Saturday, July 20, 2013

"Risktaker (Based on a Dream #2)" by Kea Alwang

Risktaker (Based on a Dream #2)
by Kea Alwang

Check out my previous blog post on Treehugger, the first book in Kea Alwang's Based on a Dream series. Risktaker, the second book in the series, has just been released and the author has generously donated two Kindle copies for our giveaway below.

Digging for truth is a risky business, but living without it is pointless.
Armed with an unlikely ally and a new philosophy on coping with bully drama, Chloe (aka Star) navigates life on Earth one day at a time, (not so) patiently waiting for her alternate life to kick in on any given night. But when life on Jacondor grows dicey thanks to aggressive mentors, a troubled newbie, and worsening nightmares, Star, CK, and Leada can't leave fast enough for an assignment to planet Criterion, their utopia from years ago.
Despite a huge welcome, it isn't long before the trio witnesses everything they thought they knew about trust, truth, and their Ethimarrow's sanity unravel before them. Struggling to gain ground against a mysterious, vicious cult that threatens Criterion's way of life, the team feels like little more than inept security. Are they simply off their game, or is twisted Professor Kroter breaking them from afar through old wounds and sinister new taunts? Do the heart-pounding and questionable decisions Star, CK, and Leada make come from the hearts of warriors or the fears of children?
Normally, when Star's heart pounds, she tackles the cause with creative solutions, stun rays, or a good fight - one of which is useful for taming her pulse when an old friend causes unexpected emotions to hit her like a supernova on illegal steroids.

The trees in Silvere Forest stand ginormous and strong, and I am small hiding in their shadows, pretending they can protect me. I hide beneath them often, unless CK and Leada are near. Life is like that now, but it wasn’t always. The days are long and full of peace on this world, but sometimes I wonder if any of us will really find peace in our hearts again. Then there are days like today when, even though CK and Leada are far away, I send my Ethimarrow zooming overhead to rustle the tree branches, making dead leaves rain down. A year ago, I would do that on any world just to dance beneath whatever falls. Only something won’t let me dance these days; it’s too carefree a thing to do.
“Lay down, Starry,” he tells me, pointing to the dewy grass. His smile is gentle.
“Why?” I nearly laugh, because everything he says has that effect on me. Why would I lay down in dirt, pebbles, and moldy leaves? I might ruin my brand-new sneakers—size two, by the way! My feet are catching up to Leada’s.
“Just do it. When we’re finished, you will be a new person—reborn from the old you.”
I raise an eyebrow and cross my arms over my chest in defiance of such weirdness. One day I won’t be so distrustful of everything. I will laugh out loud again—a true belly laugh that goes on and on until no sound comes out.
He extends one hand and shoves me. Startled, I fall backwards and sit there, anger instantly brewing. He kneels, smile gone. “You didn’t want me scared of heights, so you made me climb trees with you,” he says. “You didn’t want me to fear water, so you taught me how to swim. Well, I don’t want you sad or jumpy anymore. We’ll make that Star end and a new one begin.” The empathy in his eyes almost makes me believe he can do this for me. But I don’t believe it. I can’t. Still, I lie back. He is a good friend; I don’t want to hurt his feelings.
“Hey!” I shout when armfuls of fallen leaves land on my stomach. They are pale yellow, pink, and lavender pastels, some already crunchy, others wilted and rubbery.
“Shh!” he says, returning with another batch that lands on my legs. “You’re dead. We’re burying you.”
“But it’s just sad to die when you’re eight!” I point out. He says nothing, and I don’t like this, but I do have enough trust in him to believe he won’t hurt me. For months we have run through Silvere forest holding hands, playing with strange reptiles, imagining we reign as king and queen of a city nobody knows about. We make mud pies, hold stick-fight battles, and reenact stories out of his world’s history books. And still I have panic attacks over the memories of my abduction on that mission to the planet Jilto—that mission that went so horribly wrong. But I do talk now, thanks to his mother, the doctor. I just don’t really laugh or get over-the-top excited about anything as much as I used to. Leada is starting to speak, too. And CK … well, he couldn’t stop talking day and night. But now he thinks before he speaks again. Yes, Doctor Lors and her talks have done a lot for us. But her son and I have developed a strange sort of companionship over the past six Criterionese months. And everything about it has nothing to do with my Ethimarrow.
“Close your eyes and mouth,” he commands. A pile lands on my head. Grit from the leaves itches my eyelids and settles in the corners of my mouth. When I feel it fly up my nose, I lift my head—only to have it pushed down again. “Dead, remember?”
He doesn’t have Ethimarrow, and he isn’t all that brave. In fact, he’s still afraid to climb trees unless I’m with him. But he’s ten and so smart for a kid who has left his small city only on rare occasions. He pulls me into his easy way of creating fun before I realize it, and he’s the first non-Jacondorian in my whole life who likes me just as I really am.
“This is getting heavy,” I try to shout without moving my lips too much. I mean how many more batches of leaves can he add?
“Heavier than the nightmares and panic attacks?”
“Well, no. But shouldn’t CK and Leada be at my funeral?”
“When will they return?”
“CK is on a mission for two more days, and I don’t know when Leada will be released again from Fendor.” I spit out grit. “Maybe by tomorrow morning. Hopefully, I won’t be back on Earth by then.”
For a while, I hear nothing. Then, “We’re not waiting. Ready?”
I raise one arm out of the leaf pile and give him an Earthen thumbs up, which he always finds funny; on this world, it means ‘see you soon—be full of unending happiness.’
“Star of Earth was an amazing sentinel. Brave, fast, beautiful … and sometimes ridiculously silly—”
“Only when you are—” I say through nearly closed lips.
“Shh! She had her life before her. But she met a tragic end on a mission that went wrong through no fault of her own. Her spirit, her bravery, and her guts died that day. However, she did remain … um … beautiful.”
I cough, then try spitting debris through my lips without sucking in more.
“As her friends cried over her passing, a magic spell fell from the sky and landed on her grave.” He knocks the wind out of me by pouncing on my stomach.
“That’s one heavy spell!” I croak.
“Its purpose? To bring Star back to life stronger than ever, fiercer than ever, bolder than ever—all the fears from her tragic mission left buried and behind her. Star of Earth, are you ready to be reborn as Star of Jacondor, a sentinel with a new beginning? A warrior who has left her wounds behind her?”
Unexpected tears ooze down my cheeks; suddenly, his silly little game isn’t so silly.
“Ready to rise, Star of Jacondor?”
I nod fiercely to make the leaves move.
“One … two … three!” He gets off me.
And up I come from under the leaves, straight into his arms, sobbing for the Star I hope I have left behind, for Leada, for CK, and for Tarthimum—because every time I look in his eyes, I see him blaming himself for that mission that turned so bad.
Zarre Lors holds me tight and lets me cry for a good long time.
“I’m sorry,” I sniffle, thinking I have failed in leaving fearful Star behind. “I guess it didn’t work.”
“What makes you say that?” He pulls away, hands sliding down to my wrists. He swings them back and forth, giving me one of his shy smiles that fold in at the cheeks. “Don’t all newborns cry at birth on Earth?”
I nod and snurfle, “I think so.”
“Well, then … I think you’re doing just fine.”

I had been impressed by Kea Alwang's freshman outing, Treehugger, but Risktaker is a rich, bittersweet expansion on the complicated worlds of Star of Jacondor. An intense exploration of the angstful teenage battle between nostalgia and truth, played out in a manner reminiscent of Lev Grossman's The Magicians, and oddly reminiscent of Ursula LeGuin's work. Ms Alwang is becoming a Young Adult author to watch.

Interview With the Author
Hi Kea, thanks for joining me today to discuss your series, Based on a Dream and the first two books, Treehugger and Risktaker.

Which writers have influenced you the most? My favorite author, Barbara Kingsolver, and Wally Lamb, whose characterizations truly resonate.

What age group do you recommend your book for? The series is young adult, for around age 11 and up. But I’ve been surprised to find older adults enjoy it, too. I received a five-star review from a man who seems to be in his forties, so go figure!

What sparked the idea for this book? I dreamt about the characters a few times and couldn’t forget them.

Which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the novel? For me, the characters come first. A great plot is important, but not if I can’t connect with the characters.

What was the hardest part to write in this book? The scenes where the main character, Chloe, is bullied. In some ways, those scenes are more traumatic than the scenes where Chloe (aka Star) is in life-and-limb danger doing her job in her “other” life. The goal of the series is to take this bullied girl who doesn’t fit in and watch her find her inner power. She is talented and strong willed, but none of that helps someone whose self-esteem is shot. So when this empathetic character, Chloe, is being treated like a loser, it aches to write the dialogue.

How do you hope this book affects its readers? I’m hoping that any reader who feels like they can’t fit in no matter what they do - or any reader who remembers feeling that way - will relate to how Chloe struggles to stand on her own two feet. I hope the story will remind them that their talents are unique, too. And I hope they will seek out the sort of friends Chloe does have and aim to be that sort of friend to others. In book two, Risktaker, I’m hoping readers will swoon over Chloe’s first experience falling in love. Now, I loved writing those scenes!

How long did it take you to write this book? Too long! Most of the series has been in rough draft for years. But the first book took about eight months to pull together and the second took about ten months.

How did you get your book published? I went the independent route. I had writing and editing experience, and I didn’t want to be at the mercy of a big-six publisher’s time frame. Plus, the whole idea of producing a novel myself was exciting and challenging. I love the learning process, the social media aspects, and even the formatting - once it’s over!

What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer? No matter what avenue you publish through, you need a thick skin. That 1-star review is going to show up somewhere, whether you’ve sold four books or have hit the New York Times Bestseller list. Also, you need to listen to various points-of-view about your finished or almost-finished product before forming your own. Reader opinions are so subjective. Unless you’ve put something out that is grammatically poor, you have to realize some people will love your story and others will hate it.

What do you like to do when you're not writing? I love reading and enjoying time with my family. We’re big movie buffs, so we watch movies a lot and get very excited when trailers come out.

What does your family think of your writing? My daughter (age 11) is horrified that there is a kissing scene in Treehugger, so she refuses to read it. (I know, I know. Suddenly, she’ll be fighting me about a date curfew, and I’ll wonder what happened.) So I won’t breathe a word to her about Risktaker! However, a couple of her friends have read Treehugger so far and they love it.

Please tell us a bit about your childhood. I grew up in Queens, New York. I have to admit I was bullied quite a bit until I hit ninth grade. That’s when I met the best group of friends I could have hoped for. Most of them are still like siblings to me now!

That great! Did you enjoy school? I enjoyed most classes – except math.

Did you like reading when you were a child? I used to come home from the library with piles of books. I’ve always loved reading.

Me, too! When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? When I was about ten years old.

Did your childhood experiences influence your writing? Being bullied definitely influenced the Based on a Dream series. Other than that, I had some great creative writing and English teachers in grade school. They were very supportive.

What was your favorite book as a child? Little House on the Prairie: On the Banks of Plum Creek and anything Star Wars. How’s that for a combination?

Who were your favorite authors as a child? Enid Blyton, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Madeleine L’Engle.

Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say? They talk about the world building and how they can visualize the beings and places in the story. But my favorite comments are when teens or adults say things like, “Where was this book when I was a teen?” and “I can so relate to Chloe/Star.” Comments like those tell me I’ve hit my mark.

What can we look forward to from you in the future? Based on a Dream has two more books coming, and I have a New Adult work in progress.

Thanks so much for visiting today, Kea.

About the Author
Kea Alwang lives in New Jersey building worlds, reading, and indulging in severe caffeine and chocolate addictions. Her podcaster husband, film-obsessed son, book-munching daughter, and self-absorbed parakeet are among those who put up with her unnatural attachment to the keyboard. Despite creating characters who can't wait to leave this planet, she actually loves the Earth, but wishes bullies and the word moist would just disappear.
Treehugger is the first in a series of four young adult fantasy books. It is followed by Risktaker, released June 2013.

Kea has generously donated two Kindle copies of her newly released book Risktaker (Based on a Dream #2). Please show your appreciation by entering below.



  1. Have wanted this book.. and if the chance doesn't happen I will have it soon.. ;)) Thanks for the kind giveaway chance. ;)

    vals_hemi at yahoo dot com

    1. Hi Valerie. Thanks for your comment. Best of luck in the giveaway.