When I was in high school, all I wanted was to be the protagonist of a YA dystopian novel. No, really. I would walk the halls and announce that I would totally volunteer for the Hunger Games, just for something to do. Back then, I was so desperate for a whirlwind romance with the school bad boy (a la Simon in Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn) or an assassin to come after me (Don’t Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon) that I ended up writing a bunch of books about things just like that, just to feel something.
I was lucky enough to have my first book, Latium, picked up by an Indie publisher in 2018. That book has a few of my favorite things: a mysterious boarding school, something to escape, and, of course, a damaged, swoony love interest. It was such a blast writing Jared and Lydia’s love story in book one. There are so many outside factors pushing them together! The search for their missing friend. The threat of the creepy school faculty. But now, in book two…they’ve escaped. The adrenaline is gone, the wounds are healing, and things are…quiet.
So, what now?
In many YA SciFi books, the main thing pushing the two main characters together is the danger, the need to do something, the feeling that they have only each other. We see this in Divergent (my all time favorite), in books like Falls the Shadow and The Testing and Matched and Delirium. And those love stories are my absolute favorite. The tense moments leading up to the first kiss as they run from a hail of bullets or settle in after an injury? Perfection. What’s more challenging is navigating the transition from always in danger to safe…for now.
One series that does this expertly is the Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi (my second all-time favorite). Mafi expertly guides our heroes Juliette and Warner through being mortal enemies, to reluctant allies, all the way to all-out lovers. There’s something masterful about how she finds ways to bring our characters closer without the constant threat of death and capture from their enemies. It’s just as much of a joy to watch Juliette and Warner learn about each other in a calm environment as in a tense, adrenaline-soaked one.
Do I think I have pulled this off with the same skill that Mafi did? No. I will never even come close to the skill that she exhibits in her books. But when I reached the end of Latium and realized that my heroes, Lydia and Jared, would have to sit down and actually talk to each other for once, I remembered the scenes from Unravel Me when Juliette and Warner were just chilling. Learning about each other in ways they hadn’t been able to yet.
In many ways, the passion and chemistry that comes from running from a totalitarian government and then the fade out mirrors how actual relationships go: at first, it’s exciting and new and sparkly, and then it fades to something that’s just…nice. I feel like it’s so rare to see that in the kinds of books I read, and that definitely led me to believe that after the excitement fades, everything is just…dull. That’s one of the reasons that writing this new book was so challenging! Once the feelings are out in the open and the tension is gone, things feel less exciting. But the quiet also makes these characters come closer together prepares them to face new challenges, together.
So, how do we make these quiet moments exciting? I’m not quite sure. That’s one of the reasons that Mockingjay bothers me so much. Living together with two kids, baking bread and lying in the flowers? Booooring. I hope that you enjoy reading the sweet Lydia/Jared moments more than I enjoyed writing them. Maybe, someday, I’ll enjoy the quiet moments just as much as the adrenaline. Until then, I’ll wait for an adventure of my own.
About the Author:
Samantha Martin is the author of YA novels Latium and Spectrum. She writes for chat fiction apps Hooked and Litty, through which her short stories have amassed several million reads. Samantha lives in Los Angeles, where she works in the film industry, plays intramural sports, and watches too much Netflix.
Spectrum by Samantha Martin, out now!
Aaron Reed betrayed his family. Now, imprisoned in a laboratory and completely cut off from the world, Aaron doesn’t see much reason to live. But when he learns that Lydia Melrose, his one hope, is alive, Aaron becomes convinced he’s the only one who can save her.
Lydia managed to escape the carnage on Yucca Mountain. When she learns that her father is alive, she’ll do everything she can to rescue him. With Aaron’s help, she just might pull it off. Together, they must risk everything to get back to the people they love and learn the truth about who they really are.
An exciting follow-up to Samantha Martin’s Latium, Spectrum is about the line between friends, lovers, and family, and about learning what it takes to forgive.