The Zodiac Series by Romina Russell

When I first saw the cover of BLACK MOON, the latest in Romina Russell’s Zodiac series, I had to feature it. BLACK MOON debuted in December, and the fourth book, THIRTEEN RISING, comes out this August. The series has a great premise; I even recommended it to fellow readers when I saw it on the shelf at a Barnes and Noble. I mean, look at all the pretty covers:

Rhoma Grace is a 16-year-old student from House Cancer with an unusual way of reading the stars. While her classmates use measurements to make accurate astrological predictions, Rho can’t solve for ‘x’ to save her life—so instead, she looks up at the night sky and makes up stories.

When a violent blast strikes the moons of Cancer, sending its ocean planet off-kilter and killing thousands of citizens—including its beloved Guardian—Rho is more surprised than anyone when she is named the House’s new leader. But, a true Cancerian who loves her home fiercely and will protect her people no matter what, Rho accepts.

Then, when more Houses fall victim to freak weather catastrophes, Rho starts seeing a pattern in the stars. She suspects Ophiuchus—the exiled 13th Guardian of Zodiac legend—has returned to exact his revenge across the Galaxy. Now Rho—along with Hysan Dax, a young envoy from House Libra, and Mathias, her guide and a member of her Royal Guard—must travel through the Zodiac to warn the other Guardians.

But who will believe anything this young novice says? Whom can Rho trust in a universe defined by differences? And how can she convince twelve worlds to unite as one Zodiac?

Orphaned, disgraced, and stripped of her title, Rho is ready to live life quietly, as an aid worker in the Cancrian refugee camp on House Capricorn.

But news has spread that the Marad–an unbalanced terrorist group determined to overturn harmony in the Galaxy–could strike any House at any moment.

Then, unwelcome nightmare that he is, Ochus appears to Rho, bearing a cryptic message that leaves her with no choice but to fight.

Now Rho must embark on a high-stakes journey through an all-new set of Houses, where she discovers that there’s much more to her Galaxy–and to herself–than she could have ever imagined.

One final secret stands between Rho and the enemy. But will the devastating truth be enough to destroy her first?

Rho, the courageous visionary from House Cancer, lost nearly everything when she exposed and fought against the Marad, a mysterious terrorist group bent on destroying balance in the Zodiac Galaxy. Now, the Marad has disappeared without a trace, and an uneasy peace has been declared.

But Rho is suspicious. She believes the Master is still out there in some other form. And looming over all are the eerie visions of her mother, who died many years ago, but is now appearing to Rho in the stars.

When news of a stylish new political party supported by her best friend, Nishi, sends Rho on another journey across the galaxy, she uses it as an opportunity to hunt the hidden master and seek out information about her mother. And what she uncovers sheds light on the truth–but casts darkness upon the entire Zodiac world.

THIRTEEN RISING: Debuts on August 29, 2017

The master has been unmasked. Rho’s world has been turned upside down. With her loved ones in peril and all the stars set against her, can the young Guardian from House Cancer muster the strength to keep fighting? Or has she finally found her match in a master whose ambition to rule knows no limits?

According to your website bio, your first writing gig was a weekly column for the Miami Herald. What inspired this column, and how did it shape your writing journey?

I was interning at the Miami Herald when I was 17, the summer before heading off to college, and it was right around the time when newspapers were realizing that young people weren’t subscribing to their local papers, and they feared the whole industry would die out with the Baby Boomers. So I went into the then-Executive Editor’s office and told him that maybe they would attract younger readers if they had a younger voice that addressed them directly. I pitched the idea that eventually became “College She Wrote”–a weekly Sunday column I penned from Harvard about my college adventures that was nationally syndicated after its first year.

I can’t say enough good things about that experience. It helped me shape my voice and discover my audience–once I started writing for teens, I knew I would never stop.

I’m so glad you haven’t! I love the universe where the Zodiac series takes place. What do you enjoy most about building different worlds, and what tips, if any, do you have for authors looking to improve their worldbuilding skills?

Thank you so much! I love building worlds because I’m such a controlling and detail-oriented person–which is part of my Virgoness–so the more I can create, the more something feels fully mine.

When writing, I tend to follow this general formula: #1: Build the Setting, #2: Birth the Characters from that specific world’s soil, #3: Let the Plot unfold from Characters’ choices.

In the case of ZODIAC, the first thing I did was create a “galaxy guidebook” of sorts that outlined every detail about all 12 (ahem, 13?) Houses; info like the planets’ compositions, the physical and personality traits of each population, every House’s government, culture, religion, technology, transportation, entertainment, food, and so on. I like to begin my books with Setting because of something Alan Watts once said: we’re not born into this world, we’re born from it.

In other words, the world must exist before the character can be born.

After I have my world(s) figured out, I flesh out my characters with an eye toward trying to ensure they’re true representations of their unique upbringings (and not my own). Once I feel like I fully know my cast, I begin outlining the story, and I try to let the dance between the protagonist and the antagonist chart the trajectory of the plot. Each character’s greatest strength and weakness will determine their decisions and reactions, and that choreography becomes the backbone of my novels.

The better you brainstorm your universe, the better you’ll understand it, and that kind of confidence will usually shine through in the writing.

Such wonderful (and needed!) step-by-step advice regarding both world and character building. And I love the cover for BLACK MOON, especially how it represents Rho’s next adventure.  What are you hoping readers will take away from this newest installment?

Thank you so much! I think Rho’s greatest conflict in BLACK MOON is herself. This is the book when she finally faces her heart and her past, and I hope readers will enjoy the new worlds that are introduced and consider the messages of diversity and unity that pervade every page of this installment.

I’m sure everyone will! The next book in the Zodiac series, THIRTEEN RISING, comes out later this year. Is there anything you can tell us about it yet?

It comes out August 29th! The publisher moved up the release date, which is good for readers but proved problematic for me, LOL! I had to originally turn it in the first week of December, which was right around BLACK MOON’s release date, and it was just too much–so I wound up taking an extra month with it, and I’m so glad I did, because it’s absolutely my FAVORITE of the four books. I love it, and I honestly have no way to prepare any of you for what’s coming! Hahahahaha. <3

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Buy: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound

Pre-order: BookPassage ~ Barnes & Noble ~  IndieBound