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Interview with...

Michelle Zink

El Templo #29 (agosto 2012)
Por R. A. Calle Morales
2.937 lecturas

In your four published books there's a strong influence of the Gothic atmosphere. What does the Gothic genre have that attracts you so much? What is it so captivating in those distressing environments and oneiric mysteries to catch the attention of so many readers?

I don’t think human beings were engineered to live the way we do today. The modern world can be so sterile, so overwhelmed with stimulus and noise. And really, in the grand scheme of things, these changes have happened very quickly. In just the past hundred years, we’ve gone from candlelight and quiet to constant online interaction, 24/7 television (in America, some grocery stores even have televisions by the check-out counter where they play commercials while we wait to pay for our groceries), and constant contact with others through our phones. The Gothic era is in many ways a return to a quieter world, one in which we can’t log onto Google to find an answer to every question. I find the slower pace, the quiet, the richness of the era to be a perfect backdrop to the kinds of mysteries I love to read and write.

Science fiction and urban fantasy are the predominant genres in the teen literature market these days. What terror and/or mystery book from outside the current trends would you recommend to young people?

Well, as you know, I’m a huge Carlos Ruiz Zafon fan. His brand of gothic thriller has everything I adore in a mystery - brooding atmosphere, intricate plotting, and complex characters. I often recommend even his adult books to teenagers. I’m also in love with Patrick Ness’s work, both the Chaos Walking trilogy (technically Science Fiction, though very different from most) and A Monster Calls. And if you’re looking for a different take on horror, you can’t beat Tonya Hurley’s Ghostgirl and her gritty, edgy upcoming series, The Blessed.

In both the Prophecy of the Sisters and A Temptation of Angels, there are creatures between two worlds: celestial and demonic creatures. How did you manage to work with such creatures so deeply-rooted into folklore like angels, demons and spirits? Where did you get all the information?

Many of my ideas come from ancient myths and legends. I start out with an intriguing story and then begin asking myself questions. What if it happened this way instead? What if the other side had won this epic battle? What happened to these people or beings after history signed off on the story? By working with the accepted version of a myth or legend and then adding and subtracting elements, I hope to build on something familiar to create something new and different. It’s always the “what-ifs” that intrigue me.

 

We can find the role of the medium in your books, since it is quite common in the Gothic novel. What can you tell us about these women who claimed to be able to speak with spirits and were considered a link between the earthly and spiritual world?

Mediums and mystics have been around since the beginning of recorded history. It seems civilization goes through cycles -- periods in time when these people are ridiculed as fakes or crazies and periods of time where they are instead revered. The Victorian era was definitely the latter. People were turning to mediums -- often referred to as “spiritualists” -- in droves. Many of society’s wealthiest individuals sought spiritual counsel from such mediums and even held seances in their homes.

One of the strongest points of your books, in our opinion, is the atmosphere. What does the 19th century has that fascinate you so much that you set your novels in that period?

It’s just such a tactile, lush atmosphere. The floors are creaky, the houses quiet, the lighting dim. The clocks -- not digital - tick and tock. The draperies are silk and velvet, the rugs soft underfoot. Gowns rustle and tree branches smack against the windows in a storm. All of these elements make for a perfect backdrop to mystery and horror and a wonderful escape for both the reader and the writer.

Steampunk, a genre you entered with A Temptation of Angels, is a mix of past centuries atmospheres with futuristic elements. Is it hard to find a balance between these elements without falling in implausible situations? Do you have any advice for those writers that would like to try out this genre?

It’s not hard for me because I’m very difficult to please as a reader. I love fantasy, but my suspension of disbelief only goes so far. I think this serves me well in my writing -- and particularly in A TEMPTATION OF ANGELS -- because it’s natural for me to make sure the reader can really buy everything I’m setting up. I can also be bored with things that are overly technical. For me, everything is about the story. So even in a novel some people call Steampunk, I like to think I’ve only used those elements to the point that they accent the story, not usurp it.

 

In your site you say that your next novel will be a series of dark fantasy. Something like The Dark Knight meets Twilight (but without vampires). It sounds like an odd mix. What can you tell us about this project?

I need to update my website! That story is still complete and still on my hard drive. I expected it to be my 2012 book, but my publisher purchased A TEMPTATION OF ANGELS instead (publishers do these things sometimes). I still hope to publish that book, but right now, my next book is slated for March of 2013 and is tentatively titled THIS WICKED GAME. It draws on voodoo in modern day New Orleans to create a mystery/thriller that I hope my readers will love.

For a reader of YA literature it doesn’t go unnoticed that there are a lot more women than men writing in this particularly part of the market. Why do you think that happens? Do you think that this majority of female vs male authors has an effect also in the female-male proportion of the readers?

I think the number of male writers has less of an impact on readers than the number of male readers on male writers. I know that’s not going to be a popular answer, but the truth is, publishers want to make money. So if there were a huge, untapped market for books written for teen boys, I think publishers would be acquiring them en masse. There are plenty of men who aspire to publication in the MG/YA markets. I’m not sure why fewer boys read, but as a single mother to two teenage sons, I can say that they found it difficult to make the leap from middle grade fantasy to YA fantasy. They tended to jump right from series like The Rangers Apprentice to adult series like Game of Thrones or The Sword of Shanarra, although I have no idea why that is the case.

You interact on a regular basis with your fans through your website. How is this relationship? In these days of social media and continuous communication it seems like the writers’ job (usually solitary) is unconceivable without the readers’ feedback. How does this change affect your creation and writing process?

It has a tremendous impact. There are positive things, like hearing what your readers love most about your work and what they’d like to see more of from you. And it’s amazing to see firsthand all the support readers give to their favorite authors -- all the ways in which they help to spread the word about your work. But it is also difficult to be slammed with bad reviews that you almost can’t avoid seeing. It’s difficult to know that your readers would like to see a series go one way when you have envisioned it differently and know you will disappoint them by staying true to your vision. It’s difficult to live so much outside the imagination, when I think as writers, we are predisposed to living within it, and in many ways, we NEED to live within it. But really, most writers don’t have that luxury anymore. It’s a delicate balance that I think I’m still figuring out.

 

You stay in contact with some of your writing colleagues too . Do you exchange opinions and give each other advice about your books? How does your work profit from these relationships?

I’m fortunate to have several close friends who are brilliant writers, but I rarely ask them to read for me. I think I’m too shy! I know how very busy I am, how very difficult it is to find time to write and read and also go about the business of living in a meaningful way. I always feel guilty when I consider asking a colleague to read for me, so I usually end up asking my oldest children (18 and 20), both of whom are voracious readers and excellent writers. I do treasure my friendships with other writers, though. Sometimes you need to blow off steam with people who really understand where you’re coming from.

The film industry is increasingly paying more attention to the teen literature market. Have you ever had an offer by a producer interested in turning your books into movies? Which was the last movie based in a YA book you watched? What do you think about it?

There was an option on the Prophecy of the Sisters series, and while we have had some interest, nothing official has happened as of yet. It’s important to me that if a film is made, it’s made well. I would hate to disappoint Prophecy readers.

In your FAQ you mention Carlos Ruiz Zafón as one of your favourite authors. Have you read any of the teen books he wrote before The Shadow of the Wind? Have you read any other Spanish writer whose work you would like to recommend us?

I’ve read The Prince of Myst and currently have The Midnight Palace on my shelf. I adore all of his work. He’s a master at the art of creating atmosphere and building tension. And Spain is a cultural hotbed, full of amazing artists, actors, directors, musicians, and writers. I love Zafon, and of course Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I only wish we were fortunate enough to have more of your writers translated in the US. As a movie fanatic, I also have to confess to being a serious admirer of Guillermo Del Toro’s films. I have a recurring dream where he phones to say he wants to make the Prophecy of the Sisters movie. So basically, I adore your country, its people, and its artists. Maybe I will move there one day and write by the sea.

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