This urban fantasy follows a troupe of underground theater folk as they flee the mortal world for Faerie in the wake of threats of political persecution and personal vengeance. But the world of the Fey is no less dangerous, as Persia and her fellow Outlaws discover. It's a fast-paced, engaging read (I finished the last hundred pages at the dentist's office!), full of surprising and delightful scene-setting and intriguing relationships, as only Penny Blubaugh can write them.
One last thing before we start the interview: In a moment of shameless self-promotion that would do any Inkie proud, I'm going to mention that Penny and I will be presenting a panel on new and upcoming YA retellings at next week's Illinois Reading Council conference. If you happen to be attending, stop by and watch our extremely low-tech (disappointingly puppet-free) presentation!
--Blood & Flowers is true urban fantasy, and Persia's city felt very authentic to me. Was it influenced by your own hometown of Chicago, and are there any landmarks natives would recognize? Or is the city entirely made-up?
The only things someone might recognize from Chicago are the older el stations (some of them are pretty ratty!), the posters plastered on closed storefront windows, the transitioning neighborhoods and that panhandler guy on the sub steps. Huh. That’s more than I thought.
But I think you’d find the same kind of things in any big city. So I guess Persia’s city is based on pieces of fact twisted around to become something of its own.
--The story follows an underground theater troupe of rogue puppeteers, which Kirkus called "an arresting mash-up." I know I was definitely drawn in by the offbeat concept. How does one even dream up the idea of rogue puppeteers?
I didn’t – they’re real! I based the Outlaws on two things: puppeteers who were arrested for protesting at a World Trade Organization conference and Redmoon Theater in Chicago who create what they call Spectacles with imaginary language, shadow puppets, life size mannequins and crazy lights. Magic!
--Your work in this novel reminds me of classic urban fantasy--the works of Charles de Lint, Pamela Dean, even a little Peter S. Beagle--in its focus on the intersecting lives of performers and the Other. What drew you to this genre and, in particular, the theatrical aspects in the story?
Thanks for the comparisons – you mentioned some of my favorite authors. I’d add War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, Elsewhere by Will Shetterly and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.
These writers may be exactly what did draw me in – I love these combinations of the everyday and the magical. I want to believe that the magic is there, and if I turn the right corner at the right time I can run smack into it.
As for the theatricality. . . I was working on a Master’s in theatre before I decided I wasn’t competitive enough to make it in that world. I picked writing instead because we all know how low-stress that is. But I love the theatre and I worked for a time with a small melodrama company. Maybe that’s why I believe in magic! And with puppets you’re required to have some kind of a stage for them to perform on.
--Your vision of Faerie is, to say the least, unique, with its exuberant and unexpected touches of the mundane world (tacos!). Can you share a little about how that landscape came to life for you? Obviously you're departing from traditional depictions of Faerie here! What drew you to the Fey world, and how did you decide to paint it with such unique strokes?
In fantasy there always seems to be some rogue fey who wants to break out and live with humans. It’s like the humans who want to meet the fey, but in reverse. So I just assume that these guys are going to cross over as much as they can – sort of like the good kid who wants to hang out with the punks.
If there’s all that curiosity, it seems that the logical next step is to bring the most attractive human things back home. Voila! Dau Hermanos, the best Welsh-Mexican restaurant in Faerie!
--Tell us about your journey as a writer. You've had a collection of really interesting careers, including a stint as a flight instructor! Have you always been a writer?
I’ve written, or tried to, since age 12. Those were mysteries, just like Trixie Belden. And I’ve always read which is think is crucial for a writer.
I dipped in and out of writing until I finally got serious about the whole thing. (I think this happened during a particularly bad time at work.) Vermont College of Fine Arts was just starting their Writing for Children program – I actually stumbled on their ad in the Horn Book. I applied and was accepted for their very first class. That was a fabulous experience which had proved to be useful and grounding in this crazy thing called the writing life.
--Your first novel, Serendipity Market, was a collection of retold fairy tales nestled in a unique fantasy framework. Blood & Flowers is urban fantasy. What's coming next? More arresting mash-ups?
I’m working on a story set in a traveling, non-animal circus. A dream thief, working off a debt from a bad gin game played in a floating casino has to pay in dreams. He decides that circus people must have the best dreams and he uses his clowning skills to get a job.
This manuscript has been rejected three times, but we think we finally found the glitch. It just has to be completely rewritten from third to first person. No problem, right? (Through this process I’m consuming almost as much tea as my characters.)
Thanks, Penny, for a wonderful interview and a terrific read!