Penance is the first young adult novel in Silver Empire’s superhero universe, Heroes Unleashed. Author Paula Richey weaves a tale about teenager Penance Cooper working to rescue trafficked girls and save the Earth from an alien invasion, all the while dealing with personal issues. Richey answered a few questions from The Loftus Party, and revealed a bit more about the book, the work that went into it, and other projects she’s working on.
The Loftus Party: Tell us a little bit about how you came about authoring Penance. Did you receive an invite from Silver Empire? Whose idea was it to make this the first YA series (Teen Heroes Unleashed) of the Heroes Unleashed universe? Were you wholly responsible for creating the story or did you work off an outline from Silver Empire? If you were responsible for the entire story, what inspired you to write it?
Paula Richey: The way I write is possibly a little odd. I imagine vignettes of the characters’ lives and then work out how they fit together in an overarching plot, and these characters and the pieces of their lives stay with me for years until I have the whole story, and then I write it down.
I’ve done this my entire life. I have characters that first began forming in my mind when I was fourteen, and Penance is one of them.
She grew and changed as I grew and changed, and her story became more complex as I spent time with her and the other characters that gravitated toward her story.
Most of my characters and their stories fit into one era or another of the parallel universe I’ve created for them, the OtherRealm. The history of this world begins in myth, and progresses through fantasy, steampunk, magitech, and other genres as eras. Time is more malleable and less directional, so there are references and crossovers between stories.
But, for Penance’s story, I couldn’t find a place. She actually did not belong in the OtherRealm universe, and I had a hard time fleshing out her story because I couldn’t see much of what her world looked like. She undeniably belonged to a “superhero” era and I didn’t have one.
I wrote one of the more self-contained parts of her story and polished it until it was good enough that I could get lost in the story when I read, instead of thinking of better ways to write it. I titled this piece “Soldier Out of the Desert.” It’s a chapter written from the perspective of Kail, an alien supersoldier who had entered Penance’s life as an enemy, but becomes an ally.
Silver Empire Press had a call out for submissions for an upcoming anthology of superhero stories called Paragons (no longer available) and I sent this story in with a note that Penance and Kail had at least one novel worth of adventures together. They accepted the story and published it with very minor edits. At least one of the reviews for the collection mentioned it specifically as a favorite that the reader wanted to know more about.
It was after this that the Heroes Unleashed universe project came up, and after thinking it over, I realized that this must be the universe Penance belonged in. That freed me to finish writing the first part of her arc, which became this novel. “Soldier Out of the Desert” is still in there as a chapter!
Morgon Newquist, co-owner of Silver Empire, editor of the Heroes Unleashed project, and author of the first book in the HU universe, Heroes Fall (there are a whole collection of hats to wear in any small business, publishing included), was a tremendous help in streamlining the story and helping Penance fit in to her new home. Penance also has an appearance in Heroes Fall, as a twelve-year-old runaway seeking refuge at the Hangman House.
As we discussed the book, Morgon asked what audience I had in mind for it and whether I considered it a young adult book. I hadn’t really thought about a specific age group for it. I had written it in the style that I was most comfortable writing in, with some consideration for how my characters perceived events and how that would affect the tone for their chapters. The two main characters are “nearly seventeen” and “roughly eighteen,” so they do have some maturing to do that’s important to the plot and themes. It’s a pretty clean book, with Penance working on cleaning up her language and the romantic subplots solidly in non-physical intimacy territory. Some of the themes and events alluded to are heavy topics, and it does show violence and abuse since there are abusive characters and a brutal regime to combat, so I wouldn’t call it a G-rated book either. I’d consider it generally appropriate for ages 14 and up, so we decided that it would be a good intro for slightly younger readers to the Heroes Unleashed universe.
The inspiration for Penance is mainly, I think, creating a person who is unlike myself in many ways, but retaining empathy and understanding for her. What would it be like to be legitimately dangerous for people to be around, and how would someone grow up like that? I think that would lead to loneliness and anxiety, but also a certain brash stubbornness to survive, at least for Penance. And from there, what would she do? What purpose would she find? What evil would she be driven to set right?
As it turns out, human trafficking, an alien invasion, a world subjugated by a tyrant with a god complex, and Earth’s sovereignty at stake are just the beginning.
TLP: Thomas Plutarch appears to be a publishing house name that appears on all Heroes Unleashed books. He also appears to be a character in the Heroes Unleashed universe. Is this correct and if so, what’s the reasoning behind him being listed as co-author on all HU books?
PR: Yes, you are correct.
Since it really would take someone with superpowers to co-author all the books, Thomas Plutarch is part of a meta-story of bringing the Heroes Unleashed stories of the alternate reality to our world. As he’s on every book, the rest of the universe should show up in related books.
Plutarch is an in-universe character, a reporter with a perfect memory who, since his abilities don’t translate well to superheroics, has become the chronicler of heroes instead. When the Hadron Incident occurred, the universe split off from ours into an alternate reality, becoming the Heroes Unleashed universe.
The problem, as I understand it, is that Amazon has no way to categorize a shared universe or fit it into the search algorithm. Because each series within Heroes Unleashed is a stand-alone series by the same author, readers who enjoy the Heroes Unleashed universe may not be able to find the rest of the books set in the world but by different authors.
It all makes sense on Silver Empire’s site, but Amazon is the big platform. Silver Empire Press needed a solid means of holding the various series together regardless of algorithm changes and shortcomings. So they hit upon listing the same co-author with each book. Thomas Plutarch even has his own Amazon author page that serves as an introduction to the meta-story and a current catalog of all the Heroes Unleashed books.
It’s an interesting experiment, and I hope to see it pay off in the future.
TLP: How does Penance differ from mainstream YA?
PR: Penance differs from both current trends in mainstream YA and in superhero stories in several ways. Since becoming its own genre, young adult has increasingly become dominated by middle-aged women – which I guess isn’t something I have much room to complain about – except that the tone and type of books are becoming increasingly similar. They tend to idealize the heroine and quickly push for an explicit relationship with the love interest, who is not much of an individual himself but instead revolves around the heroine…like everything else in the story. I get the distinct impression that young adult is written by and for women who want to imagine being “young adults” again, but better this time around.
Personally, I’d rather not. I remember what it was like and I don’t care to delude myself that I could have improved it if only I could revisit it. I was a cautious teenager, determined to do things right the first time, and still some things went badly, I still inadvertently made enemies, and I still made some dumb decisions that had repercussions for years. It’s called growing up and it happens to everyone – or it should, anyway.
Forget the platitudes about “mistakes are how you learn.” Mistakes are inevitable. You can’t figure them out ahead of time and skip them (not even the gifted kids, sorry). What teens need to know – what I needed to know, that really could have saved me a lot of heartache – is that recovery and redemption are possible.
“Glory days” fluffy fantasies written for grown women are rather useless in that regard. What a waste of 20 years of hindsight, if it isn’t used toward realistic characterization or consequences.
Penance and Kail both make mistakes, and then they work toward fixing the problems they caused, and that is where their growth arcs come from. They each move from unhealthy, stunted mindsets and coping strategies to healthier ones. I wrote them as teenagers to give them room to grow and change, because that’s where they are as characters, not because teen angst is a hot trend.
In my stories, maturing is a hopeful process that leads to life getting better. Too often, the trend in “superhero” stories is that maturing is a nihilistic process of disillusionment and despair. This isn’t any better than the YA trend of simply skipping the process entirely. What are teens supposed to do when all the stories say they’re failing at being teenagers and the more agency someone has as an adult (considering superheroes are “super” because they have an abundance of ability and agency) the worse life will be? Overall, a depressing prospect.
TLP: Do you have any ideas for further adventures of Penance?
PR: I had thought, when I first started writing Pen’s story, that her entire arc would probably take up one book, and sequels would have to come from later in her life when she’s a little older and in the midst of her destiny. But no, she has enough going on for this three-to-six month period in her life to fill two more between book one and the official end of arc one. So I know where all this is going, and I have a better idea of how many pages it takes to tell, and it’s definitely looking like two more books before she can catch her breath.
TLP: Where can readers find you online? What other works are you doing (other books and websites)? Anything else you’d like to add?
My stories, art, and artifacts of the OtherRealm, as well as my blog From Slush to Pulp, can be found on my new site www.otherrealmstudio.com. I’m still adding to it, but you can find the first two issues of my fantasy comic series SoulBound, some samples of my illustrations, and Hatchable Dragon Eggs with Coin Jar Habitats.
I also have a site designed to help audiences find independent creators and entertainment in one easy to search place. IndieGen.xyz is a permanent online convention featuring a curated collection of indie entertainment that can be sorted by medium, genre, maturity rating, and more. Each virtual booth has a link to where the creator’s work is sold, such as an Amazon page or their own website.
I’m on Twitter as @richey_paula, on Instagram as @OtherRealmStudio, and on Gab as OtherRealm.