*Note: By tweeting about this contest, you shall be entered go win. Commenting is worth one entry. Mentioning on Twitter is worth one entry. Limit of entries is 5. If you’re tweeting “mention” me (@J_M_Blackman), so I’ll know about it!
Giveaway closes Tuesday September 4, 2012.
I’m fortunate enough today to share an interview with Marta Acosta, author of Dark Companion, a modern gothic YA. It already sounds cool, right?
Both the interview and the review below.
And one lucky commentator will win a copy of Dark Companion, as it has graciously been offered by superhero publicist Alexis of Tor! :) Simply comment on the interview/review and you’ll be entered into a random name selector for a chance to win.
So here’s the scoop. I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area and I can never seem to get away from here for long despite my continual fear of earthquakes. Yes, that’s all I got out of the geology classes I took at Stanford. That and a nifty rock pick. If you haven’t gone to the desert and smashed things with a rock pick, you don’t know what you’re missing.
I went to Stanford and received degrees in English & American Lit and Creative Writing, which qualified me to do very little except read books. That was my goal all along, but no one pays you to do that. I studied in England and missed the sun. I worked in non-profits and the theatre and missed getting paychecks.
I live with the fabulous spouse and the force-of-nature spawn and our insane rescued dogs. A friend who recently visited said, “They arebad dogs.” I prefer to delude myself that they are morally complex.
I’ve won some awards for my writing, but I get a real thrill when a fan sends me an email, or readers say they like the nonsense on my blog. My priorities have always been skewed.
I also write romantic comedy under the name Grace Coopersmith. Why Grace Coopersmith? Because Grace Coopersmith is always elegant and tasteful, and she never leaves her clothes in a pile on a chair or sings to her dogs. Despite Grace’s annoying superiority, she is hilarious and always shows up with a good bottle of wine.
Marta’s Contact Info.:
1. I think the most striking thing about Dark Companion initially was the protagonist Jane and the setting she came from. I can’t think of any other YA that featured such a smart girl from a less-than-suburban background. She has so much determination and fire, you can’t help but love her. And I feel as if she was a real character, with all the bad judgments that come with being real. Where did Jane come from? How did she develop as a character?
Hi, J.M., and thanks so much for having me here at your site! My story is an homage to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre and other classic Gothics, so Jane Eyre was the original inspiration for Jane Williams. Jane E. was poor, plain, and insignificant – her own words – yet she never thought herself less than equal to those who were wealthier and more powerful. I started by structuring her within those class inequities.
Jane excels academically, because education offers her an escape from her terrible existence, but she’s always keenly aware that others were born into the comfort she’s never known. She’s angry and watchful, yet desperately yearns for love and affection. Rich girls with loving parents can afford to say “no” to things, and run to mom and dad for help. Jane has no one to help her and must make her own way – and her own mistakes.
1. I thought the contrast of Helmsdale and Greenwood was fantastic. Somehow, I felt like Helmsdale was the more honest of the two cities. Where did these cities come from? And did you plan to have the comparison not only of the two cities, but of Jane’s “families” in both cities? Because I thought that was very effective and it brought up great questions about what good friends really mean.
The ugly truth is that desperately poor and violent neighborhoods are geographically near very wealthy, beautiful enclaves. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and I’m familiar with both the places with thugs vetting every car that comes onto their streets and the pristine towns where local cops watch every stranger. The same defensiveness about intruders plays out in each.
I really wanted Jane’s new friends at Birch Grove to be anti-Mean Girls. They have every reason to be snobs, but they have an awareness of their own privilege as well as compassion.
2. Like I mentioned before, I loved that the Family turned out to be so much more than “vampires.” Can you explain how this new mythos came about?
I was reacting to the romanticism of supernatural vampires in the popular media. If it’s “romantic” for a 500 year old male creature to “fall in love” with a teenage girl, seduce her and drink her blood, why isn’t it “romantic” for a 16-year-old living guy to have a similar relationship with a 16-year-old girl?
I was also exploring the idea of “other.” People have always feared/hated what they don’t understand. If vampires did exist, they’d be like the Roma (commonly known as gypsies), who hide their identities because they’ve been so reviled and are still deprived of basic rights in many nations.
3. I love that Dark Companion is a modern day gothic. I’ve been reading a few for classes I’m taking and it fits right in. Did you draw on any gothic classics? If not, what did inspire you for this novel?
Well, Jane Eyre, as I mentioned, was my primary inspiration. Although it’s not a gothic, another influence was Muriel Sparks’ The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which takes place in a private girls school. Jean Brodie is the charismatic, misguided teacher who leads her girls astray. Other classic influences include Brontë’s Villette and Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca.
In terms of contemporary writers, Ruth Rendell aka Barbara Vine has written dark twisted suspense novels can be considered gothics, and two of my favorites are A Fatal Inversion and The Tree of Hands. The tension just builds and builds. I think Sarah Waters is a brilliant writer – I love her Victorian-era gothics, and her post-war The Little Stranger is mesmerizingly creepy.
4. I know I keep telling you about the things that I loved, but there were so many, including the quotes at the beginning of each chapter. They seemed to match so perfectly with the following chapter. How did you decide what quotes and where?
Originally, I used only a few classic quotes and most of my epigraphs were quotes from the fictitious Birch Grove Academy Student Handbook. My editor suggested using more classic quotes. Some were obvious and easily found, like the quote about the power of beauty in The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I assembled quotes I wanted to use and tried to find the right place for them, but I had more quotes than chapters, and had to leave out many.
5. What was your favorite part to write when working on Dark Companion? Your least favorite?
I don’t think it’s hard to figure out that my favorite parts were Mary Violet’s scenes. I love writing comedy and I was able to do things with a teen character, like the poetry, that I haven’t done with my comic adult characters. A friend’s sister is named Mary Violet, and I’d been saving that name for a special character.
My least favorite part: dealing with technology. First, it changes so rapidly that any mentions of products can instantly make a story seem outdated by the time a book is finally published. Second, it ruins so many plots if a phone call or a Google search can solve a mystery.
6. Dark Companion is chock full of colorful characters from Jane to Wilde, from Jack to Mary Violet. There was a lot to love. Who was your favorite to write about and why? Will we see any more of these fantastic characters?
See above! Writing Jack was also fun because I love oddballs, music, banter and wordplay. I wanted Jack to have a deeply romantic soul, and I hope that came out in his scenes among the trees with Jane. Do you remember that line in Jane Eyre when Mr. Rochester says that he feels that there’s a string that links his heart to hers? That’s the mood I wanted to echo.
I’m working on the first book in a gothic mystery series featuring Mary Violet. She’s invited to stay with Birch Grove’s most illustrious alumna, an ancient poetess who lives in a secluded decrepit mansion. There are dark mysteries, an old crime, ghostly visions, romance, laughter and, yes, poetry! I’m calling it Mary Violet and the Case of the Silent Songbird. Now all I have to do is finish it.
7. As an aspiring writer, I have writer-dreams. I can only assume everyone who writes has these. So, what is your wildest writer-dream? A movie? TV show? Graphic novel?
My wildest writer dream is being about to live decently on income from my writing. All I want is the money that affords me the time to keep doing what I love. Also, I’m deliriously happy to meet readers who understand what I’m trying to do as a novelist. That means you!
8. If you could tell your readers one thing, what would it be?
I’d say that I appreciate the time they take to read my books. It makes my day when I get an email from a reader because I know it’s not easy to write to a stranger. I write fan letters myself to writers and I’m quite giddy when a favorite writer sends me a nice note.
Orphaned at the age of six, Jane Williams has grown up in a series of foster homes, learning to survive in the shadows of life. Through hard work and determination, she manages to win a scholarship to the exclusive Birch Grove Academy. There, for the first time, Jane finds herself accepted by a group of friends.She even starts tutoring the headmistress’s gorgeous son, Lucien. Things seem too good to be true.They are.The more she learns about Birch Grove’s recent past, the more Jane comes to suspect that there is something sinister going on. Why did the wife of a popular teacher kill herself? What happened to the former scholarship student, whose place Jane took? Why does Lucien’s brother, Jack, seem to dislike her so much?As Jane begins to piece together the answers to the puzzle,she must find out why she was brought to Birch Grove—and what she would risk to stay there….
What’s most striking about Dark Companion is the protagonist Jane, her settings and the ability that Acosta has for presenting a YA story, prime with all of the alluring tropes of YA, while still giving a story with, for lack of better terms, girth.
It’s a modern gothic reminiscent of Jane Eyre. That alone makes it an interesting story.
All of the characters in Dark Companion are just as believable. Including, but not limited to Lucky–charming, handsome, popular. And selfish as all get out. I’ve read many reviews that stayed confusion over Jane’s obsession with the character. Jane is an foster child. At that, she’s an extreme case, bouncing from house to house before ending in her group home in Helmadale. Of course she wants Lucky, a representation of many of the things she has not had and that at one point or another all girls want. But she does get over him and see the light in the form of Jack, brother to Lucky and polar opposite, besides the charm, which both have in spades. Considerate, witty and unkempt, Jack is a wonderful foil for Lucky, both as a character and a representation of the shift that Jane experiences.
Though, I’m happy to say that, though Jane needed to (and did) wise up where Lucky was concerned, she was notably practical about all else in the novel, from her scholar as Birchwood Academy to her tentative acquainted with neighbor head gangster 2 Slim. She’s a level-headed character and it’s a joy to watch her think her way through the predicaments that surround her.
Dark Companion has a shiny, new vampire lore that sports a genetic twist, making it both believable and relevant as we move further into a time where we discover so much more about humanity and its intricacies on genetic and cellular levels. The settings of this novel aren’t terribly detailed, but that wasn’t necessary to the story or novel as a whole; instead, the settings are painted quite well with the chosen details and characters to best describe them. I never questioned the authenticity of the plot and enjoyed its delineation. To add to that, I suspected and confirmed that Jane is a multiracial character, lending even more credibility to this YA story, considering it fairly represents a widening audience.
I’d like to give you some cons, but I’ve wracked my brain and simply haven’t been able to come up with any. Cheers to Marta for an all around fulfilling read.
Learn more about Marta and her work through her contact information above! And don’t forget to comment to be entered in the giveaway. Because you want to read this book.