Stopping by to join us today is M.L. Brennan, author of the vampire thriller Generation V. One lucky reader will get a chance to win a signed copy of the book (details below) but, before we get to that, let's get talking . . .
Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today.
A: Thank you so much for having me!
Q: For those who may be new to your writing, and who haven't yet had a chance to give Generation V a read, please tell us a little about yourself.
A: Sure! I’ve always been a huge reader in science-fiction and fantasy, and one of the genres that I’ve really enjoyed in the last few years is urban fantasy. Generation V is my first published book, and it’s an urban fantasy that I really hope will offer readers in the genre both a lot of the things that they enjoy (mystery, fights, strange creatures, and witty repartee), but also bring in a few elements that aren’t as common. My main character, Fortitude Scott, is a vampire, but I’ve made some pretty major changes and alterations to the vampires in my books – I can promise everyone, these aren’t your usual vampires. I’m also bringing in a character named Suzume who is a kitsune, which is a Japanese shapeshifter fox.
One of the biggest ideas that I had when I was planning this book was that I didn’t want a hero who was the biggest, baddest, and most powerful character. I didn’t want the bad guys to be scared when he walked into the room, or for people to be saying things like, “Oh, but he has the Mystical HooDoo! None of us can stand against the Mystical HooDoo!” So at the beginning of Generation V, Fort is a guy who no one is scared of – and when he’s going into the big battles and confrontations, he is massively outgunned and overmatched – but to me that made him a more interesting character, because he has to outwit a villain, or work on bringing in other allies to help tip the scales. It makes him work harder as a character, which also made him grow and evolve more than if he could just wave a hand and win a fight.
Q: The journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one, even in the era of small presses and digital publishing. When did you begin writing, and how did you feel when you first saw your work in print?
A: Writing and making up stories was always something that I enjoyed doing, but I didn’t really become serious about it as a craft and a profession until I was in college. What I consider my first real experience of seeing my work in print was the first time it was published by people I had never met and had no prior connection to – that was in my senior year of college, when one of my short stories was published by a literary journal. It was a great experience – I’d gotten a lot of form rejection letters and worked extremely hard to get to it. One of my professors got me a bottle of wine to celebrate.
I probably spent about ten minutes just enjoying the moment – and then I was immediately thinking about getting published again, but this time I wanted it to be in a bigger journal with more readership.
Q: Given its rather diverse evolution (or, perhaps, dilution) over the past decade, what was it that compelled you to contribute fresh blood to the vampire genre?
A: I really enjoy vampires in books, film, and TV, but in a lot of storytelling the vampires are a fairly static character. Here you have this immortal undead creature who will never age or change, just kind of brooding through an endless existence – usually the change to the situation comes with the introduction of a human love interest, or a werewolf battle, or something along those lines. All the change is external, because the vampire character itself has no real desires or pressures – why worry about something or want something when you are exactly the same as you were a century ago, or will be in another two centuries? So something that I was really interested in doing was having a vampire be a dynamic character – one that actually is capable of internal change and movement without that change being dependent on an outside character.
This required a pretty big change – the vampires I created aren’t undead. They are a separate species that has a lifecycle, an aging process, and a reproductive system. Fort is a young vampire – but someday he’ll be an old vampire, and will eventually die. That means that he has a finite time (albeit a much longer time than a human) to achieve his goals and desires. He also has a family with their own expectations of what his life will be like. And as soon as I’d made these changes, I had a ton of ideas for where this character could go.
Q: Definitely an interesting approach, and one with a wealth of potential.
In terms of writing, what comes easiest for you, and where do you struggle the most? Is it the title? The first paragraph? The last chapter? The cover blurb?
A: The easiest part for me is usually about the last third of a book. If I’ve done everything right, then all the groundwork has been laid for where I want to go, and it goes pretty quickly. I also really love that portion of the book, because usually most of the really big, iconic moments that I’ve been thinking about and planning for months are in that portion, and I finally get to write them!
I loathe writing the cover blurb. It’s probably the part that I hate the most about the process, and it takes me days. I’m horrible at distilling down the entire book into a few pithy sentences. The only thing I hate even more than writing a description of the book is putting a title on it. I’m terrible at titles – I went through about three different bad ones before my editor finally came up with Generation V – my versions were so bad that I’m not even going to mention them!
Q: Aw, shucks? Not even one? Not even for laughs? :)
Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated. Were there any twists or turns in Generation V that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans?
A: I think the biggest surprise I had when I was writing was when I introduced the character of Suzume Hollis, the kitsune. I’d planned out ahead of time that she and Fort would have a challenging relationship that would eventually start maturing into mutual respect and the start of a friendship, but what I hadn’t counted on was just how incredibly well the characters played off of each other and interacted. Suddenly a scene that on my plan was just “get out of car, start hunting” and that I figured would be barely half a paragraph of exposition would turn into a page-long dialogue with banter and practical jokes. It was a wonderful surprise.
Q: Do you have a soundtrack to your writing, a particular style of music or other background noise that keeps you in the mood, or do you require quiet solitude?
A: I go through phases. Sometimes I’ll work for a few weeks in complete silence, but other times I’ll want background music. But the music is just to provide background, not mood – Mumford & Sons, The Killers, P!nk, Dixie Chicks, Florence and the Machine, even a little Springsteen (I had Live In Dublin going for a while at one point). Usually I like music that has some energy to it. Sometimes I also use music as a way to keep myself working when I’m close to a deadline – when I was writing the original draft to Generation V’s sequel, Iron Night, I started putting on a YouTube clip of Swan Lake in the background. I wouldn’t let myself stop writing until Swan Lake was finished – that would keep me on task for just over three hours.
Q: Hmm, I suspect 3 hours of Swan Lake would drive me quite mad, but I can see the motivational factor. LOL
In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've encountered to date?
A: There are things in the book that I thought would get big reactions, but almost no one comments on them, whereas elements that I didn’t even think about much have gotten a lot of focus. It’s really fascinating to see how such wide and varied readers react to my book, and it’s also a great learning experience.
In terms of the most surprising, though – it’s definitely seeing my friends and family react to seeing my work actually in stores. It cracks me up to hear how shocked they sound when they read a few chapters and then say, “Oh, you’re actually good!” I’ve always had a policy where I don’t show my work to my family until it’s actually published, so I didn’t realize that most of them probably privately thought that I was a terrible writer, since I was never showing anything to them!
Q: To turn from pen to page for a moment, is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired your writing? Somebody who either made you want to write in the first place, or who just refreshes your literary batteries?
A: When I’m in the serious writing phase of a book, there’s usually about a one to two month period where I’m just focused on the manuscript and getting as much written per day as possible. It’s pretty exhausting, so I’m usually not reading any new books, just old favorites. Sharon Shinn’s Troubled Waters is so amazing and beautiful with its world-building and its characterization – I can just pick it up and read a dozen pages anywhere and feel better. I also love Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal – it always makes me laugh. Anne Bishop, Sheri S. Tepper – both great, great writers. Finally – I defy anyone not to read through one of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman books and not feel ready to write!
Q: Pratchett is always a lot of fun - one of the few authors who can so deftly juggle story and humor.
It’s a tough question, especially if you’re wary of putting faces before your readers, but if Generation V were being made into a movie, and you had total control over the production, who would you cast for the leading roles?
A: Madeline is my vampire matriarch – she’s deceptively grandmotherish and sweet, but is actually completely calculating and deadly. I would cast Betty White in that role – she would be amazing.
Q: Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there a project on the horizon that you're really excited about?
A: There actually is – the second Fortitude Scott book, Iron Night, will be published in January 2014. I’ve had so much fun writing about Fort, and the book brought a lot of exciting elements together. I can’t wait to see it in print.
Thanks again for having me, and for the really fun questions!
About the Book
Fortitude Scott’s life is a mess. A degree in film theory has left him with zero marketable skills, his job revolves around pouring coffee, his roommate hasn’t paid rent in four months, and he’s also a vampire. Well, sort of. He’s still mostly human.
But when a new vampire comes into his family’s territory and young girls start going missing, Fort can’t ignore his heritage anymore. His mother and his older, stronger siblings think he’s crazy for wanting to get involved. So it’s up to Fort to take action, with the assistance of Suzume Hollis, a dangerous and sexy shape-shifter. Fort is determined to find a way to outsmart the deadly vamp, even if he isn’t quite sure how.
But without having matured into full vampirehood and with Suzume ready to split if things get too risky, Fort’s rescue mission might just kill him.…
About the Author
My first novel, Generation V, is coming out in May 2013 from ROC Books, and is a work of urban fantasy.
I cut my baby bibliophile teeth on my older brother’s collection of Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert, but it was a chance encounter with Emma Bull’s War For The Oaks as a teenager that led to genre true love. Today, I’ll read everything from Mary Roach’s non-fiction to Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasies, but I’ll still drop everything for vampires and werewolves in the big city.
I hold an advanced degree in the humanities, and I am work as an adjunct professor, teaching composition to first-year college students. I am currently hard at work on the second Fortitude Scott book, Iron Night, which will be published by Roc in January 2014.
On the Web - http://mlbrennan.com/
On Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/ml.brennan.7
On Twitter - @BrennanML