Karen Hunt aka KH Mezek is the author of Key of Mystery, book I in the YA Urban Fantasy series, NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES, published Feb, 2016 with Evernight Teen. Her essay “Reflections from Istanbul,” an excerpt from her childhood memoir Into the World, won the 2015 New Millennium Writings Nonfiction Award. She is the author and/or illustrator of nineteen children’s books and numerous essays. Karen co-founded InsideOUT Writers, a creative writing program for incarcerated youth in Los Angeles. In 2015, she founded the MY WORLD PROJECT, connecting youth in remote areas around the world through art and writing. She is a 2nd degree black belt in Tang Soo Do, a first degree brown belt in Eskrima, and a boxing and kick-boxing instructor. As a child, she traveled the world with her family; as an adult, she continues her life of traveling whenever and wherever she can. When Karen isn’t writing or rushing to catch a plane, she can be found teaching boxing and kickboxing in Los Angeles. Read about her books & adventures on her website, Twitter, and on Facebook.
Hello to Expanded Universe, from Sucre, Bolivia!
I’m living in this little gem of a city for two months, working on Cave of Secrets, the third book in my YA Urban Fantasy series, NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES. Key of Mystery, book one, was published in February 2016 with Evernight Teen. I finished number two, Book of Angels, while spending one month in Costa Rica and one month in a village in the Sahara Desert in Morocco. And I worked on the final draft of Key of Mystery while in Istanbul.
When I finish Cave of Secrets, I will be halfway through the series!
I am obsessed with travel, with opening doors to other worlds, be they real or imagined, underground or above the earth. I love the experience of living in places that are unfamiliar to me, and seeing where it leads in my writing.
Interestingly enough, NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES, was inspired by an urban legend from my hometown of Los Angeles. Like all good stories, this legend is based on fact. Beneath the city lies a maze of over 270 tunnels — and beneath those tunnels, a Hoopa legend says that there is a fantastic city, built 5,000 years ago by an advanced civilization to escape a reign of fire. Within a hidden chamber is a tablet upon which is written the Secrets to the Origins of Life. Whoever possesses the tablet will have the power of God. A 1934 Los Angeles Times article tells of a geophysicist named Schufelt and his search for this underground city. Schufelt actually convinced the LA city council to fund his search. He had almost tunneled down to his destination when he inexplicably disappeared.
But the search for the tablet did not end there…
Cut to…Key of Mystery, book I in the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES!
Sera lives in modern-day Oak Haven, a wealthy suburb of Los Angeles (and a complete take-off of Calabasas, the snootiest suburb in LA, made famous by the Kardashians). When Sera’s geophysicist father dies in a horrific accident while working on the new underground transportation system (in the very same tunnels where Schufelt disappeared), all he leaves behind is a mysterious key. Sera’s perfect world comes crashing down, she, her mom and her brother are plunged into poverty and become outcasts in Oak Haven. Sera places the key on a chain around her neck and vows to avenge her father’s death and find the door that the key unlocks. As Sera’s connection to the key grows, so do her supernatural powers. Strange characters show up in town, everyone from the sinister business tycoon, Fabian Gore, to a group of otherworldly characters called the Night Angels, claiming to be there for Sera’s protection. Sera falls hard for one of them, exotically handsome Peter, but are his promises of love real, or just a ruse to gain access to the key? Everyone seems to desire the key, but it has chosen Sera as it’s possessor and no one can take it from her unless she willingly gives it up.
I couldn’t write this series with the depth and power that it needs without having had my own adventurous travels.
For example, right now, exploring beautiful Sucre, I can imagine how it once was during colonial times, feel the imprint of those who walked here before me. Yesterday, I came upon the Cemetario General, and this angel. At the risk of sounding crazy, I sat in front of the angel and talked to it about NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES and all my hopes and challenges. I went away with renewed inspiration. My series has angels and demons, vampires and zombies, horrific spirits and magical masks that hold deadly power, so I need to be able to make them all live within the stories and in readers’ imaginations.
In the Sahara Desert, my biggest excitement was making the daily trek to what I called the “Dune of Reception,” a dune out in the middle of absolutely nowhere, where the mysterious universe allowed me a signal and I could connect to the outside world.
In Costa Rica, I stayed at my friends’ house (shout out to Barbara and Lawrence Forsey), above Lake Arenal. I lived alone like a monk, behind a gate, writing feverishly, and only ventured down the hill to the lone cafe when I psyched myself up to battle the wild dogs who claimed ownership of the dirt road. It was like being a character from one of my books, armed with a stick, fighting off the evil horde of zombie dogs… or something like that.
The highlight was staying one night right beneath Arenal Volcano, so close, I could almost smell the smoke, slithering ominously into the sky. This led to inspiring thoughts about one of my most enigmatic characters, Finnegan, who was turned into a vampire at the age of twelve, and is now a denizen (read the series to find out exactly what that means).
In the 80s, I lived between London and a village in Slovenia — what was then a part of communist Yugoslavia. Lake Bled, with its castle on a high rock jutting up from the water and a medieval church on an island, inspired me to have my ancient vampires imprisoned beneath such churches throughout the world, with stakes through their hearts. In the NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES, someone is awakening the ancient ones, and the mystery is, who?
I was greatly influenced by the stories I heard of how during the Ottoman Empire children were stolen away by the Turks and taught to fight against their own people. This, too, is a big part of the history of my series.
My travels started when I was ten years old and my dad “heard the voice of God,” telling him to become a Christian writer. As a result, our family got on a plane and went where God led us, so my dad could gain inspiration for his books. It was the turbulent 60s and we had many adventures, including escaping out of Egypt right before the 6-Day War, smuggling Bibles into communist countries, stood before the Berlin Wall, visited Dachau and Vlad the Impaler’s castle. Actually, we lived in a 17th century castle in Switzerland, Chateau d’Echandens.
I can write fantastical stories about castles, based on the reality of having lived in one, of feeling the cold stone walls in my bones, listening to the whispers of ghosts as I climbed the winding staircase of the central tower on a stormy night, and the dreamy days, peeking out of the turrets at the vineyards stretching below. My sister and I were sure the old painting of the gentleman above the mantelpiece in the sitting room, whose eyes followed us wherever we went, was a vampire.
Those experiences of traveling as child greatly influenced me as a writer and as a human being. Our family was supposed to be “ambassadors of Christ,” bringing salvation to the heathen. But I could never accept this mentality. I met amazing, kind and generous people of all faiths and religions, such as the Muslim Nubian sailor who told me stories as we sailed the Nile. I couldn’t accept that he and all those others were going to hell. My dad went on to become one of the most influential conservative Christian writers of the 80s and I have the greatest respect and love for him. For me, however, those childhood experiences were the beginning of my rejection of religious dogma.
My main character, Sera, struggles with the fact that she has no faith, while many around her do. This means that the decisions that she makes must be completely her own, she cannot rely on outside forces to justify what she does. And that is one of the reasons why she has been chosen as the Keeper of the Key. She has rejected religion and “faith.” But in a sense, her faith becomes stronger than anyone else’s. And to see what I mean by that, you must read the series.
It’s not surprising, given my background and the forces that motivate me, I have started a program called MY WORLD PROJECT, connecting youth in remote areas around the world through art and writing. So far, we have connected youth in the Sahara Desert with youth in Amazonian Ecuador and the Hoopa youth in Northern California. In summer 2016, we hope to work with Syrian refugees in Slovenia. Shout out to my friends and fellow MY WORLDERS: Leia Marasovich, Jacqueline Lowe, Christina West, and Barbara Forsey.
This isn’t an “organization,” it is simply a way of living. Any artist, writer or teacher can do this project if they are traveling somewhere and they want to make a difference. Contact me if you are interested!
My writing is an extension of the adventure that is life. Finding new worlds to explore and to learn from, immersing myself in those worlds and then sharing it with my readers is what makes life meaningful for me.
What’s next? Well, I’m quite taken with the Door to Hell, in the Karakum Desert, in Turkmenistan. This place also features in NIGHT ANGELS CHRONICLES, since Mongolia is where the International Order of Denizens holds their council. A meeting is called where Sera must present herself and…. well, you will have to wait to read book five, Throne of Desire, before you get to that part — and I still have to write it!
I guess I have a lot of work yet to do. Signing off from this magical world of Sucre, where I write and dream and explore to my heart’s content.
Readers, what reading/travel combination is most memorable for you? One lucky commenter will win a Kindle version of Key of Mystery.