Earlier this year I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of Marta Acosta's first young adult foray, 'Dark Companion'. Being a big fan of Ms Acosta's since her paranormal adult series 'Casa Dracula' and having actually interviewed her back in 2010 about a project she was working on, then called 'The Shadow Girl of Birch Grove’, I was understandably excited and overjoyed to finally get my hands on her much-awaited novel...It was no surprise at all that I loved 'Dark Companion' - it had everything that I enjoyed about 'Casa Dracula'; Acosta's wry wit, feisty-complex heroines and head-nod to the roots of paranormal mired in Gothicism... but this time she's writing for the ever-popular young adult readership! Even better, 'Dark Companion' is a supernaturally dark re-imagining of one of literature's most beloved classics, 'Jane Eyre'.I adore talking to Marta Acosta, and getting to pick her brain and stories apart. So, without further ado it is my great pleasure to give you Marta Acosta, discussing 'Dark Companion'...
Q: Are you a ‘plotter’ or ‘pantser’? 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?
Hi, Dani! Thanks for inviting me here to Alpha Reader, one of my favourite review blogs. When I began writing, I was a pantser, but an editor asked me for an outline for the next book, so I became a plotter. Now I always plot. I think of it like building the framework for a house. You can work within the structure and always remodel. Pantsing is more like building a fabulous bathroom and then trying to build a house around it.
Q: How long did it take you to write ‘Dark Companion’, from first idea to final manuscript?
Years and years and years. The first version began with Jane Williams at 10 years old in the group home. Characters came and went. From the time I started until now, YA became a huge trend which is why I roll my eyes when someone thinks I just hopped on the YA trend. Nope, I got run over by the dang YA trend!
Q: ‘Dark Companion’ is a retelling of Charlotte Brontë’s classic ‘Jane Eyre’. Can you tell us why Jane was the literary heroine to inspire ‘Dark Companion’, and why Brontë’s novel means so much to you?
I discovered Jane Eyre in the library when I was about 13. I devoured it, not knowing that it was a famous book, and Brontë’s story struck such a chord with me. I know everyone views it as a great romance, but I was more fascinated by Jane’s rage, isolation, and her fierce belief in herself as equal to anyone else. She’s always lived in my heart.
Q: I love your blog ‘Vampire Wire’ – in which you discuss all things paranormal & pop culture. You also delve into the paranormal publishing world quite a lot, which is always fascinating to read. I’m just curious, being that you’re now a write of paranormal YA, what some of your biggest pet-peeves with the genre have been? What did you really want to avoid writing in ‘Dark Companion’, if only because it has been done before?
I’ve always liked supernatural stories with a scientific explanation and that’s how I created Casa Dracula world, i.e., by pestering doctor friends for possible justifications for supernatural mythology.
My biggest pet-peeves are 1) people who jump on certain trends without doing any proper world-building, so you have thousands of dystopians without any sociopolitical context, and 2) readers who balk at anything but the most typical genre conventions. They’re like picky kids who won’t try a delicious salad. Eat your vegetables because they’re good for you and yummy!
I wanted to avoid the usual mean-girl clichés so ubiquitous in stories about young women. I wanted to bring up money and class and not in the usual “I’m really a princess!” sort of way. I wanted my characters to earn their exceptional roles, not be born into them.
Q: In my review of ‘Dark Companion’, I call it an “ode to Gothicism”, and mention that you’ll probably be introducing a lot of younger readers to the darker genre. What are some of the unbreakable rules for writing Gothic, and why do you think it works well for young-adult?
I don’t think there are any unbreakable rules for Gothic, which is why there are stories with ghostly emanations and stories with scientific explorations. (I did that internal rhyme just for you.) I prefer Gothics that deal with power and class issues, and I love characters who are manipulated and tricked. I like dark secrets, and I’m obsessed with big spooky houses with secret passageways. I’ve lived in a few of these places and I still dream of them.
I think all young adults feel a sense of individualism that can be very lonely. Metaphorically, every young adult is going off to a strange, dark place full of secrets and deception, and each must learn to survive.
I wrote my book about a character who is a young adult, which is not the same as writing a novel for young adults. I put as much craft, effort, and thought into this story as into my adult fiction. I didn’t “write down” for younger readers. They’re smart enough to figure things out. Also, they should eat their delicious vegetables.
Q: There are two quite lovely boys in ‘Dark Companion’, brothers Jack and Lucky. I thought they were both incredible, in their own very different ways, and nice temptations for Jane. What makes a good romantic hero for you, and what is the big difference between writing love interests for your adult and young adult characters?
I am inordinately fond of funny men. I like a romantic hero who can laugh with a girl, who respects her intelligence, and who is physical and affectionate. I didn’t really differentiate between a love interest younger readers. Love and the desire for love make people stupid. I’m always interested in why smart people do stupid things.
Jack is the eccentric brother who sends mixed messages to Jane, and their scenes involve lots of wordplay, which I love. Lucky is the golden boy and Jane’s infatuated by everything he represents: beauty, wealth, status, security, family. Her desire for him is almost one of covetousness. She thinks if she can have him, she can have those things. I think that’s why he’s so irresistible to a very poor, very damaged orphan. She never says that she loves him: only that she wants him.
Q: One of my all-time favourite characters in ‘Dark Companion’ was MV (Mary Violet) – an infectiously optimistic and confident young woman. I (and I think many other readers) have my fingers crossed that MV makes a reappearance – either in a novella/short-story capacity, or her own book/series. Can you tell us if you have any plans for the très magnifique MV?
I am currently writing a Gothic mystery tentatively titled Mary Violet and the Mystery of the Silent Songbird. MV pretty much invented herself: I had a name and the idea of a girl who should be a snob, but isn’t. The book will have romance, a hidden crime, sinister deeds, and, of course, poetry. When I was a kid I actually wanted to be a poet (ridiculous, I know) and it cracks me up that now my poetry, such as it is, is published.
Q: What advice do you have for budding young writers?
Work at your craft. Find your voice. Listen to advice. Rewrite and rewrite and rewrite, because you can always improve a story. I often think of a bit of advice from American football: winners never quit and quitters never win.
Q: When can we get our greedy little hands on your next novel, and can you tell us a little bit about it?
I’m working on the Mary Violet novel and I’m really happy to return to comedy. I’m also writing a Gothic ghost story, The Poison Tree, about two young women who haunt each other across time. I wish you’d become an editor somewhere and publish it, because you are a most insightful and illuminating critic.
Thanks, Dani, for having me here!
All images are from weheartit.com