Theresa Linden Talks About her New Novel, “Fire Starters”

The teenage characters in Theresa Linden’s West Brothers series grapple with tough issues as they grow in faith. Fire Starters centers on the sacrament of Confirmation, the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, and whether a person must feel ready before they can receive grace. This novel is a great read for teens in youth groups or sacrament prep.

FS front cover

This is the final book in the series, which includes six books for teens and one spinoff novel for adult readers. I’m such a fan of the characters in this series that I’m really sad to see it go, and I admit to hounding Theresa a bit, trying to convince her to tell more West Brothers stories.

I guess that didn’t make her too mad, because she graciously answered my questions about Fire Starters, the West Brothers, and her other projects (she’s a busy writer!).

What made you choose a Confirmation-themed book as the one to end the series?

Several things … first, I have a special love for the Holy Spirit, and this is His sacrament. Through it, we receive a deepening of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit! But both the Holy Spirit and Confirmation are often misunderstood. Maybe it’s just that we can more easily relate to the other persons of the Blessed Trinity because of family. And the signs of the other sacraments make their grace clear. I love bringing Catholic truth to life through a story, so I hope this story will help readers understand both the Holy Spirit and Confirmation at a deeper level.

Second, since the current tradition in most Catholic rites is to receive Confirmation in the teen years, I thought it would be great to focus on this sacrament in this teen fiction series. I would love for my teen readers to understand the amazing grace we receive—just as the Apostles did on Pentecost, how we become soldiers of Christ in a war between the people of God and the powers of hell, how we receive supernatural help to defend our faith and advance the Kingdom of God.

Third, as I was writing Standing Strong, the fourth book in the series, I realized that the history I’ve created over the years for the West brothers made it likely that they missed this sacrament. The boys lost their mother at a young age and their father fell away from the faith as a result. They continued to attend Mass now and then with the Digbys, their live-in housekeeper and groundskeeper, but they did not continue their faith formation. So they missed Confirmation!

I also think it works well for a final story for this teen fiction series because Confirmation equips a person to live their faith as an adult. It is the foundation for each person’s vocation. So now the West Brothers are prepared for the world and their individual vocations, even if they don’t figure them out right away.

What has surprised you most about the West Brothers series?

While I know the characters inside and out and I enjoy writing the West Brothers stories, I found myself struggling to write this last book, Fire Starters. I guess I had a bad case of writer’s block. I even started to think that I would not complete the story, that I was done with writing.

Then a friend from church had to go out of town and asked me to take over her Adoration hour for two weeks. So I did. And while I was kneeling in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, the story themes began to come to me. I went home and started writing. My writer’s block was gone! I was able to write every single day until the story was completed, and it was completed in record time.

I feel bad for this year’s Confirmation candidates because of how different things are this year. Many won’t be Confirmed by a bishop, and there will likely be a limit to the number of people that can witness their Confirmations. So I’ve dedicated Fire Starters to them, and I’m happy that the book will be released on Pentecost.

Do you have a favorite among the main characters in the series? 

When I’m writing a story, I get so deep into the point-of-view character’s head. I understand why they make their choices, what they struggle with, and what their hopes and dreams are. So they are all my favorites!

Jarret’s perspective has always been fun to write. He starts the series, in Roland West, Loner, so completely selfish and egotistical. In the second book, Life-Changing Love, he’s even worse. His poor choices hurt others, but they also hurt himself. By the end of this book, through his younger brother’s persistence, he begins to think about the consequences of his actions. He takes a big step to change a big mistake, but he’s still not a transformed character.

In the third book, Battle for His Soul, when his twin stops following his lead and his girlfriend breaks up with him, he falls into a pit of despair. This is his guardian angel’s story, and I really enjoyed showing how much his guardian angels loves him and even how his younger brother, Roland, loves him, despite his mistakes. Jarret is a bit more vulnerable in this story, and his conversion at the end is the result of a hard-fought battle that many took part in.

In Standing Strong, he faces something we all do: how do you remain faithful to God when faced with the same temptations? He’s really trying by the final book in the series, Fire Starters, but he’s a bit hard on himself. It’s been fun to show this character’s struggles and growth. Jarret brings out the best and worst in the other characters too.

One of your sons is the inspiration for a character in this book. What’s the story behind his appearance in the novel?

My youngest son, Cisco, is sixteen. He loves reading. He never returns from the library without a massive stack of books. And he’s even written a few stories of his own, Walrus vs. Aliens being his favorite. While I was brainstorming ideas for Fire Starters, he asked if he could be a character in the story. He enjoys reading and writing, why not be a character in a story too? I loved the idea!

I used Cisco’s name, appearance, and skills for this minor character that becomes friends with Roland West. They meet at a shooting range. The West brothers have always enjoyed archery and marksmanship, and my son loves shooting too. He has participated in two different junior shooters programs for years and has always been quite good at it. He’s almost reached the expert level, which is as high as he can go with those programs!

Since Cisco enjoyed being a character, I might even write him into the dystopian I’m working on. Our dog, Rudy, who passed away some months ago, will also be a character in that story.

What other projects are you working on?

While my first love is teen fiction, I also write adult fiction and children’s books. I am currently working on the artwork for the Armor of God children’s chapter book fantasy-adventure series. Book two came out this May, and I hope to release the other four books in the series as soon as possible.

I have also started another book for teens, this one a historical dystopian. I know that sounds like a strange combination, but I’m really excited about this story. It begins in the year 33 AD and jumps forward to a dystopian future.

west brothers series

Synopsis:

The moment Peter Brandt discovers archenemy Jarret West is a Confirmation candidate, the ceiling of St. Michael’s Church caves in. He soon learns none of the West brothers have received the sacrament: Keefe is looking forward to it, Roland hates drawing attention to himself, and Jarret doesn’t think he’s worthy. Before Peter gets over his shock, whispers of bad news surround him. Parishioners suspect that the parish will soon close and be merged with a neighboring, newly remodeled church.

Peter’s friend Caitlyn is anxious to help, but her life comes crashing down when her mother leaves to aid her aged parents. Now Caitlyn is homeschooling with a neighboring family and caring for her younger siblings, and she can’t see her friends at school. Peter and Caitlyn soon suspect that someone might be behind the potential closing of their church. Not one to give up easily, Caitlyn suggests the Fire Starters help with preparing the West brothers and saving the church.

Read Them All!

While you don’t have to read the entire West Brothers series before reading Fire Starters, I definitely recommend that you do! This series includes a terrific cast of characters.

The West Brothers series (in order)

Roland West, Loner
Life-Changing Love
Battle for His Soul
Standing Strong
Roland West, Outcast
Fire Starters

 

Adult Spinoff from the West Brothers Series

Anyone But Him

anyone but hi

Visit TheresaLinden.com to learn more.


Copyright 2020 Barb Szyszkiewicz

This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.

On Barb’s Bookshelf: Roland West, Outcast

OUTCAST BLOG TOUR IMAGE2

Theresa Linden’s latest novel in the West Brothers series is based on a scenario that really rings true: a group whose message is “tolerance” or “acceptance” refuses to accept certain people whose moral or political views differ from their own.

In Roland West, Outcast, that group is an after-school club at a high school. In real life … it could be anywhere, and it can happen to people of any age. (It happened to me just recently, and it was just as difficult a situation to navigate in my fifties as it is for my friend’s daughter, who was approached by a large group of students at freshman orientation, trying to pressure her into joining an after-school activity where political correctness is the order of the day. I think that particular 14-year-old handled the situation with much more aplomb than I did.)

RWOutcast front cover

Synopsis: For shy Roland West, speech class is synonymous with humiliation. The last thing he wants is more attention from the gossips and troublemakers of River Run High School. But when an outcast’s house is viciously vandalized, Roland needs to find the perpetrators—before they strike again. Yet nothing is as straightforward as it seems. Suspected by the police and ridiculed for his beliefs, Roland draws closer to the sinister truth. When the perpetrators threaten a good friend, can Roland overcome his fear of speaking out and expose them?

I was impressed by Roland’s strength of character. He might not have the guts to deliver an oral presentation in class, but when it comes to standing up for someone else who’s been victimized, Roland is all in — even when the person he’s trying to help doesn’t seem to want it.

Roland West, Outcast, is perfect for middle- and high-school students who are struggling to find their unique voices in a world where harmony is purported to be prized, but it’s really only unison when you listen closely.

Books in the West Brothers Series (in chronological order, not in order of publication):

Roland West, Loner (read my full review)
Life-Changing Love (read my full review)
Battle for His Soul
Standing Strong
Roland West, Outcast 
(concurrent with Standing Strong)
Anyone But Him (read my full review)

I asked Theresa Linden about the order of the novels, as they’re not all published in chronological order; I was wondering if that made it particularly challenging for an author. (This book does work as a standalone, but I’m all about reading the full series to get the best sense of each character.)

Q: Is it hard to bounce around in the West Brothers’ timeline? Your last book was several years ahead of this one. It must be tough to make sure you don’t say anything in that one that would mess up what you had set up in Anyone But Him.

A: Standing Strong takes place at roughly the same time as Outcast, with one scene in both stories but shown from different perspectives, so that was a bit tricky. I also had to make sure the weather was right, the conversations in the driving scene, and other events. And I was thinking about Anyone But Him whenever I had Caitlyn and Jarret in the same scene. Fun! But, yes, a bit of a challenge. For all of the books going forward (I’ll write at least one more: the Confirmation story) I have to make sure Jarret comes across as being a bad boy, even though he’s changed now, because that’s how Caitlyn saw him.

square theresa

About the author: Theresa Linden is the author of award-winning faith-filled fiction that weaves the natural with the supernatural. She has eight published novels, including a dystopian trilogy, contemporary young adult fiction, a short story in the anthology Secrets: Visible & Invisible and two short stories in Image and Likeness: Literary Reflections on the Theology of the Body. She holds a Catechetical Diploma from Catholic Distance University and is a member of the Catholic Writers Guild. Her books are featured on CatholicTeenBooks.com, Catholic Reads, and Virtue Works Media. A wife, homeschooling mom, and Secular Franciscan, she resides in Elyria with her husband and three teenage boys. 

Barb's Book shelf blog title


Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I was given a free review copy of this book, but no other compensation. Opinions expressed here are mine alone.