Just when I was sure that I'd read everything the vampire genre has to offer, and couldn't possibly be moved by another fanged hero, a novel comes along that reinvigorates me to the pale undead. At the moment, that novel is 'Team Human' by writing-duo Sarah Rees Brennan and Justine Larbalestier. I loved this book; with its smart, sarcastic heroine who is entirely unmoved by the glitz and glamor of the immortal. Not to mention the clever vampire mechanics and underpinnings that will have even the most dedicated fang-fan questioning the appeal of living forever...So I was really excited to interview the two authors of this wonderful, accomplished 'team effort'. It is my great pleasure to bring you Sarah Rees Brennan and Justine Larbalestier!
Q: In your Acknowledgements you say that "Team Human sprang out of our shared love of vampire stories. . .” and in your dedication you list a few of those authors who founded and popularized the vampire genre. Can you both walk down memory lane and recall the very first time you fell for vamps? What was your first vampiric book/TV/movie experience?
SRB: I can, very clearly. I was eleven, I think, and my mother left 'Interview with the Vampire' on the piano and said 'Don't read that book, I think it might be a little much for you.' I'd never been warned off a book before in my life--it was irresistible! I had to have the amazing forbidden book! I ran to get it as soon as my mother was out the door, and that was it, I was in love. That poor, tortured vampire protagonist! My little heart bled for Louis! Then I read the sequel about his blond rock star vampire frenemy, and dumped my first fictional vampire boyfriend for a second fictional vampire boyfriend. Oh well, one more thing for Louis to angst about.
Mind you, it wasn't too long after that I discovered Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and later Spike, and that sealed the deal. Vampires were clearly for me however you sliced them. Or staked them.
JL: I'm not sure what the first vampire book I ever read was, probably Dracula, but I have a distinct memory of seeing Love at First Bite, a vampire parody movie when I was very little. I remember it being the funniest, wittiest movie ever made. I suspect that is not, in fact, the case. Perhaps my early imprinting on that movie is part of what led to Team Human.
Q: And how exactly did ‘Team Human’ become a ‘team effort’? Who had the idea to write a book together and who asked who to help in the writing? You also say in your ‘acknowledgments’ that you “kept this book a secret” – why the secrecy and was it hard to keep it under wraps?
SRB: I don't think anyone went down on one knee and said 'Will you be my co-writer?' We came up with the idea ('you know when your best friend forever has a boyfriend and you hate him' 'What if that guy was a vampire!' together), and while we were saying 'Someone should write that book!' we both thought 'Maybe... WE should write that book? Together?'
Justine asked me to keep it a secret, I think because it was an experiment and neither of us were quite sure it'd work and didn't want people to know until we were sure it was a thing! But it was incredibly hard for me to keep it under wraps, and I kept slipping up.
SARAH: And then the project Justine and I are working on...
FRIEND: What? What project---
SARAH: SHHHHH! You heard nothing! I said nothing! I was NEVER EVEN HERE! *rappels out of window*
Obviously I need more training to fulfil my other life's ambition, and be a spy.
JL: What Sarah said. She is exactly right about why I wanted it to be a secret. I had heard lots of stories of collaborations not working out. Some people's writing styles simply don't mesh together. So I didn't want lots of people to know about our collaboration if no book resulted.
Plus it was really fun to send a complete book to my agent that she had no idea about. She screamed she was so happy when I told her about it.
Sarah did remarkably well keeping it secret given that she is not, um, naturally gifted at secret keeping.
Q: And now to the actual nuts and bolts of duo-writing. I understand that Justine was based in Australia and Sarah in Ireland (?) during the writing process – so how did time zones factor into co-writing ‘Team Human’? And is writing a book together a case of someone writing chapter one, and then handballing chapter two off to the other person?
SRB: Well, there we were helped by my vampiric schedule! Justine would want to talk at 2 AM my time and I'd be like 'SURE sounds good!' And to think my mama said no good would come of me staying up late o'nights.
I'd write two chapters and then send them off to Justine, and then she'd write two chapters and send back to me--but I write overboard, and Justine writes with Elegant Leanness, so I'd always be adding stuff to hers, and she'd always be paring mine down and sometimes splitting the chapters up into three or four, so our mutual mark was left all over everything and it's sometimes quite hard to tell who wrote what!
JL: It happened exactly as Sarah says. Many times one of us would write a scene that was three quarters of the way to being really good and then the other one would somehow know exactly what the scene needed to get all the way there. Sending something you've written off and then having it return to you much, much better is magical.
Q: Are you guys ‘plotters’ or ‘pantsers’, respectively? That is, do you meticulously plot your novel before writing, or do you ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ and let the story evolve naturally? And did you have to change your plotting/pantsing ways to suit each other?
SRB: I'm a plotter, and Justine's a pantser. We talk together about our different approaches here - I made Justine plot Team Human though, because I felt we'd go veering wildly off in different directions all the time if we didn't plot it out!
As it was, we only went veering wildly off into different directions half the time. ;)
JL: Ha! For me that was the most traumatic part of the process: figuring out what we were going to write BEFORE we wrote it. So. Weird. But I dealt with the trauma by telling myself that Team Human was not a Justine book it was a Justine-and-Sarah book which allowed me to forget about my usual method and go along with this insane planning out every single sentence before you write it malarkey.
Q: Something I loved about the vampire mythology and genealogy in ‘Team Human’ was simply that your vamps don’t laugh – they have somewhat muted emotions. That was so interesting to me, and the first time that vampirism has been quite off-putting (funnily enough, blood-drinking is okay but no sense of humour? NO WAY!). Not to mention that a turning gone wrong could lead to zombie-fication! How did you pick through vampire lore for the ‘Team Human’ universe – and how important was it to you that vampires in the book not be presented as the unearthly, superior heart-throbs of so many other paranormal YA novels?
SRB: Thank you! *beams* We both felt that there had to be real downsides to being a vampire, stuff that balanced out living forever and that would have a profound effect on someone, altering them in a way that was immense and wasn't 'really great permanent makeover'. There are vampire myths stating that vampires can't cry (in Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles they cry blood!... never go to see a sad movie with an Anne Rice vampire!) and we felt that it would be natural if they could not laugh either.
Especially as, let's face it, remember Angel of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame... vampires are a broody bunch. This explains that. ;)
I do think vampires can be heart-throbs (Francis is pretty cute. Hey, Camille's pretty cute too. ;)) Anyone can be a heart-throb: but we wanted the vampires of the book to feel real, for choosing vampirism to be a really difficult decision with much to be said on both sides--to create a space for debate, and have a voice for those both pro-and-anti-vampirism. We wanted to use vampire lore and put it into the modern world, speculating about windows that'd protect vampires from the sun, about vampire laws, about tourists keen to see vampires and vampires visiting blood banks, and make it all seem complicated, and real.
Insofar as you can, with vampires. ;)
JL: What she said. Also I love zombies. I really wanted them in Team Human. Braaaaaiiiinnnnssss . . .
Q: Right off the bat, what struck me about ‘Team Human’ was simply that you had an Asian heroine (sorry, American-born Chinese – ‘ABC’) in Mel Duan. It struck me because I recently read a fabulous post about young adult cover-art by Michelle Andelman, which calculated that in 2011 only 1.4% of YA covers featured an Asian model – so it was wonderful to see your beautiful cover! I was just wondering what the impetus was behind making Mel Chinese, and if you had to fight to have her properly represented in your cover art?
SRB: Mel being Chinese-American was just something that felt natural: we were writing about urban America, even if it was a made-up city with vampires in it, so we wanted New Whitby to be as diverse as urban America actually is, so Mel's group of friends is diverse, and we didn't want the Asian girl to be a sidekick... we wanted her to be the star of the show.
Plus that meant we got to see the reactions of Francis, a guy from eighteenth century England, to modern urban America---to show vampires being people from the past with their own prejudices, as well as people having (comparatively very reasonable, as they drink blood!) prejudices against vampires.
I've read the same article, and isn't it awesome! We didn't have to fight at all, for which we are extremely thankful. One of the very first things our editor at Harper Collins US said to us, when she suggested a cover with three models on it, was that of course Mel would be Asian. We didn't even have to ask, and we actually had a photo-shoot for the cover, which is a pretty fancy thing to have! I detail the whole experience here. Allen & Unwin use the same models in a slightly different cover, so we always have the same fantastic Asian Mel.
We love our covers, and we love our fantastic publishers for making it so we didn't have to fight!
Q: A lot of people on the blogosphere have been crossing their fingers that ‘Team Human’ will have a sequel. Is anything planned? And if not a ‘Team Human’ sequel – do you think you’ll ever join forces again to write another novel?
SRB: I am afraid we have to keep hush hush on this one. Like ninjas. Ninjas who are also spies. Spinjas. (I know I said I wouldn't be a good spy, but think of how cool a spinja would be. I'd have to try.)
Q: Finally – where do you both stand on vampirism? If you could, would you choose to be turned?
SRB: It would really depend on the vampire mythology--whether I'd have to kill people, whether I would burst into flames or shine like a crazy vampire diamond in the sun. It's certainly something I'd consider: I'd love to see the world changing and history unfolding, plus apparently I can't read all the books in the world in a normal human lifetime... That's a real concern.
JL: Under no circumstances would I become a vampire (and I say that as someone who loves blood sausage). I am against immortality. I look at the world we live in and the way (on the whole) older people are much more conservative than younger people and are often against change. If people were to live forever our world would stagnate. New people means new ideas. I don't think anyone should live forever.
all images are from weheartit.com