Some interesting Q&A with Richelle Mead

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Michelle Rowan’s Vampire Academy: The Ultimate Guide has little Q&A sections with Richelle Mead scattered throughout. I thought some of these answers quite interesting; for example:

“RICHELLE ON VAMPIRE ACADEMY

The idea for Vampire Academy was first conceived back in 2006. I was already working on two adult series and really wanted to do something for young adults. Since my first two series dealt with demons and fairies respectively, I thought I’d give vampires a try in order to be different – little knowing what a phenomenon they’d become in the next year! I knew from some college courses that a lot of the best vampire mythology could be found in Eastern Europe, so I went digging around the stories from that region and eventually discovered Moroi, Strigoi, and dhampirs. Really, all I had to work with was a snippet from that myth, but I was able to build an entire culture and history for my books surrounding those three races and their interactions with each other.

The idea of a young woman in love with her instructor was a story I’d wanted to do for some time. Rose’s character and personality were, in some ways, inspired by one of my adult characters: Eugenie from the Dark Swan series. Eugenie’s another action heroine who’s not afraid to get in a fight, but she’s a twenty-something woman who has already come to terms with who she is and who she wants to be. I began to wonder what it’d be like to write about a younger character, one who was kickass and not afraid to stand up for her beliefs but who was still growing, finding her identity, and also learning what it means to control her fighter impulses. I was fascinated by the idea of that journey. Rose and her fierce devotion to her friends were the results of my experiment, and she soon developed into the vivid and unique character we love today.” (p.2)

“RICHELLE ON FROSTBITE

Starting Frostbite was a little rough. I knew what the running plotlines were going to be, but establishing them was tricky. The writing of this book was also taking place in a tumultuous time in my own life, which made it even more difficult to just really focus and get out the words I wanted. I think I rewrote the beginning of Frostbite about three times! What’s surprising to a lot of people is that, despite the beginning difficulties, the book’s ending was pretty much set in stone. I wrote it in one energetic burst, and it was good to go. I’d known from the day I started writing the first VA book what the path of the series would be, and this ending – as harsh as it was – was essential both for the story and Rose’s growth. Terrible, traumatic endings would eventually become a normal thing for me in all of my series, but this was the very first one I ever wrote. Again, knowing it was needed for the series, I didn’t feel a lot of guilt over what happened, but I was a little amazed in looking back at it that I had actually created something so heart-wrenching.” (p.35)

“RICHELLE ON BLOOD PROMISE

Blood Promise stands out to me for a few different reasons. It was the first book to really deviate from the kids-in-school format and thrust Rose out into the real world. That certainly required a shift in my mindset while writing it, particularly since I also had to contend with an entirely foreign culture and language! A visit to Russia was out of the question for me, but the digital age we live in put all sorts of resources at my fingertips. I think one of my very favorite things that I found was a website that had virtual tours of the Trans-Siberian Railway cars. You could “walk” around the sleeping compartments and dining car and see all the features and decor. This was an amazing asset to have and really added a richness to the book. Still, I was concerned that some readers wouldn’t accept the change in story location and style, and my anxiety increased when we ended up accelerating this novel’s publication schedule. Amazingly, it all came together, and readers really enjoyed it. This book vies with Shadow Kiss as my favorite in the series.” (p.110)

“WHO WAS YOUR FAVORITE CHARACTER TO WRITE AND WHY?

I loved writing Rose in this series. Of course, when you’re writing in first person POV, it’s easy to fall in love with your narrator. You almost have to, since you’re in that person’s head so much! But Rose is wonderfully complex, and that’s a joy for any writer. She has a wry, witty outlook on the world that makes a nice contrast for the darkness that so often pops up in the series. She’s not afraid to point out the ludicrous, and I had a lot of fun putting in her asides and observations. At the same time, behind this humor, Rose has a depth and vulnerability that I think really speak to a lot of people. She’s larger than life in many ways, but at her heart, she shares the same kind of love and yearning we all do. Those qualities are what readers really love about her and are the reason I enjoyed writing her so much.
I’m amazed how, in all of my series, there are always a few side characters that readers absolutely adore – to the extent that I start seeing fan clubs and T-shirts made up in honor of those characters! For the VA series, Abe definitely wins the prize in this category. I get a lot of comments from readers who are excited to hear about his next wardrobe choice, be it scarves or fedoras. The more outlandish, the better! He’s a great character because most of his lines are completely absurd, but at the same time, you never doubt for an instant that he’s pretty fierce when push comes to shove. One of my most memorable moments as a writer was being contacted by a reader from Saudi Arabia who was happy to see someone of Middle Eastern descent on the side of the good guys. This comment meant so much to me, especially because despite all his layers of intrigue and questionable motives, we never doubt that Abe has a heart of gold.” (p.224)

“RICHELLE, ON THE BOND BETWEEN ROSE AND LISSA:

When I set out to write the series, I had a lot of characters’ stories and sub[lots in my head, and I had to decide early on how I was going to address those. Rotating characters with a third-person narrative certainly lets you get a lot of stories out there – but can also leave you with a thousand-page book if you’re not careful. I ultimately decided Rose was the character I was most interested in and that her story really formed the heart of the series. I chose her as my narrator but was still drawn to Lissa, both because she’s fascinating in her own way and also because of her close connection to Rose. I soon realized, though, that their very connection would let me get away with slipping in another character’s narrative. Rose’s ability to see the world through Lissa’s eyes allows us these moments of third-person POV that we wouldn’t ordinarily get in a first-person series. I ended up with a sneaky kind of hybrid style of storytelling that was ultimately told with Rose’s voice but expanded the world beyond her own experiences. This system became a really useful tool in Blood Promise, when Rose and Lissa were separated for the first time. Even though Rose was by far and away nearly everyone’s favorite character at that point in the series, I think we all would’ve been sad to have a book where we didn’t know what was going on with Lissa, Christian, Adrian, and the others. The bond let me continue keeping track of everyone, which became even more essential in later books as Rose and Lissa began to increasingly follow their own paths.” (p.266)

“WHILE CHRISTIAN AND LISSA’S RELATIONSHIP HAS ITS PROBLEMS, THEY’RE NORMAL PROBLEMS THAT ANY TEEN MIGHT EXPERIENCE, LIKE JEALOUSY OR MISUNDERSTANDING. WAS IT INTENTIONAL TO HAVE A MORE DOWN-TO-EARTH ROMANCE IN THE BOOKS TO CONTRAST THE EPIC DRAMA OF ROSE AND DIMITRI?

Lissa and Christian, while far from being a “normal” couple, were meant to be a contrast to Rose and Dimitri (and even Rose and Adrian). I wanted to show that not every romance is fraught with epic, world-shattering problems! That isn’t to say things were always easy for Lissa and Christian. They certainly had their share of difficulties throughout the series, and it was important for me to highlight the typical ups and downs that any couple, vampire or human might have. Some people might argue that if I’d really wanted something to contrast with Rose’s disastrous love life, i should have given Lissa and Christian a perfect, problem-free romance. There was no way I could do that, though. Aside from the fact that it wouldn’t be realistic, I also think those little relationship kinks and difficulties are what end up making Lissa and Christian such a power couple. Facing problems together ends up strengthening both their love and themselves as individuals.” (p.269)

“WHAT WAS THE PROCESS FOR BUILDING THE WORLD OF ST. VLADIMIR’S ACADEMY?

St. Vladimir’s serves a lot of different purposes in the series, so I had to consider all of them for its creation. It’s not just a school; it’s also a sanctuary of sorts. Moroi parents who choose to send their children here are trading family time for safety. Students attend almost year-round and hardly ever see their parents. With those things in mind, I had to put St. Vladimir’s in a location that would preserve that high level of safety – both from Strigoi and curious humans. Backwoods Montana – with its vast forests and mountains – became an ideal setting. At the same time, I also had to keep in mind that students at a school like this don’t quite have the same experiences that “normal” students at a private boarding school would have. There’s no easy way to get off-campus. Field trips are few and far between because safety won’t allow it. Once Moroi and dhampirs are there, they pretty much stay there. As such, it was essential to make sure the school was the kind of place where they could live happily. Everything there is the newest and best, despite the facade of historic buildings. Computer labs, athletic facilities, and medicine – all of it is state-of-the-art. Academics are much more extensive than ordinary schools, in the hopes that there’s something there for everyone to be interested in. Equally important are the touches of ordinary home life, the religious services, movie lounges, and lots of open green spaces. The message one walks away with is yes, you do have to spend a lot of time at St. Vladimir’s… but you’ll like it.” (p.276)

“AS THE NARRATOR OF BLOODLINES, SYDNEY IS THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE OF ROSE IN SO MANY WAYS. IS IT FUN, OR MORE OF A CHALLENGE, TO WRITE THIS CHARACTER?

Sydney is a really great character to have as a narrator, especially because she’s so different from Rose. I loved writing Rose, but it’s nice for an author to be able to switch voices and try something new. I also think having someone like Sydney to tell the story for a while will give us new insight into the VA world. Rose has grown up among Moroi and dhampirs, and from the very beginning, we’re influenced by her perceptions – mainly, that vampiric life is perfectly ordinary. For Sydney, it’s most certainly not ordinary. So, we get the perspective of someone who’s an outsider, looking at this world through human eyes. Sydney’s also much more of a careful observer than Rose is at times, so that too will provide some new insight. From a craft point of view, Sydney isn’t easier or more difficult to write – she’s simply different. After writing six books with one character, I’ve definitely fallen into a comfortable familiarity with Rose. I can jump right in and know exactly how she’ll respond. With Sydney, I’m still getting to know her, but I have no doubt that within a couple of books, I’ll know her just as well as I do Rose.” (p.285)

Ref: (italics in original) Michelle Rowen with Richelle Mead (c2011) Vampire Academy: The Ultimate Guide. Penguin: New York

The Screaming Staircase – Jonathan Stroud

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A few things that interest me about Jonathan Stroud’s The Screaming Staircase:

Home

The Screaming Staircase 2Describing the first haunted house we encounter, the narrator writes: “Papered walls, closed doors, dead silence. A piece of embroidery in a heavy frame: faded colours, childish letters, Home Sweet Home. Done years ago, when homes were sweet and safe, and no one hung iron charms above their children’s beds. Before the Problem came.” (p.24)

What I liked about this is that it sets us up to consider what we expect from our homes (in terms of safety and how that is manifested in belongings/art, etc.). This is a book in which we are not safe in our homes… kind of a familiar prospect in terms of urban narrative. Interesting.

the social meaning of ghosts

The Screaming StaircaseAt the beginning of part II (‘Before’), the narrator begins: “Some people claim the Problem has always been with us. Ghosts are nothing new, they say, and have always behaved the same. There’s a story the Roman writer Pliny told, for instance, almost two thousand years ago. It’s about a scholar who bought a house in Athens. The house was suspiciously cheap, and he soon discovered it was haunted. On the very first night he was visited by the Spectre of a gaunt old man in chains. The Visitor beckoned to him; instead of fleeing, he followed the ghost out to the yard, where he saw it vanish into the earth. The next day the scholar had his servants dig at that spot. Sure enough, they soon uncovered a manacled skeleton. The bones were properly buried, and the haunting ceased. End of story. A classic Type Two ghost, the experts [-p.66] say, with a classic, simple purpose – the desire to right a hidden wrong. Just the same as you get today. So nothing’s really changed.
Sorry, but I don’t buy it. OK, it’s a decent example of a hidden Source – we’ve all known plenty of similar examples. But notice two things. First: the scholar in the story doesn’t seem at all concerned that he might be ghost-touched, and so swell up, turn blue and die a painful death. Maybe he was just stupid (not to mention lucky). Or maybe Visitors back in ancient times weren’t quite as dangerous as they are now.
And they certainly weren’t as common either. That’s the second thing. The haunted house in Pliny’s story? It was probably the only one in Athens, which is why it was so cheap. Here in modern London there are dozens of them, with more springing up all the time, no matter what the agencies do. In those days, ghosts were fairly rare. Now we’ve got an epidemic. So it seems pretty obvious to me that the Problem’s different to what went before. Something strange and new did start happening around fifty or sixty years ago, and no one’s got a damn clue why.” (pp.65-66)

What caught my eye about this explanatory section is:
– the haunting of homes/houses is a significant aspect of the story
– the telling of stories is part of the history of haunting in this story world
– ‘agencies’ are engaged in trying to solve/monitor/fix the problem that’s rife among peoples homes – a kind of bureaucratisation of hauntings
– the newness and the perpetuity of ghosts and hauntings is significant

the will to exist

“We stood facing the shape in silence. Never attack first. Always wait, draw out its intentions. Watch what it does, where it goes; learn its patterns of behaviour. It was so close now that I could make out the texture of the long fair hairs sweeping down around the neck; see individual moles and blemishes on the skin. It always surprised me that the visual echo could be this strong. George called it ‘the will to exist’, the refusal to lose what once had been. Of course, not all of them appear this way. It’s all down to their personality in life, and what precisely happened when that life came to an end.” (p.36)

This section connected (for me) with the paragraph below (under childhood agency) in which the narrator fights the ghost with her own will to live.

the power of emotions

Lockwood tells the narrator “you need to calm down, Lucy. She’ll feed off your anger super-fast, and grow strong.” (p.38) Lucy continues: “‘Yeah, I know’ I didn’t say it gradefully. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and then another, concentrating on doing what the Manual recommends: mastering myself, loosening the hold of my emotions. After a few moments I regained control. I withdrew from my anger, and let it drop to the floor like a discarded skin.” (p.38)

Interesting to me how emotions are conceived of here:
– ‘things’; objects which can be dropped or discarded;
– as being ‘animated’, in that they can grasp on to the person experiencing them;
– and, also, a potential source of energy for ghosts.

“Frailty was what Visitors fed on; frailty and loose emotions. Good agents needed the opposite: firm control and strength of nerve.” (p.111)

Also interesting is how thoughts and feelings are conceived – metaphorically as objects that can be set aside: “I …tried to rid my mind of thoughts as best I could. I set aside all the rushing, garbled feelings of the day-to-day.” (p.191)

emotions and place

“Ever since Marissa Fittes and Tom Rotwell conducted their celebrated investigations, way back in the first years of the Problem, finding the Source of a haunting has been central to every agent’s job. Yes, we do other stuff as well: we help create defences for worried households and we advise individuals on their personal protection. We can rig up salt traps in gardens, lay iron strips on thresholds, hang wards above cradles, and stock you with any number of lavender sticks, ghost-lights and other day-to-day items of security. But the essence of our role, the reason for our being, is always the same: to locate the specific place or object connected to a particular member of the restless dead.
No one really knows how these ‘Sources’ function. Some [-p.46] claim the Visitors are actually contained within them, others that they mark points where the boundary between worlds has been worn thin by violence or extreme emotion. Agents don’t have time to speculate either way. We’re too busy trying to avoid being ghost-touched to worry about philosophy.
As Lockwood said, a Source might be many things. The exact location of a crime, perhaps, or an object intimately connected to a sudden death, or maybe a prized possession of the Visitor when alive. Most often, though (73 per cent, according to research conducted by the Rotwell Institute), it’s associated with what the Fittes Manual calls ‘personal organic remains’. You can guess what that means. The point is, you never know until you look.” (pp.45-46)

childhood agency

“An ordinary person might have stood there, helpless, and let the Visitor work its will upon them. But I’m an agent. I’d dealt with this before. So I wrested savage, painful breaths from the frigid air, shook the mist clear of my brain. I forced myself to live. And my hands moved slowly towards the weapons at my belt.” (p.32)

This comes some pages after the woman employing them for the haunting this book opens on worries that they are too young for the job (pp.6-7). I like the agentic self-worth of the narrator; she is obviously young, but considers herself powerful. I like this and I find it interesting, too…

food and childhood

I couldn’t help noticing that these ‘agentic’ youths who are looking after themselves, self-employed and having to protect themselves from the adults of the world… also have a penchant for unhealthy snacks. Do children left to their own devices really always go for doughnuts and biscuits? Food as signifier of childishness… or something… not sure. Some examples of what I’m thinking include:

“Lockwood squeezed my arm. ‘Come on,’ he said. ‘Don’t worry about tomorrow. Something will turn up. Let’s get home. I fancy a peanut-butter sandwich.’
I nodded. ‘Cocoa and crisps for me.'” (p.234)

When the VIP John William Fairfax visits… “I ducked back inside, where Lockwood was frantically plumping cushions, and George brushed cake crumbs beneath the sofa. ‘He’s here,’ I hissed.” (p.253)

“A week after our return to London, when we’d slept long and fully recovered from our ordeal, a party was held at 35 Portland Row. It wasn’t a very big party – just the three of us, in fact – but that didn’t stop lockwood & Co. from properly going to town. George ordered in a vast variety of doughnuts from the corner store. I bought some paper streamers, and hung them up around the kitchen. Lockwood returned from a trip to Knightsbridge with two giant wicker hampers, filled with sausage rolls and jellies, pies and cakes, bottles of Coke and ginger ale, and luxuries of all kinds. Once this lot was [-p.431] unloaded, our kitchen virtually disappeared. We sat amid a wonderland of edible delights.” (p.430) [Is the ginger ale a piss-take?!]

adulthood and the captains of industry

The relationship between adults and children in this novel is not a positive one. The narrator’s father died an alcoholic – and their only concern at his death was whether or not he’d return as a ghost (p.68). Her mother was too busy to give a damn. Her first supervisor kills five of her child friends through his neglect and fear – and nearly her, too. He is protected from taking responsibility for his actions by legal mumbo jumbo (pp.80-81). Then once she gets to London, she can’t cut through the red tape (created by that supervisor’s neglect) to get another job. Finally, the main sequence of events described in this novel revolve around adult misbehaviour and adult disregard of children. Inspector Barnes from DEPRAC comes across as stupid and unkind (p.157) and causes half their troubles.

Youth, on the one hand, must live as adults – working the night shifts, going through job interviews, struggling to find work (chapter 6), and struggling to keep it etc.. The experience of one’s first job is unquestionably part of childhood in this world, but Lucy still describes Lockwood’s house as ‘puzzling’ – “a large house, filled with expensive, grown-up things, and yet there were no adults present anywhere.” (p.104)

Adults are entirely dismissive of the young, though – in spite of their need of them in this ghostly climate. After they set fire to a house they were supposed to be clearing of ghosts, a very negative piece is run in The Times on them, much of the criticism focusing on their youth (in spite of the youthfulness of this industry): “In the Problem Pages where prominent hauntings were covered daily, an article entitled INDEPENDENT AGENCIES: MORE CONTROL NEEDED? described how an investigation carried out by Lockwood & Co. (‘an independent outfit run by juveniles’) had resulted in a dangerous, destructive blaze.It was clearly implied that Lockwood had lost control. At the end of the piece a spokeswoman for the giant Fittes Agency was quoted. She recommended ‘adult supervision’ for nearly all psychical investigations.” (p184)

There is also some connection, in my mind, behind the failings of bureacracy, industrialisation and centralised government (in caring for the community) and the failings of adults in caring for children. Passages that caught my eye:

“It was generally accepted that the Problem afflicting the British Isles was a bad thing for the economy. The dead returning to haunt the living, apparitions after dark – these things had consequences. Morale and productivity were low. No one wanted late shifts. In winter, businesses closed mid-afternoon. But some companies did flourish, because they fulfilled a vital need. One of these was Fairfax Iron.
Already a leading manufacturer of iron products when the crisis began, Fairfax Iron had immediately set about supplying seals, filings and chains to the Fittes and Rotwell agencies. As the Problem worsened, and the government began to mass-produce ghost-lamps, it was Fairfax Iron that provided the vast quantities of metal required. This alone secured the [-p.253] company’s fortune. But of course there was more. Those ugly iron gnomes that people dotted around their gardens? Those naff ProtectoTM necklaces? Those little plastic bracelets with the smiley iron faces they put on babies’ wrists before they left the hospital? Fairfax products, every one.
The company’s owner, John William Fairfax, was in consequence one of the richest men in the country, up there with the silver barons, with the heirs of Marissa Fittes and Tom Rotwell, and with that bloke who owns the great lavender farms on the Linconshire Wolds. He lived somewhere in London, and when he snapped his fingers, the ministers of whichever government was currently in office scampered hot-foot to his house.” (p.252)

This theme of power, prestige, and the tanglings of bureacracy and central government are familiar from the Bartimaeus books, but here they connect with the failings of adulthood in some way. Interesting (interesting also SPOILER that Fairfax turns out to be one of the adult villains who threaten the survival of our young heroes.)

It’s a theme tangled with ‘the Problem’ itself; explaining the origins of the Problem, our narrator states: “In those days, ghosts were fairly rare. Now we’ve got an epidemic. So it seems pretty obvious to me that the Problem’s different to what went before. Something strange and new did start happening around fifty or sixty years ago and no one’s got a damn clue why.
If you look in old newspapers, like George does all the time, you can find mention of scattered ghostly sightings cropping up in Kent and Sussex around the middle of the last century. But it was a decade or so later that a bloody series of cases, such as the Highgate Terror and the Mud Lane Phantom, attracted serious attention. In each instance, a [-p.67] sudden outbreak of supernatural phenomena was followed by a number of gruesome deaths. Conventional investigations came to nothing, and one or two policemen also died. At last two young researchers, Tom Rotwell and Marissa Fittes, managed to trace each haunting to its respective Source (in the case of the Terror, a bricked-up skull; in that of the Phantom, a highwayman’s body staked out at a crossroads). Their success drew great acclaim, and for the first time the existence of Visitors was firmly imprinted on the public mind.
In the years that followed, many other hauntings started to come to light, first in London and the south, then slowly spreading across the country. An atmosphere of widespread panic developed. There were riots and demonstrations; churches and mosques did excellent business as people sought to save their souls. Soon both Fittes and Rotwell launched psychical agencies to cope with the demand, leading the way for a host of lesser rivals. Finally the government itself took action, issuing curfews at nightfall, and rolling out production of ghost-lamps in major cities.
None of this actually solved the Problem, of course. The best that could be said was that, as time passed, the country got used to living with the new reality. Adult citizens kept their heads down, made sure their houses were well stocked with iron, and left it to the agencies to contain the supernatural threat. The agencies, in turn, sought the best operatives. And because extreme psychic sensitivity is almost [-p.68] exclusively found in the very young, this meant that whole generations of children like me found themselves becoming part of the front line.” (pp.66-68)

“He tossed the magazine across. It consisted of endless photographs of smartly dressed men and women preening in crowded rooms. ‘You’d think the Problem would make people consider their immortal souls,’ Lockwood said. ‘But for the rich, it’s had the opposite effect. They go out, dress up, spend all night dancing in a sealed hotel somewhere, thrilling with horror at the thought of Visitors lurking outside… That party there was thrown last week by DEPRAC, the Department of Psychical Research and Control. The heads of all the most important agencies were there.'” (p.128) [NB this is when we get our first impression of DEPRAC, and the negative image is later accentuated by the difficulties caused for our heroes by DEPRAC Inspector Barnes.]

“We ducked out across the road, stepping over the open drain, or ‘runnel’, of running water that separated the pavement from the tarmac. The wandering dead were known to dislike moving water; consequently narrow runnels crisscrossed many of the great shopping streets in the West End, allowing people to walk in safety well into the evening. Earlier governments had hoped to extend this system across the city, but it had proved prohibitively expensive. Aside from ghost-lamps, the suburbs fended for themselves.” (p.198)

Examining old editions of the Richmond Examiner, the narrator comments: “I soon found it contained more local fetes, lost cats and best-kept allotment competitions than I could have believed existed in the universe. There was quite a bit about the Problem too, the nature of which was beginning to be discussed. I found early calls for ghost-lamps to be erected (they eventually were) and for graveyards to be bulldozed and salt-sown (they weren’t: it was far too expensive and controversial; instead they were simply ringed with iron).” (p.202)

The adult supervisors are clearly of little to no use in this book. In fact, the narrator’s first supervisor gets five of her friends killed. She refers to another supervisor later in the following terms: “He had four or five [-p.204] medals pinned to the breast of his jacket, and in the pommel of his rapier was a glittering green stone. Not that he could use the sword much these days. I guessed he was about twenty, so his days of active service were behind him. His Talent had mostly shrivelled up and gone. Like my old leader, Jacobs, and all the other useless supervisors choking the industry, all he could do now was boss the kids around.” (pp.203-24)

[On the subject of useless supervisors, NB also p.423]

In their final moments with Fairfax, she shows him as a captain of industry who was murderous behind doors: “I was watching the old man’s face as I spoke; I saw how his eyes drew tight in pleasure, how his mouth curled sensuously into a secretive half-smile. And something about the expression, fleeting as it was, opened a cracked and dirty window for me onto his truest, deepest nature. It was something he generally kept hidden beneath the bluff, bombastic veneer of the captain of industry; it even underlay the dry regret of his long confession.” (p.414)

In the end, however, Fairfax is not exposed to be a murderer and the government agency do a coverup to avoid scandal: “‘I’m just sorry,’ I said after a while, ‘that Barnes made you lie about Fairfax. He should have been publicly revealed for what he was.’
‘I couldn’t agree more,’ Lockwood said, ‘but we’re talking about a very powerful family here, and one of the most important companies in England. If their top man were exposed as a murderer and scoundrel, there’d have been [-p.432] terrible repercussions. And with the Problem worsening daily, that’s not something DEPRAC was prepared to consider.” (pp.431-432) This does all cause Lucy, the narrator to “wonder what else DEPRAC’s concealing” (p.432) – something that may be teased out in a second book?….

Stories and research

There is also another, more minor, theme that interests me – the use of stories and the importance of research in the outcome of events in this world. NB, research: pp. 140-147; 204; 211; 390
stories, eg.: 189, the many newspaper articles, etc.

Ref: (italics in original) Jonathan Stroud (2013) The Screaming Staircase. Doubleday: London

Gothic Spaces, Fearful Times

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In his essay, ‘The Night Side of Nature: Gothic Spaces, Fearful Times’, Roderick McGillis makes a couple of statements I totally agree with – and a couple more which are ‘boldly’ thought-provoking, … McGillis writes:

“I do not think the Gothic is inappropriate [for children or adolescents]. However, it does deal with the lurid and the taboo.” (p.227) “Its two great themes, according to Patrick McGrath, are transgression and decay (1997: 154), and we might think of children’s literature as a literature that promotes positive social behaviour and growth, rather than describing transgression and decay. Fragmentation and dissolution characterize the Gothic. This is a genre that seeks to disorient us.
In the Gothic, children may die and innocence may fall, tainted by infection growing from a bad seed. The Gothic is not, at least traditionally, a cheery genre. Human failure is possible in the Gothic. The Gothic world is decidedly not a pleasant place; it is ambiguous at best.” (p.227)

“…the Gothic gave us the post-human before we ever thought of genomes and cloning and other forms of altering the human form. Late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Gothic fiction gave us humans as automatons, as composite creatures, vampires, and werewolves. These various forms of ‘othered’ humanity, of post-human being, continue to fascinate. The Gothic hero-villain is, by definition, both attractive and repulsive – a monster even as he exudes charisma. Characters in the Gothic must make hasty choices that turn out, more often than not, to be unwise choices.” (p.228)

“Unwise choices may explain why the Gothic is a genre suited to stories about children and adolescents.” (p.228)

“Why are this form and this sensibility with us so insistently now? My answer is that we live in fearful times and the Gothic reflects fear and maybe even combats this fear in some strange way (see Edmundson 1997; Grunenberg 1997).” (p.229) “…we live in a scary world. …but at certain times things get just a bit scarier: at the end of centuries, in times of war, [-p.230] in times of revolution, in times of rapid change. In such times, the Gothic finds purchase. It expresses fear even as it accepts fear as inevitable.” (pp.229-230)

“The art of the Gothic haunts us in order to elicit not only the scream or the gasp – sounds that signal a closing of reflection in the instant of fear – but also to elicit the shock that prompts desire for change. Like all fantasy, the Gothic is a manifestation of desire, only it demonstrates that our desire for what Lacan designates the ‘real’ may be a desire that leads to disintegration. We need to look carefully at our fantasies; we need to consider carefully the world we want.” (p.230)

Gothic appeals to the young for the same reason it appeals to the less young: it delivers characters who transgress. The Gothic hero is most often a villain who runs roughshod over conventions of piety and civilized restraint. This character has charisma. Gothic hero-villains … display their darkness without reserve; they wear their outlandishness on their sleeves. They invite our gaze while staring unblinkingly back at us. They unsettle us with their returned gaze. They position us to see the world awry. They remind us that freakishness just may be the human norm. Gothic hero-villains are us in our most unrepressed moments. They perform the polymorphous perverse we have necessarily repressed. They either clarify the need for control or satisfy vicariously desire’s reach. Whatever other cultural service they render, Gothic fictions keep reminding us that we are haunted beings, plagued by frightening forces both inside our psyches and in the world out there where we play out our social selves. And our haunted condition need not render us helpless, running into the dark forests of the night or down dark highways. / Adolescents are, perhaps, as intensely haunted or even more haunted than the rest of us. Their bodies as well as their social milieu are in flux, changing as they – both body and social group – morph (or should I say grow? into maturity.” (p.231)

“In the Gothic we are in the territory of teratology, and today’s Gothic just may suggest that we find the real monsters in positions of influence and power. And it may also suggest that we are not helpless in the face of such influence and power. The Gothic presents its characters with choice – the choice between right and wrong.” (p.232)

“…humour is one of the ingredients of a Gothic that typifies young adult and children’s fiction.” (p.233)

McGillis considers Thirsty, by M. T. Anderson (1997) in this essay, writing: “Traditionally, or at least in the Bram Stoker brand of vampire story, the battle between vampire and human is a battle for the human soul, and usually the humans manage to stem the tide of vampires lead by an anti-Christ such as Dracula. In Thirsty, however, things are confused, because the Gothic hero-villain does not side with either the Forces of Light or the Forces of Darkness. He is a lone wolf, so to speak, out for himself. He’s a good capitalist looking to sell his services to the highest bidder. He manages to find gainful employment and to ignore the terrible goings-on in the world: ‘starvation, and fighting in the Middle East, and senators talking about the national debt’ and ‘those other stories [-p.238] about the mobs, the lynchings [of vampires in this storyworld], all over America’ (138). At the end of the book, Chris is left with nothing but his fight to remain connected to humanity.” (pp.237-238)

The protagonist, Chris, is “left at the book’s end crouching behind a door, beseeching a lower case ‘god,’ and moaning, ‘I…am…so…thirsty’ (Anderson 1997: 249). These are the final words of the novel, and they leave us with the vision of desire.” (p.238)

McGillis’s reading of Thirsty leads him to ask: “What is left once we see humans and vampires as equally rapacious?” (p.239)

McGillis also explains: “K. A. Nuzum reads Thirsty as an exercise in ‘mythic’ literature. The struggle is between a mythic time that removes one from the flux of history and places one in a liminal space that is outside history. The novel ends, Nuzum points out, with Chris ‘completely isolated from linear time, from human companionship, from human existence’ (2004: 217). True, Chris is alone, isolated, and fearful as the novel comes to a close; however, I am less certain that this condition of loneliness places Chris outside of linear time. The mythic trappings in this novel …are just that: trappings. They deflect us from seeing Chris’s real problem as a human problem, and seeing the vampires as aspects of humanity. The book performs a demythicizing of monsters.” (p.239)

The trauma this book confronts is the trauma of life without direction, only choices every second for which we have no transcendent guidance. …This vision of a world without end, and without anything but the ongoing working of desire, is not mythic. It is decidedly historic. It is the world we face every day with its mob violence and socially sanctioned killings and predatory activity and senators discussing the national debt. The only difference between humans and vampires is that vampires are perceived by humans to be outside humanity; they are akin to homo sacer, those who are exiled from community; outside the polity and dispensable. Humans can kill vampires with impunity.” (p.240)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Roderick McGillis ‘The Night Side of Nature: Gothic Spaces, Fearful Times’ pp.227-241 Eds. Anna Jackson, Karen Coats and Roderick McGillis (c2008) The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders. Routledge: New York

Reference is to: Edmundson, M. (1997) Nightmare on Main Street: Angels, Sadomasochism and the culture of the gothic. Cambridge, MA: Londond: Harvard University Press.

Grunenberg, C. (Ed.) 1997) Gothic: Transmutations of Horror in late Twentieth-Century Art. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Patrick McGrath (1997) Transgression and decay. In C Grunenberg (Ed.), Gothic: Transmutations of Horror in Late Twentieth Century Art (pp.153-158). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Vandana Saxena – the dynamics of adolescence in Harry Potter

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According to Vandana Saxena: “The subgenre of adolescent fantasy can be characterized as a mix of illusion, escape, entertainment, formula and also instruction and guidance. Fantasy and adolescence…reinforce each other. An adolescent can be seen as an ‘other,’ an outsider to the categories of child and adult, embodying the gap between the two states of being in the chronology of growth. Many critics agree that young adult literature expresses the trials of adolescence, the process of individual coming-of-age set against a specific social and cultural background. [-p.6] Sarah Herz and Donald Gallo point out the situational archetypes and themes in YA fiction, which include coming-of-age rituals, quest and search for self. The literature centers on the youthful protagonist as much as it centers on the cultural background that frames his/her growth.” (pp.5-6)

Saxena continues: “Robyn McCallum defines adolescent fiction in relation to the essential humanist ideology that traditionally underscored the idea of child and children’s literature: “preoccupation with a personal maturation … is commonly articulated in conjunction with a perceived need for children to overcome solipsism and develop intersubjective concepts of personal identity within this world and in relation to others’ (7). This feature of YA literature derives from the unique position that an adolescent occupies in society. On the one hand, an adolescent is an outsider to the social and political frameworks of the society. At the same time, s/he occupies an important position in the collective psyche – preparing adolescents to become responsible members of the community is a major cultural preoccupation. It is important to contain adolescence through the discourses of growth, development and maturity since an adolescent, by the virtue of his/her position on the cultural periphery, has the potential to question and subvert these very discourses. According to Roberta Trites, ‘the distinction between a children’s and an adolescent novel lies not so much in how the protagonist grows – even though the gradations of growth do help us better understand the nature of the genre – but with the very determined way that YA novels tend to interrogate social constructions, foregrounding the relationship between the society and the individual’ (Disturbing [the Universe] 20). Rowling’s series portrays this two-way relationship that characterizes adolescence. Adolescence …emerges not as a stage of life, but as a state of being – an existence on the margins and in a constant dialogue with the center, always challenging and negotiating with the attempts at containment. Thus, young adult literature emerges as a volatile field of engagement with institutional politics and dominant social constructions.” (p.6)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold, mine) Vandana Saxena (2012) The Subversive Harry Potter: Adolescent Rebellion and Containment in the J.K. Rowling Novels. McFarland & Company: Jefferson, NC and London.

vampires and adolescence – what do readers make of these books?

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I’m inclined to think this both too literal a reading of ‘vampire literature’ and too limited a vision of  adolescents, but it is really interesting to see how different people read and respond to such things… Christine Meloni writes:

“Adolescence is often a period of questioning, and one of the things teenagers often question is reality. Is there life on other planets? Are ghosts real? A part of the fascination of vampire literature is that it allows a safe exploration of the darker side of humanity while validating one’s belief in the supernatural. These novels pose questions to the reader about our reality and the possible unknown. With a blend of adventure, fantasy, and romance, they also satisfy the teens’ desire for all things taboo.” (p.30) [She goes on to list a number of titles for librarians interested in meeting popular demand]

I have to say, I think these novels go deeper than that – they explore conflict resolution, friendship, family, urban stresses and strains and a lot of the other social themes that generally make literature interesting…. some of them are crap, sure, but a number also seem to engage happily with a lot of postmodern issues – and theory….

Ref: Christine Meloni (2007) ‘The Rise of Vampire Literature’ LIBRARY MEDIA CONNECTION October 2007, pp.30-33