Local author Brenna Yovanoff goths it up for Young Adult readers
Penguin Books, eager to eclipse Twilight with a new moon of its own, sharpened its stakes and rounded up five authors of hot new fantasy titles for Young Adult readers from its various imprints, unleashing them on the world for the Breathless Reads National Book Tour, which haunts the Tattered Cover's Highlands Ranch store tomorrow at 7 p.m. Featured authors include Ally Condie (Matched), Andrea Cremer (Nightshade), Kristen Miller (The Eternal Ones), Beth Revis (Across the Universe), and Brenna Yovanoff, a Denver-based writer whose debut novel The Replacement is the darkest -- and the best -- of the bunch. We liked her book and its unlikely demon-rocker hero Mackie so much that we called her up to get some perspective on this whole YA fantasy craze.
Westword: How did the Breathless Reads tour come together and how did you come to be involved with it?
Brenna Yovanoff: It was something that Penguin put together, and I'm really flattered that they picked my book to be a part of it. The books are all very different from each other but all have kind of this fantastical element that draws them together as a group.
WW: Obviously the Harry Potter and Twilight Saga franchises have been massive successes. I read a lot of fantasy books when I was a kid too, so I don't mean to make it seem like this is an entirely new phenomenon, but... what do you think this new craze for these kinds of books is all about?
BY: There's always a lot of industry speculation on why things are popular or where things are going to be heading, but right now fantasy for young adults is just an incredibly booming genre. I think that one of the reasons it's so popular is because it can be a metaphor for very real adolescent concerns and can give readers emotional practice for real life issues.
WW: Do you have the sense that those readers are then graduating to heavier material, to books like The Replacement and the other books featured at this event?
BY: I don't know that it's always graduating to heavier material, necessarily, but I do find that readers who weren't readers before they discovered Harry Potter or Twilight or whatever then go out and start looking for more. Whatever it is that provides that initial spark, I think readers, once they find it, become readers for life. I think it's just amazing that these two huge franchises have made this whole new generation of readers.
WW: I found your book to be quite dark and heavy for a book aimed at young adults, which, of course, I would have loved when I was a teen. I'm curious about your perception of your readers and how much you think they can handle. Do you think publishers and other writers underestimate this audience?
BY: What I remember from my own reading habits as a teenager was that I always loved reading horror, even though I'm ultimately an optimist. I liked going to that really grim place but in a safe way, within the covers of a book. I think that's actually pretty common for teenage readers, and I figured there would be a lot of them out there who were like me. But I think there's actually a really broad spectrum of what authors are comfortable with based on their own experiences as readers growing up, and you do see a lot of "edgy" books for young adults these days. I don't necessarily think you have to try to be edgy just to appeal to young readers, but I don't like the idea of trying to sugarcoat things for younger readers, either.
The Replacement, promotional poster for the Breathless Reads National Book Tour
WW: Tell me a bit about this town Gentry you've created, and the genesis for how this setting came together as you were writing the book. It's a pretty doom-and-gloom kind of place.
BY: I think it was inspired by two things: Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery," and then my sister going away to school in Pennsylvania. We'd grown up in Colorado pretty much our whole lives and it's sunny here all the time. So when I went out to visit her I was really impressed by how it rained pretty much every day. I wanted to draw on that feeling... it seemed so exotic! I wanted to create a very different setting from my own.
WW: Your protaganist Mackie plays bass guitar, and I loved your characterization of the town's underground music scene, where the crowd's applause and adulation both sustains and helps mask these demons in the community. They feed off the attention they get when they're on stage and aren't getting in other ways. Leonard Cohen's song "The Future," with it's "repent, repent" refrain ends up marking a pivotal moment in the story. Why was it important to you to have music coursing through this book?
BY: I just started thinking of songs that I would like to see performed live by the kind of band I was writing about, which is this sort of gypsy punk ensemble. I picked some cynical, angry songs that would serve as replacements for the things these characters would like to express in other ways but don't necessarily feel like they can, which was an idea I hoped would resonate with my readers.
WW: Without giving too much away, let's talk about Mackie. He's this demon child who was left as a "replacement" for another child who was stolen away to be sacrificed, yet his sister's love for him is very real, even though she knows what he is, and helps him survive where others of his kind had perished. He makes for an unlikely hero.
BY: He evolved a lot and took a lot of prodding to get moving as I was writing. It takes a while for him to build up the momentum to become heroic and do the right thing, or even to do anything, really. I wanted to play around with this teenager's notion of not fitting in. With him it's actually a very real, concrete thing: He doesn't belong, and yet he is loved more than he knows, and that fact alone has kept him alive against the odds. I wanted to look at how people who feel like that might not necessarily remember or even realize how much people do love them.
WW: There's a theme through the book that intention, and the mere belief in something, can be enough to make it real. Our various gods and demons exist or don't exist only to the extent that we believe in them. The demons in your book are going through an end-of-days phase because nobody really pays them much mind anymore. It's an intriguing idea... Are all our old demons dying, even with all this increased interest in vampires and werewolves and wizards and whatnot?
BY: It's something I took away from a lot of fairy folklore and research about fairy magic as I was thinking about this book: The things you want to materialize in your lives... well, sometimes intention is enough to spur you to accomplish something and manifest something in your world. And not believing in anything has its ramifications, too. Faith works in interesting ways.
WW: What do you think young adult readers, who are potentially also future writers, get out of an event like the Breathless Reads Tour and the opportunity to meet the authors of the books they're reading? As somebody who came out of the MFA program at Colorado State University, what had it meant to you to have interactions with writers?
BY: I always liked knowing that writers were real people, and that they had some specific road that took them to where they were. I've always liked knowing specific details about writers. Its very fascinating to meet people who are doing what you want to be doing, to get a sense of how they got there and how it might be a real possibility for you to follow your own road there.
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