took a part-time job at my city’s Parks and Recreation department, which mainly consisted of me making photocopies and creating spreadsheets. I was listening to Spotify one day, and I just got a glimpse of Vesper. She was standing in a church, and the light of the stained glass was on her face. I knew there was something special about her.
I’ve seen death and tragedy. We all have. I knew in that moment when I saw Vesper that she had, too. There’s always this weight that comes with something awful—this feeling of helplessness. There’s nothing you can do, right? There’s nothing you can do.
And I just had this little voice in the back of my mind that asked, but what if there was?
How far would you go to make it happen? What would you risk? And The Beckoning Shadow was born.
What were the books you had to read throughout your life in order to write it?
KB: Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak taught me to tell the truth. Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy taught me to love huge worlds, secret magicians, and badass girls. Stephanie Perkins reignited my love for slow-burn romance and reminded me that a good love story is, in my opinion, the hardest thing to write well.
What were you like as a teenager?
KB: At seventeen, I probably would’ve given anything to have magical powers and find myself in the middle of an unlikely adventure. I mean, I was in the middle of one, and I can see that, looking back. It just didn’t feel like it, at the time. I was a preacher’s kid who was just figuring out how to navigate my faith in the midst of a severe anxiety disorder. I was on the varsity dance team and in AP classes, but still somehow managed to ditch school often enough that my parents had to have a meeting with the sheriff about my truancies. My best friend was popular, so people tolerated her weird, dweeby friend who wore Twilight shirts unironically and carried her journal around everywhere. I had a heavy hand with the metallic eyeshadow (yikes), and—like a true YA character—I was madly in love with my best friend’s boyfriend (double yikes). I was scared, but wanted more than anything to be brave.
What’s next for you?
KB: My next book is a standalone from the perspective of the sister of the Chosen One, which has been really fun to write. There’s also a virus passed through eye contact, post-apocalyptic pirates, and—of course—and unlikely romance.
The Beckoning Shadow is on shelves now.