Category Archives: The Torturer’s Daughter

Idea Playgrounds and Twisty Journeys (A Tale of Two Series)

Since publishing the first book in the Catalyst series, I’ve noticed some interesting comparisons between this book and my previous series. Some people think this series already a lot better than the Internal Defense series. Some people, on the other hand, feel like the Internal Defense series had something that this book lacks. And some people don’t have a preference, but talk about how different the two series are—which confused me at first, because they both came out of my head, so how different could they be? But after thinking about it, I realized there are some pretty major differences between the two, not in style but in structure—and it makes perfect sense that some people would prefer one and some the other.

(If it spoils the magic for you to know what an author was thinking when they wrote a book, you may want to skip this post. The post also contains mild spoilers for the Internal Defense series.)

In the Internal Defense series, I was playing with ideas. That doesn’t mean I was trying to teach a lesson or get a point across; I was playing with ideas, which is different. It’s not about making the reader believe something; it’s about experimenting and having fun. Primarily, I was playing with the concept of how the same person (or place or group) can have contradictory identities that can coexist while also contradicting each other. Becca was an ordinary teenager and the leader of the resistance. Her mother was a loving mother and a ruthless torturer. The world itself was the ordinary world we live in, while also being thoroughly dystopian. I was also playing with the concept of other-ness and dehumanization, and the dissonance of how someone who is very human to you (Becca’s mother, or her first love) can also be other and someone who, because of their role (torturer, dissident), she would ordinarily see as less than human.

All the concrete details in those books are there purely in service to the ideas. Most of what the supporting characters do is meant to highlight one aspect or another of their conflicting identities, or to make Becca confront her own roles and how they interact with each other. (Micah and Kara were exceptions, being fully realized characters in their own right, and I’m still not sure whether that was the right way to go.) Almost every detail of the world is there to express dissonance between its two aspects: to evoke a familiar detail from the real world, or a familiar totalitarian trope, or—preferably—both at once. It isn’t meant to be a real place; it’s meant to be an idea-playground.

The Catalyst series is different. Like the Internal Defense series, it began with the central premise (Internal Defense: a mother-daughter relationship where the mother is a torturer for a totalitarian regime; Catalyst: people making far-reaching small changes to the world in service of a divine plan they don’t fully understand). But where it led ended up being very different. The Catalyst concept, if done right, is inseparable from how the Catalysts affect the world. The concrete effects have to be important, not just the abstract concepts behind those effects. The premise has plenty of interesting ideas to play with—although that’s mostly going to happen in the second half of the series—but this world isn’t just an idea-playground, because for this series, with this premise, it can’t be. It’s a place in its own right. (Writing a world that just exists sounds like it should be easier than making every detail mean something, but it’s surprisingly a lot more difficult. I’m not a concrete thinker; figuring out, “What would express such-and-such concept?” is much easier for me than figuring out, “Given these circumstances, what would this place be?”)

In this series, I’m playing with other things. Things like: What does it mean to change the world in big and meaningful ways when you can only do so through small actions? What does it mean to devote your life to a cause you can’t fully understand? What does it cost? Where does it lead? It’s not about contrasts, like the Internal Defense series is. It’s about the journey. The people going through it, and how it breaks and rebuilds them. The places they pass through, and how those places change. Most fundamentally, it’s about change. And when you write about change, the meaty details of character and plot become the interesting and compelling parts of the story—because if they weren’t, the ways they changed wouldn’t matter.

I’m a better writer now than I was when I was writing the Internal Defense series, because a writer’s skill grows with every book they write. But it’s also true that in some ways the Internal Defense series is a better series, if your idea of “better” involves rich and complex idea-playgrounds. (And I miss that! But back when I was writing Necessary Sacrifices, I was wistfully planning the Catalyst series and its twisty journey. The grass is always greener.) On the other hand, if you prefer the concrete to the abstract, or find cause-and-effect more compelling than contrast, this series will probably look like the one where I finally got the writing thing figured out. it depends heavily on what each individual reader is looking for—which is as it should be. I’m strongly in favor of reading based on your preferences. Whether I’m a better writer now than when I wrote The Torturer’s Daughter shouldn’t matter as much as whether The Torturer’s Daughter is more your kind of book.

And if, like me, you like both… then a new series just means something new to play with, just like it does for me.

See the Beginning of The Torturer’s Daughter Through Raleigh Dalcourt’s Eyes

A quick link for you: If you want to get a peek inside Raleigh Dalcourt’s head, you can read a scene  I wrote from her perspective here. It’s from the first chapter of The Torturer’s Daughter, where you meet Raleigh for the first time and Becca confronts her about what happened to Heather’s parents. (Don’t worry, there’s no actual torture in this scene!)

Elle Casey’s Springtime Indie Book Giveaway

Back in January, I participated in one of Elle Casey’s massive indie book giveaways. Now she has another one running, and it’s even bigger, with 190 different books to give away! I’ve read some of the others, too, and they’re worth reading. If you’re not sure where to start, I recommend Treehugger by Kea Alwang (fun YA sci-fi that perfectly expresses that homesick feeling of wanting to find the place where you belong), Susan Kaye Quinn’s Debt Collector series (dark uncategorizable cyberpunk/urban-fantasy-ish serial that singlehandedly converted me from disliking the whole idea of serials to wanting to read more of them), and Contributor by Nicole Ciacchella (refreshingly different YA dystopia with superb worldbuilding).

From now until May 15th, enter to win a copy of The Torturer’s Daughter (ebook or signed paperback) and a ton of other books here:

Six Months

So I just realized something – yesterday marks six months since I first published The Torturer’s Daughter.

It’s been a good six months. The response to The Torturer’s Daughter has been a lot better than I ever thought it would be. Six months ago I went into this not knowing what to expect, excited and nervous at sending my book out into the world. Now I have fans I’ve never met, people I don’t know but who are connected to me through this creation of my imagination.

It’s a strange feeling.

Even though I was sure I was doing the right thing by self-publishing The Torturer’s Daughter, there was still that small part of me that wondered whether I would regret it. Now I can say for certain that I don’t. I don’t know where I would be right now if I had taken a different path, but I do know that I’m happy with the one I chose.

I don’t know what the next six months will hold, or the next year, or the next six years. But I’m looking forward to finding out.

Books for a Buck! Spec Fic Sale and Giveaway

From now through February 3rd, The Torturer’s Daughter is on sale for 99 cents, along with 17 other books! If you haven’t read The Torturer’s Daughter yet, this is a good time to check it out, and to pick up some other good books while you’re at it. You can also enter the giveaway to win all kinds of good stuff, including an Amazon gift card and a whole bunch of signed paperbacks – scroll down to find out how.

 Book for a Buck Sale
TWENTY PRIZES!, T.S. Welti, and J.A. Huss have teamed up to bring you another MASSIVE Group Sale and Giveaway. This promo includes 18 book by 18 different authors – ALL books in this list are 99 cents from January 30-February 3rd.

You can see all the books in the sale at


Elle Casey’s January Anniversary Indie Book Giveaway


To celebrate her first full year as a published author, YA author Elle Casey is giving away copies of dozens of YA novels, including mine. Most of the books available are ebooks, but if you’re only interested in print books, there are a bunch of books there for you too. I’m giving away several ebook copies of The Torturer’s Daughter plus a signed paperback, so if you haven’t read it yet, go enter the giveaway! Otherwise, check out the other books that are available – all kinds of YA books are being given away, from contemporary to action/adventure to paranormal romance, so if you like YA, there should be something for you.

Interview and Giveaway

I’m over on Adriana Ryan‘s blog today, answering questions about The Torturer’s Daughter and giving away a copy of the book! Come find out why I write YA dystopia, which scene I had the most fun writing, and whether I think the world of The Torturer’s Daughter is a possible future for our own society. Read the interview and enter the giveaway here.

The Next Big Thing

By sheer coincidence, two different authors – Adriana Ryan and Paula Jones – invited me, both on the same day, to participate in the Next Big Thing blog hop, which has been making its way around the internet lately. It’s a way to give authors a chance to talk about their books, and why would I turn that down? My answers to the questions are below:

What is the working title of your book?

The Torturer’s Daughter.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I was doing a writing exercise, and decided that for the exercise I would write about a torturer. What came out was a scene where a girl awkwardly tried to repair her friendship with her former best friend, whose parents had been executed a year ago, while the girl’s mother, who had executed them, listened in. I wrote a few more scenes with those characters, and somewhere along the line I decided I wanted to turn it into a novel.

What genre does your book fall under?

YA dystopian.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I’m always terrible at this question. I don’t think I watch enough movies to answer it. The last time I saw a movie was… um… I saw part of Thor on Netflix. In July. I asked a friend of mine who is much more familiar with actors than I am, and we decided on Salma Hayek for Raleigh and Amanda Seyfried for Heather, but had trouble finding anyone for Becca (besides possibly Anna Kendrick?) and Jake.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The daughter of the regime’s most infamous torturer has to choose between her conscience and the people she loves when she learns the truth about her dystopian society.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Self-published – in fact, it just came out last week!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About two months. Which isn’t bad, considering I was trying to turn it into second-draft material for Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel course at the same time. Although it was a rewrite, I still consider that to be the first draft, because it was a total rewrite. Nothing survived of the original except the basic premise and a few of the characters.

I wrote the original version in two weeks. But the problem with that one wasn’t that I wrote it in such a short amount of time – it was that it started as a series of vignettes loosely based around a central premise, and so it had too many characters, too many POVs (granted, for me, more than one POV is generally too many), too many time jumps, and not enough actual plot.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I’d say All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin and maybe Article 5 by Kristen Simmons (minus the romantic focus). A dystopia that is more realistic than stylized but is a whole lot grimmer than the world we have now. A focus on characters’ struggles with, and victories over, their own circumstances within the dystopian world rather than the dystopia as a whole. Plenty of inner conflict.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel course really helped make this novel what it is. It had a solid premise and good characters. The revision course helped me give it an actual plot, plus structure and tension and all that good stuff.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

While I was first writing this, I joked that the theme of the novel was “Torturers are people too.” That’s actually not too far from the truth. It’s about what happens when you start seeing people as less than human – and what happens when you realize that they’re as human as you are.

The way this works is that I’m supposed to tag five other people to participate. But I hate it when I come across things like this that I’d like to participate in but know I don’t know anyone who is going to tag me. I mean, what are the rules there? Is it acceptable to do it anyway? Will it look like I don’t understand how it’s supposed to work? Why should there be an artificial limit on the number of participants in the first place?

So instead, anyone who wants to is welcome to participate. Comment with a link to your answers, and I’ll link back to you.

This Is What It Feels Like to Fulfill a Dream

It’s been a week since The Torturer’s Daughter was released, and I’m still having trouble processing it. It’s hard for me to believe that I really do have a book out there for people – people who don’t even know me – to read. I know eventually I’ll be used to this; I’ll take it for granted. I won’t get a chill every time I see my Amazon page, and start giggling like a little girl whenever I see that someone else has bought my book. But for now, I’m savoring the newness of it. The surreal unfamiliarity.

When I first started thinking about self-publishing, back when I was only going to do it under a pen name for a project that didn’t pan out, I knew I wanted to do it seriously, professionally, rather than just for fun or just for the heck of it. The lines get murky when it comes to self-publishing, I know,  but there’s a difference, at least a psychological one, between self-publishing with the intent to start a professional writing career and, say, posting a story on There’s nothing wrong with the latter, but it’s not what I wanted. But like I said, the lines get murky – so I had to figure out where that line was for me, draw it out inside my head. And that line was having a stranger pay for something I’ve written. I didn’t know how long it would take me to cross that line when I published The Torturer’s Daughter, but I had faith that I would.

I crossed it the first day it came out. Then crossed it twice over. Then again, and again, and again. I don’t know whether dreams are fulfilled at a geometric or exponential rate, but by either count I ended up far ahead of where I thought I would be.

The day The Torturer’s Daughter came out was one of the three best days of my life.

The sales I’ve gotten so far would look like nothing to someone who’s been doing this, and doing well at this, for a long time. But how I felt that first day wasn’t about numbers. It was about crossing that line, crossing it and leaving it in the distance. It was about reaching something I’ve been aiming towards for so long that the aiming itself was one of the threads my life was woven out of. The giddy bemused disorientation of looking at that thread and realizing it no longer belongs, and that something else has taken its place.

This is what it feels like to fulfill a dream.