Author Q&A: Cate Tiernan Discusses Darkest Fear

Cate Tiernan first bewitched us with her Sweep series and ever since we just can't get enough of her! With Darkest Fear, Cate kicks off her newest YA series, Birthright, and introduces readers to Vivi, who, like most teenagers, is just trying to figure out her place in the world. To make matters even more complicated, she just found out that she and her parents are jaguar shapeshifters. And you thought you had a lot to deal with! Today, Cate sheds some light on the new book and provides exciting insight on her shapeshifters, Vivi and the upcoming sequel.

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Vivi's parents reveal the family's shapeshifting abilities to her on her 13th birthday, which is a popular birthday for big reveals in fantasy and paranormal stories. What is it about the lucky 13th birthday that makes it so magical?

I think we've all been influenced by the concept of bar and bat mitzvahs occurring on a child's 13th birthday, and the centuries-old idea that one is perceived as an adult by the community after that. In today's society, I think kids consider the 13th birthday to be the official entry into teenagerdom. So it seemed appropriate in Darkest Fear for Vivi's parents to have the tradition of introducing the family legacy on her 13th birthday.

Can you tell us a little bit about your decision to have Vivi and her family be able to shift into jaguars? What's the most fascinating thing you learned about jaguars as you were writing the book?

Oh, so many fascinating things! I love the idea of shapeshifting in general, and honestly, I thought shapeshifting into large cats was the sexiest thing I could come up with. Jaguars in particular were appropriate because I wanted to mine the ancient Olmec religion and society for inspiration. Jaguars are a little heavier-built than some large cats, and they come in regular (gold with black rosettes) and solid black, which I love. Also, they kill their prey by sneaking up and chomping through the skull. They're not sprinters or long-distance runners, and they don't bite through the neck, like a lot of other predators. They're beautiful and sinuous and powerful.

One of the book's highlights is Vivi's struggle to find herself and map out her future, which most teens can relate to. What advice would you give to someone in her shoes?

To be patient and give yourself (and those around you) some slack. To understand that, in general, a parent's overriding impetus is to protect their child at any cost, and that might sometimes look like or feel constricting or limiting. To realize that you're not supposed to understand everything when you're eighteen — it takes time and life experience and a mature world view before things start to fall into place. So keep an open mind and be true to yourself. You'll get there.

Darkest Fear marks the beginning of your fourth YA series. How has your writing process changed over the course of your career?

I don't know that the actual process has changed — but like many other writers I feel like the more I know, the less I know. When I was less experienced, it was easier for me to plunge ahead confidently and assume it will be okay. Now I know enough to worry about the strength of sub-plots, where the action beats are, have I developed the secondary characters enough … it can be paralyzing!

What is your favorite scene in the book?

Oh, I'd have to say the scene between Vivi and Rafael in the rain, in the park. Meow! I love writing scenes like that, the overwhelming tides of emotion and discovery. But I also feel the scene of Vivi finding her parents, and the aftermath of that, was one of the most powerful and affecting scenes I've ever done. And I love writing her "changing" scenes.

What can you tell us about the sequel?

More stuff happens! I think there's more action in the second book — the first book is a lot of set-up. The plot thickens in the second book. Things between Vivi and Rafael heat up, of course, Vivi makes some crucial decisions about her future, Tia Juliana finds out that she's in New Orleans … lots of exciting things.

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Excited to enter a world of jaguar shapeshifters? Then pick up your copy of Darkest Fear in stores or online today! And for more YA books, authors and buzz, visit our Everything Young Adult Page!