Skip to main content


April 23, 2010

Jeri Smith-Ready: Part 2 - Instant Orphan!

Posted by Marisa Emralino

Jeri_tree3.jpgShade_cover_blog.jpgToday, we welcome back Jeri Smith-Ready for the second installment of her 3-part sneak peak at her latest novel, SHADE. Read on to find out more about the writing faux pas she almost committed while penning her YA debut, and be sure to check back on May 4th, when she visits us again to coincide with SHADE's release.


Welcome to Part 2 of my three-part “behind-the-scenes” look at the creation of my upcoming YA debut novel, SHADE.  Last time, I explained how I developed the concept of the shades themselves, ironically only after I came up with the title.  In today’s post, I’ll describe my heartbreaking realization that the main character’s mother…wasn’t.

I’ve often heard this rule of writing: Never have one character who holds all the answers --- you know, that one person who could solve the mystery just by spilling everything they know?  It’s extremely frustrating for the reader, who wants to grab that character and say, “Speak, already!  You’re holding up the entire plot!”

Last year, three days before SHADE was due to my editor, I realized that I’d broken this rule.  Badly.

First, a bit of background on SHADE to review (and hopefully explain):

Sixteen-year-old Aura can see ghosts. Then again, so can everyone around the world who was born after her. In fact, they have a word for the moment of her birth: the Shift. Aura suspects that the Shift might be connected to her missing mystery dad and an event that happened at an ancient Irish tomb a year before her birth.

Aura’s suspicions are true: her father is one of the keys to the Shift.  And since Aura’s mother knows who Aura’s father is…well, she certainly holds a lot of answers, right?

In my first draft of SHADE, Aura’s mother wouldn’t tell Aura anything about her father. She had valid reasons for this silence --- if the information were leaked to the government agency that studies ghosts (and protects humans from the bad ghosts, or “shades”), Aura would be in danger.

But still…I knew it was lame.  I’d not only violated a rule of mystery writing, I’d also committed a cardinal sin of YA: letting an adult solve the problem.

So I lay there staring at the ceiling that Friday (the book was due Monday), agonizing over this gigantic plot hole.

That’s when I realized: Aura’s mom had to die. Not in the book, but way back when Aura was too young to ask questions, barely old enough to remember her (sorry, Aura!).  The character in SHADE who was originally her mother became her aunt and guardian, Gina. Gina has no idea who Aura’s father is, although she does have a few secrets of her own.

Aura’s only clues are her mother’s journal from her trip to Ireland --- a journal with most of its pages torn out --- and any information she can dig up on her own. Luckily, she has the help of Zachary, a Scottish exchange student who is very much alive (unlike Aura’s ghostly boyfriend Logan) and who has his own personal reasons for investigating the Shift.

So. I had to change a mother into an aunt in three days.  It obviously wasn’t as easy as doing a massive find-and-replace on the words “mom” and “mother” (although I did do that to make sure I hadn’t missed any mentions). I had to weave in Aura’s lifelong grief over the loss of her mom, along with her determination to complete her mother’s quest.

This development was refined a lot in the third, fourth, and fifth drafts --- i.e., after I turned it in. My editor asked a lot of great questions about the relationships among the three women (Aura, her mom, and Gina).  She made me imagine --- and then share on the page --- what it would mean to grow up without a mom and dad.

But needless to say, it was a very busy weekend.

Thanks again to for having me on their blog!  I would be happy to answer any comments or questions here, or you can visit me at my website, on Facebook, or on Twitter.  I will also be at the RT BOOKlovers Convention in Columbus, Ohio, next week, where I’ll have my first signing of SHADE at the Book Fair on Saturday, May 1.  Can’t wait!

 -- Jeri Smith-Ready