Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Author Interview: Sarah Rees Brennan

Author Interview: Sarah Rees Brennan

Sarah Rees Brennan grew up in Ireland by the sea where her teachers valiantly tried to make her fluent in Irish. She chose to read books under her desk instead -- mostly Jane Austen, Margaret Mahy, Anthony Trollope, Robin McKinley and Diana Wynne Jones. (She still loves them all!).

Sarah began work on The Demon’s Lexicon while doing a creative writing master's and library work in England. She has returned to Ireland to write but is traveling all the way to Charleston for YALLFest! Read our interview with this hilarious writer:

We’re all excited that you're coming to Charleston for YALLFest! What made you decide to come?

I'm excited too! I love to travel, and I've never been to Charleston before...so I was like, 'Cool, people who like books? Rhett Butler's hometown (I know, I know, such a book nerd)? I'M IN!' I was honored to be invited.

You live in Ireland. What's the biggest difference between here and there?

Well, you guys have great weather and great food, and we have... uh... well... We've got a lot of rain and sheep. Ahem, no, Ireland is a magical place, and if any of you want me to teach you some Irish, come up to me at the festival to ask me!

What got you into writing books for teens?
                                                                 The Demon's Lexicon
I was about eight years old, and I was very into The Classics (I was a super snotty kid), and then my parents made me join the library because if I'd made them buy any more books they would've had to re-mortgage the house. When I went into the library, they wouldn't let me in the adult section! So, I slunk sulkily off into the kids' section, and there on the teen shelf I found Diana Wynne Jones, Margaret Mahy, Robin McKinley...basically, amazing books with amazing authors.

From then, I never saw the point of not adding magic to books -- like refusing sprinkles on your ice cream! -- and always wanted to write stories about that time in your life when you find out who you are and experience all the firsts: first betrayal, first love, first sign that the world is truly cruel or truly glorious.

What was it like writing from a guy's perspective in The Demon's Lexicon?

The fact Nick was a guy was totally fine. The fact he's surly, quiet, very athletic and hates reading...I mean, who hates reading? That was very much outside my experience! And yet it was kind of fun to write from the viewpoint of someone so different from me -- Mr. Tall, Dark and Homicidal -- and to think about what made him tick.

How do your books reflect your own experiences as a teenager?

Man, it's like holding a mirror up to my teenage self. When I was a teenager, it was all demons, demons, demons. ;) The fun part of writing fantasy is that it's real life written large, in red and gold so things that seemed like life or death really are life and death, learning to get along with your siblings and discover your true self have different meanings, yet all these things have resonance with my life, growing up and hopefully other people's lives too...
                                                               The Demon's Covenant
Did you get along with your parents? (Seriously, Nick's mom screams if he touches her. Yikes!)

I get along fine with my parents! Not that it was always perfect, but er...I love them, and my mother has never screamed when I touched her. (Aside from when I sneak up, grab her from behind and yell, 'boo!' But she's asked me to stop doing that.)

The Lexicon series is about kids who are basically all orphans in the storm, with no parental support for one reason or another -- dead, evil, dead and evil -- so they cling onto their siblings and found family. But my mother has had Strong Words with me about mothers in my next series. 'You quit it right now, young lady!' she says. 'Also, there should probably be more kissing scenes? I like those.'

She's a very unique lady, my mom. But not evil! Almost definitely not evil.

Who did you look up to growing up?

Jane Austen. Seriously, I used to dress up a family of kittens in little bonnets and have very decorous tea parties. I totally wanted to be a lady of the 18th century. And a fabulous writer. I still want that last one, but kittens are safe from me now...

Are your characters modeled after your own experiences as a teenager?

Not directly, but their experiences all have points in common with stuff my friends and I went through. The series revolves around sets of siblings who are all very different from each other -- and I was very different from my siblings growing up, which means lots of fighting and loving each other through and past that. I had a good friend who was dyslexic growing up, and Nick's reading difficulties were inspired by him. And almost every smart girl I was friends with was trying to find herself, sometimes in awkward ways, like Mae.

Was there a cute guy in your high school who you imagined could kill demons on the side?

I wish! I went to a convent school. It was all girls and we had these terrible, terrible uniforms -- kilts that made us look as if we had miles of hips tucked in there, and flew open in a breeze so we had to wear little uniform underwear-shorts! Gosh, it was awful. I would've given anything for a hot demon-killing guy, to tell you the truth, but I guess this way I was able to concentrate on my studies or something.

                                                               The Demon's Surrender
Are you especially similar to any one of your characters?

No, I'm not much like any of them, but they all have tiny points of commonality with me. I'm the most like Jamie, the heroine's younger brother, in that I have a goofy sense of humor, never stop talking, and I'm a huge coward. But I love books like Alan does, I'm ambitious like Mae, I'm a protective big sister like Sin, and I'm so grouchy in the mornings that I kind of resemble Nick until my first cup of tea...

Who was the most difficult character to create? The easiest?

They were all fairly easy to create...they kind of moseyed on in and made themselves at home. Nick was the one who came first, in all his sinister semi-monstrous glory, making me think about what it means to be villainous, and what it means to be human, and what that strong-and-silent dude in the corner is thinking aside from, 'Why does everyone else talk so much?'

What was it like to get such positive reviews from the likes of Scott Westerfeld, Cassandra Clare, and Holly Black?

Not very surprising. I kidnapped their pets and threatened them. Holly Black has this hairless cat called Lily she really loves, and I was like 'Praise my book, or the cat gets it!' She was totally amenable after that little discussion...

Heh, no, not really. (Seriously, I love animals. I would never -- where are you going?) I was thrilled and honored that they liked the book. Holly Black especially helped me a huge amount with the writing of the third book in the series: I owe her a debt I can never repay. (Maybe she'd like another hairless cat?)

Now that the third book in your trilogy (The Demon's Surrender) has come out, what’s next for you?

I've decided to write more than ever! I have two new books coming out next year.

One is co-written with Justine Larbalestier, and it's about that time in your life when your best girl friend gets a serious boyfriend for the first time, and he's all she talks about, and you don't even like the guy. Except in Mel's case, her best friend is dating a vampire. It's called Team Human, and it will be out next summer.

And next autumn, written all by myself, is a book called Unspoken, about an intrepid girl reporter who finds out the imaginary friend she's been talking to in her head her whole life is a real boy.. And he's mixed up with the creepy ruling family who live in the Gothic manor on the hill above her town, and with mysterious, bloody goings-on in the woods.

Sounds great! See you at YALLFest.

Very much looking forward to it! Hope to see you all there. ;)

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