YA author draws upon adventurous spirit in writing her new novel

Author Makiia Lucier recently moved to the Triangle from Idaho, and she may be one of the few who loves North Carolina’s characteristically humid summers.

“It reminds me of Guam where I grew up,” said Lucier, who has settled in Raleigh with her family. “It’s warm and muggy and green. This is very similar to a tropical island.”

Her attitude illustrates her adventurous spirit about trying something new.

In February, she published her second YA novel, “Isle of Blood and Stone,” (Houghton Mifflin) a book very different from her first. “A Death-Struck Year,” published in 2014, was historical fiction, set in 1918 Portland.

In her first book, for ages 11 and older, she had to be true to the setting: a real city during a real war (World War II) and a very real outbreak of Spanish Influenza.

Author Makiia Lucier’s second YA novel, “Isle of Blood and Stone,” was released this year. Houghton Mifflin

“You don’t want to miss the facts, you want to keep it entertaining and you want to keep it fictional, but you don’t want to mess around with history,” she said.

So inventing the fictional world of “Isle of Blood and Stone” was both freeing and fun, she said.

“I could put sea serpents in the water and ghosts in the forest,” she said. “My publisher would let me do it and pay me for it. Wow!”

The book is set in the complex and captivating imaginary world of St. John del Mar — a place that is as much fun to read about as it sounds. Lucier drew upon several sources for inspiration.

First, there are the fantastical elements inspired by old maps.

“Not the ones you see in middle school classrooms, but the old ones with sea serpents in the water and the Marco Polo-looking ships and the castle and the kings,” she said. “The pretty ones.”

She also loves Indiana Jones-like adventure.

“I wanted a mystery and I wanted a smart character who solved riddles. And that’s how it ended up. I wrote the kind of book I like to read.”

Author Makiia Lucier wrote the YA novel “Isle of Blood and Stone,” (Houghton Mifflin) Jenny Bowles

As a child, Lucier’s single mother worked the midnight shift, and reading together wasn’t always feasible. But Lucier grew up loving books. She would “harass” her mother to take her to the local bookstore and the library.

“I always had a book in my hand,” she said.

Though she always loved words, she never wanted to write books. She studied journalism at the University of Oregon, later earning a graduate degree in library science, specializing in children’s and YA literature.

She started the degree when her daughter, Mia, was younger. Every week, they read at least 25 pictures books together.

“We went through that graduate school together,” Lucier said.

But when her family moved to a town with no library positions available, she turned to writing.

Now, she said, she feels lucky that she can “stay home and be crazy in my head.”

While Lucier’s journey to writing “Isle of Blood and Stone” was fun, that doesn’t mean it was easy. She didn’t have an outline before writing, instead writing a rough draft of “just ideas thrown on paper.” She went through seven drafts before it was completed.

“Every time I finished a draft, I would go back and read it and I’d be horrified,” she said. “It would be the most awful thing I’d ever read, so I would go and fix all the problems. I was finished because I had a deadline. I had an editor, by that time, who said, ‘You’re finished.”

The main character, the earnest mapmaker Elias, is a smart character. But as if he wasn’t powerful enough, he’s joined by Mercedes, a female protagonist who is as brilliant as he. And while they are well-matched and complementary, there’s a tension between them that provides even more of a driving force for readers.

When Mercedes first appeared in Lucier’s mind and manuscripts, she was only in one scene.

“My agent suggested she appear more and now she’s in half the book,” she said.

Another character from the book, who started off in a minor way, is going to get a spinoff of sorts. Lucier is working on “Song of the Abyss” (Houghton Mifflin), a companion book that will come out next year. The heroine is Reyna, who is only seven.

Lucier didn’t plan to write this book, but kept wondering about this character. She said she’s “so smart, so quiet, so female and she had such potential.” So she polished her last couple drafts of “Isle of Blood and Stone” to make this character “ready to be read.”

Meanwhile, Lucier’s daughter seems to have inherited her mother’s love for reading — and Guam.

Mia drew the map on the front of “Isle of Blood and Stone,” which is based on her mother’s native country.

“She’s just as crazy about books as I am,” Lucier said.

Susie Wilde is a Chapel Hill-based writer. She can be reached through her website


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