Six young people play a dangerous Game of Tag in public, chasing through the crowds, streets, and buildings of Chicago. This secret, one-of-a-kind, wildly expensive Game offers a macabre twist to the childhood version…if you get Tagged, you get Dead.
Three "Its" have their reasons for buying a place in the Game. Surgically enhanced Brandy is obsessed with destroying a naturally beautiful girl. Untalented Robert covets his target's position as superstar of the basketball team. Brainiac Charles craves a battle against an intellectual equal. Given their elite social status, they reject any possible downside to the contest. Each expects the satisfaction of killing their prey, then walking away.
Hand-picked innocents play as “Runners,” under threat to their loved ones should they refuse to participate: lovely, small-town Laura; celebrated athlete Tyrese; and Amanda, gamer extraordinaire. Alone, hunted by their adversary, each feels a single hope…to survive.
Technological wizardry controls the Game. As soon as Runners receive the “Go” signal on smartwatches
The Game will not end until someone is Tagged, so the Runners must choose how to play. Will they accept death? Murder their Its? Or find a way to use individual strengths to stop the Game before anyone dies?
Wow! Twelve! That's incredible. Congratulations!
Can you tell us about your favorite books, purely as a reader? As a young girl -- tween years, I'm thinking -- it was the Black Stallion books by Walter Farley. I still own them all and have them displayed in my office because they were such a huge formative thing for me. During that period I also devoured The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis, and a few years later was really into some of the romances I got from my Scholastic brochure! Once I got to college it was mostly school reading, of course, but on the occasion of a choir bus tour, I got sucked into the Dorothy L. Sayers world of Peter Wimsey, and every stop we made I found a bookstore and bought another one! I recently re-read the first one, and enjoyed it immensely. Dorothy Gilman is another perennial favorite -- I believe I've read her Mrs. Pollifax series seven times. (I know, I know) I've read the Harry Potter books a few times, also. When I was going through chemo a couple of years ago, J.K. Rowling got me through a couple hard months! I enjoy thrillers a lot -- a good legal thriller, especially. I love intense courtroom scenes. Funny books also are a favorite, like Lisa Lutz's Spellman books or Lawrence Block's Burglar books. Any author who can make me laugh out loud is a favorite! I also really love YA books -- the emotions in them are fresh and compelling, not matter what the genre. Some favorites there are My Most Excellent Year, by Steve Kluger; Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, by April Genevieve Tucholke; The Darkest Powers series by Kelley Armstrong; The Selection series, by Kiera Cass; I'll Give you the Sun, by Jandy Nelson; and Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell. The list could go on and on...
Your new YA book, "Tag You're Dead" just came out two weeks ago. Did you have any particular inspiration for that book?
To be clear, I did write the book as a YA, but my publisher thinks adult will like it, too, so they published it in their mainstream line! So, I'm hoping both groups of people will enjoy it. But yes, I wrote it as YA, and I was wanting to write a "big" book. (Don't we all? I have a writer friend whose daughter told her, "You know, if you would just write a bestseller, it would pay for my college." if only it were that easy!) My original inspiration was the hugeness (is that a word?) of the dystopian wonders -- The Hunger Games, Divergent, etc. The problem was that after those books got so big, everybody started writing dystopian fiction and flooded the market. Agents were saying they couldn't sell another one to save their lives, and editors weren't wanting them at all. So I thought about what aspects made those books so popular -- Life & Death, fast-paced, corrupt authority -- and decided to make it contemporary. Which, basically, made it a thriller! When I was thinking about all this, my husband, who is a phys ed teacher, told me about some of the Tag games they make up in their classes, and it sparked an idea for me: What if the Tag game that's made up is a deadly one? That's where it all really started to roll! I hammered out the first 50,000 words during NaNoWriMo, and the final 25,000 during a writer's retreat the following January. That's the fastest I've ever completed a first draft!
Yes, 'just have a bestseller.' I tell my husband to 'just win the powerball,' but that never works either. But your story is hugely important for authors of the "flooded" genres: you can be inspired by a highly popular genre/trope, but if you make it different enough, it can be successful no matter what.
Do you have any interesting stories about your experience writing that book? Any perfect "ah-ha!" moments or challenges you overcame to make it work? The biggest challenge for me was making the timeline work. There are six main characters, 3 pairs of Players -- the chapters switch back and forth between them. So keeping all of the personalities straight was exhausting! An added complication was that the Game in the book takes place in 30-minute increments. So, keeping it all straight was difficult! I -they-doing-it/
What's your best piece of advice for writers struggling to complete a novel? Do you ever find yourself stuck, and if so, how do you unstick yourself? Best piece of advice? Know that it will all come together eventually. It's really hard at times to have that faith, when you just can't make the story work, and you want to throw it all away. (or delete it) But PERSEVERE! Your brain will figure it out. I promise. I wrote a blog all about Writer's Block here if you want to reference it!: https://www.clubhenhouse.com/8-ways-to-combat-writers-block/
Plotting changed my life. What about you? Plotter or pantser? Great question -- I know lots of authors, and each one has an individual method! I started out as a huge plotter -- I'd write 25 pages of outline, chapter by chapter. I pretty much did all of my Stella Crown books that way. When I moved on to my Grim Reaper books I went for the pantser, or "writing into the wind" method. I got myself into a few pickles that way, but eventually worked things out. For books after that I've gotten more to fleshing things out again, especially using Martha Alderson's "The Plot Whisperer's Handbook," which has great exercises for working on characters, setting, conflict, and all sorts of things. It's funny, though -- the latest book I'm working on I just sort of dove in, so I guess I'm back in pantser mode! Perhaps it's the personality of the particular book? Could be!
Interesting! Maybe I'll find my way back to my "pantser" roots some day too. I love this notion that the individual book will convey its own needs in terms of how its written. We don't have to be only one thing or another as authors.
The agent query process is something we get to learn a lot about via author blogs, but the submission process is way more of a mystery. What was it like for you going on submission? Oh, wow, this has been quite a story throughout my career - I'm pretty sure if you ask any writer who's been around a while they'll have tales to tell! With my first book, TILL THE COWS COME HOME, I looked for an agent for almost a year and a half, so when one finally showed interest I didn't do enough research. He sent the book to 3 editors, and when they didn't buy it, I got a letter saying the agent had a "family emergency" and needed to cut his list of authors. Funny enough, I talked to another writer later who had the same experience with the same guy -- but at a completely different time. So either the guy
Gah! Yes, I was someone who thought that once you sign with an agent, it's all smooth sailing from there, but it's great to hear stories like yours. No path is unusual (or usual for that matter). Careers are long-haul entities, so no one can ever expect things to stay static. That said, I'm looking forward to a long career with my current agent. (Still happy dancing over here.)
Barbara Peters, editor-in-chief at Poisoned Pen Press, once told me that "To be successful in this business you have to be at the right place at the right time. If you never make it big, don't think that is a statement on your writing. It's just the way this business works." So, in summary, submission to agents and editors is not for the fainthearted!
I feel you. Even in this early stage, the ups and downs have been crazy--overwhelming, at times. And the waiting. The waiting! How'd you cope with what I like to call "the long wait?" What's your best piece of advice for writers who are facing this themselves (and I won't lie, I have a personal interest in the answer to this one). Oh, ugh. The long wait sucks so bad! It used to be the wait for the actual snail mail, and the hope that the mail got where it was supposed to in the first place, and the dreaded SASE. (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope.) Now at least things are sped up a bit by email. But, as I'm sure you've heard before, the best way to combat the long wait is to get involved in something else. I always have several projects going, and that helps to at least push the other book a little farther back in my mind. I never forget about it, of course, but at least my brain is occupied! If you are looking for an agent, the long wait is hard because your work is out there getting scrutinized by many, and rejected by many.
Ah, yes. The dreaded rejection. That, I'm learning, never ends either.
So, so hard! If you have an agent, your work is getting the same treatment by editors, but at least you know you have someone in your corner who is fighting for you. Either way, you have to trust that you are doing your part in the process, and someone else is doing theirs. You can't sit around and stress (well, you can, but it's not helpful) -- instead do whatever you can to work on something new or keeping yourself going.
HUGE thanks to J.C. Lane for taking time to tell us about her writing, her process, and for her words of encouragement. Here's more info about her.
About the Author:
TAG, YOU'RE DEAD is J.C. Lane's first thriller. She writes mysteries as Judy Clemens, including the Stella Crown series, the Grim Reaper mysteries, and the stand-alone, LOST SONS. She lives in Ohio, where she shuttles her kids to events, loves cooking and baking new recipes, and is training for a half-marathon.
She is also published under the name Judy Clemens.