kellyrfineman (kellyrfineman) wrote,

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A WBBT Interview With Amanda Marrone

I am fortunate to have met Amanda Marrone before any of her books came out – we've been friends in the virtual world since the autumn of 2005, and friends in real life since the 2006 New England SCBWI Conference. Even were I not friends with Amanda, however, I'd be impressed by the track records of her supernatural YA books, which are published by Simon & Schuster as original paperbacks (at least so far), which have quietly been selling steadily – and well – since they were published. That is, perhaps, why they can still be found in at least some of the Big Box Bookstores even now. And this is such a full-service interview, that you're going to get to see a wee bit of Amanda's next YA novel, Slayed, which won't be out until next fall.

Her first novel, Uninvited, is in its ninth printing (at least) and Revealers, her second novel, is already in its fifth printing. Devoured, which just came out this fall, may not yet have gone into its second printing, but it sold beaucoup de copies in its first month. Between the three books, more than 100,000 copies have sold. As Amanda describes it, "Not bestseller numbers, but I was pretty darn happy to hear that!"

Now on to the Q&A:

1. Your first YA novel, Uninvited, came out in 2007 and remains in bookstores even today. Given the success of so many recent YA books where vampires are considered sexy good (or at least not particularly bad) guys, were you surprised that so many teens have responded positively to your story in which it's made exceedingly clear that vampires are exceedingly devious, dangerous beings?

I’m definitely a traditionalist when it comes to vampires—though my Revealers vamps aren’t pure evil, they definitely don’t care about being bad—their moral compasses disappeared with their souls. That said, I have heard complaints that my vamp in Uninvited isn’t a romantic lead, but I’ve also heard from teens who were happy that my vampire follows the ‘rules’. It’s nice that teens can make the jump from one author’s vision of the supernatural to another’s.

2. Jordan, Uninvited's main character, has significant substance-abuse issues throughout much of the story, imbibing to the point of blackouts. I know from talking with you and reading reviews that you've taken some heat for writing a character with this sort of issue, but, like you, I suspect this is more common than many people realize (or are willing to consider). Was one of your goals with this book to try to dissuade kids from following Jordan's path when it comes to sex, drugs and alcohol, or is that just me taking home an uninvited message? (See what I did there?)

I didn’t write the book to dissuade teens from drinking and doing drugs, though if they think twice about that after reading it great! I say that because I struggled with the same things Jordan did when I was in high school. When I first got the idea for Uninvited I wondered what kind of a girl would consider inviting a (non-sparkling) vampire in—the immediate answer was someone like me. I gave Jordan all of my junk—my phobias, my teen depression, my lack of will power. I never felt like I was writing about me—but someone who was very much like I was in high school—a mess! I remember waking up in the mornings feeling guilty and depressed about what I’d done the night before and vowing to change—only to get sucked back into it all over again. Writing this book was a way for me to make the changes I couldn’t back in high school—the vampire being the catalyst.

I do take the heat for the content—but that was my reality, and unfortunately it’s the reality for a lot of teens today. I get emails from teens who totally relate to Jordan and I talk with friends and family members who have kids dealing with substance abuse problems. Unfortunately we don’t live in a High School Musical world. My town recently had an unsupervised party broken up by the cops resulting in half of the high school’s pom-pom squad members getting kicked off the squad for underage drinking. Interestingly, the football players at the party were not.

Some adults don’t want to think about kids doing these things and reading a book like Uninvited makes them uncomfortable. Last year I had a librarian write to me to say she sees kids in her library all the time and none of them are like my characters in Uninvited and she was tossing the book in the trash because it was so unrealistic. I had to laugh—I was the kid in the library all of the time checking out books. I certainly never would have told the librarian what I was up to and I didn’t look like the kind of kid who was cutting classes and playing drinking games with my friends.

I was really happy when Uninvited was nominated as an American Library Association "Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers", and it made the ALA Popular Paperback list in the "Dead and Dying Category"—yes, the title makes me laugh, but I felt like people got the book. I do get a bit uneasy when Uninvited is put on an “If you like Twilight try Uninvited" list or display at a library or bookstore. I don’t want to mislead teens into thinking it’s a hot romance.

3. In your second novel, Revealers, which came out in 2008, your main character, Jules, and her friends are witches – specifically, they are witches with the power to make vampires, ghosts and werewolves reveal themselves so that the witches can destroy them. The way it ended, Jules and friends were on a specific mission with a goal – does that mean we'll be seeing a sequel?

I left the story open for a sequel because I had so much fun writing the book and I didn’t want to say goodbye to the characters—especially Dani and Jules. I have an idea for the sequel, but I also have so many other new story ideas I want to pursue so I’m not sure if I’ll get back to my girls.

I'm pretty sure your readers would love to see a Revealers sequel. In the meantime, maybe you can tell us what you think was next for the characters who remain at the end of the book?

What I had planned was to bring Connor back from Hell to try and protect Jules who has gone from hunter to hunted. He’s deeply connected (and literally tethered) to the netherworld, but he wants to make up for his colossal screw-ups and win Jules back. There’s something hard to resist about your first love—even if you know you should stay away.

4. Your third YA novel, Devoured, was released in September, with a drop-dead gorgeous cover (pun only somewhat intended). The story features Megan, who regularly sees the ghost of her twin sister, Remy, who was killed in a car accident ten years ago. Megan gets a job at the local fairy tale theme park for the summer in order to keep an eye on her boyfriend Ryan, who works there with his almost life-long friend, Samantha, who has recently made a play for him.

I'd love to know what sort of research you did for this theme-park stuff – have you ever worked at one? Did you visit a few of them? Are you pro- or anti-theme park?

I want to go on record stating that I want the Devoured model to be on the cover of all of my books. She is supernaturally pretty!

As for theme parks—I love them as long as I don’t have to wait in line! I have the patience of a toddler.

I got the idea for Devoured after visiting Story Land and Santa Village (for the fourth time) in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As much as I like going to theme parks, I HATE, HATE, HATE waiting in lines for a ride that lasts a whopping two minutes, (Did I mention I’m impatient?) but while waiting in these endless lines I got to hear the ride operators giving the same talk over and over and over again. Why would anyone want to work there I wondered? The unflattering uniforms, the heat, witnessing toddler meltdowns and cheesetastic rides—ugh! (If you like cheesetastic rides I highly recommend The Story Land Queen boat ride in which riders are enlisted to help save the colors on Butterfly Island with the sound of laughter. I kid you not!)

I finally decided there were three basic types of people who would work at these places. One, someone who was desperate for money and couldn’t find work anywhere else. Two, someone who really got off on the ‘cheese factor’ and there are some kids who really get into narrating the Butterfly Island script, (and some who sound hopelessly bored) and finally, someone who wanted to keep tabs on her boyfriend. My main character falls in the last category.

I knew my editor would want another paranormal story so I got out one of my paranormal encyclopedias and read entries until I found one that stated that genies can inhabit objects other than lamps. I immediately thought of Snow White’s magic mirror and the paranormal part of the story clicked into place.

5. I have to tell you that M (my almost 15-yo) read Devoured the day it appeared in stores, and more than two months later, she still gets a rather frightened look on her face when it's mentioned, because she found what occurred later in the book involving mirrors and treachery – about which I will say no more, since I'm not here to spoil any of your books for readers – but she definitely admires your willingness as an author in all of your YA novels to "go there" (i.e., to follow the story or a particular character to their logical conclusion, even if it's not particularly pleasant). Is it difficult for you to write the more horrifying scenes? Do you freak yourself out? Or is it in some way cathartic to escape the real world so completely?

I think “follow the story to the logical conclusion” is what I focus on—even if it means making some unpopular decisions. If it’s clear everyone is going to make it to the end, the tension is gone. I was really sad about a certain character fate, but the bad guys are really bad and so are their actions—though I hated to do it—I had to go there. I do remember my heart racing a bit as I was writing one scene (the one in the woods) because I’m writing the story as I see it in my head and felt scared for the character.

6. One of the elements of Devoured that I find particularly clever is its connection to the story of Snow White. The cover implies that there's a connection, what with the lovely girl in the pretty blue dress holding that apple on the front, and the apple with blood dripping down it on the back, and there are multiple elements within the story itself that hearken to it (and not just the fact that Megan is immediately hired at the park with at least a part-time assignment to play the role of Snow White). Was the inclusion of Snow White elements a part of your initial conception for the novel, or something that happened later?

The Snow White part definitely happened later. I wrote the first chapter as a straight YA based around Megan’s desire to keep an eye on her new boyfriend and his best friend, Samantha. I added the paranormal element before I sent it to my editor. I played around with the idea of using all of the Snow White elements—the dwarves and such, but realized the story wasn’t a retelling but a ‘what if”.

Do you have any other fairy-tale related novels in the works?

I don’t have any other fairy-tale stories in the works, but I’m definitely intrigued by them. I vividly remember skipping school in 6th grade and reading all of Grimm’s Fairy Tales—there’s a lot of cool, and very creepy stuff in there! (Yes, I can’t believe my mother bought my many “stomach aches” I must have been a good actress). That said, I do want to look at other stories to see if another ‘what if’ might be in the future.

7. Next summer is the release of the first title in your Magic Repair Shop series with Aladdin: The Multiplying Menace. The second book of the series, Kobold Blues, is due out next fall, and the third – The Shape-Shifter's Curse – is supposed to be out in 2011. What can you tell us about the idea behind the series? The main characters? Is it truly going to be only three books, or might it go longer?

Actually we mixed things up a bit to save a big reveal for book three. The Shape Shifter’s Curse is book #2 now, and the title and content of #3 might change. I got the idea for the first book after drawing a birthday card—a kiddie magic show gone wrong. I imagined the kids would need a magic repairman to fix things and the story came to me.

For twelve-year-old Maggie, hiding her magic is a lonely job. Her sincerest wish is to find a kindred spirit. When she’s forced to spend the year with her grandmother in Bridgeport, Connecticut, she discovers an old family friend, Mr. McGuire, who runs a magic repair business in the city. Maggie discovers that not only is Mr. McGuire a real magician like herself, but her late grandfather was a powerful magician, as well.

There’s no time to dwell on family secrets, though. Maggie quickly finds herself overwhelmed attending a school for the gifted and talented that she used magic to get into, hiding her magic from new friend, Fiona Fitzgerald, dealing with her obnoxious, over-achieving classmate, Darcy Davenport, and the duplicating rabbits, disfiguring hexes, cauldron slime, and a kiddie-magic show turned deadly.

Twelve-year-old ‘magic-guy’ wannabe—Raphael Santos, and acerbic, talking rabbit—Hasenpfeffer, are both on hand to help Maggie navigate magical mishaps that may all be tied into the mysterious Milo the Magnificent.

I have ideas for a few more books, but we’ll have to wait and see if they’ll happen.

8. You have a book called Slayed in the works and scheduled for release in 2010. What can you tell us about it?

Slayed will be out next fall. It’s a YA Romeo and Juliet story involving rival vampire slayer families based on characters from Dracula, mixed with the troubled daughter of the lead singers of the kiddie rock band. In addition to the garden variety of vampires there’s an ancient demonic vampire preying on children.

Go ahead—roll your eyes.

Dude – I'm not rolling my eyes. I think that sounds awesome!

The Van Helsing family has been hunting vampires for over a hundred years, but for sixteen-year-old Daphne that’s 36,500 days too many. Daphne wants nothing more than to settle down in one place, attend an actual school, and find a job that doesn’t include decapitating vamps for cash. Even better? She'd like an actual BFF to go to the mall with. Not that Daphne ever gets to go to a mall. Traveling the country and exterminating vampires has made her social life nonexistent.

Daphne’s first encounter with a local vamp leads to a meeting with a very drunk Kiki Crusher—daughter of the lead singers of the famous kiddie rock band The Disco Unicorns. When Kiki witnesses a staking, she thinks Daphne’s got it made, and she’s eager to trade her own nomadic life dancing back-up in a fifty pound unicorn costume for fighting vampires. Hoping the inebriated Kiki won’t remember their encounter in the morning, Daphne agrees to tutor her in all things undead. But instead of sleeping off her stupor, Kiki shows up at her hotel the next day, and won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

I stare down on this petite blonde with boobs I’m guessing she got for her birthday, and shake my head. "Come on, who ever heard of a vampire slayer named Kiki?"

"Well, Kiki’s my stage name, but it’s got a lot more mystique than what’s on my birth certificate. How lame is Katherine-Anne Elizabeth Crusher?" She shrugs. "It was before my parents got famous. But come on, you have to admit Kiki Crusher is very slayerish," she says waving her hands in the air.

I roll my eyes. "There’s nothing slayerish about jazz hands."

"Well, Daphne doesn’t exactly scream slayer either, but we could go hunting in my limo, and it’s got a full bar."

I smile. There is something appealing about taking a cushy limo home after cutting the head off a vamp. "OK, but if I let you do this, you’ve got to keep away from the booze. I’m not risking my life for a drunken unicorn."

Kiki holds out her hand to me. "Deal!"

And then there’s Kyle Harker, the son of the Van Helsings former partners, whose messy black hair and ridiculous trench coat make him the polar opposite of the well-coiffed imaginary boyfriend she’s built around a jeans model in a Seventeen Magazine ad.

I have a follow-up question about Slayed if I could, which (now that you've sent me it's lovely summary) I do remember knowing about. Honestly, I'm nearly brain dead these days after the parade of health horrors that has been my year. Anyhow, I suppose the real question I have regarding Slayed is whether this is you living out a Van Helsing fantasy and, if so, whether Hugh Jackman and/or Kate Beckinsale is in your mind's eye when you think of the book. So?

Actually, I'm totally living out a Van Helsing fantasy in this book, but hopefully not one that's been done before with known Hollywood actors—did they have kiddie rock bands back then? This is a total 'what if' story'—when the heroes of Dracula keep on fighting for generations, though some not so willingly.

9. What's next?

I have three potential books I'm working on for the future – based on trends and what's already out there fingers crossed for "Big Foot is my Prom Date." To be clear, though, I have three new ideas to share with my YA editor to see what she wants next. That's how we work now. I give ideas, she picks the one she likes, and then we tweak the plot.

It must be great having an established relationship like that!

It is really nice, but I almost lost The Disco Unicorns in Slayed—they were originally Daphne's parents who started the band when the recession hit the slayer biz. We weren't certain about the slayer/kiddie rock band link, so I invented Kiki and gave her the show biz parents. It worked out in the end--I love Kiki. : )

10. Speed round:

Cheese or chocolate?
I have to choose? Hmmm—cheese!
Coffee or tea? Tea—I can’t stand the smell of coffee, though I do love coffee ice cream.
Cats or dogs? I was always firmly in the cat camp, but I am now a dog convert lamenting all the years I wasted being dogless.
Favorite color? Blue
Favorite snack food? Cheese and crackers
Favorite ice cream? Coffee
Water or soda? Water
What's in your CD player/on iTunes right now? Shrek the Musical soundtrack.
What's the last movie (or musical, since I know you're a big fan of Broadway musicals) that you memorized lines from? Legally Blonde the musical.

A big thank you to Amanda for taking the time to answer my questions!

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