• Interview with Nikki Burns of Cobalt City Rookies: Tatterdemalion

    by  • November 1, 2012 • Interviews

    Cobalt City Rookies is a young adult trilogy that features three novels with superhero, teenage protagonists. They all take place in Cobalt City, where superheroes have always run rampant. However, in recent years there’s been a decided lack of heroes, and these teens are stepping into the gap, like Miranda, the Tatterdemalion. Miranda Lee starts the book traveling to the far reaches of Alaska, and during the course of the book she battles her own social fears, organized gang activity and how to be herself in the midst of developing her powers.

    This interview is with Nikki Burns, who wrote the second book in the trilogy: Tatterdemalion.

    Original Photo By Shahed Salehian, Modified by Timid Pirate

    TPP: Introversion is often a hallmark of superheroes, and Tatterdemalion definitely fits that characteristic. What do you see as the additional challenges she faces as superhero?

    Nikki Burns: She stops to question herself.  It’s both a challenge and an advantage in everyday life, a skill that must be both used and ignored.  As a teenager, do you attribute that last blowup to your personality and a reasonable response to the outside world, or to the assimilation of new hormones your body is producing that happen to affect your temperament and stress responses?  Now imagine there are voices – real voices – in your head, introducing new ideas, reflexes, instincts, and senses.  Something in Miranda makes her constantly question, “is this me, is this who I want to be?  Or is this something else manipulating me?”  That awareness can slow her down or make her stronger, can frighten her or build her confidence.

    TPP: The outdoors has a major role in this YA superhero tale, although much of the story takes place in an urban environment. What role do you see the outdoors having for young adults?

    Nikki Burns: Today more than ever before, we sit in our little rooms with our screens to our noses, and we feel as though we have access to the entire world.  Step into a simple city park, put the phone away, and take a deep breath of the air.  Look up into the tree canopy, if you’re lucky enough to have one.  Feel the softness of the grass, the coarse bark of a tree under your hand – you touch a living thing.  In a square foot of grass, you might find an entire colony of insects that never imagined there is a city stretching far above their little world.  We forget that we are part of a different kind of living organism, not cerebral, but physical – a web of life that no amount of electronic cable or wireless connectivity can separate us from.  For young adults, the outdoors can provide perspective, refuge, and challenge.  It reminds us of where we’ve come from, and that we’ve far yet to go.  There is wonder to be found there.  The intuitive, the intelligent, and the imaginative youth – they will find it waiting for them.

    TPP: The Tatterdemalion grows throughout the book, not only as a hero, but also socially as a teen girl. Were there any guideposts you set for yourself to help guide this growth?

    Nikki Burns: Honestly?  I looked to my own mistakes.  I am a natural introvert.  If I had been Miranda, it is unlikely that I would have been brave enough to speak to Rose as a teenager.  I was far too afraid of other people to understand that they really were just like me – with the feelings, fears, and dreams that define us all.  Easier to hide behind my shyness, to watch, to be as invisible as possible.  But there is loss with that safety, and inevitable loneliness.

    Don’t be afraid to bridge the gap; to smile and say hello – and if you are rebuffed one day, shrug and do it again the next.  Don’t be afraid to look the fool.  If you try to understand and support the people around you, they will begin to understand and trust you in turn.  That’s where friendship starts.

    TPP: Do you feel any obligation as a writer of YA fiction to help model or teach young readers about the challenges ahead in life? If a reader were to take any lessons from your book, what would you hope they take from it?

    Nikki Burns: That’s a funny question for me.  I was trained as a teacher, and it changed how I live.  I don’t feel an obligation as a writer to model and teach.  I feel an obligation as a human being to model and teach. That’s not to say anyone should put me atop a marble pedestal; I make mistakes all the time – and try to admit to and apologize for them.  I just mean that we’re all role models and teachers; we just don’t always realize or remember it.  Whether you’re riding the bus, taking out the trash, gossiping with your friends, or sending an e-mail, you are modeling behavior and teaching lessons to those who are observing and interacting with you.

    As for lessons from the book, everyone will take their own… but I hope I’ve conveyed these three.

    • First, turn off your smart-phone bluetooth handheld touchscreen voice-activated and/or otherwise technologically-savvy device for a bit, and go outside where at least you can see the sky, and if possible, the trees, or the ocean, or mountains, desert, or prairie, and drink it in – watch, breathe, and learn.
    • Second, don’t be afraid to take action when you believe it is the right thing to do, even if you’re about to screw things up royally and have to make it up to people later.
    • Third, work hard to find the reasons behind what people do and say, even – especially – if they have hurt you.  It takes thought and courage not to categorize people as simply “good” or “bad.”  Most people are more complicated than that. It’s not easy to walk in someone else’s shoes.  Do it anyway.  You can’t make a good decision about how to handle the situation until you have.

    All three books, including Nikki’s Tatterdemalion, can be found in the Cobalt City Rookies e-book. The trilogy is available for the Kindle, the Nook, or DRM-free in both formats plus a bonus PDF. It’s $4.99 and free to librarians (just email [email protected]!).

    Nikki Burns writes from the greater Seattle area.  She says there are still real trees, if you go out far enough.  She says that she has the most beautiful daughter in the world, but if you are a proud parent of one of these strange creatures, you probably do too.  She has too many cats, and loves them all.  One of these days, the rain will wash her away.  She says she won’t mind.  Much.


    Tags: cobalt city, Cobalt City Rookies, nicole burns, nikki burns, novel, super hero, , tatterdemalion, timid pirate, YA, young adult


    I got my first red pen at the age of nine, editing for a neighbor's grant publications. Little did she know she'd created a professional nitpicker, someone who would later mark up paperbacks and mail them to the publisher with tsk-tsk notes. Making stories better makes me happy.