Kailey Bright is on the rise as she released her debut Young Adult Fantasy book at the tail end of 2021. If you love action-packed, juicy connections, and intense moments, you'll love Unfortunate. I've had the pleasure of seeing her grow as an author since we virtual met in our Creator Institue Workshops in December 2020. I am so honored to have not only read and reviewed her first book but also interviewed her as well.
AMBITIOUS IN PINK, KAILEY BRIGHT
Emily Craig: Why did you become an author?
Kailey Bright: Easy! Writing is my life source. As an author, I can contribute my stories and ideas with those who need it: you can find comfort in a beautiful scenario, find commonality with a character, or even be swayed to make a difference in your own life. My words matter to you.
EC: What's your writing process like? Any special things you have to do to get in the zone?
KB: I think of myself as a psycho organizer, so my writing process is the same. I leave enough wiggle room to allow my imagination to decide what happens next, but for the most part, I know the premise for each chapter and the book as a whole before I even start actively writing.
When I wrote Unfortunate, I typically dedicated a large chunk of time every night to writing. I write a “stupid version”, or a short play by play of what’s happening in a chapter or scene and use that as a launching point. To get in the zone, I love listening to music. I have several writing playlists now, but when I first wrote Unfortunate, I played full albums of different artists to separate myself from the world. And those were typically indie pop or pop. I absolutely love the Fever Dream and Beneath the Skin albums by Of Monsters and Men. If you want to hear Unfortunate’s theme, go listen to Thousand Eyes.
EC: What authors and books inspire you?
KB: Ray Bradbury is always my immediate answer because I frequently think about Fahrenheit 451 and several of his short stories. I tried emulating his writing style in high school, so I keep a piece of him in my heart. Him, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Henrick Ibsen’s A Doll House, and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening are all classic books that were introduced to me when I first wrote Unfortunate seriously, and they stay with me now.
As for modern books, I can’t deny the influence from the YA surge in the early 2010s. The Hunger Games and Twilight are big inspirations for all of my writings, including Unfortunate.
A story that grabbed me at every turn, and an ending that broke my heart. Kailey Bright's magical, powerful, and action-packed story tugged at every emotion under the sun, and I would still go through it all over again. UNFORTUNATE is unlike any other fantasy book on the shelves. Even with the fantasy similarities to other books, Bright manages to make her own path in her genre.
While I was reading, many well-known and new series came to mind. When I was a preteen/teen, I didn't even know I was reading a well-known fantasy series called Uglies Series until I just researched its genres. To my surprise, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld falls into the Fantasy Genre (Although, I'm not sure I read past the first two books. None the less, his books were assigned to me in school. Maybe I'll revisit them one day). Maybe I do have roots in this genre. Then there is a newer series called The Moral Bloodline Trilogy by SV Filice, which I read (am still reading) in the present day. Why am I telling you about these other fantasy books? They have some very cool similarities to newcomer Kailey Bright's story.
EC: Tell me about your world-building process. Inspiration, mood board, etc.
KB: The Kingdom of Iridion is divided by Gifteds and Unfortunates, by those with supernatural powers and those without. That groundwork was established by my love for dystopian societies, and my own feminist lens is reflected in how Unfortunate girls are restricted to servitude.
After I get the basic premise, I start asking questions. It’s important for me to start out small and become more niche the more the world comes together.
For example, supernatural powers exist: What are the powers? What can the powers do? What are their names? What are the power limitations? How common is this power? What is the culture of those in this power? Why do people have Gifts in the first place?
You can see how my questions evolve, and that’s exactly what I have to do. And more questions need to be answered from there. Why do people have Gifts in the first place? The Divine granted Gifts when humanity initially struggled to survive. Okay. Which Gift was granted first? Does everyone believe this principle? And an important question you’ve probably already wondered–why do Unfortunates exist?
I become a historian.
To explore the Kingdom of Iridion, check out Kailey's website: here
The main thing that sticks out to me from the Uglies Series is the first two books' names. Uglies and Pretties. Odd? Yes, but so interesting. "All Talley wants is to be Pretty. When she turns sixteen she'll have that very thing." - Amazon. Tally before the age of sixteen is considered an Ugly, meanwhile, when citizens hit sixteen they are gifted with pretty everything - outer appearance, lifestyle, and partners. That is all that Tally wants to be and more when readers meet her in Uglies.
In the Moral Bloodline Trilogy, Isabelle is determined to make something of herself at her camp while trying to get back to her sister, Brett. I have only read The Summoning (Book 1) thus far, but things are far from normal (in a good way). Isabelle is sent to a camp where she is told to discover her infinity: Sight of Knowing, Voice of Reason, Sound of Truth, or Touch of Force. Isabelle is trained with many different weapons by a very important older camper (read to find out who).
While reading UNFORTUNATE, I noticed that Bright highlights two categories within the story's citizenship much like the Uglies Series. The Gifteds and the Unfortunates. Gifteds are born with gifts ( extraordinary abilities) which they use to protect the palace and themselves. They are taught at Galdor Academy how and when to use them. Meanwhile, Unfortunates are born without gifts and are servants for Gifted Households - at 10 years old they are moved to their servant houses during a Choosing Ceremony (think Hunger Games without the bloodshed). But that all changes when a prominent Gifted figure approaches Nora (an Unfortunate, our main character) to come to Galdor Academy and train with the Gifted students. With doubts and past trauma looming in her mind, Nora accepts and the rest is pure chaos. She's met with Gifteds her age (first-year class), a handsome prince and beautiful princess, and many higher-up Gifteds like the one that got her enrolled. Unfortunately for them, the danger is around every corner. Like Filice's trilogy, Nora is trained by an important figure in the Gifted Community. This person sticks by her side the entire time, but even this pair isn't shielded from surprises (read to find out who and what goes down).
If you like Citizenship Classes, combat training, battles, royals everywhere, and an unlining plot of leadership, friendship, and struggle, you'll love UNFORTUNATE.
EC: All right, I need details on the Gifted's gifts. The meaning behind each gift and how you created them. (PowerPuff Lab vibes are strong)
KB: Haha. My goodness. If I’m being honest, there used to be meanings behind each Gift name but because I started the names five years ago, there’s a couple of meanings that don't line up anymore. The only one that I know still aligns is the Avlis Gift, the one where people have floral and earth powers. The reason why is because Avlis spelled backwards is Silva, which is Latin for forest. I did that for most of my Gift names: I just put English words relevant to the power type and jumbled them in Google translate.
Kailey Bright’s UNFORTUNATE is Red Queen meets An Ember in the Ashes and Book #1 of the UN series. Dive into the fray and be brave despite fear.
Nora is an Unfortunate—born without any powers and born to serve Gifteds: other humans with extraordinary abilities. When a prominent Gifted figure offers Nora the opportunity to attend Galdor Academy, Nora weighs her options: forever remain the property of a Gifted household or experience a semblance of agency at an elite military school for Gifted children. She remembers her unbreakable promise and accepts.
At first, Nora just wants to make her sponsor proud rather than be sent away in a body bag. But once the Anti-Gifted Movement starts an impossible-to-ignore revolution alongside a mysterious terrorist with an unmatched Divine-like power, the Kingdom of Iridion is forever broken wide open.
While Nora hopes she can prove that Unfortunates deserve equity, the AGM are done begging; they intend to bring every last Gifted low who sought to lord over them. Caught in the crossfire, Nora must make a decision—fight back or let the kingdom splinter to ruin.
While reading Bright's Unfortunate, I wrote my thoughts down for each chapter. I'm not joking. I read her book as an ARC copy therefore I was set up to do an Early Praise Quote (it is on the back cover!!!) for her book. Well, my memory has been in and out over the last several months so I kept a record of all my feelings about her writing. Looking back over it now, I am so glad I did this (September 15, 2021 - December 31, 2021). Now, I can read why I was so hooked from the very beginning and all the way until the last page.
The way Kailey moves through the early scenes in chapter one feels natural and easy. She and Nora (the main character) are in harmony. Even from the first chapter, I could tell Unfortunate was going to be one of my favorite reads. But, I wasn't prepared for the destruction it would do to my heart. With each new page, my heart took a heavy blow. I had become attached to these characters. I was invested in their journeys. Little did I know that the worse was yet to come - I was NOT ready!
My breath steadied, the Choosing Ceremony receding back into the dark corners of my mind. But it would come back, as it always did when the sky broke into tears. - Nora
EC: Walk me through your creation of Nora. She's remarkable and brilliant for a powerless citizen - dare I say, she doesn't need a gift to be extraordinary.
KB: That’s funny you say that because I often describe Nora as an ordinary girl who does extraordinary things. That’s a big takeaway from Unfortunate I want readers to hold in their hearts: you can be just as remarkable and brilliant even in powerlessness and hopelessness.
I created Nora from the rain. Rain is an important motif in Unfortunate and throughout the UN series. We start the book in the rain; we end the book in the rain. It haunts her, it lingers, and it forces her to recall the day she became property, the day she solidified her role as an Unfortunate and nothing more. We’ll see how rain changes Nora in both interpretation and circumstance as the series goes on. As for Nora herself, the reason why I associate her with rain is because I was sitting on the school bus and watching the rain outside. Through my imagination, she worked out there in the damp without an umbrella, without a single complaint. And as I started to wonder why she was working out there, why she endured such an uncomfortable setting, the entire kingdom began to form in my mind too.
Much like Unfortunate's main character, Nora, I was taking each blow head-on with each new reveal. My heart was heavy from all the changes she was going through. From the very first page, I knew Nora wasn't going to be the typical cut and dry character. No, Kailey wouldn't write her female-led story hero that way, she just wouldn't. As expected, Kailey Bright delivered a strong female-led story where the MC can hold her own and face adversity with bravery and skill. Nora never backs down without a fight even without a gift, she is powerful against her many challenges. That's why I would highly recommend reading this new action-packed Young Adult Fantasy book.
Another book comparison that I couldn't help but notice is Unfortunate has a story likeness to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter. To get into Galdor Academy each potential student must prove themselves and their abilities to the Royal Knights of the palace. One faithful night, they visited the Montgomery House, where Nora was the servant and Molly was the Gifted (both 17-years-old). It was finally Molly's time to join the first-year classes at Galdor Academy, but first, she had to pass a training test where she battled her father. Molly is an Imitations - snake gift. Much like Molly and her father, Potter and Malfoy had a very similar battle. Only theirs involved magic and an actual snake. Each battle is trying to prove something to someone. In Molly's case, she is trying to prove her worthiness to be at Galdor Academy, while Potter is trying to prove he can be just as good as Malfoy. On this very night, things would not only change for Molly but for Nora as well. Their lives were about to intersect and Nora was Molly's Public Enemy #1, in a sense. CONFLICT! CONFLICT ALERT!
Though Gifts were common amongst the citizens of Iridion, I couldn't help but be fearfully awestruck by their abilities. As an Unfortunate, with no Gift at all, it was difficult to be otherwise. - Kailey Bright, Unfortunate
Molly excels and is accepted in Galdor Academy. Nora politely declines Mr. Harris' sudden interest in her and the Unfortunates. Mostly Nora has a strange feeling about him and his ideas. But, that isn't their last meeting. After another chance meeting, Nora reluctantly accepts and is shuffled into Gifted territory. I think this is where the book really picks up. Why? Because everything is out of order - an Unfortunate enrolling in a Gifted school? That's nuts, or is it?
Promise me you'll escape at any chance you get. No matter what happens. Whatever it cost. - Valerie to Nora in a Memory
The minute Nora arrives at Galdor Academy everything goes nuts. That isn't me being dramatic, for once. Kailey writes the action and tension beautifully throughout the rest of the book. By reading her book at first glance, you wouldn't know this is her debut release with how smooth her storytelling is. Bright truly has a gift for sharing powerful female stories. Nora is the hero no one sees coming, but a hero that everyone needs.
EC: Unfortunate has a wide range of brilliant characters. How did you keep track of their arches? Were their stories planned or did you let your writing take the driver's seat?
KB: Firstly, thank you for saying that my book has brilliant characters. I work hard to make sure that each character has their own world outside of the main character. Most of the time, characters form in my mind without much control on my part. I essentially help them figure out the niche aspects of their personality or background; I ask questions frequently like they’re real people to figure out if they’d do something and sometimes they do things I didn’t expect which makes the writing better. So it’s a mix of both planning and allowing my characters to take the driver’s seat.
EC: Would you change anything about how your character's circumstances turned out? (no spoilers)
KB: I always feel terribly for my characters when I know what’s going to happen to them. Sometimes, I’ll stop writing just so they can remain in a blissful, ignorant moment–just for a little bit longer. But the ‘problem’ with book writing is how you must continue forward, just like you have to do in your own life. You can’t stay stagnant; you don’t have that luxury. Neither do my characters. To answer your question holistically, no. I wouldn’t change anything about my character’s circumstances because their background builds their initial frame, mindset, actions, and then as the plot progresses, we get to see our characters grow and change and symbolize different messages and motifs–all important attributes in my own books. If you twist my arm and I had to choose, I would want better for Sylvia Douglas. She’s a disheartened and deeply wounded Unfortunate rebel within the Anti-Gifteds Movement that calls out our main character Nora for betraying her own people throughout Unfortunate. I would not want to be in her place if I was in my own universe.
I believe the aspect that sets Bright's book apart from other books is how she handles her story. For example, early on in the book, there is a classroom scene where all the first-years meet - a chance for Bright to introduce her wide range of characters. I loved this scene, Kailey had a great grip on her characters and their developing stories. She is powerful and stern yet soft and inviting with her words, which is a rare occurrence when developing new connections in a group of teenagers. Because not only was Nora a new girl at school, but she was different from all her classmates. Yet, Bright gave these characters a calm and normal meeting. Each time, Kailey brings in more of the cast her writing is calm and flows with ease which I really loved. Her story was easy to follow and fall in love with through Nora's growing new normal.
Speaking of falling in love...Nora and Prince Cassius' connection is so sweet. I absolutely adored their friendship throughout the story. The Prince was the Royal who took on the task of training Nora for her battles. That is one of the reasons they became so close, now the other well you'll have to read Unfortunate to find out. They are literally from two different worlds yet they easily connect on a deeply personal level throughout the book. Honestly, I couldn't imagine a world without Prince Cassius - he is my favorite character next to Nora!!
“Dance with me,” he repeated. “It’ll distract you from the Choosing Ceremony and calm your nerves.” - Prince Cassius to Nora
As Kailey said above Nora was created from the rain. "It haunts her, it lingers, and it forces her to recall the day she became property, the day she solidified her role as an Unfortunate and nothing more." On the day the conversation above took place "A white flash collided with a dreadful thunder" (Unfortunate, Kailey Bright). Nora was frightened because her Choosing Ceremony was on a rainy day, so ever since then, it has been a reminder to her. I related to that in so many ways. Rain is something that changed my life as well. I didn't become property like Nora, but I did experience my first wreck alone. Ever since then, almost 8 years now (May 2014), I've been scared of driving in the rain - as the driver or passenger. So reading how Prince Cassius helped her calm down really moved me. It was a nice tender moment that everyone needs to read!
EC: Nora and Prince Cassius. Early on readers can see their friendship develop and a sense of protection the prince has over Nora. Spoiler Free, tell me about creating their two-different worlds connection?
KB: I can talk about Nora and Prince Cassius all day. I love their relationship, and I think the reason why is because, throughout every iteration, every rewrite, every story derailment–Nora and Cassius are always consistently there, in each other’s orbits.
A major theme in the UN Series is the concept of union, of community, in search of something that ties us together. I wanted that to be best captured between Prince Cassius and Nora: the Gifted and the Unfortunate, the literal prince of Iridion and the oppressed servant girl. What could they possibly have in common? A lot more than you think, and we get to see how the two relate and balance each other in a world that wants to tear the two apart.
I am not a huge Fantasy Reader, but somehow, someway, I have fallen in love with yet another Fantasy book. You can too!
Kailey Bright proves chapter after chapter that she is a force to be reckoned with in the writing industry. From her powerful and relatable characters to her smooth storytelling, Bright brings Nora's world alive. Catativing words, stories, and emotions line the pages. Unfortunate is a remarkable, action-packed, heart-wrenching new Young Adult Fantasy.
EC: What are your hopes for Nora as you move forward with her character in future books?
KB: I hope Nora grows from what she learns in Unfortunate and continues her journey despite how uncertain she is about her views and her future. Without getting into spoiler territory too much, Nora really has to reflect on her mistakes and decide what she wants to be for herself before antagonistic forces choose for her.
EC: What's one thing you'd tell an up-and-coming author?
KB: Give yourself time. You need time to write and you need time to grow. You want to write and publish something you’re proud of, so do! But you must give yourself time to reach a point where you are satisfied and content with what you’re releasing to the world.
I didn’t do that. I tried to publish as quickly as possible when I was 18, and it completely failed. The story wasn’t where I wanted it to be, so I didn’t share it with others. My impatience forced a childhood dream to happen just so it could happen rather than be something I could be happy with. I don’t want that for you.
EC: What's your message for readers as they follow Nora's journey?
KB: As you read Unfortunate and follow Nora’s journey from servant to soldier, remember to be brave despite fear.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kailey Bright is a contemporary YA fiction author and computer scientist, which means she writes code during daylight and writes about fantastical worlds under starlight.
Tired of YA stories where protagonists suddenly get secret, plot-helpful powers, Bright seeks to write powerful and ambitious stories about characters who persevere with and through disadvantages. Her books are meant to positively impact readers who struggle with challenging societal norms and cultivating inner growth.
When she’s not tanning under her computer screen’s glow, Kailey enjoys winning at mediocre bowling and drinking tea on cool mornings.