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Meet 16-Year-Old Author Cayla Kluver

Teenagers tend to keep journals. They are a form of pen-and-ink therapy for making sense of confusing relationships, articulating hazy dreams, and truly having the first and last word. I recall having a bunch of notebooks filled with random observations about frenemies, family, places I'd hoped to visit, and love interests--usually boring frogs disguised as junior high princes. Buried some three sweaters deep in my bureau, I prayed no one would ever, ever find those notebooks, least of all my older sister.  Today, teens have digital diaries: personal blogs, Facebook and MySpace pages, and other virtual blank spaces for recording and sharing their thoughts. These don't seem so very private to me, but times have changed.  Or have they...

A Wisconsin teenager named Cayla Kluver kept notebooks, lots of them.  These colorful spiral notebooks are the kind you get at the local pharmacy or supermarket.  Nothing fancy, but the perfect canvas for personalizing, or maybe writing a narrative.  On those pages, Cayla set down story lines, kept lists of characters' names and attributes, established bloodlines, and mapped an entire kingdom named Hytanica. Her notes evolved into Legacy, a five-hundred page YA novel that she published at the tender age of fourteen.  That's no typo: she was just fourteen. 

An unusual fairytale story with a mystery and ancient rivalries at its heart, Legacy introduces readers to the beautiful and unpredictable Princess Alera, who is pursued by two very different suitors determined to win her over at any cost. Twists and turns abound much to the delight of readers. Rave customer reviews started rolling in, followed by two book awards in 2008. Then the book caught the attention of the editors at AmazonEncore,  a new program that partners with authors to bring books that have found enthusiastic readers on to the attention of a much wider audience.  Cayla's now sixteen and has just seen the AmazonEncore edition of Legacy release last week.   

In the midst of writing Allegiance, the anticipated sequel to Legacy, Cayla's been a good sport about answering all of our questions.  Here's a snippet of our Amazon interview with her (read more of our interview with Cayla Kluver, download a free chapter excerpt, and see more on our page for the AmazonEncore edition of Legacy). Your notebooks are filled with handwritten notes, lists, and charts (ie: character names, physical descriptions, family trees).  Some people might think taking pen to paper is old fashioned.  As an author, what is useful about the physical act of writing things down instead of say, typing them into a computer file?

Kluver: You're so close to it when you write in a notebook.  I don't know how else to put it--there's nothing like having a hard copy of what you're working on, especially for editing.  But a blank page and a pen give you complete freedom and room to scribble. A computer file is what I want to use once I actually know what I'm doing. 
What advice do you have for other young writers?

Kluver: Writing is different for everyone, but I'll go out on a limb and say what I know would have helped me a couple years ago.  Try to learn to identify constructive criticism, because you may think your work is perfect, but you need it.  At the same time, recognize when people are just discouraging you.  Pursue what you know will make you happy and fulfilled as a person even if others are saying it isn't what's practical, or that you're not good enough. How much do you relate to the novel’s heroine Princess Alera? You were fourteen when you wrote Legacy, and she's about to turn eighteen—and is expected to marry Lord Steldor and become Queen of Hytanica. How did you put yourself in her frame of mind?

Kluver: The thing with Alera is that she's a medieval princess, but in all other ways is just a teenage girl, dealing with a lot of the same pressures today's teenage girls (myself included) have to deal with. Alera is trying to figure out how to have her own voice and what's truly important and beautiful about herself, while her society is telling her to concentrate on being superficially beautiful and relatively complacent. Alera's situation is admittedly extreme, but the fundamentals are the same, so in that sense putting myself in her frame of mind was the same as being in my own frame of mind, and I relate to her closely. In addition to that (to address the age difference between myself and my main character), Alera is based in large part off of my sister, who is older than me. What is at the heart of the powerful attraction between Princess Alera and Narian, the mysterious boy from the rival kingdom of Cokyri? He seems to be the exact opposite of Alera’s intended suitor, the impossibly conceited but incredibly handsome Lord Steldor.

Kluver: There are a lot of similarities between Steldor and Narian in actuality — they both challenge Alera and obviously are attracted to her for many of the same reasons--but what makes Alera respond well to one and negatively to the other is a core difference between the men. Narian views Alera as competent, intelligent, spunky, and strong, even before she learns to view herself that way. By comparison, Steldor finds Alera's spunkiness amusing, and challenges/goads her for entertainment's sake--he's patronizing to her. Coming from a society in which women are respected and powerful, Narian sees in Alera a woman who has been wrongly repressed, but who tries in her own way to be something more even with those societal restrictions. He has great admiration for her, because he knows that takes a special sort of strength. From Alera's point of view, Narian is opening her eyes, and showing her a world in which it is possible and right for her to serve a purpose, not just the men in her life. Who was the hardest character to write in Legacy?

Kluver: Definitely Narian. As a person, he’s very closed off, so no one can tell what's going on in his head – including me, to start off with. I had to consciously sit down and figure out what his life experience had been and what his thought process was across the board, as well as in several specific scenes, so I could make sure he was coming across correctly both to readers and to my main character, Princess Alera. It was challenging – but a fun challenge. If you could choose any author to read Legacy, who would you choose?

Kluver: There are so many authors I admire--and the idea of almost any of them reading Legacy scares me! I really truly love Philippa Gregory's work--she has such a distinct voice and is true to herself at every turn. Nobody can write like her. Another person to whom I'd love to (shakily) hand my book is Joss Whedon. I think he's an absolute genius. Every writer has their own remedy for writers’ block. What's yours?

Kluver: Organization and motivation. For me at least, knowing what I'm doing from the outset (having a pretty detailed outline) is the best way to prevent writers’ block. The other part is to just make myself write it, which most of the time is easy because I really enjoy doing what I do--but other times, laziness gets in the way.



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