Today I am thrilled to bring you an interview with the awesome Sarah Rees Brennan, author of Demon's Lexicon and fellow Inkpot member. This is a book that has been on a lot of "most anticipated books of '09" lists. And for good reason! Sarah has created a new and fascinating world of demons in her debut book. It also has one of the most fascinating male protagonists I have had the pleasure of reading in a long time!
Ok so normally I like to do a little recap of the book myself. But this time, I think I'm going to quote the Kirkus starred review because it captures everything I would want to say, much better than I would actually say it!
Kirkus Reviews - A fresh voice dancing between wicked humor and crepuscular sumptuousness invigorates this urban fantasy. Askew of everyday England there lies a darker world, where power-hungry magicians sacrifice innocents to demons and their victims peddle protection with like ruthlessness. Nick Ryves has spent all of his 16 years therein, perpetually on the run, his father murdered, his mother driven mad, his crippled older brother the only person he can trust. When two desperate teens seek out their aid, he will find the last few certainties of his life stripped away. Nick is an astonishing protagonist: vicious, deadly, callous, nearly feral, all but consumed with rage, yet rendered irresistibly attractive by his mordant wit, his clear-eyed recognition of his flaws and his terrified bafflement at his own fleeting moments of tenderness. Every character hides secrets, every conversation hints at double and triple meanings. From the pitch-perfect opening paragraph to the heartbreaking final pages, the narrative peels back layers of revelation, deftly ratcheting up the tension and horror to a series of shattering climaxes. The conclusion, while utterly satisfying, also leaves room for the story to continue. Delicious.
Ello: Hello Sarah! Congratulations on your debut! I loved your book! Ok so Kirkus gave you a starred review and called your book "Delicious!" I have to absolutely agree with that. You have two of the most original and coolest male main characters that I have seen in YA. And I know that mother's aren't suppose to show partiality towards their children, but which of these sexy MCs is your favorite - Nick or Alan?
Sarah: Hee! I love how a lot of readers have taken to the book as something like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but instead of Choose Your Own Adventure it's Choose Your Own Brother. That is part of the fun of having two hero-types. So far I have resisted the urge to pass out Team Nick and Team Alan badges, but this may change...
I myself do not have a favourite, how can writers pick a favourite of their own characters? It would seem so cruel! But I do think both Nick and Alan would be very difficult boyfriends to have. For different reasons.
They might be worth the trouble, of course.
Ello: Well put me on the Team Nick side! I love Nick. He is one sexy character! And I'm amazed at how you took someone who is a total bad boy, and who is not really likeable, and made him very sympathetic. Was this a difficult process for you?
Sarah: It was a challenge, but also one of the keynotes for the book, so I never considered not doing it: I knew from the start that I wanted to get into the head of the archetypal Tall Dark and Dangerous to Know guy - not a watered-down version, but someone in the vein of Heathcliff or Rochester, who really had a lot of troublesome stuff going on, see what really made him tick, not shy away from the darker implications of such a character, and hopefully still make him compelling.
Even though from inside his head, we obviously see a lot less of the sculpted muscles...
Ello: I like those sculpted muscles... Anyway, the world of Demon's Lexicon is so cool! How did you create and build on your mythology?
Sarah: Thank you! Really I'm like a magpie: I fished around in German and Irish mythology, Elizabethan literature, poetry and Sumerian legends about demons and then mixed the pot of ingredients to my liking. I wanted to create a world that was neither open (everyone now knows vampires exist!) or closed, but ajar, so the idea of having interested tourists brought to see a magical market appealed to me.
I also worry a lot about the costs of things: we've all seen characters with expensive stuff like palatial apartments and nice clothes who aren't making good money. Alan and Nick needed weapons and don't have much money, so I wanted them to have an alternative source of income, and so the idea for a magic-based world of commerce came to me. And I'm not just talking about the costs of actual things, either. There are many different kinds of magic in the Demon's Lexicon world, but they all exact a heavy price - you just have to decide whether you pay for it, or let others do so in your place.
Ello: I have to say thank goodness this is the first of a trilogy because I can't wait to read more! So how far along are you with the sequel? Will it still focus on Nick? Do you know how hard it is to write interview questions without spoiling the book for our readers? And what do I have to do to get on the shortlist for an ARC of the next 2 books? I would pumice your feet for it, and I have a foot phobia.
Sarah: You have a foot phobia? Me too! Let's never pumice anyone's feet and just have cupcakes and tea and ARCs for all! The next book, The Demon's Covenant, is told from the girl main character Mae's point of view but Nick and Alan are still very central to the story, and Mae's point of view is a lot of fun because she sees the characters so differently. Nick from outside his own head is a bit of a mystery, but then those who have read The Demon's Lexicon may be able to pick up clues that Mae can't.
... As you can see, I like a mystery.
Ello: Tea and cupcakes and ARCs!! Oh my gosh! I'm so there! I may have to sneak away from the kids and hubby to fly out to Ireland, but ... you said cupcakes! (I love cupcakes...)
So I loved your ending. LOVED it! And I admit that I guessed an important part of the ending early on because you give some pretty good clues to what it probably is. Not absolute giveaways, but the kind of clues an inquisitive reader enjoys cause you start to figure things out as you read. (Actually my husband says it's because I am evil and have a really devious and nefarious mind, but who listens to him? He also accused me of flipping to the end of the book, which I have been known to do, but I swear not this time!!!) But even though I knew the secret, the ending was still fantastic. I think I read somewhere that you had your ending in mind before you ever wrote the book. Is that true? How does that work?
Sarah: Thank you! It's true that I knew the end before I wrote the book: the end ties up with so much backstory in the novel that when I would tell my friends about it, I'd talk for ages about Exciting Stuff, and then say 'And the book begins...' At which point they would all try to assassinate me.
It's just the way I like to write, though: I prefer books where characters have had interesting things happen to them before we meet them, and who will have interesting things happen to them afterwards, than the story of someone who has had a dull life and will be living boringly happily ever after. Their lives just seem richer and more believable to me that way... even if it does mean my friends end up hitting me.
Ello: Not me! It would never ruin it for me! I don't mind knowing the ending at all.... er... but I swear I didn't flip to the end for Demon's Lexicon! Um, anyway - do you know the ending for the next 2 books also? Are you an outliner or a write by the seat of your pants kind of gal?
Sarah: I used to be a seat of my pants kind of girl, and then I noticed why so many of the books I wrote were... well, bad... was because half-way through I would be struck by sudden insane inspiration. Exhibit A: a book about training ponies, enlivened by the SUDDEN APPEARANCE of ninjas. Exhibit B: a Victorian comedy of manners and witty insults over tea, suddenly interrupted by a DASTARDLY MURDER PLOT and EXPLOSIONS.
Since I started writing bullet-point chapter plans, these startling shifts stopped happening, even though the chapter plans generally end up a) not looking much like the finished product and b) crumpled up under my bed where I have to fish for them in a sea of dustballs.
Ello: Honestly, I think both Exhibit A and B have the makings of a Hollywood Blockbuster movie if you ask me! So could you share a little bit about your writing process with us? What's a day in your writing life like? How does Sarah Rees Brennan's brain work? Enquiring minds want to know!
Sarah: My brain is a possibly strange and twisted place, but all right! If I'm home alone, I will invariably be playing loud country music as I write, get up and dance, and then sit down and write again. If I'm outside, I usually sit under a tree or by the canal near my house, sometimes with paper and sometimes with my precious macbook Salome. And my favourite way to write is with other writers in a cafe, getting up and gossiping to each other at intervals, occasionally waving emphatic sandwiches as we discuss a plot point. If I am really really stuck I sometimes put myself on public transport and am so abashed to be sitting there with nowhere to go I am forced to put my head down and write.
I've ended up in some very weird places, that way. Days in my writing life = full of adventure!
Ello: Now while Demon's Lexicon is your debut, you've been a blogger for years, with quite a huge following! And you got an envy inspiring 3 book deal at the young age of 23. Holy Moly! I salute you! I remember reading your query letter on your agent's blog, the spectacular Kristin Nelson. It was after she announced your auction. Can you share with us your reactions to first landing Kristin as your agent and then going to auction and getting multiple offers?
Sarah: I was lost in amazement that Kristin even responded to my email, which I wrote terribly late at night and in which I made a joke referring to British television that she totally did not get. (I think she thought maybe I was drunk...) So my reactions have been pretty much: Perpetual Amazement, interspersed with bursts of hyperventilation. The night Kristin told me we were going to auction, I was so excited I couldn't sleep, and ended up passing out on the kitchen floor using the toaster as a pillow.
Ello: Ouch! But totally understandable! Toasters are so useful that way!
Did you always know you were going to be a writer? Did you have any other aspirations?
Sarah: When I was five I passionately wanted to be a ballerina, but I knew by the time I was six it was impossible - I have all the grace of a gazelle stuck up a tree! Twenty years of wanting to be a writer, though, so I feel it counts as a life-long dream.
Ello: Once you finish off your trilogy, what will be next for you? Do you have a lot of ideas simmering on your back burner? Will they still be fantasy?
Sarah: I have tons of ideas simmering, but we will have to see how the trilogy does first - hopefully someone will want to see one of the other books! Most of my ideas are fantasy, but there is a romantic comedy that a friend and I want to write I'm really excited about. As well as the one with the banshee, the one with the ghosts and evil Robin Hood, and the one with the imaginary friends... And you never know which idea will skip the queue and seize you and carry you away on a white horse, only to leave you some time later going 'What is this place? Who are you people? Why am I wearing this hedgehog as a hat, and what happened last night?'
I keep my fingers crossed people will want to go on the same adventure with me.
Ello: I will definitely follow your writing adventures wherever you may decide to take me. Even if you are wearing a hedgehog as a hat. Perhaps you will start a fashion trend! I'll wear one too, as long as we can train them not to pee or poo on my head.
Last question - What is the one book by another author that you wished you had written and why?
Sarah: Oh, I don't know: books are so personal, it seems like wishing to be a different person to wish you'd written a book! I can wish to be as clever as another writer, and certainly wish for piles of money or piles of screaming fans holding up posters which say WE LOVE YOU SARAH REES BRENNAN.'
But some other books I totally love: Valiant by Holly Black, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, The Changeover by Margaret Mahy, Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey... I'll stop here before I go on forever.
Ello: Well I would add Demon's Lexicon to MY list of books I totally love!
Thanks so much for such a fun and enlightening interview! And best of luck on your book!