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New YA Novel 'Overpowered' Puts Teens in Conspiracy Thriller

"Necessary Roughness" writer Mark Kruger discusses his story about a group of young friends who discover all is not what it seems in their small town, the book's decade-long journey to publication and why he loves writing teen characters.

Overpowered Cover - P 2013

Necessary Roughness writer Mark Kruger is branching out in a new direction with his first novel. 

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The book, Overpowered, is a YA novel centering on narrator Nica, a teenage girl who has spent most of her life globetrotting with her journalist mother but is now being sent to live with her estranged father in the small town of Barrington, Colo. -- and she's dreading the culture shock. 

It turns out that Barrington might be the safest, nicest little town in America, and Nica discovers that life in a sleepy small town might not be as bad as she had imagined. But she soon begins to wonders why such an idyllic community needs a curfew and its own private security firm (run by local employer Barrington Technology).

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Her suspicion that all is not what it seems is validated when she and some of her new friends -- including hunky golden-boy-turned-outcast Jackson Winters -- discover that a weird atmospheric disturbance, dubbed "the pulse," has gives them special powers that last 24 hours.  

This Scooby gang with super powers sets out to discover the origin of their new, fleeting powers, as well as why no one else in town is talking about what happened. Their pursuit of answers reveals dark secrets and hidden dangers in Barrington. 

Kruger told The Hollywood Reporter that he tried to imbue the book with the feel of the '70s conspiracy thrillers he was a fan of as a kid mixed with the comedic bent, sass, exuberance and fun of a teenager's perspective.

The YA book club here at THR has been passing around prepublication copies of Overpowered to favorable reviews. (Some of us would like to pretend we have a life so we're not going to admit that we consumed the book over a long weekend). 

The story works. Kruger manages to balance the competing thriller and YA elements well. Fans of USA Network's mid-oughts sci-fi series The 4400 (which Kruger wrote on) will recognize elements from that in the story, but there's also an Everwood vibe and a bit of Chronicle in the plot.

Kruger offered up a sneak peak at the book, which goes on sale Aug. 26. He sets up the excerpt, which comes from Chapter 5: "It's the morning after the first pulse. Nica's with Jackson when it happens, and he freaks out. She's expecting the end of the world. Instead, she discovers something else." Read it here.

YA might seem like an odd turn for the veteran TV scribe, but Kruger points out that he's written teenage characters before and he relies on his three teenage nieces to help him keep a finger on the pulse of teen life. He also admits to being a fan of teen soaps like Pretty Little Liars and almost anything that's on The CW (and The WB before that). 

He says that writing Nica was "a total blast," adding that teenagers make good main characters. Nica is "someone who is worldly, yet is not quite an adult. She thinks she knows it all -- as so many of us did when we were teenagers. This is the truth of the being a teenager: You think you know more than your parents."

Plus, he thinks teenagers' skepticism and natural mistrust of authority deepen the conspiracy thriller aspects of the plot. "I think that's why I gravitated to YA fiction, because things are so heigtened emotionally because [teenagers] do experience the world that way."

Overpowered was a bit of a passion project for Kruger.

It started life as the first TV pilot he ever wrote. He worked with Wes Craven and Julie Plec (Vampire Diaries) to develop it into a series, and in the post-9/11 moment of the early 2000s the conspiracy aspects of the story resonated.

But as so often happens in TV, the project never got off the ground. 

Over the years it was the pilot script that would not die as it periodically sparked new interest. Each effort was stillborn. Then one day Kruger's agent asked if he'd ever consider turning it into a book, and that was all the encouragement he needed. Kruger had been thinking the same thought, but he wasn't sure he could pull it off. "A book is a book commitment."

[As an aside, Kruger's journey to becoming a writer itself feels like it could provide material for a film script. He doesn't come from a family of writers -- his dad was tax accountant and his mom a housewife -- but he's part of one now: One sister, Liz, is the creator of Necessary Roughness and another sister is also a writer on the show. To add to the family affair, his cousin (whom he was close to growing up) is actor Rob Morrow (Numb3rs), who has directed three episodes of Necessary Roughness, including one that Mark wrote.]

Without telling anyone, Kruger set out to see if he could turn the script into a book, getting to the Necessary Roughness offices a couple of hours early to get in some writing before the workday started. 

"If I got a page done, good. If I got two, even better. But I didn't stress about it, and after months and months I had a book. It was putting one foot in front of another."

After so many years writing TV, Kruger says the best part -- and the biggest challenge -- of writing a book was "the moments between the big events" where he had to flesh out his characters. 

"In a book you can have extended periods where you are in the interior life of your characters, especially since I'm telling it from the point of view of a teenage girl. Really it's all about her interior life and how she's experiencing this new place, new people, her fears, her anxieties, the things she thinks are funny. It's finding those small moments that resonate."

Having just wrapped the third season of Necessary Roughness, Kruger is already hard at work on the sequel to Overpowered, and while he knows the vagaries of the TV business make it hard to predict, he does admit to it would be fun if the pilot that became a book ended up becoming a TV series. 

But that's not the most important part of the experience. "Walking into my local bookstore and seeing [Overpowered] on the shelf is the biggest thrill of all."