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Tessa Gratton: The SBBT Interview

Today, it's my honor and pleasure to present an interview with my friend, Tessa Gratton, author of Blood Magic and the forthcoming The Blood Keeper. See that photo at the right? That's me and Tess taking an illegal photo at The Public Theatre production of Shakespeare's "Timon of Athens" earlier this year. Turns out they don't allow photographs inside the theatre, even though we got pretty much nothing but ourselves in there. At least we didn't get kicked out. But I digress.

I am really excited to have Tess here - and when you read her interview, I think you'll see why.

1. As you know, I've always been a fan of your short fiction, some of which appears at The Merry Sisters of Fate. Quite a lot of your work pulls on classic literature – from Shakespeare to Arthurian or Norse legend and more. What's the attraction for you? And do you see your work as engaging in a dialogue of sorts with the past works, or is what came before merely a foundation on which you build?

I think that ALL stories are dialogue in some way – with old sources, with societal norms, with modern genre conventions, with overt issues of the day. So definitely I’m engaging in a conversation with a fairy tale when I rewrite it – I don’t think there’s really a point to telling a story based on old myths or stories or Shakespeare unless I’m trying to open it up and look at it from a different angle. It doesn’t have to be HUGE, but it does have to be there, for me.

The attraction is that all those primary sources are so rich in theme and character and gore (ha ha). I love them, and I want to write about things I love, so there’s also that basic desire to have fun with the source material.

2. Which comes first, the character or the plot/premise? Does it differ depending on whether you're writing a short story or a novel?

Usually it’s characters. I’d say 99% of the time with novel ideas I need at least one character I want to spend intense time with for at least a year of my life! With the short stories, well I’ve written SO MANY now (like 85 or something insane) for Merry Fates that I can’t always afford to be picky. I prefer to have a premise when I start a story these days, because I can make characters and plot, but a good, solid short story premise can carry an entire 2500 word story in a way that character doesn’t.

3. Your first novel, BLOOD MAGIC, came out a couple months ago. It's written using three different narrators – two contemporary teens (Silla and Nick) plus journal entries from Josephine, a girl who lived in the early 1900s. (a) Was it difficult to channel the story through three viewpoints?

Having multiple points of view (povs) is actually easier for me, because if I’m stuck on one character, I have the option of switching. And you can show things through different povs that you can’t with only one! It’s awesome. Writing from only one pov (like I’m doing now with Sekrit Projekt) is harder.

(b) Did you find one character's voice more compelling or difficult than the others, and if so, why?

I loved, loved, loved writing Josephine, and Nick gave me the most trouble. He talks more like I think I talk, but I also had to fine tune his the most – making sure he wasn’t using Silla’s speech patterns, and keeping his obnoxious to an acceptable level, his word choice was very carefully analyzed.

(c) Was Josephine's narrative part of the novel from the get-go?

Yes, Jo was always in the story – originally her voice wasn’t woven throughout though. It didn’t come in until the middle when Silla and her brother discovered the diary, or something like that. But she’s always been my deranged body-snatcher. *love*

4. BLOOD MAGIC is most often referred to as a paranormal romance, but don't you think it could equally well be called a mystery novel? There's the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Silla's parents, as well as the mystery of who sent the book of magic to Silla – and the existence of an (initially) unidentified antagonist, with very real threats to Nick, Silla and her brother Reese. I guess I have to ask how you see the book – and whether the mystery or the romance came first.

Most often people tell me that it’s HORROR, actually! Which is thrilling to me. But to actually answer your question, the original version of the novel was about Silla and Reese and Josephine. Proto-Nick was in it, and there was kissing, but it wasn’t about Nick at all. So it was mystery/horror first, and then I decided Nick needed his own arc and story, so when it because equally his story, the romance kicked up a few notches.

5. One of the things I like about the story is the importance of the sibling relationship between Silla and Reese. It's the first actual relationship we see on the page, and one that proves central to the resolution of the novel . . . to say nothing of setting the scene for the next book in the Blood Journals sequence, THE BLOOD KEEPER, due out in April of 2012. I like how realistic the relationship between the brother and sister seems despite the supernatural plot elements. Was that relationship always so key to the story? If so, what was the attraction for you? If not, how or when did it change?

I love sibling relationships in books. LOVE. It is my favorite. Especially brothers, or brothers and sisters. Probably because I have two brothers, and for my whole life I’ve always seen people who don’t get along with their siblings and been like, whut? How does that happen? I’m so lucky that Sean and Travis and I have a strong friendship in addition to being siblings, so one thing I like to explore is how brothers fall apart and get back together. Like I mentioned above, the Silla-Reese relationship was an integral part of the original versions of BLOOD MAGIC. Brothers and family relationships are even MORE of an important theme in THE BLOOD KEEPER, too.

6. There's a long history and tradition of Southern Gothic writing, and this book seems to belong to that category, in part because the setting itself is such a powerful character, and BLOOD MAGIC seems to fit itself into that category in many respects. Was that a conscious decision on your part or something I'm projecting? What (if any) Southern Gothic stories influenced you?

It was conscious yes! And one of the reasons I chose southern Missouri for the location. I hesitate to say that I love Faulkner, but I do love how Faulkner uses Southern settings, and vividly remember being hot and sneezy from imaginary dust when I read the opening of LIGHT IN AUGUST. And in the last 10 years I’ve spent time in the South (especially Mississippi and Louisiana) every year, including a drive through Missouri and the Ozarks. The setting appealed to me so much, and since it was already a story about family magic and folklore, Southern Gothic conventions were right in the forefront of my mind as I wrote a lot of it.

7. BLOOD MAGIC employs lots of references to Shakespeare (both overt and covert). (a) Can we expect to see more of the Bard in THE BLOOD KEEPER?

There’s a bit of Shakespeare in THE BLOOD KEEPER, but significantly less overt reference. That’s because there are brand new narrators, and none of them have Silla’s interest/obsession with the Bard. So I had other thematic material in mind, and other inspiration. (A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA [by Ursula Le Guin] and “Beauty and the Beast” and fairy tales in general.)

(b) Which is your favorite Shakespeare play and why?

I have just spent 5 minutes pacing around my house trying to answer this question. I’ve narrowed it down to: “Measure for Measure,” “Henry IV, part I,” “Macbeth,” and “Hamlet.” (Interesting to me that I didn’t even really consider any comedies!) If I could only read/see/hear one of his plays for the rest of my life, I think I’d pick “Hamlet.” That’s as close as I can get to choosing a favorite.

SPEED ROUND:

Cheese or chocolate?
Cheese!

Coffee or tea? Coffee!

Cats or dogs? …. If I say dogs, my cats will eat me. If I say dogs, my dog will cry.

Favorite color? Purple!

Favorite snack food? Cereal!

Favorite ice cream? Black cherry chocolate from Graeters!

Water or soda? Soda! (Sadly.)

What's in your CD player/on iTunes right now? A strange brainstorming mix for my current project, featuring things like Mumford and Sons, Phantom of the Opera, Jesca Hoop, Sam Cooke, and Lady Gaga.

What's the last movie you memorized lines from? Oh, gawd, I haven’t done this since I was a kid. So, like “Tommy Boy” or “Jurassic Park.”  lame.

Thank you, Tess, for being here - and for your extremely enthusiastic speed round answers!

Thanks for having me, Kelly!!!

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
krysteybelle
Jul. 14th, 2011 01:15 pm (UTC)
I love Tessa's work! Thanks for the interview. Great questions!
kellyrfineman
Jul. 14th, 2011 02:27 pm (UTC)
I love Tess's work too - some of her short stories are among my favorite shorts ever, which is saying something. Glad you enjoyed the interview!
angeladegroot
Jul. 14th, 2011 03:22 pm (UTC)
Good interview. I'll be looking for a copy of Blood Magic today. Yes, Tessa's use of the word HORROR grabbed my fancy.
kellyrfineman
Jul. 14th, 2011 06:36 pm (UTC)
Tess's novel definitely fits the Southern Gothic horror model. You'll love it.
mreader
Jul. 16th, 2011 03:53 am (UTC)
I was impressed by the thought of pacing for five minutes coming up with a favorite Shakespeare Play. I guess I'd do the same if confronted with my favorite Modern Family episode, but I'm thinking that's a bit less impressive.

Thanks for sharing all this great book and author info!
kellyrfineman
Jul. 19th, 2011 03:47 am (UTC)
I am not surprised that the question caused Tess consternation, knowing her penchant for Shakespeare matches or exceeds mine.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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