In Blackwood, Lexington author Gwenda Bond has found a winning combination by matching the mystery of the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island with a geeky teen duo on a mission.
Blackwood (Strange Chemistry, $9.99 in paperback), Bond's first novel, came out Tuesday and the early online buzz was good. She will sign the book at The Morris Book Shop in Lexington on Saturday.
The young-adult novel, Bond said, sprang from "this momentary flash of an idea" while on a road trip with her husband, author Christopher Rowe. The idea? Incorporate the legend of the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island, in what is now coastal North Carolina, into a contemporary novel for teens.
For the unfamiliar, Roanoke Island was home 400 years ago to a burgeoning settlement of 114 souls who emigrated from England. When a supply ship returned from Britain after a two-year journey, all the settlers and their houses were gone. All that was left was a perimeter fence with the word Croatoan carved in the wood. Many people today know the story because it is a popular outdoor drama that has been staged annually for 75 years in Manteo, N.C.
In Bond's novel, set in modern times, the Lost Colony is just a stage play. But when 114 citizens disappear, two teens — "Miranda, a misfit girl from the island's most infamous family," as the publisher notes, "and Phillips, an exiled teen criminal who hears the voices of the dead" — must solve the mystery.
"I knew it was a good idea," Bond said. "I wrote 50 pages of it, and I had not a clue of how I was going to solve the mystery."
She actually let Blackwood rest as she wrote two other novels that "didn't sell but got me a good agent."
All the while, she was working full-time as assistant communications director for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Bond, 36, who grew up in Jackson County, has worked in Frankfort since graduating from Eastern Kentucky University in 1999. She went on to get a master's of fine arts degree from Vermont College of Fine Arts, known for producing quality young-adult, or YA, authors.
While working on Blackwood, Bond made a habit of waking early to write a few hours in the morning and sometimes schlepped her laptop to the capital to work on her novels during lunch.
It's time she considers well spent.
"It's really cool to work so hard for something," she said. "So far it really has been a great experience."
Bond, a self-proclaimed "huge nerd," said she was drawn to the young-adult genre because of the effect literature has on the young people. She said she wanted her teen characters to be a little bit geeky and a little on the outside because so many teens could relate.
Some authors stay away from current pop culture references for fear it can date a story, but Bond infuses her character's favorite bands and TV shows into the narrative because she thinks it makes them that much more relatable.
"The best young-adult literature is for all ages," she said, citing recent young-adult blockbusters like Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy. "I feel like the overlap between literary writing and an exciting kind of commercial stories is stronger in YA."
Bond's second novel, The Woken Gods, an adventure/mystery set in a futuristic Washington, is scheduled for release next year.
Bond says she's not planning to quit her day job any time soon — "I really can't talk about it," she said — but there has been some interest in Blackwood from Hollywood.
In the meantime, her biggest thrill is connecting with young readers who relate to her story. She remembers how much her favorite books meant to her as a teen.
"It's kind of an amazing feeling," she said.