I recently read a book I loved – GENERATION V by M.L. Brennan. I adored its hero, Fortitude Scott, whose self-deprecating voice and moral strength won me over. I care what happens to this guy and I can’t wait to see how Brennan develops his character over the course of the series. Brennan was kind enough to stop by the blog to talk about her inspiration for Fort, her plans for the series, and how she, I feel, deftly balanced the light and dark tones of GENERATION V.
Please welcome M.L. to the blog and don’t forget to check out the giveaway below!
SWR: Can you tell us a bit about your new book, Generation V, and what inspired you to write it?
Sure! The elevator pitch of my book is that Fortitude Scott has a useless degree, a minimum-wage job, a cheating girlfriend, and a roommate who stiffs him on the rent. And he’s a vampire… mostly. But when a little girl is kidnapped, suddenly he’s the only one who is willing to try and do something about it, so he teams up with a wise-cracking shapeshifter and heads off for a rescue mission that will very likely kill him.
In terms of inspirations – there were a few big ideas that I really wanted to play with. One was to work with a hero who would be very routinely outmatched by his enemies – someone who isn’t in possession of some SuperHugeAmazingPower that has everyone quaking in fear around him, but rather is just kind of a regular-ish guy in a lot of ways, and has to outsmart his enemy or make allies and coalitions. Another thing I wanted to play with was this idea that comes up so often when people talk about the millennial generation, which is this “delayed adulthood.” My main character is 26 when the book starts, but even though he pays his bills, makes rent, and holds a job, in a lot of ways his life really hasn’t quite started rolling yet. Finally, I wanted to write family problems and issues – about expectations, fears, and heritage. All of these things rolled together into a world that I am having a lot of fun with!
SWR: What are your plans for American Vampire as a series? For example, do you have an overall arc planned out in a set number of books?
I’ve been contracted for three books, and when I originally planned them out all of my major arcs were going to be complete by the end of the third book. About halfway through writing the second, though, (Iron Night), I started feeling like that wasn’t going to work, and that a lot of the ideas and topics I was interested in just weren’t going to be able to wrap up so quickly. I talked with my editor recently, and she agreed to a restructuring. A few very major events that were originally going to happen in the third book won’t appear there. I’m still waiting to find out if I’ll get to write more than three American Vampire books, but I have a huge stack of notes for future books, so right now I’m just keeping my fingers crossed!
In terms of my plans for the series – a lot of what I’m working with is the idea of a character taking ownership of his own life, and growing up. Some of the results of this are easily identifiable as positive, but some are more problematic. Youthful idealism can sometimes have rough collisions with the realities of the world, with a lot of fallout from that. That element will start coming up more in Iron Night.
SWR: Fortitude Scott. First off, the name. Loved it. Where did you come up with such an original name for a lead character?
It’s actually really funny, because originally, because I wanted to write such an everyman kind of character, I decided that I wanted to give him a really ordinary name. So for a long time in my notes, his name was Pete.
That changed later in the planning process, when I decided that I wanted a bit element of the book to be about family and the conflict between the three vampire siblings. I wanted a spread of ages, and I decided that it made sense to have his two older siblings be born during two of the most important periods in American history – the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Now I had two more characters to name, and I wanted their names to really be of the period that they were born in. I started with the older sister, and that one was really fast – something about the name Prudence has always just been so really evocative of that time for me. But I was having a really frustrating time naming the Civil War brother – I was looking through lists of soldier names, and nothing was jumping out at me. Plus, I’d realized that I had a problem with Prudence and “Pete” – they were both starting with the same letter, which is something I try to avoid with primary characters. Something had to change, and frankly I liked Prudence more than “Pete.”
That was when I started thinking about how the name Prudence was part of a wider trend of naming children after the virtues that the parents hoped that they would embody. Some have held over (and don’t you always feel really bad for any girl name Chastity?), but others aren’t generally seen anymore. Take a walk in old burial grounds in New England and you’ll see some really interesting virtue names – some of my favorites include Concord, Amity, Temperance, and (my favorite) – Silence (oh, the horrible irony that would exist during toddler years!).
With that in mind, I was able to name the two brother vampires. I chose names that represented bits of their characters, which left me with the three siblings: Prudence, Chivalry, and Fortitude. And, I really have to say, Fortitude Scott looks *much* cooler in print than “Pete.”
SWR: His originality as a character didn’t stop with his name. Fort is not your typical alpha male vampire. In fact, he is the exact opposite of that and was a refreshing take on a UF male lead. Was that a conscious decision on your part to create an anti-alpha vampire as your main protagonist?
Yes – not because I don’t like alpha protagonists – they can be a lot of fun, and in urban fantasy I also really enjoy seeing so many female alphas in charge. But at the same time I was interested in writing a book about a protagonist who undergoes some really significant changes – Fort does a lot of internal toughening and has to gain acceptance of who he is, which meant that I didn’t want to start him off as being completely comfortable with himself, being in control of every situation, or being able to win every fight.
Also, one of the primary traits that I gave Fort when I was constructing him was this kind of very fundamental niceness to him. Part of that was constructing against type for the vampire, but I liked the thought of Fort going into situations, and reacting with a general kind of decency that would have the reader agree with him, but all the characters in this world just reacting with this stunned “what the hell? don’t you know the rules?” Because he doesn’t know the rules – and when they are explained to him, a lot of times Fort reacts with the kind of “that’s horrible!” knee-jerk that most of us would in that situation. If this book was a film noir, Fort would be the ingénue rather than the world-weary detective.
SWR: One thing I found so interesting about Generation V was its mixed tone. On the one hand, there’s Fort’s voice which is funny, sharp and self-deprecating, coupled with this tit-for-tat, witty banter between Fort and Suzume, his bodyguard; on the other hand we have this very dark world he’s in and is desperately trying to avoid – the world of vampires. How did you maintain this balance between light and dark?
I’m a big fan of Joss Whedon – shows of his like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Dollhouse are ones that are favorites of mine, and those have exactly that mix between characters bantering and then some really dark, dark topics. In some ways I feel like I need both of those elements in their right proportions to tell the story that I want. The villain in Generation V is wholly repugnant and really absolutely horrible in what he’s doing. There’s nothing redeemable about him. Without the banter and the occasional pratfall, the plotline is very dark. But at the same time, the repartee between Fort and Suzume, or Fort’s internal monologuing jokes, would risk being without substance (just witty fluff) if there wasn’t a sense of urgency and real danger.
In terms of keeping the balance – a lot of rewrites and second passes to make sure that I’m walking the line. I also rely on my first readers and my editor letting me know if I’ve gone too far in one direction. In Generation V there were a few jokes that I removed to keep the tension up in some places. When I was working on Iron Night, my editor actually had to tug me back and have me lighten a few elements. I have a lot of fun trying to find that happy medium, and I’ve been really glad to hear from readers who enjoyed it.
SWR: The vampire mythos you created was also very original and with a very real sense of danger. Tell us how you built this world and what are, if any, the vampire characters or worlds that have inspired you?
I really do love all kinds of fantasy, scifi, pop culture, and of course I’ve enjoyed a lot of different presentations of vampires, but when I sat down to build my world I actually drew a lot more from the natural world and biology. I wanted my vampires to actually fit into the world and make biological sense – which, when you think about it, an immortal and ageless creature that can make more of its kind just with a tiny blood transfer doesn’t really fit into the natural scheme of things. Vampires would be a more invasive species than kudzu, and within a very short period of time they would cover the planet!
So I stepped my vampires back into biology. If vampires are a predator, and people are the prey, then that informs a lot of things about the vampires. Healthy predator populations need to be lower than the prey. Predators tend to mature much slower than the prey, and reproduce later and in smaller numbers. If not injured or killed by something else, predators also tend to have longer lifespans than their prey. It was thinking in these terms (for example, a lion vs. a herd of gazelle) that helped me build my vampires and the world that they operate in.
SWR: I loved Suzume and the entire inclusion of the Kitsune. How did you find/create her and will there be more? (please)
I’m so glad! Suzume is definitely one of my own favorites – every scene that she is involved in is always more fun to write.
I spent a lot of time researching the Kitsune myth in preparation for creating the character – it’s a really fascinating mythology, and one that unfortunately doesn’t get featured very often in Western fantasy. When you read Japanese fairy tales, there’s this wonderful moral ambiguity in the presentations of the Kitsune. Sometimes they’re helping humans, sometimes they are openly malevolent and ill-intentioned, and sometimes they are just slightly cruel tricksters. I tried to really bring that sense of ambiguity into the character of Suzume – she’s hired to do a job, she teases and torments Fort for her own amusement, but then the two of them start forming a bond of friendship that changes the dynamic. But at the same time, she doesn’t have that internal moral compass that Fort has, so she isn’t going to just jump up and want to get involved in something heroic – unless it sounds fun.
In addition to the mythology, I also spent a lot of time watching online videos of foxes – both in the wild and those that people keep as pets. And there is jut this constant sense that this is an animal that really likes to have fun and entertain itself. That filtered into the character of Suzume in a big way – she’s a prankster, she’s going to mess with people just for fun, she’s going to make jokes in most situations. But, as with any fox, it’s never a good idea to forget that she has very sharp teeth.
I developed Suzume after I’d figured out who Fort was, and she was an incredibly crucial piece of the book. On his own, Fort can get a little broody and emo, plus he has a very deep well of self-doubt. Suzume is a perfect counterbalance – the world is a series of opportunities for fun to her, and I gave her all the self-confidence of an army. The two of them become this kind of odd-couple that acts in a complimentary way.
SWR: HBO calls and they want to adapt the series for television. Who would you want to cast as Fort, Chivalry, Prudence, Suzume, and Madeline?
This had me stumped for a while – I usually don’t use actual people as reference points for main characters. I do use them for minor characters – for example, I could quickly point you to the actor who I use as the model for Matt McMahon. But I spent a while thinking about it, and here’s my list:
Fort: Josh Cooke. I was watching the sixth season of Dexter recently, and Josh Cooke’s innocuous and sweet geek character (before the creepy reveal of the obsessive nutjob) has a similarity to Fort.
Chivalry: Benedict Cumberbatch! I love the idea of the visual contrast between the two brothers. (to be true to the book, this would have to be Cumberbatch with the Star Trek: Into Darkness torso. Purely for accuracy, of course.)
Prudence: Nicole Kidman. Prudence is a hard one to picture, but I saw photos recently of Kidman for an ad campaign, and she projects this look of very homicidal menace that seems a natural fit for Prudence.
Suzume: Grace Parks. It’s not a perfect fit on that one, but when I was constructing Suzume I did look at a lot of pictures of Grace Parks in her role as Boomer/Sharon on Battlestar Galactica. She projected this very tough, physically capable element that I really liked and wanted to use for Suzume. (fact: if you search for images of Grace Parks, you have to really specify that you want them from Battlestar Galactica – otherwise all you get is from Parks’s Maxim shoot)
Madeline: Betty White. I would be willing to sign the rights to a community theater if I could see Betty White play Madeline!
SWR: What was the last book you read that you would recommend to a friend?
I’m a very big fan of Sharon Shinn’s books (particularly her new Elemental Blessings series), but last week I read a book she wrote in 2002 that I’m somehow completely missed called Jenna Starborn. It’s a sci-fi book that uses Bronte’s Jane Eyre as the inspiration text. That’s not a particularly new idea, but Shinn did it in a very interesting way, and I was particularly amazed at the way that she was able to actually mimic Bronte’s writing style so incredibly well that it doesn’t sound like Shinn at all. It’s one of those rare retelling books that not only makes use of the major plot points, and has a similarity of the names of characters and places, but actually really builds on the same fundamental themes – in this case the Jane Eyre themes of forgiveness, personal faith, and love. It took me a while to adjust to the style, but it was *very* worth checking out!
SWR: Tell us about your upcoming projects.
Generation V’s sequel, Iron Night, is being published in January 2014, and right now I’m working on the third book in the series. I also am going to be at two conventions this summer – ConnectiCon next weekend, and World Con at the end of August. That’s definitely keeping my hands busy for the foreseeable future!
SWR: Finally, I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones and the Song of Ice and Fire series in which every family has a motto – the Starks have “Winter is coming” and the Lannisters have “Hear me roar!” What is the ML Brennan motto?
Watch me quip!
SWR: Thank you so much for the interview!
Thank *you* so much! I had so much fun with all the questions!
Check out GENERATION V. It’s a great book. Trust me. Read my review.
Fortitude Scott’s life is a mess. A degree in film theory has left him with zero marketable skills, his job revolves around pouring coffee, his roommate hasn’t paid rent in four months, and he’s also a vampire. Well, sort of. He’s still mostly human.
But when a new vampire comes into his family’s territory and young girls start going missing, Fort can’t ignore his heritage anymore. His mother and his older, stronger siblings think he’s crazy for wanting to get involved. So it’s up to Fort to take action, with the assistance of Suzume Hollis, a dangerous and sexy shape-shifter. Fort is determined to find a way to outsmart the deadly vamp, even if he isn’t quite sure how.
But without having matured into full vampirehood and with Suzume ready to split if things get too risky, Fort’s rescue mission might just kill him.…
M.L. has been very generous in offering a giveaway today – a signed copy of GENERATION V! Open to U.S. addresses only. Fill out the Rafflecopter widget below!